Paul Schmutz Schaller for The Saker Blog
I must start by defining what I understand by „colonial thinking“. This means the conviction in Western countries that their country, their system, their culture, their general mentality is much better than in the other parts of the world. One may add the conviction that the religion („Western“ Christianity) is better than other religions. Or the conviction of white supremacy; but be aware that in most parts of the world, the understanding of the term „white supremacy“ is much more classical than in the USA. Of course, colonial thinking has its roots in the long experience of worldwide domination by the West. Therefore, colonial thinking may also be strong in Switzerland, even if this country did not „have“ „own“ colonies.
Surprisingly, I could not find „colonial thinking“ (in English) on search engines. However, there is the term „colonial mentality“. But this is only understood as an inferiority complex in former colonies, not as the usual arrogance in Western countries. In French, there is a book with the title „La pensée coloniale“ (2007), written by Fernando Matamoros Ponce; it also has appeared in Spanish under the title „Pensamiento colonial“ (2015). The understanding seems to be similar to my definition, but apparently, the book essentially speaks of Mexican history and Spanish colonization. Other texts have appeared in Spanish, speaking of ‚pensamiento colonial‘.
I see two forms of colonial thinking which I call „right wing“ and „left wing“, respectively. By right wing, I understand the classical „conservative“ form. Typically described for example by Fukuyama (End of history) or by Huntington (The clash of civilizations); both authors being from USA, the leading country of right wing colonial thinking. The justification of right wing colonial thinking is based on power and it sees every strong, non-Western country as an enemy.
Left wing colonial thinking is more modern. Its contempt is more directed against governments (in non-Western countries). It has much more a moral justification, than a justification based on power; a typical example is the subject of Western understanding of human rights. Some of the strength of the left wing colonial thinking comes from its criticism against right wing colonial thinking.
I would say that a clear majority in Switzerland supports colonial thinking. Typical „tests“ are the attitude towards Iran, towards Hezbollah, towards Syria, or towards Venezuela. As a rule, right wing colonial thinking is to be found among right wing political people (in the West) while left wing colonial thinking is widespread in left wing political circles (including ecological circles) in the West. The strength of left wing colonial thinking is rapidly growing with respect to the strength of the right wing colonial thinking.
b) Two popular votes in Switzerland on March 7 (2021)
One vote was about the Popular initiative „Yes to a ban on full facial coverings“. The discussion about this subject has lasted quite some time. The Popular Initiative was initiated by right wing political circles. Politically speaking, it was directed against certain clothes of Muslim women; very few persons in Switzerland are really targeted. However, for some people, the simple existence of these women clothes is already seen as an attack on „Western values“. Clearly, the initiative also supports the idea of superiority of „Western“ Christianity (I do not see orthodox Christianity as a part of „Western“ Christianity). The initiative was accepted, despite the opposition of the government and the majority of the political parties. A similar result has been obtained in November 2009 concerning the Popular Initiative which urged the ban of constructions of minarets. In 2009, the result was 57.5% in favor of the initiative, while the result of March 7 (2021) was 51.2% in favor of the initiative.
Both Popular Initiatives are obviously based on right wing colonial thinking. However, concerning the vote on „Yes to a ban on full facial coverings“, there was also a strong influence of the left wing colonial thinking. The idea was to liberate Muslim women from oppression. In an official statement of the supporters of the initiative, this was even taken as the first argument. These supporters also claimed that many Arabe tourists would be happy to free themselves in Switzerland from the „tissue prison“ (as they call these women clothes). This is pure colonial thinking.
I call this attitude „colonial feminism“. One cannot take seriously their „arguments“ since the same people do not support at all the fight of Syria against terrorism and occupation by foreign countries (Israel, USA, Turkey,…). Let me however clarify that I am not at all against feminism. When I got married, I agreed to officially change my name from „Schmutz“ to „Schmutz Schaller“ so that my wife could keep her name; at that time, Switzerland urged one of the two to change the name, and in (almost) 100% of the cases, it was the woman who changed the name (which I saw as profoundly unfair).
The second popular vote on March 7 concerned the „Economic partnership agreement with Indonesia“. The government and the majority of the parliament supported this agreement. They rightly argued that Indonesia with its growing middle class is an important future market for Swiss companies. Moreover, Indonesia supports the agreement. The opposite side (mainly left wing and ecological circles) – in an official statement – said that „the Indonesian government is not a reliable partner“ (English translation by me); this again is pure colonial thinking, left wing in this case. They added other harsh and arrogant criticism against Indonesia and her government.
The result for the whole Switzerland saw a narrow win for the agreement by 51.65% (of the voters). In the French speaking part of Switzerland, where the support for left wing and ecological political parties is stronger than in the other parts of Switzerland, the agreement was even clearly rejected.
Comparing these two popular votes of March 7, I would say that for the first time in Switzerland, the left wing colonial thinking had a stronger influence than the right wing colonial thinking. This is a remarkable event, and I have little doubt that it indicates a trend which will get stronger.
I must admit that my interpretation of these two popular votes of March 7 in the line of colonial thinking is very much my own one. Neither before, nor after the vote, I saw a comment pointing in this direction. It is even possible that I am more or less the unique person in Switzerland with this point of view.
I should not forget to mention that there was a third popular vote on Mach 7, but it is not of interest in the context of this article.
c) Relations between Switzerland and China
The Swiss government is preparing a discussion paper about the future relations between Switzerland and China. It is expected to appear in the next weeks; then there will be a discussion in the parliament. I think that this discussion will be of crucial importance not only for the relations between Switzerland and China but for the role and position of Switzerland in the world.
It is quite possible that a real political discussion will take place, not comparable with the usual ideological brainwashing in the Swiss media when the subject is China. Even if Switzerland is a Western country, she has a long tradition of not putting all eggs in the same basket; this is usually called neutrality. For example, after 1949, Switzerland was one of the first Western countries to install official relations with the new People’s Republic of China. When the Swiss President officially visited China in 2019, the Swiss side has qualified the relations with China as „very good“. Since 2014, Switzerland and China have a free trade agreement and since 2016, „the two sides have decided to place their relations under the banner of an ‚innovative strategic partnership‘. With this ‚innovative strategic partnership,’ Switzerland and China recognize the diversity, intensity, and significance of their bilateral relations“ (cited from the official Joint declaration).
It is obvious that with respect to China, the left wing colonial thinking is much stronger in Switzerland than the right wing colonial thinking. Right wing political parties are more interested in good economical relations while left wing parties in Switzerland are much more ideological and doctrinaire (with respect to China). They see non-Western countries merely as enemies. It is however to be mentioned that under the influence of the anti-Chinese politics of the USA, the anti-China attitude in Switzerland has increased, in right wing as well as in left wing political parties. So, this discussion about the future relations between Switzerland and China could bring some negative surprises; nevertheless, I expect that Switzerland will keep a more independent (from US influence) position towards China than other Western countries. It will also be of interest to see in which way the Covid-19 pandemic will enter the discussion, considering that the Chinese market in particular and the Asian market in general will be very dynamical in the next years, compared with the markets in other parties of the world.
d) How to break down the colonial thinking in Switzerland?
This is the big question. For the near future, I am pessimistic. I see no forces in Switzerland who go in the good direction. For the time being, change is more or less only possible as a consequence of a worldwide change of power. I see no example in the history of the last centuries where the population of a rich country has changed the mentality in order to become more humble, if not under huge exterior pressure. More generally speaking, for humans, it seems to be very difficult to change convictions. Usually, they only change the justification of their convictions. With that being said, I can at least continue to try to eradicate every bit of colonial thinking in my own head.