‘Swissness’ in 2022

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Alain Gaschen - The Philippine Star

The 1st of August is always an important day in the lives of every Swiss. In early August 1291, three Alpine cantons – Schwyz, Uri and Unterwald – swore an “oath of confederation,” thus setting the stage for the Swiss Confederation that we know today. This alliance was not motivated by territorial claims. Switzerland, we say, is a nation born of a will to live in freedom and with respect of the law. As you may know, Switzerland does not share just one language nor does it have a homogeneous religious community. On the contrary, it is precisely the diverse identity, showcased by the presence of multilingualism, and the federal government system, that constitutes the Swiss culture.

The Swiss National Day is celebrated in various ways but with one common idea that is primarily to come together. Swiss of all ages gather to remember the country’s founding. The day would be incomplete without the traditional zopf – a braided bread that looks (and tastes) magnificent, home-made paper lanterns that help light up the streets of the various Swiss cities and fiery fireworks, which fulfill the fantastic festivities as they light up the night skies.

As I celebrate what would be my last 1st of August in the Philippines, I look back at how we had to spend the National Day since my arrival. For the past two years, the global situation forced us to shift from a traditional celebration filled with friends, food and frolicking, to an experience shared in front of our mobile screens. While we do have the online platform to celebrate once more –   www.missione1agosto.org – I do miss the opportunity to be with our fellow Swiss during this momentous occasion. This is why I am particularly happy that the improving conditions have allowed us this year to resume tradition with a 1st of August celebration organized by the Swiss Club. Finally, we will have the opportunity to celebrate our “Swissness” once again.

To me, the 1st of August is also the perfect day to reflect on the prospects Switzerland has to offer. Today, I will limit myself to three: Education, innovation and independence.

The open structure of our education system, with apprenticeship, universities of applied sciences and universities, allows everyone to go far on the path they have chosen. This system ensures the best possible starting conditions for professional life, and makes Switzerland a country of opportunities.

The second asset is innovation. Our country does not have the natural resources that make other countries rich. But rather than succumb to this possible weakness, we have made it a strength. We are never satisfied with ourselves, as we are constantly on the lookout for new and better ideas.

The third asset is our independence, and I am very attached to it. We want to decide our own destiny. Independence, however, also means openness and maintaining good relations with everyone.

Coming back to the creation of Switzerland, the quest for freedom and independence has characterized our history for over 700 years. Our country has always had courageous men and women who have fought for it and its values. Switzerland is a model of success. Our political system of direct democracy allows us to decide our own fate.

Switzerland is not a superpower and is not part of any major alliance, but we do play an important role in international relations and in the world economy. We must therefore be able to rely on clear international rules. Switzerland is committed to multilateralism and the rule of law precisely because we want to remain independent. We are a country of stability, but we are also dependent on an international environment that must be as stable as possible. We want to continue to develop our relations with our partners, especially the Philippines. It is in both our interests that our relations are strong and healthy.

While watching the 1st State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., I see many possible areas of collaboration: tackling climate change, strengthening the education system, improving the access to the health system, expanding and improving the infrastructure through Public-Private Partnership. Celebrating this year the 65-year anniversary of our diplomatic relations, I am looking forward to working with the new administration and to continue to build our future together.

The slow but steady road to a new normal carries on with the return of traditional gatherings filled with merriment, togetherness and festiveness. While I look forward to celebrating my “Swissness” with my fellow compatriots, I am reminded that it is not only in the best moments that I am proud to call myself Swiss. It is in the work that I do everyday in solidarity with our partners and, most especially, the Filipino people that I am reminded what it truly means to be Swiss.

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Alain Gaschen is the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines since August 2019.

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