No 6, 2004
Current Concerns
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Current Concerns - The monthly journal for independent thought, ethical standards and moral responsibility - English Edition of Zeit-Fragen
No 6, 2004
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Nothing Good Exists Unless We Do It

Success for people's initiative against government propaganda in Switzerland

by Dr jur Markus Erb, Chairman of the Supporting Committee Citizens for Citizens" Zurich/Switzerland

Swiss citizens may initiate changes to the constitution by gathering 100,000 signatures to petition for a referendum (people's initiative).

The Swiss federal people's initiative Volkssouveränität statt Behördenpropaganda" [Sovereignty of the people instead of government propaganda] protects direct democracy. A collective effort undertaken by independent Swiss citizens, without political party support and financial backing by powerful individuals or organisations, finally brought about the necessary number of signatures to launch this initiative. Large numbers of citizens from all the Swiss cantons were willing to sign the petition, among them many young people. In all 106,344 signatures were collected for this petition for a referendum which will now have to be put before the people. This initiative is unique in its aims.

There has been growing dismay of many citizens at the Swiss Federal Council's increasing attempts to influence the opinion forming process of the voters when a referendum is approaching. Swiss people remember how forward-looking referendums were "floored" with the help of taxpayers' money. They also remember their federal government's appeal, "We have to win!" It was clear that only the Federal Council and its view of things were allowed to win. "Stubborn" and "die-hard" contemporaries need to be shown the red card. The meshes of the net, used to ensnare the voters, get smaller each year. An army of 750 public relations advisors (L'Hebdo of 29 January 2004) produces "information" for the people. As votes approach, Federal Counsillors trek from meeting to meeting urging citizens to think and act in a "politically correct" manner, in accordance with the wishes of the government.

"Good seduction" by the Federal Council?

Apparently, it is perfectly legitimate for the Federal Council to seduce the people in order to achieve its goals. In a newspaper article in the "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" of 14 September 2002 ("Das Böse , das Gute, die Politik") federal counsellor Moritz Leuenberger mentioned the following as an example of a so-called good seduction: "It was the military bill of 2001; referendum commotion: The right-wingers were against it, as was a small number of left-wingers. As a social-democratic Federal President I opposed the defamatory campaign of the right wing and equated the campaign with the 'No' slogan. By doing so those left-wingers who were in doubt over which way to vote were confronted with a moral barrier to not vote in favour of the bill because otherwise they would have found themselves in the opposing (right-wing) camp. [...] It appears that this intervention was crucial in bringing about a small majority of votes in favour of the bill; a seduction which, in my opinion, led to a correct and good result."

The Federal Constitution (art. 34 par. 2) guarantees the free formation of one's will and the genuine casting of votes. According to current practice of the Federal Court, authorities may not intervene in the struggle for votes, except if there are good reasons for it. The intention of making the voters accept a bill is anyway no good reason - even if in the Federal Council's opinion this would lead to a "correct and good result".

Is the government better than the people?

"In a direct democracy," as Hansjoerg Seiler, law professor at the University of Lucerne, explains, "all people have equal rights and therefore all opinions are of the same value. There are no 'right' or 'wrong' opinions, but simply different political opinions. The view that the opinion of the government is the right one and that before a vote the only concern is to help propagate this opinion is undemocratic from the very beginning. It turns the relationship between the people and the government upside down and is what one would expect from an authoritarian dictatorship." (Hansjoerg Seiler, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 16 July 2003).

Why start a people's initiative against government propaganda?

After the voting results in February 2004 the Federal Council met in order to consider its role in voting campaigns. Unfortunately, a correction, in the spirit of Professor Seiler's belief, of the council's present practice failed to emerge. According to some media reports, the Federal Council will continue to have the nerve to fight in the front line for a bill if it so desires. Apart from the threat this poses to Swiss direct democracy, such behaviour will hardly serve to improve the mood of the country. The government is there to serve all the citizens of the country and should not create rifts between the different regions and political views among the population with biased statements.

In order to obtain clear regulations in this area on the constitutional level, alert citizens throughout the country launched the Swiss federal people's initiative "People's sovereignty instead of government propaganda" in early 2003. The denominationally and politically neutral association "Citizen for Citizens" was set up to coordinate the activities of the initiative.

For further information or if you would like to support the association with a financial donation, please contact: info@freie-meinung.ch or www.freie-meinung.ch

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Article published on 28-12-2004

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