The photograph was taken by a journalist from newspaper Le Temps, Serge Jubin, and posted on Facebook with an accompanying comment that suggested an innate Swissness in Burkhalter’s ability to act like any other member of the public when out and about.
“Switzerland: marvellous country where the president of the Confederation can cheerfully tap away on his smartphone on the platform at Neuchâtel station amongst other train users…”
The photo and comment were subsequently posted on Twitter by RTS journalist Magali Philip (@magaliphilip) and then retweeted with an English comment by Zurich resident Ralph Straumann (@rastrau).
— Ralph Straumann (@rastrau) September 2, 2014
It is this English tweet that is making its way around the world, with around 800 retweets and 300 favourites by accounts from as far afield as India, Brazil and Bhutan.
Reaction to the photo has ranged from surprise to cynicism, with many feeling Switzerland’s neutrality and direct system of governance allows its president such freedom.
— David Burns (@burnsieboy65) September 3, 2014
— Timothy Anderegg (@t_anderegg) September 3, 2014
— Aniket Alam (@aniketalam) September 3, 2014
Nicolas Bideau, Ambassador for Swiss promotional body House of Switzerland, also retweeted the photo.
Speaking to The Local, Bideau said the photo illustrated the close relationship between the president and the people in Switzerland.
“Our country is well-known as a direct democracy. The government is able to show that it is close to the people and the people respect that [by] not annoying a member of the government in the train.”
Despite Switzerland’s reputation for isolationism, the photo shows what an open society the country has, he added.
“Sometimes people think we are a bit selfish, an island,” he told The Local. “But I think [the photo] shows the openness we have towards the people generally.”
“It also shows that Switzerland is a safe country,” he added.
Around the world, many tweeters seemed to envy such freedom for their politicians.
“Can we dream it?” tweeted Indian twitter user @mkdburman.
While Brazilian @JamilChade tweeted: “The Swiss president takes the train without security or assistant. A challenge for Brazilian politicians?”