Parallax I

Politics has entered my back door unannounced, it has moved in and now I need to deal with it. In Facts 2.0 Christoph Lüscher asks why the Swiss writers are keeping silent. I read with some amusement and not much surprise what Lukas Bärfuss comments about the relationship between writers and politics. It is one man’s opinion, he is entitled to express it and I am glad that he has done so. In my view, his opinion is both self-centered and claustrophobic.

Being in the middle of the storm always changes one’s perceptions. I am right now in the middle of the storm of what is called swiss politics. At this point I am ready to stop asking myself if I like this, because I see my liking of it as being totally irrelevant.

I have been following these 2007 swiss parliament elections that just took place this sunday from a perspective that is new to me, that of actually being an active democratically elected politician. This is a hat – the politician’s hat – that I keep turning around and adjusting and that somehow I can not really leave to rest on my head. I feel no identification with the classe politique, yet I belong to it in spite of my feelings and likes.

But what is politics?

A lot of people speak as though politics is evil. However politics is very much an expression of our culture. Have we forgotten that we are social beings who spontaneously self-orgnize in communities?


Isn’t culture the cohesive expression of human behaviour? Is politics not part of that expression?

Politics is hard work, and it is the kind of collective work that is never done and always in progress. Politics is a virtual social construction site. If the work was easy, anybody could do it, and if it was trivial it would be unnecessary. Damn, it is complex hard work, that is what politics is. And like any such labour, it is very susceptible to criticism. Informed, constructive criticism is good. Ignorant, intolerant criticism is annoying, informative and on occasions irritating. Defamation is just plain bad manners.

Lots of people talk about Politics and politics – capital P, little p – and I think that they mean Policy and Psychology. One does need some conceptual tools to help with the bit of governing the place, that is usually what policy is intended to do. Policy is intellectual fruit designed for implementation. The place may be a small community, a household, a school, a country, an intergovernmental organization, or any group that somehow has some common goal. The thing is that structures do nothing, and people do all the work, so one has to sooner or later deal with the whole of their psychological and social expression. If it was easy, we had been all born in Utopia, and intellectual endeavour would consist of chasing butterflies.


The violence in the streets of Berne and the big F-word

So now I head straight to a series of events which I did not witness first hand, but which news reached me while I was away. To add insult to injury, I learned of the events first through a press release from the liberal party and then an American writer friend, not knowing that I was not in Berne, asks me what is going on via email. I still can not quite make heads or tails of the details of the escalation that lead to substantial material destruction through violent action on the streets of Berne on October 2007. I have seen my colleagues of all parties doing a more or less plausible shaking of the responsibility away from their parties or and persons.


My sarcastic self commented that finally Berne had made the world news. After all not much ever happens in the helvetic capital, other than the occasional demonstration, most of which run their course rather peacefully. However once in a while things get out of hand, it gets hot, objects catch fire, and property is destroyed. Civil unrest they call this. It does remind me of the code words used in management to designate strikes and worker dissatisfaction. The experience of the latter is something that I made while exerting the function of management consultant which only taught me that where there is smoke there is fire. I do like to get to the bottom of things, and this is one stubborn piece of behaviour that has gotten me into trouble a few times, and then, it has also earned me quite a few laurels too.

In what concerns the local cabaret around the violence of October 6, the facts reduce to the following: – Several public gatherings had requested and received the necessary permit from the municipal authorities including the SVP and the crafts market (Münsterplatform). – The so called peaceful demonstration against the SVP one did not get the required authorization from the municipal authorities in spite of the fact that their attorney was quite insistent about it and met with said authorities. -There were indeed peaceful demonstrations present on that day in Berne. -There were indeed violent demonstrations that day in Berne. -Property got destroyed. -The police had their share of breakdowns, but did handle the situation appropriately even if locally much political nonsense is still being discussed at this hour about the operative details of the said police’s intervention.

Actually when I come to think of it, it bores the living bejesus out of me to think of all the details of who was and was not involved. When I checked – with the friendly help of google and clusty – as to what was being written about the events, I got a picture that confirmed a few of the facts that are not so obvious from all the local and international mainstream press hype. Alternatively I could have spoken with a native Bernese dojo friend who votes Green and knows the local alternative scene and have confirmation that the hooligans causing the damage were not locals, and some not even Swiss. There is something of a violence tourism going on and these folks are indeed organized and they do use the internet.

For the juicy details, then you have to know that the big advocate of all of these unauthorized demonstrations is a certain local politician who earns his living by picking up his clients at the Waisenhausplatz when they exit the police main station after their release from police custody. In the US we call such unethical attorneys ambulance chasers, but you get the idea. How very convenient indeed it is to preach, propagate and politicize the idea of civil unrest to the common folk, and then when law and order do their job, you are there as their attorney and saviour! It this leadership?

Such unethical behaviour – the call for civil disobedience and violence – does indeed give both politicians and lawyers a bad name. If you are harbouring nationalistic thoughts, then you can consider the possibility that such citizens also give their patria a bad name.

But what are we to make of a legitimate political party with some proud roots and some good fundamental ethical and middle class values that has been seduced by the charms of a charismatic leader who does not walk the talk?

I have had the good fortune to meet members of the SVP and active elected politicians whose values are not that different from mine, and who have at some level or another inspired the idea of trust and community. Read trust as connection, relationship, understanding and possibility. I have also met some members of my own party who leave me a bit more perplexed as to the nature of our joint goal. On most issues the SVP, the CVP and the FDP do not differ in any significant way.

However I do have a tough time placing the whole of the SVP in the ultra-nationalist bin. Tyler Brûlé may know something about publishing magazines and the value of Swiss craftsmanship and plumbing, but I think he ought to go back to school when it comes to understanding Swiss politics. The SVP is not an ultra-nationalistic party. That said, what is then the problem with the folks of the SVP?

While one can not choose in which family to be born, there is a choice of which political party to join. The coin does turn around that once in a party the whole of the loyalty and interest merry-go-round starts to turn. Once an individual joins a party, and as long as some minimal conditions are met, a member will not be excluded. In a place – this Switzerland – with well entrenched democratic values, the attitude is all about finding consensus. However the fine line between consensus and compromise is not obvious and that may exactly be where the SVP has created a point of entry for ideologies that deviate from their own core values. But how does one phrase this in polite terms?

It is not easy to keep this line of argument comfortable. For the one discomfort that the SVP itself is dealing with is that it has managed to attract quite a few sympathizers with radical neo-nazi, skin-heads an ultra-nationalistic ideologies.

Fuck, but the big F-word, the big white elephant in the room, the stinking element in all of this is the present current of resurgent fascism dynamics sweeping the globe. Fascism is the big F-word. It is however not a problem that just the SVP has been infested with, it is also a problem with those political parties traditionally designated as being on the left. The problem concerns us all.


Participative Democracy and Consensus

In an ideal world, even in a dictatorship everybody would be content and sastified. However Utopia will remain an ideal, and ideals will also remain just that. Ideal is not real. We are dealing with life as it happens, and we all know it is one bloody mess from the time of birth.


Why are the Swiss writers keeping silent?

They are not. Is anybody listening?

(to be continued)


2 thoughts on “Parallax I”

  1. Du hast mit deinem Parallax I einen interessanten Beitrag zum «Schweigen der Schriftsteller» gemacht. Du bringst es auf den Punkt mit dem “Is anybody listening?”. Das ist wohl der springende Punkt. Adolf Muschg beispielsweise hat beim Deutschlandradio gesprochen ( Hier sind wir aber auch schon wieder an einem heiklen Punkt angelangt. Wer ist denn Schweizer Schriftsteller? Sind es die Schriftsteller, die in der Schweiz wohnen? Martin Suter also kein Schweizer Schriftsteller? Der Mythos Schweiz kommt wohl auch hier zum Wanken, vielleicht sogar noch stärker als auf anderen Gebieten. Ist Schiller ein Schweizer Schriftsteller, weil er der Schweiz einen Mythos schenkte, der bisweilen von Leuten als der Mythos der Schweiz schlechthin gesehen wird, allen voran die Unabhängigkeit der Schweiz betonend?

  2. Thank you Claudio for reminding me of two things that I had almost forgotten while writing this piece over the last few days!1. Who are the Swiss writers? Who can call themselves as such? How would you characterize them? Do they have anything in common besides the activity of writing? 2.The Swiss Myth does remain an area to explore, and I must confess that for me, this is just the beginning of the adventure. One of my observations about this place where we live that forms a certain culture space that we call Switzerland is that is characterized by both abundant freedom of expression, and a very faceted origin of that expression. Independence, autonomy and neutrality are all aspects worthy of closer inspection.

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