Only in Switzerland? That’s what the protagonists claim. And it’s worth repeating the story to show how different Swiss political leaders are from some of their counterparts in the United States . Two Swiss German newspapers have revealed a most human story that it is marked contrast to the insults coming from Donald Trump during the U.S. presidential campaign.
During a meeting of a Swiss Parliamentary commission outside Bern in late June, the head of the Socialist party, Christian Levrat, informed his colleagues that if he stayed during the meeting he would miss his daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. The subject being debated in the commission was particularly relevant for the Socialists and Levrat felt obliged to stay to vote although obviously torn between his political and personal responsibilities.
Two reactions from members of opposing parties highlight Swiss politicians' collegiality.
First, a member of the Christian Democratic Party said that he would vote for Levrat according to the Socialist’s position even if that vote was against his own position. Realizing the importance of the graduation for the proud father, Konrad Graber put aside his personal and political positions to help his colleague.
Second, and equally impressive, in his rush to leave Levrat could not find his car keys. Without hesitation, Swiss President Ueli Maurer put his chauffeur and limousine at Levrat’s disposal. To show how panicked Levrat was, his car keys were found in the door of his car, allowing the Swiss president to return to Bern driving his colleague’s car.
And colleague is the right word here. In spite of their political differences, Konrad Graber and Ueli Maurer helped Christian Levrat solve what I call an Einstein problem – being in two places at the same time. Both Graber and Maurer realized the importance of Levrat’s parental responsibility, and both found ways to help him solve his dilemma.
Levrat recognized the uniqueness of the situation. “It is a true story,” he confirmed by Tweet and in a recent television interview. “And it could only have happened in Switzerland,” he added.
The story certainly reflects a different tone from the United States political campaign. President Trump continues to call Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” because of her Native American background and refers to former Vice-President Joe Biden as “Sleepy Joe.” And this is well before the November 2020 election.
Neutrality and consensus are two fundamentals of Swiss politics. Both reflect deep cultural foundations. While we can argue about what makes democracies function, the collegiality shown among Levrat, Graber and Maurer in this story are reminders that basic human values among the elected should not be ignored if a democracy is to function. As a matter of fact, it is perhaps acts of collegiality among politicians that are the very bedrock of democracy.