Bonjour Monsieur le Président

On Wednesday, there was this panel at the American Red Cross, arguing about the question whether the Geneva Conventions could still protect civilians in contemporary warfare. The event was organized by the Consulate General of Switzerland and basically characterized by the two opposing standpoints of Philip Gourevitch (The New Yorker), who thinks that the current law is not sufficient, and Gabor Rona (Human Rights First), who thinks that the debate would not be necessary if the existing rules were better applied. The discussion was interesting, but the really interesting thing happened moments before it started, namely, I got the opportunity to meet Pascal Couchepin, former President of the Swiss Confederation. I considered it an honor, because he is a personality I have actually respected as a politician.
He was member of the Swiss collective head of state (Swiss Federal Council) from 1998 to 2009, and held the presidential office in 2003 and 2008. Journalist Max Frenkel wrote a few years ago that Couchepin could have been one of the best representatives of the Federal Council in a long time, considering his intelligence, inventiveness, and his commitment for disadvantaged groups. However, there was a lot of controversy about his character in the same time. A surplus of self-confidence and a lack of self-discipline is what some people might criticize him for when looking back on his long-lasting term in office. Asking about the date of his resignation became sort of a running gag, because he would just not step down. FYI: It is not the people who elect the members of the Federal Council directly. It works differently. Any yes, Switzerland is a special case in many respects. Anyway, Mr. Couchepin has always had my personal respect for his straightforwardness. He pursued his political ideas persistently and has never made friendly overtures in order to be liked. It is a quality a lot of today’s TV-optimized, mediagenic Western world politicians do not possess anymore.

I wonder what kind of personalities will lead our nations in some 20 years.

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