Thousands take to the streets of Bern in support of Swiss neutrality
Around 3.000 protestors gathered in the de-facto capital Bern on Saturday to rally for stricter Swiss military neutrality, especially regarding the Russia - Ukraine war. According to Swissinfo, pressure has been growing on the Swiss government to lift an ongoing ban on shipping locally-made military hardware to Ukraine and to realign its policy regarding the conflict.
Large pro-neutrality protest held in Bern
According to Swissinfo, while the protesters came from many different walks of life, a large group of the objectors were from right-wing political parties and held more conservative beliefs. Members of the right-wing Swiss People's Party and other conservative groups have protested strongly against the export of military hardware to Ukraine, instead preaching that Switzerland should retain its historic policy of neutrality.
The rally comes just a week after protestors from the other side of the political spectrum called for Switzerland to do more to support Ukraine. More than 2.000 protestors gathered in the Swiss capital to demand more sanctions be placed on Russia and call for the government to lift the export ban on Swiss-made weapons and ammunition.
Why is arms export to Ukraine a big issue in Switzerland?
Many other countries across the continent and beyond have stepped in to supply Ukraine with weapons to defend its country from Russian forces, but Switzerland has refrained from following their lead, instead applying financial sanctions and pushing for diplomatic solutions through organisations such as the UN. A number of elected officials, especially from Germany and the rest of Europe, have condemned Switzerland for not taking further action.
As things stand, Switzerland will not allow any Swiss-made arms to be exported, or re-exported to Ukraine, as the constitution prohibits the export of arms to countries currently at war. That means that Swiss-made military hardware that has been purchased by other countries such as Spain or France cannot be sent to Ukraine. Most famously, the re-export of ammunition from Germany to Ukraine was blocked by the Swiss government in 2022, because it violated neutrality.
Swiss government not yet willing to export arms to Ukraine
According to Swissinfo, the Swiss government has maintained a firm stance on the issue, saying that the country must retain its neutral position, while political opponents and representatives from other countries say that Switzerland must allow the re-export of its military hardware or risk being complicit in Russia’s military operation.
Even Swiss civilians seem to disagree on the best course of action. A survey recently revealed that older people in Switzerland back greater support for Ukraine, while many young people are more in favour of staying out of the conflict.
Similar problems have arisen in neighbouring Germany relating to the (re-)export of German tanks to Ukraine - until the German government eventually backed down and agreed to lift the export ban. Despite this, the Swiss government is keen to retain its current position, at least for the time being.
Image: Shutterstock.com / Keitma