Excellences, esteemed Deputy Minister, dear guests,
Guten Abend, Bonsoir, Buona sera, Buna saira!
I am happy to welcome you all to today’s celebration of the 726th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation.
Switzerland is known in the world for many things. For its beautiful nature and pristine landscapes. For its potent economy and high standards-of-living. For its unique model of half-direct democracy and its distinctive federalism built on the principle of subsidiarity.
And, of course, Switzerland is also famous for more “trivial” matters, such as fancy watches, delicious cheese, and the world’s best chocolate.
But if there is one thing that defines the essence of Switzerland for me, one thing that makes me proud to be Swiss, I would say it is the country’s diversity, and especially the way how this diversity is perceived and handled.
As most of you know, Switzerland has four official languages. And although three of these languages are shared with our larger neighboring countries, language does not divide Switzerland. Yes, we are Swiss Germans or Romands / Swiss French, but we are first of all Swiss. Language does not define us.
The same is true for religion. Since the reformation both Catholic and Protestant Christianity are widespread in Switzerland. While religious wars shook the country in the 16th century, religion is not a divisive factor in Switzerland anymore. Today, the Roman Catholic (38%) and the Swiss Reformed Church (26%) coexist peacefully.
Extensive immigration, especially in the past 40 years, has added another layer of diversity to Switzerland. Today, Switzerland has one of the highest proportions of immigrants in the western world: around a quarter of Switzerland’s population does not hold Swiss citizenship, and almost the same amount of people speaks a non-Swiss language as their mother tongue. In present-day Switzerland there are 36 significant non-Swiss languages spoken by at least a 1000 people, among them Serbo-Croatian, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, and Romanian.
I don’t want to belittle the challenges that are associated with diversity. Diversity makes life more difficult and complex. Diversity forces members of a society to proactively deal with differences and find ways how to resolve them.
But Switzerland – with its outstanding achievements in the political, economic, and social sphere – is a living proof that diversity does not have to be a handicap or an obstacle. If there is willingness to handle it and understanding on how to handle it, diversity can become an asset. It can open opportunities for exchange, cross-fertilization, and innovation.
So why do ethnicity and language not divide Switzerland?
The short answer is: Because the Swiss – as well as the majority of immigrants to the country – want to belong together. Switzerland is a so-called Willensnation – a nation united by choice.
Because we want to belong together, we have over time learned how to effectively deal with our differences, based on the principles of mutual respect and tolerance. These values had to be developed, nurtured and cultivated throughout Switzerland’s history.
As Switzerland, Moldova is a diverse country. Unlike Switzerland, however, Moldova cannot look back on a centuries-old history that helped shape the country’s identity. And unlike Switzerland, Moldova did not have much opportunity in its tumultuous past to learn and practice nation-building based on respect and tolerance.
My wish for Moldova is that its politicians and society at large develop a generally shared understanding and appreciation for the country’s diversity. That they see it as a treasure that needs to be cherished and protected.
To Switzerland! To Moldova! To diversity!