Cheese or Tanks?
Switzerland will vote on a constitutional amendment to ban all exports of arms on November 29. The Swiss electorate still hovers between its ideal of peaceful neutrality and the economic interests of the military industry.
Contrary to our image of a peaceful nation that serves the world with cheese, chocolate, the Red Cross and a haven for rich people’s money, Switzerland is also a considerable producer and broker of arms. In fact, we are the second largest exporting country of arms per capita. Swiss ammunition, rifles, canons, armed vehicles and light aircraft are used from Pakistan to Botswana, from Iraq to Burma. We think that Switzerland should export better products than arms. And there is a chance that we will actually accomplish that.
Switzerland’s political system provides some quite unique and powerful direct democratic tools. By collecting 100.000 valid signatures, one can demand a binding referendum on any constitutional amendment. It’s a lot of work to collect so many signatures, but we reached that mark even earlier than we expected. The referendum will be held on November 29.
What started with a bunch of anti-war activist of the “Group for Switzerland without an Army” has grown into a broad coalition of all peace organizations, all the major Swiss foreign aid agencies, many religious groups, the most important trade unions and all political parties left of the center. We even got international support: Two Nobel peace prize laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Argentina’s Adolfo Pérez Esquivel have endorsed our campaign.
At the moment, both campaigns are fighting for each vote in public debates and panel discussions, with the distribution of posters, ads in newspapers, leaflets and doing creative actions. The positions are clear: Our opponents focus on jobs and national security while we highlight the numerous export scandals and our responsibility for those affected by wars abroad. The latest polls show 41% of the voters are in favor of an export ban and 44% oppose it.
The means of the Yes and the No campaign are very different. Our budget is ten times smaller than the campaign resources of the arms industry. But we have by far the more energetic and creative campaign on the streets. If we win this referendum, we hope to send out a sign to other nations towards a more peaceful future. With the words of Desmond Tutu: “Switzerland could make a unique contribution to support the peaceful and sustainable development of our planet and be a shining example for other countries to question their export policies.”