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Shooting threatens culture of openness

The papers say much about Switzerland will have to change

The killing of 14 people by a gunman who stormed into the cantonal parliament in Zug on Thursday is provoking much soul-searching about the nature of Swiss society and its democracy. The consensus is that Swiss ideas about openness and access have been fundamentally challenged.

A common theme throughout the Swiss press on Friday is that the days when the public could freely enter local parliaments and when cabinet ministers could travel alone on trams are over.

Security at public buildings is already being stepped up across the country, and procedures are being re-examined ahead of what most commentators expect will be a radical overhaul. Many papers say a re-think of the country’s liberal gun laws is now overdue.

Switzerland is still reeling from Thursday’s attack, in which three members of the Zug cantonal government, and 11 members of parliament, were killed.

The lone gunman, Friedrich Leibacher, 57, of canton Zurich, stormed into the Zug parliament on Thursday morning, and opened fire with an assault rifle in the assembly room. His motive was reportedly a grievance with the local authorities.

No grounds for panic

The Neue Zurcher Zeitung says the attack is no grounds for panic, but that it has challenged the country’s culture of “open doors”. The paper adds that it will prove a difficult balancing act to preserve this culture of openness in the face of the need for increased security.

Peter Hug writing in the Zurich based Tages Anzeiger says it is in America that killers run amok in schools and public places. He writes that because such acts are so foreign to Swiss society, it “affects us more, and the scars will take longer to heal”.

He concludes by calling for stricter gun controls and says the days of allowing the public access to local parliaments is over.

The German speaking daily, Der Bund, says there should be a change in the carefree attitudes to the private ownership of arms in Switzerland.

“In future, those who pick up their guns should think about the tragedy that happened in Zug, and not just about their next trip to the shooting range.”

The paper recommends tougher legislation for arms ownership, but also points out that this would not be enough prevent such crimes from occurring again.

Safe reputation “shattered”

The view of the international press is similar. The Financial Times says “Switzerland’s reputation as one of the safest countries in the world was rudely shattered…”

It adds that the “attack has deeply shocked a country which until now has felt comfortably isolated from the terror and violence which have plagued other countries”.

The newspaper also makes the point that “guns have been readily available yet [Switzerland] has never suffered from the level of gun related violence that has scarred other countries such as the United States”.

The International Herald Tribune quotes the mayor of Zug as saying that Switzerland had to “start thinking about how to protect our democratic institutions, because this was also an attack on our democracy”.

The tabloid Blick’s editor, Jürg Lehmann, writes that Switzerland became a little more like the rest of the world on Thursday, and that the country will have to follow their example. He also asks whether Switzerland is losing its tolerance of different ideas and views.

Sense of shock

The French-speaking newspaper, Le Temps, echoes the view that the sense of shock at Thursday’s attack was all the more acute because the Swiss are less exposed to acts of violence that many other countries.

It adds that the fact the crime occurred among those elected to promote a civil society was particularly poignant. However, the paper warns against excessive security measures in Switzerland’s institutions, saying these would jeopardise Switzerland’s open democracy.

Likewise, the Tribune de Geneve warns against succumbing to the “security paranoia” which would prevent ministers from travelling to work on public transport.

It argues that the attack was committed by a lone man on the rampage, and not by an organised terrorist group, and that security measures should be in line with the nature of the crime. “We should find a more efficient security system, but without turning elected politicians into untouchable VIPs.” The “soul of the Swiss democracy” was at stake, says the paper.

by Jonas Hughes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR