This past week has not been a good one for Switzerland’s image abroad. The American TV and film star Oprah Winfrey went very public with accusations that she was the victim of racism in an exclusive store in Zurich, although she later played down the implications of the accusation. Whether or not the charges are true or merely publicity for her and her new film, the Swiss Tourism office was forced to apologize, which they later said might have been premature. On top of that, the international media was reporting that Bremgarten in the Swiss canton of Aargau had introduced several "exclusion zones" for asylum seekers, including public swimming pools and sports facilities.
Nicolas Bideau is the Head of Presence Switzerland, the person primarily responsible for Switzerland’s image abroad. The seasoned diplomat - educated in China, having served in the Swiss Embassy in India, former diplomatic advisor to Pascal Couchepin during his Presidency of the Confederation as well as the former Mr. Cinema Swiss - is reported to be vacationing on a Greek island.
Watching Roger Federer win his 7th Wimbledon and 17th Grand Slam title was a visual pleasure. His feet movement on the fabled Centre court reminded me of the footwork of the dancer Fred Astaire, effortless and so graceful that the feet don't seem to touch the ground. In addition, his flicks of the wrist and half-volleys brought images of a magician waving a magic wand, not a tennis player with a heavy racquet. There is no question of his phenomenal physical talent.
But beyond admiring the physical talent of Federer, what can we learn from watching him play?
Two recent events in Switzerland highlight its specificity as well as the difficulty in navigating between two distinctive poles. The resignation of Philipp Hildebrand as President of the Swiss National Bank made headlines around the world. In essence, while he did not break a specific rule, he admitted to a certain moral error in judgment concerning his private banking affairs. In a larger sense, the question raised is the relationship between his private life and his public function. Whereas in the United States public figures are subject to intense scrutiny by the press, Swiss journalists go out of their way to respect privacy.
In this specific case, Hildebrand and/or his wife was/were accused of using his public position for personal profit. Surprisingly, for the moment, Switzerland does not require public figures like Hildebrand to put their resources in a blind trust just as local politicians are not supposed to vote on issues related to their outside professional work. The private life of a very public figure was opened to national examination.