Retrospectively, there is a country which is quite imperative for Turkey, that its cities are well known and frequently pronounced by Turkish students in primary school almost for a century due to the treaties signed and deemed with the names of cities Montreux and Lausanne, that’s significantly imperative in history of Turkish Republic courses. A country gives inspiration to Turkish Civil and Commercial Code. In fact, bilateral diplomatic relations with Switzerland dates back to 1899-1900, when the Ottoman Empire accredited its Ambassador in Brussels to the Swiss Confederation.
Here, the waving flag is belonging to a country where federalism and direct democracy reflect the great importance that the Swiss political system places on the freedom of choice and self-determination. Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country, with a robust economy made up of 26 cantons, which are themselves divided into more than 2,300 communes. The Confederation, the cantons and communes share political and legislative powers. She is the wonderland of several lakes, glaciers, villages with flamboyant colors and diversity, the high summits of the Alps. Old towns within its cities contain medieval landmarks. The country is also a destination for its ski resorts and hiking trails. Banking and finance are key industries and Swiss watches and chocolate are well-known.
In addition to the EFTA Convention and the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union (EU) of 1972, Switzerland currently has a network of 28 free trade agreements (FTAs) with 38 partners outside the EU. Switzerland normally concludes its FTAs together with its partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, in the framework of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Development is quite fundamental element in the process of maintaining the justice and peace in World. In this connotation, the Switzerland is not only a neutral country which build its global reputation as peaceful universal state avoid from any provocations in both way (provoking/being imposed to provocation, conflicted biased alliances), but also actively encompasses various humanitarian peace-building efforts including the efforts elevating the efficient works on combatting poverty to lessen the war feeding elements in the world. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)[i] is Switzerland’s international cooperation agency within the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). In operating with other federal offices concerned, SDC is responsible for the overall coordination of development activities and cooperation with Eastern Europe, as well as for the humanitarian aid delivered by the Swiss Confederation. The aim of development cooperation is that of reducing poverty. It is meant to foster economic self-reliance and state autonomy, to contribute to the improvement of production conditions, to help in finding solutions to environmental problems, and to provide better access to education and basic healthcare services.
Targeting being appropriately informed, rather than being opinionated only, the primary purpose of such diplomatic interviews are to introduce the social, cultural life of relevant countries in associated country as well as highlighting the intersection of mutual cultural, economic, political points between the foreign countries. I personally kindly ask diplomats to inform readers and audiences regarding the cultural, industrial, political significance, traditions of their country. Supportive references also added to the end section of the interview in order to let the readers make their preferable in-depth explore on attentive subjects. The questions directed in this diplomatic interview purposely entails extended details in order to broaden the perspective of readers/audiences.
For such purpose, I cordially present my special thanks to dear Ms. Monika Schmutz Kirgöz, The Consul General of Switzerland for conducting this interview.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: First of all I wholeheartedly wish a happy, successful and peaceful new year (2016) to all of us. It is a pleasure for me to meet with you on this occasion, since our diplomatic interview (live radio broadcast) and meeting at the Swiss National Day Reception. Would you please kindly tell us about yourself, your previous diplomatic tasks and duties in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Switzerland?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: I have now been at the Consulate General of Switzerland for four and a half years here in Istanbul. Having been a diplomat for 20 years, I started my career in Rome. I did a spell as spokesperson of the Swiss Foreign Ministry after which I was sent to Ankara. That was between 2000-2004. From Ankara I moved to Rome for the second time, from Rome on to Tel Aviv until I was transferred to Istanbul in 2011, where I will stay for another one and half years. I am married to a Turkish citizen and have 2 sons.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: You have been here in Istanbul almost for five years as Consul General of Switzerland, but on during your diplomatic duty from 2000 you spent four years in Turkey as well. Based on this fact, I have a double layered question. What was your first impression about Turkey in 2000 and what has changed since then?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: A lot has changed. When I came back I had the impression that it was not the same Turkey anymore. But I have to say, the change was in a very positive sense. As mentioned, I left in 2004 and only returned in 2011. What I found was definitely a more modern, a more dynamic and a richer country. Looking back, I think you could feel the peak of the economic boom especially in 2011. But it probably lasted until 2013 which was the year of the turning point. Because at that stage politics changed, because we then had the parallel issue and last but not least we experienced Gezi. Nowadays, I find the situation more like stagnation at a very high level and I assess that the country has become less dynamic and more polarized.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Would you please give an insight into the polarization here?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: You know, I have the impression that when I came back the whole country was in this hype of “we are someone now, we are so important strategically and economically”. I had the impression of the whole country somehow being behind that surge. Of course there was criticism about this which is normal in a political, democratic system. Nonetheless, ever since Gezi in May and this parallel issue in December of 2013, I feel that society is more polarized and I gather that people are not at all in the same mood anymore. And of course there are problems in neighbouring countries which doesn’t help either. The whole part of this world is going through difficult moments because you have war, Islamic State as well as refugees. It’s not in a booming phase anymore as things have become too complicated.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: What was your first impression of Ankara?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Although it wasn’t to Ankara yet, I came to Turkey for the first time back in 1997 as a tourist. I was thirty years old at the time and was so amazed that I asked myself: “How come I hadn’t noticed this country before?” “How come I had waited so long to discover this impressive land?” It was really love at first sight.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: What was your favourite thing, what impressed you the most?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Everything. The people and the food, for example. I was so clueless that I didn’t know anything about the delights of the cuisine, nor the kindness of the people or even the beauty of the cities. I simply had no idea because Turkey didn’t happen in the first thirty years of my life. As it has since then taken a big place in my heart, I can’t say anything negative.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: How long did you stay?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: One long weekend, just for four days. It was a good first time because I visited with Turkish diplomat friends of mine and staying with them meant there was no need for a hotel. They cooked for me and enabled me to experience a variety of things; especially the hospitality. It was a great experience. After that I started coming back all the time. Maybe every 6 months. I would repeat to all of my friends back in Switzerland “What, you don’t know Turkey? You have to come, and you have to see” I was like the PR agency of Turkey
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Surely the main concern of Consulates is to comply with the priorities of their country and the active foreign policy of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From this standpoint, what are the major priorities of the Swiss Consulate General in Istanbul?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: There are a lot of political issues as we have many fields of cooperation with Turkey. Our way of working together runs very smoothly by the way. But this is all taken care of by our Embassy in Ankara. We here at the Consulate look after everything which is not strictly political, such as business, economy, culture, press or Swiss citizens.
In Istanbul we are right in the economic engine of the country. We have more than 400 Swiss companies who are in Turkey and who have invested here, most of them opting for İstanbul. When it occurs that some of them are facing problems, we help them and we mediate. There are a lot of things happening in the business world, meaning a lot of people still want to invest. Accordingly there are a lot of Joint Ventures. On the other hand we take care of Turkish business people who wish to invest in Switzerland. We help them by facilitating their entry into the Swiss market for example. In addition to this we organize a lot of cultural projects. I know these are not always very visible because Istanbul has the privilege of having so much going on, so many events every evening in different parts of the city.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Switzerland has four linguistic regions; German, French, Italian and Romansch. What is the impact of such variety of languages on Swiss culture and how are you involved in cultural and educational programs, what kind of activities do you undertake?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: We support all kinds of artists, we invite writers, we screen movies, we facilitate concerts and we hold seminars at universities, whatever you can imagine. Due to the multi-linguist nature of our country, we also take part in the Francophonie with the French institute, the Italian language week at the Italian Institute and cooperate closely with the Austrian and German Cultural institutes, thus covering the three main languages spoken in Switzerland. We are also an active member of the Istanbul branch of EUNIC, European Network of National Institutes for Culture.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Are the cultural organizations and events open to the public and if so how they can be followed?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Yes, most of them are open to the public. They can be viewed on our website and will soon be available on Facebook. Since most of the events are on invitation basis, we have created an enormous database for the distribution. When we organize an event together with our numerous partners, the program is published on their websites as well.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Supposing Turkish people were to have thirst and appetite for joining the activities of the cultural affairs section of the Consulate General of Switzerland in Istanbul one day, what do you think regarding the massive efforts on the path of cultural relationships, events and opening cultural centres in different cities in Turkey?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: We have our Deputy Consul General dealing with cultural issues, we don’t have an institute. Currently, there is no plan for opening such an institution but we are, as mentioned, involved and supporting multi-faceted cultural events. Turkish people already follow and enjoy those events; cross cultural and intellectual bonds are galvanized and strengthened in such a way.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: You said that Swiss business people doing business or intending to do business here are sometimes faced with some troubling issues. What kind of problems are these? Are they caused by systematic technical weaknesses, incompetence, lack of expertise or rather by miscommunication and poor human relations?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: The problems are not systematic, but the most frequently faced issues are at customs. Remember that we are not a European Union (EU) member. Although we have a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, the rules, regulations and quotes applicable for the latter at Turkish Customs are not the same for Swiss products and they cannot enter as quickly as theirs. The most important thing is that when we deal with investors, we have to ensure that they are connected with the right people and company. In this sense, we cooperate with the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT), which is a state run agency /organization directly under the Prime Ministry.[ii] They foster good relations with the investor and are happy to assist them.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: On the basis of the news in the media and the statements of Turkey’s European Affairs minister, Turkish citizens shall be able to benefit from visa-free travel to Europe’s Schengen area starting in October 2016 as part of a recent deal between Turkey and the European Union. It sounds like a green light for Turkey. What is your opinion and Consulate’s perspective about the improved visa options for Turkish entrepreneurs and Turkish citizens in general? Does Switzerland support visa liberalization for Turkey?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Since we are part of Schengen and the treaty’s rules are outright and clear, there is no real space for having a personal opinion. If liberalization is going to happen, Turkish citizens won’t need a visa for Switzerland anymore. October 2016 is -however- a very tight deadline as there is much legislation, also on the Turkish side, that would have to be implemented by then. I hope that the current conflict in the South East is not going to change the mind of those who said they think by October 2016 there will be no more visas for Turks. Because if the conflict continues, then there will be not only refugees from Syria and Iraq fleeing to Europe and seeking asylum but probably also from Turkey too. What we are reading in the newspapers these days does not really allow an optimistic outlook.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: So should we also think that October 2016 is not a realistic deadline?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Actually, I didn’t mean that, but I repeat that the time frame is rather limited. I presume that those who set this very tight deadline didn’t take into consideration that the conflict in the South East was leading to such bitter acrimony.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: And the most imperative obstacle or problem is?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Again, I should state that “polarization” is the crux of the matter. With the government enjoying such a comfortable majority, I wish that its top representatives would be more reconciliatory, reaching out to each and every person in Turkey, even those who didn’t vote for them. It’s very important to have national unity, to overcome this divide as well as the polarization. Everyone should feel comfortable in this country which, on the basis of my observation, is not the case.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: So we can say it is by omitting words and showing a certain discriminatory behaviour that may lead to polarization?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Embracing also those who don’t agree with you is important. Because and I repeat that this is such a beautiful, incredible and important country that we have to take care of it. If the language becomes sometimes too harsh, then further polarization occurs.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Switzerland as a country portrays the image and symbol of peace and surely we both embrace such peace. How is the general perception by the government of Switzerland and Swiss public with regards to the unrests and conflict issues in Turkey such as the Gezi protests, the resolution of the Kurdish conflict and the peace process?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Gezi, this societal movement, was in the perception of the Swiss public opinion definitely a turning point. Because as I remarked before, Turkey was a “wow” country until Gezi occurred. The economic boom was impressive while Erdogan was doing everything right. He took this country from being the proverbial sick man of the Bosphorus to becoming the 17th economy in the world. Before Gezi, Turkey was like a new China, the new El Dorado. The turnaround during Gezi was not good publicity for Turkey in Switzerland. Regarding the admittedly complicated Kurdish issue, it is difficult for us to understand why the conflict is allowed to continue, causing a tragic loss of lives on both sides. I am not optimistic as I fear the gap is getting bigger. It is very challenging to overcome the animosity by sitting down at the table and finding a solution, thereby paving the way to a “win win” situation for both parties. Nonetheless, is there an alternative to such a solution which gives the Kurdish people the possibility to practice their cultural, traditional folkloristic life, speak their own language and make them feel as respected equal citizens? I think not and there would be plenty of countries that would be happy to mediate a resolution to the conflict if only both parties wished so. The saying “where there is a will, there is way”, also applies to this case.
Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Two years ago in January 2014, Geneva hosted the United Nations Syrian Peace Talks (Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference) aiming to cease the Civil War in Syria through bringing together the Government of Syria and the opposition. Such an initiative was just on example of Switzerland’s humanitarian endeavours. What other kind of humanitarian activities is Switzerland directly involved in, what is the general foreign policy of Switzerland concerning the refugees in Syria (well as Iraq) that one of the leading and persistent humanitarian issue on global agenda now? How the Switzerland’s humanitarian policy does is implemented within Turkey concerning the refugees?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Although this task falls within the scope of our Embassy and without going into too many details, I can tell you that Switzerland finds remarkable how Turkey manages the refugee crises resulting from the unrest and civil war in Syria. But not only Europe is aware of this fact, no, it is globally recognized that the crisis is being handled very professionally with typical Turkish hospitality and showing that humanity is of utmost concern. The funding of UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) is an area of cooperation between our two countries whereas Switzerland offered assistance to Turkey in this field from the beginning. To this end, we have the presence of a Humanitarian Attaché at our Embassy in Ankara who coordinates with the Turkish authorities. The aid goes to Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as to those who remained in the war torn country.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: And your opinion regarding the (Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference) that aims to finalize the Syrian civil war?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Before the Geneva conference on Syria, we had delegations travelling every month to that city, but it frustratingly enough didn’t resolve the conflict. We got feedback from the people who had been to Geneva whilst they were in our premises for visa applications. They came, talked, held numerous seminars and workshops regarding the resolution of the conflict and the peace-building process. But to no avail, while people are talking others are dying and no noticeable results were achieved.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: The Confederation, the Cantons and communes in Switzerland share political and legislative powers. I am always wondering about what makes a law “unbiased” and Switzerland surely has such global reputation. Even Turkish Civil and Commercial Code is based are inspired by Swiss Law, what makes Swiss law so distinctive?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Good question. Maybe we should have asked the reason for such preference to Ataturk who was a very clever man. But he actually didn’t take all of the laws from my country. Whereas the Civil and Commercial Code are based on Swiss Law, the Penal Code was adopted from Italy. But the fact that the first Minister for the Interior Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, Mahmud Esad Bozkurt, studied in Lausanne and Fribourg was no doubt beneficial in expediting the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code. One other special thing that comes to mind is that we respect the law. You know, it is not only the matter of having a law, but how you respect and how you apply it. And I can proudly say that, everyone is equal in front of the law in Switzerland. In terms of biased law, actually there is no biased law in the democratic world to my knowledge, but there are cases of biased judgement. If the judge is corrupt and doesn’t respect the law, then even the best of civil codes doesn’t help.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Switzerland is a country where I have enjoyed riding on horse and stepping on snowy mountains first time in my life. In recent times, fortunately having a chance to follow on TV one of the world’s famous show-jumping events, The 55th edition of the CHI Geneva (Concours hippique international de Genève) took place from 10th to 13th December 2015. What would you like to say about tourist appealing sport activities in Switzerland in general including Alpinism and Concours hippique two fascinating sport?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Essentially Switzerland is a country where nearly every kind of sport is practised as we are an active and dynamic people. Everyone in Switzerland at every age does sports, making us one of the sportiest nations in the world.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Any sport organization or event planned with Turkey?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: For example, our female volleyball team will come to Trabzon next week whereby handball is another field of sports where we have a lot of joint activities. Nonetheless, at present we unfortunately don’t have a great deal of cooperation with Turkey in the field of sports. But we try. For example, I am also responsible for Izmir. When I was there, I visited the governor and mayor, offering them help to organize the Annual Izmir Marathon along their great Kordon.[iii] I told them you have this facility and we are experts on marathon. We can find sponsors which would enable the launching of a kind of Turkish-Switzerland friendship experience through the means of a run of 42 kilometres back and forth. I will remind them again.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Cross-cultural bounds are also strengthened through activities inspired from mutual backgrounds, traditions and some folkloric similarities. Do you think that Turkish people and Swiss people have such resemblance in their traditions?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: Presently 100.000 Turks live in Switzerland whereas 4.000 Swiss reside in Turkey. To date I haven’t been able to observe such direct resemblances and similarities.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu: Is there a final statement you would like to make for our readers?
Monika Schmutz Kirgöz: To conclude, I would like to underline my conviction that there is still plenty of untapped potential in our bilateral relations, especially when it comes to trade and investments. Switzerland is a very high tech innovative country, but with limited resources and an aging population. Turkey, on the other hand, has a young, well-educated and ethical work force which is highly competitive in terms of labor cost and productivity. We should thus continue to match Swiss technology and innovation, which is relatively easy to export, together with Turkish assets. I’m convinced that it will lead us to the ultimate all-win scenario, in which we “grow together”. Both our countries are investor-friendly and know how to adapt to the global market’s needs and provide solutions. So let’s encourage more investments! But also in field of cultural exchange more should be done. As our two countries are both rich in culture and arts, I would like to see further artists from Turkey visiting Switzerland and will certainly encourage our Swiss artists to come here. Our Consulate General in this bustling, dynamic mega-city is here to serve as a bridge for both Turkish and Swiss wishing to take advantage of all these facts. And last but not least, I would like to thank you dear Cigdem Hanim for giving me the opportunity to spell out my feelings for your great country.
[i] “SDC Portrait: SDC in brief”, https://www.eda.admin.ch/deza/en/home/sdc/portrait.html
[ii] ISPAT, http://www.invest.gov.tr/en-US/Pages/Home.aspx
[iii] Kordon, seaside promenade, İzmir