Peace in Ukraine
Could we find a peaceful resolution to this conflict based on the Swiss model?
Recently I was on a Christian retreat in Switzerland with a group of young people. We were in a room overlooking Lake Geneva and the majestic Alps, yet everyone was worried about war in Ukraine. One of the young people present, a Swiss woman named Anne-Marie, appeared very sad to see so much suffering in Ukraine. “Ordinary families in their thousands are losing their homes and becoming refugees,” she said.
“The Americans fought wars in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. What did they achieve? Nothing!” another woman, Christèle, said. “What hope is there for the Russians and the Ukrainians to find any solution by killing one another? This is so stupid! In the end they have to find a solution by negotiation. If they are going to talk and negotiate after so much killing and so much destruction why don’t they do that before those killings and before all that suffering?”
“This is common sense, but common sense is no longer common!” came from the back of the room. It was a man called Michael who spoke. He added: “Of course in the end they have to find common ground and some common interest through negotiations. The Ukrainians and the Russians have to live next to each other. They are neighbours. They cannot change their geography and their location!”
Anne-Marie answered: “Ukraine is a small country living beside a nuclear-armed Russia. Therefore Ukraine should not give Russia any excuse for aggression. Ukraine could and should follow the Swiss model.” I was intrigued by this, so I asked her what she meant. She said: “Our country is not a member of NATO. We are not in the European Union. We are not in the Eurozone. We have our own currency. Yet we are able to trade with Europe as well as with the rest of the world. Why can’t Ukrainians do the same? Our country was neutral in the first world war and the second world war. Why can’t Ukrainians remain neutral and friendly with all countries? Switzerland has no enemies. All countries are our friends! That is what I call the Swiss model.”
“But hasn’t there been a long-standing dispute between the central government of Ukraine and its Russian-speaking population of the east and the south?” I asked. “Hasn’t there been an ongoing civil war between the Ukrainian-speaking and the Russian-speaking parts of the country? How do you bring reconciliation between them?”
Anne-Marie said: “Again they need to follow the Swiss model. We have four national languages – German, French, Italian and Romansh. They are all official Swiss languages. Ukraine could make Ukrainian and Russian two equally important official languages. Linguistic diversity should be celebrated. Multiple languages bring cultural richness. In Switzerland a large proportion of administrative functions are decentralised. We have 22 self-governing cantons. Each one of them has a great deal of autonomy. Many national issues are settled by referendum. Our prime ministers or presidents are not so important. Do you know who the president or prime minister of Switzerland is?”
“No, I don’t,” I replied.
“Why should you know?” responded Anne-Marie. “This is the Swiss model. Our constitution doesn’t give a huge amount of power to the central government. We live peacefully within our country and peacefully with our neighbours. Why can’t Ukraine do the same? War is not a solution.”
“But the Ukrainians say that this is ‘Putin’s war’,” I said. “The US and European governments, as well as much of the western media, believe that this is Putin’s war. What do you say to them?”
“It takes two to tango!” Anne-Marie replied. “The Russians blame the Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians blame the Russians. We have to rise above the blame game if we want peace. Both parties need to compromise! The word ‘compromise’ is misunderstood. In fact it is a positive concept. It means ‘promising together’. When two warring sides come together, they must stand on the middle ground and find their common interest and agree together, and then it is a true compromise.”
Anne-Marie took a deep breath. After a moment’s pause, she said: “I want to see the children of Ukraine united with their parents. I want to see millions of refugees going back to their homes. I want to see the old and the sick being taken care of. War is futile. No one will win. Everyone will lose. What is the point?”
I was impressed by Anne-Marie’s account of the Swiss achievement in creating a peaceful, multilingual and multicultural country. I thought that this could be the way to peace not only in Ukraine, but in the whole world.
We looked out at Lake Geneva and the amazing Alps. They were totally at peace! And in their subtle ways they too were calling for peace.
—Satish Kumar is the Editor Emeritus of Resurgence Magazine, published from United Kingdom. He is the author of Pilgrimage for Peace, available from www.resurgence.org/shop Photo of Satish Kumar by Daniel Elkan. This article has been reproduced with permission from Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine, Issue #335.