Letter From Switzerland: The Power of Myths

The power of myths

Every year on August 1st, Switzerland celebrates its mythical national birthday. The celebration goes back to the year 1291, when three peasants from Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (the founding cantons of Switzerland) swore to each other to defend themselves against all “foreign shire-reeves”. The reason for this defensiveness and segregation was the House of Habsburg who at that time occupied and terrorised a larger part of what, step by step, became Swiss territory.

Nobody knows if these three “comrades by oath” really existed. In fact, the founding story of the “Swiss Confederation” (official denomination) was largely invented towards the end of the 19th century by the government of Bern to find a reason for celebrating 700 years of Bern, and 600 years of Switzerland. Nevertheless, segregation remained one of the major guiding ideas of this country, particularly in the eyes of self-appointed Swiss patriots.

Segregation brought us so-called eternal neutrality, made us hesitate to fully join the United Nations until the year 2002, and made us stand apart of the European Union. But segregation never stopped us from doing business, whenever opportunity occurred. “Switzerland First” was always a major driver of Swiss foreign politics.

All over the world, segregation is experiencing a resurgence.  By proclaiming stricter border control, renegotiation of Schengen and other existing contracts with the EU, limitation of foreign population, rigorous expulsion of suspect foreigners and priority for Swiss workers when hiring, our largest political party with a fan base of approx. 30 % is in good company.

Officially, we very often stand apart. In reality we are largely integrated. All serious studies say that international convergence immensely favoured Switzerland to become what it is today: one of the most developed countries in the world, with the highest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product according to the International Monetary Fund. Continuing to be open, cooperative and competitive at the same time will protect these achievements best.

Political leaders cheat their followers by convincing them that any of today’s or tomorrow’s problems can be solved by isolation and protectionism. Segregation is a weapon of the past, if ever. But it is a reasoning with high impact because it preaches a simple solution.

As a matter of fact, politics are like any other business. Bad marketing in the sense of promises being made but not kept sooner or later will turn against you and destroy the relationship between your brand and its followers.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that politicians have learned any lesson taught to them by today’s marketing. If they had, how could they continue to operate with untrue and unfaithful communication that would never be tolerated in the business world? How can they think this passes unseen in times of efficient control by an attentive civil society, by impactful social media, by vigilant bloggers and vloggers?

Would it be a great idea for any politician to finally replace the outdated Power of Myths by the so much more promising Power of Marketing?

By Roland Sutter, Partner at The Observatory International, Switzerland



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