Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Swiss Charity Fund Tests Unity of Disunited People Proposed Sale of Gold Reserves Raises Public Ire

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Swiss Charity Fund Tests Unity of Disunited People Proposed Sale of Gold Reserves Raises Public Ire

Article excerpt

How much Swiss "solidarity" is there?

That is the question many are asking since the government proposed creating Foundation for Solidarity, a 7 billion Swiss franc ($4.7 billion) endeavor to help victims of poverty, catastrophes, genocide, and human rights violations here and abroad. This would be in addition to a special 265 million Sfr. fund for Holocaust survivors.

But in a country where everything can be put to a national vote - from whether water-planes can take off from the lakes to whether to join the United Nations - it appears the Federal Council faces a fight. "It's going to be difficult to get the people together on this," says Peter von Deschwanden, mayor of Adelboden, a village 70 miles northeast of Geneva, commenting on the lack of unity in a nation with four official languages. "People here are so divided. Switzerland as a nation doesn't exist. You're either from one town or another." Under fire from the US The government proposed the foundation as a way to get the country back on track after more than a year of intense criticism by the United States and the World Jewish Congress regarding its financial dealings with Nazi Germany. In addition, the country's banks have been under pressure to clarify what happened to accounts opened by Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The government also views the fund as a symbolic way to usher in next year's 150th anniversary of Switzerland's modern Constitution. "If we want to do some good to those who endured unspeakable sufferings 50 years ago then we must effect, with inner conviction ... something capable of hindering today's and tomorrow's sufferings," said Swiss President Arnold Koller in a speech before a joint session of parliament last month. The money for the foundation would come from the sale of gold reserves in the Swiss National Bank. But in order to sell the gold, the Constitution must be changed for the reevaluation of the gold stocks. The foundation would be funded by the estimated 300 million Sfr. to 350 million Sfr. of yearly interest from the sale of the gold. Many citizens question whether the government is justified in spending this money while the country faces more than 5 percent unemployment and a continuing economic slump. …

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