By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Helvetia is what the Swiss call their homeland. It is a wonderful country, both because of its incredible scenic beauty and its exemplary form of government. We have visited it at least five times as travel writers.
For three hosted tours, Swissair had to get the permission of the Swiss cantons which they wanted us to experience.
Tiny Helvetia is divided into 52 Cantons which are, virtually, independent states with their own flags and crests. They, in turn, are divided into the German speaking, French speaking, Italian speaking and one which speaks Romansh. This language is to classical Latin what Hindi is to classical Sanskrit: the common language spoken by troops and traders.
In other words, the cantons of successful Switzerland have been divided into Linguist States as our own states have been. Because of this, Swiss people, as indeed most Indians, are multi-lingual. In addition, the greater majority of Swiss speak English because it is the language of International Trade, Tourism, Diplomacy and Entertainment. The seemingly ecstatic crowds which greeted our PM in the UK and USA would not have been there if they had not proved their familiarity with English in the first place. Our familiarity with this international language has given us a lead over China in many fields.
So why do we want to snatch this aspirational advantage from our common citizens? Two reasons come to mind. The first is a very petty one. The second is far more devious, discriminatory and destructive.
The first is that some of our Oh-so-Powerful High Commanders do not know English. So, instead of trying to raise their education level to that of our aspirational school kids, they want to lower their followers to their level of ignorance. This is so far-fetched a reason that though it is possible, because politics nowadays seems prepared to sink to the lowest sewer depths, it is not probable (we hope!)
The second reason is the more frightening one. Are we trying to create a wide gap between those who are fluent in an international language, and those who are not? Sardar Patel abolished the privileges of the Princes of India, are we trying to restore that chasm to create the English speaking rulers and the non-English fluent ruled? Why are certain political parties opening the scars of the language controversy which were healing with the creation of the linguistic states?
Helvetia also scores another point. Its citizens are, largely, Christian but they are both Catholic and Protestant. These two sects have fought bloody wars across history. In Switzerland they live in harmony. Is it because they know that a person’s religious convictions are of no concern to others? Is it because they realise that ancient beliefs with their ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night have no place in a modern society? Hitler realised that the only way he could control Germany was to create an unreasoning fear of Jews; and then claim that only he could protect his nation from these manufactured enemies. The Swiss do not fall for such medieval myths but do we have that armour of scientific reasoning?
The Swiss not only accept diversity, they embrace it. They learnt a long time ago that wars profit only the voracious Arms Lobby. They know that if they have stability and harmony, the world will come knocking at their door, and enter on the terms laid down by the Swiss. Swiss chocolates are world-famous, but the Swiss have to import their sugar and their cocoa. And yet they make a profit! Switzerland does not produce its own steel and yet their watches, made from imported raw materials, command premium prices internationally. All they really sell is Peace and Perfection, in a strife-ridden world, that guarantees them Prosperity.
Right now we need a little less Hate and Histrionics and a little more Swiss pragmatism and Gandhian empathy. You do remember Mahatma Gandhi don’t you?
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)