Newly-elected Christian Lohr has already had a remarkable political career – and he is only the second wheelchair-bound parliamentarian in recent Swiss history.
The member of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party from eastern Switzerland fights for his personal and political opinions with confidence and carefully nuanced words.
Lohr talks about his agenda and his achievements like any other politician. But there is one difference that distinguishes the 49-year old from most of his fellow parliamentarians, and indeed most people.
Lohr was born without arms and with legs that are seriously deformed – a victim of thalidomide, a drug prescribed to pregnant women who suffered from morning sickness in the 1950s and 1960s.
A journalist and teacher, his election to parliament in October was his third attempt to move onto the national stage.
During his career as a member of the local assembly of the town of Kreuzlingen and in the parliament of canton Thurgau he has made a name for himself as a “fighter”.
Reputation and values
Lohr does not try to deny his reputation as a tough and hard-working politician. At the same time, he thinks seriously over questions he is asked, always trying to be balanced and fair. These qualities seem to be the guiding principles of a man who rejects the notion of leveling egalitarianism.
“I’m not fighting 24 hours of my day. And I do not get worked up every time I come across a building with a missing access ramp for disabled people,” he says with a smile.
Lohr considers his parliamentary mandate to be a way of giving back something in return for all that he has received from others in his life.
He talks calmly and openly about values and the common sense of his parents. Lohr grew up with a brother who is four years older and he currently shares a house with his parents who live in the downstairs apartment.
“My parents didn’t really treat us differently. We faced the same strictness and got the same support,” he adds.
Nevertheless growing up was not always easy, he admits
Life with disability
“But in the end realising that I was different was a process much like anything else a child goes through,” he says.
It is a life “with” a disability not “despite” a disability, says Lohr, who considers himself strengthened by his religious convictions.
Shaking his right foot soon becomes the most normal thing for anyone meeting the new parliamentarian. And for those feeling shy, he adds that it is only condescending pity that he cannot stand.
“My career proves that I was not elected out of sheer pity,” he explains. An attempt by the rival Radical Party in Thurgau to block his election had the opposite impact, he points out.
“Besides, I led the meetings of the cantonal parliament for 12 months as its official speaker from 2008 to 2009.”
Until recently Lohr was still sitting in the finance committee of the Kreuzlingen parliament and today remains a member of the Thurgau cantonal parliament. But he does not rule out changes there as the mandate in Bern will most likely take up “a great deal” of his time.
He appears unfazed by the prospect of frequent trips on public transport from his home near the German town of Constance to the Swiss capital. He says he is used to asking for help if necessary as he has been doing when travelling around the country to meetings of prominent organisations for the disabled.
Aims and ambitions
After Marc Suter, a Radical Party politician for 20 years, Lohr - an amateur swimmer - is only the second Swiss parliamentarian to use a wheelchair.
Our visit to Kreuzlingen ahead of the initial session of parliament in December, coincided with a call by the tailor who came to take his measurements for a new outfit.
Lohr is not afraid to show his ambitions as newly-elected parliamentarian and he considers the mandate to be a recognition.
He says he is looking forward to “try and convince others of his ideas”. Bonus payments for managers, he says, should not be outlawed but granted within limits only and with a view to weaker members of society and to those who need help.
As for hooliganism Lohr argues that for too long Switzerland has been ignoring violence in and around sport stadiums; but he stresses that not enough is known about the reasons for the violent behaviour of the young generation.
He says he supports efforts to combat abuses of the welfare system, but opposes attempts to cut the pension payments of the disability insurance. Lohr himself does not benefit from such an allowance, but he receives financial contributions for specific services and tools, including his wheelchair.
But he refuses to see his personal situation as a model for others.
“I have been very lucky, I was able to get a good education and I’m well integrated into society so I can earn a living. But I’m an exception. Therefore disability pensions remain absolutely crucial.”
Born in April 1962 without any arms and with seriously deformed legs Lohr uses a wheelchair and his right foot to write.
He studied economics for two years at Constance University in neighbouring Germany and has been working as a journalist, author and teacher since 2007.
Lohr was head of the Swiss press corps at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta and two years later in Nagano.
He was president of Plusport, an sport organisation for the disabled between 1994 and 2008. He is also a leading member of the Pro Infirmis organisation for the disabled.
He entered politics when he was elected to the local parliament in his home town of Kreuzlingen in 1999. One year later won a seat in the Thurgau cantonal parliament which he led in 2008/2009.end of infobox
The Swiss parliament, made up the House of Representatives and the Senate, meets four times a year for regular three-week sessions.
The first session of the current four-year term ended on December 23.
Lohr is one of 29 representatives of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.
He is a member of the committee for health and social security matters.end of infobox
(Adapted from French by Urs Geiser), swissinfo.ch