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Swiss secret service spied on Dürrenmatt

Friedrich Dürrenmatt
“Any ass who thinks he has official authority can tap my phone,” Dürrenmatt said. Keystone / Str

Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt was kept under surveillance by the Federal Intelligence Service for almost 50 years, according to the SonntagsZeitungExternal link, which has published an official file on the Bernese playwright, essayist, cartoonist and painter.

“Switzerland is the chicken of Europe,” Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) said in an interview in 1966, in which he warned that the country was in danger of becoming “a police state with a democratic façade”.

“Any ass who thinks he has official authority can tap my phone,” he said.

Officials did indeed tap his phone several times during the Cold War and noted his illnesses and political commitments.

The 17 documents in Dürrenmatt’s filesExternal link (redacted to protect people who are still alive) tell us a lot about Switzerland’s repressed history during the Cold War, the SonntagsZeitung said. “Above all about the rabid anti-communism that took on almost hysterical characteristics in this country – and led to the creation of a huge surveillance apparatus.”

The Swiss federal police ended up collecting information on more than 800,000 people – every 20th Swiss citizen and every third foreigner – suspected of “unSwiss” behaviour during the Cold War, mainly those who had contacts with left-wing groups or had travelled to socialist countries.



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Dürrenmatt, known for dramas and satires including The Visit (1956) and The Physicists (1962), was spied on from 1941 to 1989. He lived to see the scandal be exposed in 1989, but he died before he could read his own file.

During his lifetime he was fiercely critical of the anti-Communist attitude of the Swiss authorities. However, he admitted this did have a certain logic for Switzerland, which after the Second World War was surrounded by a Europe “teeming” with victors, as he put it, who didn’t see the Swiss as a heroic people but rather a collection of war profiteers. As a result, he said, the Swiss, especially politicians, decided to become the “heroes of the Cold War”.

The son of a preacher, Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born on January 5, 1921, in Konolfingen (Bern) and died on December 14, 1990, in Neuchâtel.

He is the most translated Swiss writer and playwright in the world and made his name with the works ‘The Visit’ (1956) and ‘The Physicists’ (1962), as well as through several movie adaptations of his police novels, including ‘The Judge and his Hangman’ (1952) or ‘The Pledge’ (1958).

Jean-Louis Jeanmaire am Pult


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR