Meadows of War

The surrealism of Switzerland’s serenity

 It is a picture of heaven on earth. Streams snaking through lush green mountains, with smoky snow-capped tops sprinkled in the background, and a thicket of trees splashed across sun-bathed greens, and sleepy cottages nestling peacefully within the mountains and the trees. It is the sort of picture that is a common sight in Switzerland, a country rich in and well known for its stunning natural beauty.

It came as quite a shock to me then when whilst traveling with my husband through the picturesque villages of Grindelwald and Interlaken in Switzerland last summer, I was told how in this land of idyllic scenery, every Swiss man must by the age of 25 undergo compulsory military training – and even more perplexing was the fact that every one of four of those sleepy cottage owners, possesses a firearm. This picture-perfect landscape in other words is ready for emergency mobilization for foreign invasion at very thin notice.

Finding it difficult to digest these facts at first, I tried quite hard to convince myself that my better half had finally overdone himself in his astonishingly extensive repository of knowledge. But I had to gulp them down quickly when a local friend and lawyer confirmed this surreal side to the Swiss countryside. Profoundly amazing as it may have been, the realization was just another affirmation of the stark paradoxes that paint the geo-political climate of today’s world.

Switzerland’s gun ownership ranks the third highest in the world after the US and Yemen, with 3.4 million of its 8 million citizens owning firearms[1]. The country’s gun suicide rate is the second highest in Europe, with a 2011 study revealing that 43 percent of suicides within Swiss households were committed with firearms[2]. And while in spite these astonishing figures, Switzerland can still boast one of the world’s lowest homicide rates of 0.7 per 100,000 people (one-sixth the rate in the US)[3], the recent shootings in January and February of this year have reignited a debate to introduce stricter gun control laws.

While the gun culture in Switzerland, unlike the US, is rooted in patriotism, following the Menznau killings on February 26 this year, skeptics are now increasingly voicing concerns over existing laws and their implementation – the law while requiring a criminal background check and psychiatric record before a gun can be purchased, the Menznau shooter held a past conviction. The police have declined to comment on how he obtained his Sphinx AT .380 pistol[4].

The big guns, of a slightly different nature, are also sitting in Switzerland’s banks. With 30 percent of the global offshore wealth being held in the country, Switzerland has recently been awash with money laundering cases, with the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office freezing an account in connection with a Spanish politician with an estimated 27 million Swiss Francs implicated in a corruption scandal in January this year[5].

With the Swiss priding themselves in their image of stability and security, it is an image that has come under relative strain in recent months. While the resilience of the Swiss natural landscape continues to withstand these manmade tremors, one can’t help thinking that even this country of rolling meadows has feet of clay.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Meadows of War

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *