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Press ponder fallout from Göldi drama

Max Göldi next to his mother as he arrived in Zurich AFP

The Swiss press has welcomed the release of Max Göldi, detained in Libya for almost two years, but says Switzerland could not have managed without European help.

Göldi, a businessman, returned in the early hours of Monday morning. He arrived at Zurich airport with Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey after Bern and Tripoli signed an accord to end their diplomatic dispute.

“Finally,” read the online headline of the tabloid Blick early on Monday morning, summing up the relief felt by the nation.

“Max Göldi’s odyssey is at an end,” it said, showing a picture of a smiling Göldi being welcomed by his delighted family at the airport.

The Swiss and countryman Rachid Hamdani were detained by Libya in July 2008, in retaliation for the arrest in Geneva of Hannibal Gaddafi, one of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s sons. Hamdani was released earlier this year.

In its paper edition, Blick said Göldi’s return was “good news”, and that Swiss diplomats had been “persistent” in resolving the dispute.

But its editorial said background deals had probably been made to secure Göldi’s release and that there would be a price for Switzerland, especially as it had relied on help from the European Union. The Europeans were likely to want something in exchange, it wrote.

For the Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the turning point in the whole saga was when the Swiss escalated the matter by imposing European-wide visa restrictions on members of the Libyan elite.

It also warned that EU solidarity was limited. “The EU states remained mediators. They never took sides and never really seriously put their interests in Libya at risk for Switzerland.”

Despite this, the writer pointed out that it was lucky that Switzerland was in Europe.

“A whole line of top European politicians had to turn up at the circus in [Gaddafi’s] tent in Tripoli for Göldi to get his papers,” observed the Basler Zeitung.

“That Calmy-Rey played along was understandable, but what the heads of countries like Slovenia and Italy were doing there was not clear. That said, they too contributed to the end of the crisis – but their main reason to be in the tent was to cultivate a fruitful economic climate. [The case of] Max Göldi was just a malfunction.”

Lessons learned

The Tages-Anzeiger, also of Zurich, said the Libya crisis had been “an ugly story”. “A nightmare has ended in a farce,” it wrote.

“Calmy-Rey sits in a tent with kidnapper [Moammar] Gaddafi, and his good friend [Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi, and has to grin and bear it.”

The newspaper turned its attention to what could be learned by Switzerland from the ordeal.

Of course there was the criticism of the then Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz’s failed solo attempt to resolve the dispute “man to man”, as well as Calmy-Rey’s early handling of the matter, but the broadsheet pointed out that Gaddafi had made other, more powerful governments lose face as well.

“[Gaddafi] can only play this game as long as countries and companies want to court business at any cost with the infrastructure-hungry oil country,” it wrote.

“Lesson of realism,” was how Le Temps saw it. “For having placed the satisfaction of noble sentiments [equality before the law, the respect of federalism] at the top of its foreign policy, Switzerland put its citizens in danger. Two in particular experienced a nightmare.”

So what will Switzerland learn from this? “Ignoring the danger and going it alone, priding itself on its moral superiority, led Switzerland into a dead end. Bern had to make itself respected by attacking its opponent’s weak point – visas – and getting involved in a European Union that has learnt to work things out with Tripoli to handle its interests. A terrible lesson of realism.”

Calmy-Rey’s role

Should Calmy-Rey and Swiss diplomacy be congratulated, wondered the Tribune de Genève. For the newspaper, the clear winner of the spat was Moammar Gaddafi.

“He got everything he wanted: repeated apologies – for the mugshots [of Hannibal] and from Hans-Rudolf Merz for the arrest; the admiration of his people and a large part of the Muslim world for having taught ‘mafioso’ Switzerland a lesson; the creation of a court of arbitration to ensure that any guilty parties will be punished.”

Had Calmy-Rey given up too much? At least she had avoided a repeat of the Merz fiasco, it said.

But referring to the deal Calmy-Rey had signed on Sunday, the newspaper pointed out that there was no happy end in sight. “All eyes now turn to Geneva, where the arrest of Hannibal will be examined … To be continued.”

Isobel Leybold-Johnson and Thomas Stephens,

July 15, 2008: Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife are arrested and charged with abusing their staff. They are released on bail and leave Switzerland. The servants are later compensated and charges withdrawn.

July: Swiss nationals Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani are arrested. Swiss businesses are forced to shut their offices and the number of flights to Tripoli is cut.

January 2009: A diplomatic delegation travels to Tripoli.

May: Swiss foreign minister visits Libya.

June: Libya withdraws most assets from Swiss bank accounts.

August: The Swiss president apologises in Tripoli for the arrest.

September: Göldi and Hamdani cannot leave the country despite a promise they would be freed by September 1.They disappear after undergoing a medical check-up in Tripoli.

October: A 60-day limit for normalising relations passes.

November: Swiss ministers say they will pursue visa restrictions for Libyans. On November 30 Göldi and Hamdani sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined for visa violations.

January 2010: Their terms are overturned and cut.

February 14: A Libyan newspaper reports Switzerland has drawn up a blacklist of 188 top Libyans.

February 15: Libya stops issuing visas to citizens of nations in the Schengen zone.

February 17-18: Swiss, Libyan, Italian, Spanish and Maltese foreign ministers try to hammer out a solution.

February 22: Göldi ordered to report to prison. Libya says it will retalitate if Switzerland does not hand him over. Hamdani obtains an exit visa.

February 25: Gaddafi calls for jihad against Switzerland, saying it is an infidel country destroying mosques.

March 3: Libya declares a trade and economic embargo of Switzerland.

March 27: Libya lifts a visa ban on citizens of 25 European countries after EU president Spain says a Swiss-instigated visa blacklist against 188 Libyans in those countries is scrapped.

April 13: A Geneva court backs a claim by Hannibal Gaddafi that the publication of leaked police photos of him by a Swiss newspaper infringed his privacy. It also rejects Hannibal’s claim for 100,000 Swiss francs ($95,000) in damages.

June 10: Göldi is released from jail and moves to a Tripoli hotel.

June 12: Swiss and Spanish foreign ministers travel to Tripoli.

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