Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Klee's Art Finally Finds a Home in Switzerland

The Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne
The Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne,
originally uploaded by romangame.
On Monday, the Zentrum Paul Klee opened in Berne. The German painter was refused Swiss citizenship after fleeing from the Nazis, because it was feared that if his art should "take root in Switzerland, it would insult real art and cause good taste to deteriorate."

Sixty-six years later, the work of the painter, now considered one of the greatest modern artists, has found a permanent home in Bern, the Swiss capital that finally accepted him.

"This is a belated reconciliation (of Switzerland) with Klee," says the artist's 65-year old grandson, Alexander Klee.

The Zentrum Paul Klee is much more than a traditional fine arts museum. The Italian architect Renzo Piano's three waves nestling in a landscape sculpture are more of an interdisciplinary cultural centre.

The world's most comprehensive collection of works by Paul Klee will be the mainstay of the museum. Marvel at the life and work of one of the foremost artists of the 20th century and experience Paul Klee's approx. 4,000 paintings, watercolors, drawings, puppets, sketches and other works of his life's work displayed at the Zentrum Paul Klee.

Home of the Free: Switzerland

A detailed praise of the Swiss system can be found at Frontpagemag. The article by J.P. Zmirak, an author and economist is a bit idealistic about the Swiss and excludes certain realities (i. e. immigration policies), but it feels good to read it. Here are two excerpts:

"We can hold Switzerland up to a world striving for guidance, as one of the most shining examples in history of spiritual greatness within physical smallness and as the most vital and convincing refutation of the assertion that the fundamental problems of mass civilization, of democracy and of the moral crisis of the West are insoluble."

Wow. And this:

"The tradition of direct democracy by referenda in all the cantons vividly reminds each politician that authority in Switzerland does not descend from above, as the monarchs of Europe used to assert. Rather, it rises from the people. Direct democracy is itself a standing rebuke to those politicians who would transfer key decisions about the lives of citizens to unelected, supranational bureaucracies.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Switzerland Wants Free Trade Pact With U.S.

Finally, the U.S. press picks up on the Swiss efforts to get a free trade agreement with the U.S. This is what the LA Times reports today:

ZURICH, Switzerland — Switzerland wants a free trade agreement with the U.S. to remove average import duties of 4.5 percent on Swiss processed goods, Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said Monday.

Such an agreement would create preferential access for Swiss exporters to one of their most important markets, Merz said, according to a text of his speech to the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce in Zurich.

"The preservation and improvement of the competitiveness of the Swiss economy require a review of the relations between Switzerland and the United States and an analysis of all options," Merz said.

The Finance Minister cited existing free trade agreements between the United States and other countries, saying that they were harming the competitiveness of Swiss industries such as chemicals and watch making. Switzerland is not a member of the 25-country European Union.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Swiss take the rap for human rights wrongs

Swissinfo reports this rise in xenophobia in Switzerland:

The Council of Europe has praised Switzerland's commitment to human rights but had some strong criticism for its asylum policy.

Alvaro Gil-Robles, the council's Commissioner for Human Rights, said he was particularly worried by "attitudes of rejection towards foreign nationals".

In a report published on Wednesday, Gil-Robles said he was satisfied that Switzerland is a country that ensures "a very high degree of respect for human rights within its borders, while actively and persuasively promoting respect for human rights throughout the world".

But certain aspects of the country's policy towards asylum seekers left much to be desired and fell short of the obligation to respect human rights, he said.

Gil-Robles singled out the fact that asylum seekers were only given 48 hours to present their identity papers to the authorities, saying that this undermined human rights.

"Such a short time-limit is unreasonable; one cannot, as Swiss law does, allow the mere lack of identity documents or failure to present them to have adverse consequences for the asylum-seeker," he said.

He added that if an asylum seeker was unable to present their papers within the designated time, then his or her application should not be adversely affected, as this was contrary to international law.

Gil-Robles also criticised the practice of asking asylum seekers wishing to appeal against an immediate rejection to pay SFr600 ($482). If they were unable to pay this sum, the appeal was declared inadmissible, without consideration of the merits.

The commissioner complained about proposals to stop paying welfare benefits to those whose applications had been rejected, saying these would "plunge [people] into poverty and demean them in their own eyes and other people's eyes".

As in other reports into Switzerland's human rights' record, the police were criticised for their inappropriate behaviour targeted "mainly at dark-skinned people". Gil-Robles said that while it was understandable that police officers perhaps experienced a "culture shock" when dealing with people of other races, more had to be done to expose them to other cultures.

The rise of racism and xenophobia in the country was also highlighted as a problem.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Swiss Say Yes to Schengen

France and the Netherlands have turned their backs on one version of a united Europe, but, defying that rejectionist spirit, with an important vote, Swiss voters have expressed their desire to cozy up closer to their neighbors in the European Union.

In the proudly neutral Swiss Federation, as Switzerland is technically known, decisions on major national policy issues, by tradition and by law, are put to nationwide referendum votes. This time, 54.6 percent of Swiss voters chose to join the so-called Schengen zone of 15 other countries whose citizens may travel between the zone's member states without the usual passport checks at their borders. (Basler Zeitung and Neue Zuercher Zeitung)

The vote means Swiss law-enforcement officials will also work more closely with their counterparts in the other Schengen-zone countries as far as cross-border security is concerned. The other countries in the passport-free zone include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid called "the people's yes to Schengen" a "confirmation of a bilateral approach to Europe." In a joint statement, top E.U. officials said of the Swiss vote, "On the one hand, freedom of movement will obviously be facilitated; on the other hand, the cooperation on internal security can be strengthened." Sounding grateful for even a hint of support for what E.U. backers have long called "the European project," Germany's interior minister, Otto Schily, said that Swiss voters had given "an important, positive signal for Europe at a time when Euro-skepticism -- hopefully only temporarily -- is gaining the upper hand." (China Daily)

The vote was not without heated debate, however, some of which echoed recent French and Dutch argument over the tanked E.U. constitution. The yes vote on Schengen, political scientist Rene Schwok told the Swiss daily 24 Heures, was "[f]irst of all, a little yes." It signified, he said, "that there isn't a majority in this country that's [really] in favor of joining" the European Union.

He added that in offering Switzerland membership in the free-travel zone, the European Union had guaranteed the federal government in Bern that the country would give up none of its sovereignty. But that gesture, Schwok pointed out, paradoxically actually weakens the European Union in relation to little Switzerland, for the former normally diminishes the respective sovereign powers of countries that decide to join its multistate institutions. This time, though, in effect, in offering Schengen-zone membership to Switzerland, the European Union made it attractive for the country to take part in the free-travel zone, Schwok noted, but not necessarily to aspire -- someday -- to full E.U. membership. (24 Heures)

That would be just as well for the more conservative, mostly rural Swiss who voted against taking part in the Schengen agreement. As they saw it, echoing the fears and criticisms of French and Dutch voters who rejected the E.U. constitution, "the removal of border controls [will leave] Switzerland vulnerable to greater crime and economic migrants who would undercut high local wages and steal jobs." (Financial Times)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Adamov and the Kremlins Use of the Legal System

The Eurasia Daily Monitor in Washington features the following interesting article about former Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov. Note the last sentence of the article!

Just as the Khodorkovsky process was reaching its finale, a new spectacle was gearing up in Bern, Switzerland. On May 2 ex-nuclear power minister Yevgeny Adamov was detained by the Swiss authorities in light of a U.S. arrest warrant. A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh charged him and business partner Mark Kaushansky with 20 counts of money laundering and tax evasion. The 66-year old Adamov is accused of purloining some $15 million from funds the U.S. Department of Energy gave to the ministry's research institute, which Adamov headed from 1986 until his appointment as minister in 1998. Adamov was in Bern to help his 30-year old daughter, Irina, whose $250,000 bank account had been frozen as part of the same investigation (Rossiiskie vesti, May 12, Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 30, Nucleonics Week, May 12).

In March 2001 the State Duma's Anti-Corruption Commission released a report accusing Adamov of corruption, including reference to his buying a house in Pittsburgh. He was fired as minister, but no criminal charges were lodged against him.

Adamov declined speedy expedition to the United States. But his U.S. lawyer, Lanny Breuer, told Kommersant on May 13, "Adamov wants to come to the United States and answer all questions there as a free man, in order to dispel all the rumors tainting his name. But Dr. Adamov and I would like to know the position of the Russian government, because Dr. Adamov is privy to a lot of secrets."

Dmitry Cherkashin, Russia's ambassador to Switzerland, said, "He served as Russia's nuclear-energy minister; and his extradition would threaten Russian national-security interests" (RIA-Novosti, May 23). The fear is that as part of a plea bargain Adamov might spill the beans on Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran. There was an angry debate on the floor of the State Duma on May 12. Deputy Sergei Abeltsev said that Adamov should be assassinated in his jail cell. His Liberal Democratic Party of Russia colleague Alexei Mitrofanov merely recommended abduction.

The Russian government protested that they had not been informed of Adamov's impending arrest and claimed sovereign immunity for him as an ex-minister. When that did not work, they came up with a better idea – let's prosecute him ourselves! Moscow's Basmanny Court issued a warrant for his arrest on May 14, and the government promptly filed an extradition request on May 17, claiming priority under an 1873 Swiss-Russian treaty. (The U.S. has not yet filed a formal extradition request.) But on May 20 Adamov declined an invitation to accept expedited extradition to Russia, which suggests that he may be holding out for a "get out of jail free" card on his return (Kommersant, May 27)

Taken together, the Khodorkovsky and Adamov cases starkly reveal the utter cynicism of the Russian authorities in their use of the legal system. At least the Adamov arrest suggests that the Swiss are finally getting serious about tackling money laundering.

Scientists develop a 'trust spray'

Newindpress reports this story from the fields of science. Who cares about stem cells when we have hormones, huh?

LONDON - Using what are called love hormones, scientists claim to have developed a revolutionary nasal spray that will have the power to make a person more trusting.

A team of American and Swiss scientists has found that after a few spouts of the spray containing the hormone oxytocin, humans were significantly more trusting.

The team also suggested the spray could be used as a therapy for trust-diminishing conditions, such as autism or some social phobias, reported the Scottish daily ‘The Scotsman’. The research showed that after using the spray, volunteers became more willing to risk losing money to a stranger. Volunteers who sniffed oxytocin gave away their money much more easily.

Even animal studies have proved that oxytocin takes away the unwillingness to approach one another, "which is a parallel with trust in humans", said Michael Kosfeld, one of the scientists involved in the research. "Along with psychotherapy it could have a positive effect," he said.

Oxytocin is widely known as "love hormone", and is released during orgasm. It has also been proved to be released when cuddling or touching takes place, and women release it in labour and during breastfeeding.

After the experimentation, scientists have claimed to show that increasing the amount of the hormone present in the body could directly affect the trust factor.