Re­la­tions Run Al­most Like A Swiss Watch

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]

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.

Num­bers up

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.

In­tractable war

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."

Cul­tural diplo­macy

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.

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