Relations Run Almost Like A Swiss Watch
A picture taken from French mountain Saleve shows fireworks illuminating the city of Geneva with the landmark Fountain during the 45 minutes traditional pyrotechnic show late on Aug. 11, 2018
The good news is there's not much bad news in Ukraine-Switzerland relations from the point of view of Swiss Ambassador to Ukraine Guillaume Scheurer.
The two areas of needed improvement are perennial ones: Ukraine's rule of law problems, including a "weak and slow judiciary that is still a concern for some companies," and "an unstable tax policy," according to Scheurer, who has been on the job in Kyiv since the end of 2015.
Improvement on both fronts, Scheurer said, is needed for Ukraine to attract more foreign direct investment.
Aside from those two obstacles, the Swiss ambassador was in a buoyant mood as he prepared for a public celebration of Swiss National Day on Sept. 6 at St. Sofia Cathedral.
On all fronts, economic, cultural and political, Scheurer said, the bilateral relationship is not only fine, it's getting better.
"There are less and less issues and there are more and more Swiss companies," he said in an interview at his country's embassy on Sept. 5. "There are fewer complaints and more confidence on the part of Swiss companies that the process on the part of the judiciary or gov- ernment is following a normal path. Almost every day, we see a very solid improvement in terms of issues and problems.
Independence of 1291
Swiss Independence Day actually falls on Aug. 1. But celebration of the holiday itself is flexible in Swiss tradition. Scheurer didn't want to publicly celebrate in August because it's often too hot and most people in Kyiv are on vacation.
The Sept. 6 ceremony in Kyiv includes the William Tell awards, named after the folk hero of Switzerland whose legendary master marksmanship inspired Swiss to rebel against the Hapsburg Empire and seek liberty.
Originally, only three central cantons were part of the 1291 independence and it took centuries for the entire land mass of modern-day Switzerland to form a nation.
Its origins were in self-defense and solidarity. But the holiday became official only in 1994. In Switzerland today, it's mostly celebrated at the local level with bonfires, paper lantern parades, candles and speeches about national purpose.
The war for independence was short and not very bloody. The victors created a social cohesion that lives today by protecting minority rights in all areas.
"A trend we see in Switzerland is that we overprotect the minority in order to better integrate them," the envoy said. "We have a tendency to protect in terms of political representation, in terms of defending language, giving space in government, in administration, in terms of access to media, print or TV, in terms of infrastructure and roads; in all aspects."
Much like the Americans and their British colonizers are best of friends today, so are the Swiss and the Austrians they rebelled against, Scheurer said.
Switzerland knew epochs of extreme poverty, which drove millions to emigrate abroad, including the United States, whose Constitution was emulated by the Swiss, Scheurer said.
"We have no wealth in the country: no black earth, oil, gas, gold. The country was very poor for a very long time," Scheurer said. "Education was the answer. The Swiss people decided that education was the only way to create wealth."
Now, of course, Switzerland — despite a population of only 8.4 million — is one of the world's wealthiest nations, famed for its mountains, neutrality in wars, Red Cross, financial sector, watches, the Swiss Army Knife, Nestle and more.
Bilateral trade in goods and services in 2017 reached $3 billion, a 44 percent jump from the previous year, Scheurer said, with Ukrainian information technology services proving popular among the Swiss.
Next month, a large Swiss trade delegation will visit Kyiv, hoping to boost the total of Swiss companies in Ukraine even higher than the more than 100 estimated to be doing business today.
After a prolonged vacancy, Ukraine also recently named Artyom Ribchenko as the new ambassador to Switzerland, giving Scheurer a counterpart to help bolster ties.
With the help of UkraineInvest, the promotion arm of Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, Swtizerland has developed a colorful brochure on Ukraine to help acquaint Swiss investors and business with the country.
Switzerland counts itself as the seventh largest investor in Ukraine, estimated at $1.5 billion, while Swiss companies have created 35,000 jobs in Ukraine. "They are usually high-qualified jobs, therefore with good salaries," he said.
Additionally, Switzerland provides $25 million annually in direct aid to Ukraine and another $5 million in humanitarian assistance each year.
It carreies out a four-year strategy for this aid project and he is currently working on the next program that runs from 2020–2023.
Switzerland is keen on projects involving vocational education and currently supports 15 schools that teach plumbing skills. Decentralization, in line with the Swiss form of government, is also a priority.
Energy efficiency projects and improved public transportation are also aims of Swiss assistance.
Scheurer said he believes the development of public-private partnerships in various sectors will help Ukraine get maximum use of its limited public resources.
He said Switzerland supports the efforts by Acting Public Health Minister Ulana Suprun to rid the sector of wasteful, corrupt practices. Among the Swiss interests are preventive medicine, mental health, and educating doctors, nurses and hospital administrators to work better together.
If Ukraine can replicate Switzerland's success, it will indeed have accomplished a lot.
Aside from the high Swiss standard of living, "there is basically no or very little unemployment of youth in Switzerland," the ambassador said, attributing the accomplishment to the ability of the educational system to train people to meet the skills that companies are seeking.
Polyglot in Kyiv
Scheurer and his wife, Farin, have a 17-year-old son who lives in Vienna. Scheurer hopes to stay at least another year in Kyiv, but like all ambassadors, he goes where the next assignment takes him. He would like to find time for recreational pursuits, but says the job has kept him too busy to even go on a golf outing this summer.
He speaks English, French, German, Italian and even Romansh, a Romance language spoken predominantly in the southeastern Swiss canton of Grisons. He doubts whether he has the time or skills to learn Ukrainian or Russian at this stage in his life.
Switzerland is almost unique among nations in the ability to work both sides of the contact line in Russia's war against Ukraine.
One of its citizens, Ambassador Toni Frisch, coordinates the humanitarian working group of the Trilateral Contact Group that works to reach a diplomatic solution to the war that has killed more than 10,300 people since its start in 2014. The group includes representives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Frisch will soon make another trip to the eastern Donbas "to see what can be done" to improve the lives of people, the ambassador said.
Switzerland supports the economic sanctions against Russia but is sticking to the Minsk peace process, which has brought no end to the conflict, as the only viable option at the moment.
But Scheurer admits he sees little hope in the near term.
"We see the conflict; we see the cease-fire violations on a daily basis," the ambassador said. "The needs of the people will remain as we go toward the winter, which creates additional burdens on the population.
"For the time being, we don't see improvement, unfortunately."
One area more under Switzerland's control — or at least its ability to promote — is cultural diplomacy. It's vital to upholding values, creating understanding, promoting discussion and stimulating new ideas, he said.
Some of the noteworthy happenings this year is a November book tour by Ukrainian author Sergei Zhadan and one in Ukraine by Swiss author Pedro Lenz, who will undertake a four-city tour.
One contribution that proved popular is Swiss photographer Catherine Gfeller's exhibition of photos of Kyiv at the Taras Shevchenko National Museum from March 18 to April 16 this year. A selection of the photo- graphs has been published as part of a book "Voices in Kyiv."
The Embassy of Switzerland also undertook a "Made with Switzerland" campaign to put the spotlight on Ukrainians who have benefited by Swiss assistance. The stories include those of Tetiana Nelizhyta, head of the intensive care unit at Vinnytsia regional hospital; Valentyna Panasiuk, director of the milk collection point in a Vinnytsia Oblast village; Valerii Selishchev, head of a water filtration plant in Donetsk Oblast; Oleksii Zelivianskyi, coordinator for the E-Governance for Accountability and Participation Program in Kyiv; Yurii Kotsulivskyi, head of the maternity department in a Vinnytsia Oblast hospital; and Yevehen Yarovyi, head of an association of apartment building owners in the Darnytsa district of Kyiv.
Additionally, Swiss artist Felix Schaad illustrated a booklet called "The Forgotten" about projects carried out in the eastern Ukraine war zone by Doctors Without Borders.
And on the Sept. 6 Swiss Night in Kyiv, live music was performed by Ukrainian singer Khrystyna Soloviy and Swiss musician Roland Graf of the G-SAX band.
This year's Tell Award, made by Ukrainian sculptor Oleh Pinchuk, was given to two Ukrainians: Nataliia Popovych, co-founder of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, and Andrej Lushnycky, president of the Ukrainian Society in Switzerland/ Honorary Council of Ukraine in Switzerland.
"It's a good way to celebrate Ukrainians or Swiss who are committed to the bilateral relationship," Scheurer said.
Swiss Ambassador to Ukraine Guillaume Scheurer speaks with the Kyiv Post at his country's embassy in Kyiv on Sept. 5. (Volodymyr Petrov)
Tourists follow their guide prior to embarking at Kleine Scheidegg train station the Jungfraubahn for their trip at the Jungfraujoch, 3500 meters high in the Swiss Alps on Aug. 13, 2018. Since 1912, the Jungfraujoch has been accessible to tourists by the Jungfraubahn, a railway starting from Interlaken and running partly underground through a tunnel through the Eiger and Moench mountains.