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“Schmid’s resignation should lead to a rethink”

Adolf Ogi, left, says Samuel Schmid kept a "cool head" in cabinet Keystone

The attacks on Defence Minister Samuel Schmid – who announced his resignation earlier this week – were unnecessarily harsh, according to his predecessor, Adolf Ogi.

Ogi, who himself was often subject to attack as a cabinet minister, tells swissinfo Schmid’s resignation should lead to a rethink about the way politicians are treated.

A former parliamentarian with the rightwing People’s Party, Ogi served as defence and sport minister from 1988 to 2000. He went on to become the first United Nations Special Adviser for Sport and Development, a position he gave up at the end of 2007.

Schmid announced on Wednesday he would leave his cabinet post at the end of this year.

swissinfo: What is your view of the resignation of your successor, Samuel Schmid?

Adolf Ogi: First of all, I would like to thank him sincerely for all he has done. I am sorry he had to step down.

What saddened me most was his reason for going: “I am resigning for the sake of my health, family, my country and the army.” That said it all.

His emotional resignation [speech] was moving. And I hope that some people will now ask themselves if this was the right way to treat someone with whom they perhaps didn’t agree. I am not just talking to politicians here, but to other people too.

One of the strengths of our country was consensus. Since 1848 we have lived together in peace and freedom. That was possible as we always respected minorities and people with different views.

I hope this resignation will make people think. And lead to a better understanding within political parties. That is urgently needed.

swissinfo: You were also often under pressure from your own party. How did you deal with that?

A.O.: People don’t all react to it in the same way. When I was under pressure I tried to talk it over, in particular with [People’s Party figurehead] Christoph Blocher. Not least because we were both elected to parliament in 1979, and so I had a connection with him.

When the pressure became great, I invited Blocher to [my home in the Bernese Oberland village of] Kandersteg and we talked together for an hour. Then we had talks together with the party president, the head of the parliamentary faction, the party secretary and my personal staff. By the time they came we had already found a good basis for cooperation.

Then we would usually take a walk to the Blausee lake and eat trout at the restaurant there. After that I would be left in peace for a few months.

swissinfo: What did you notice about the pressure on Defence Minister Schmid?

A.O.: I always had the impression that it washed off him, but he was not able to deal with it personally. It took a big toll on him.

swissinfo: Has the tone in politics become more confrontational?

A.O.: The answer to that must be a clear yes. Since December 12, 2007 various things have happened as a result of the announcement by the People’s Party that it was going into opposition.

Eleven months on, we have to acknowledge that in our political system it is very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct a politics of opposition.

But if that is what we want, we have to realise that it will no longer be issues that dominate the debate but individuals. The man or the woman becomes the target instead of the issue at hand.

swissinfo: How do you see the situation ahead of the cabinet election on December 10?

A.O.: The People’s Party is in an either/or situation. Either it puts forward a candidate who is elected by the joint session of parliament and it re-enters cabinet and takes the first step towards at some point having a second cabinet member. Because of the party’s strength that would be justified.

Or it puts forward a candidate like Christoph Blocher, who will presumably not be elected. Then it is giving out a clear signal that it wants to continue its politics of opposition.

The party needs wise leadership. It has to think about politics and the future and not put the personal interests of certain individuals in the foreground.

swissinfo: How do you rate Samuel Schmid’s contribution?

A.O.: I myself was in charge of two ministries [transport and defence] and was president twice. No ministry is easy. The defence, civil protection and sport ministry is a difficult, large and important portfolio. You can’t spend eight years there without making mistakes.

Samuel Schmid was president in 2005 and did an excellent job. He was the one in cabinet with a cool head. He was reliable.

And he didn’t just concentrate on issues concerning his ministry but was also involved in other issues. Thanks to his long political experience he also has a certain know-how. That’s why it’s sad that he has to go in these circumstances.

swissinfo-interview: Christian Raaflaub

Born in 1942 in Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland, Adolf Ogi received a diploma in business studies before going to England to study at the Swiss Mercantile School in London.

After working as manager of a tourist office, he joined the Swiss Skiing Federation, first as technical director and afterwards as director from 1971 to 1981.

He also took an active part in the International Ski Federation from 1971 to 1983 and is currently honorary president of the Swiss Olympic Committee.

Ogi was a member of parliament from 1979, and was a member of the cabinet from 1988 to 2000. He was the transport, communications and energy minister from 1988 to 1995. Then he moved to the defence, civil protection and sport ministry from 1995 to 2000. In 1993 and in 2000 he was president of the Swiss Confederation.

In February 2001 Ogi was appointed special advisor to the UN secretary-general charged with the task of promoting understanding and support in sport for the work and ideals of the United Nations. He retired from the post at the end of 2007.

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