Switzerland one step closer to UN Security Council seat despite neutrality concerns

Switzerland's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council was strongly backed by lawmakers on Thursday, despite fears it could "torpedo" Swiss neutrality.

The United Nations logo, seen up close. Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP
The United Nations logo, seen up close. Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP

Thursday’s vote comes with Switzerland’s traditional neutral stance already thrown into question by its imposition of sanctions on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

The National Council lower house of parliament voted by 125 to 56 to support the Security Council candidacy — a move that has consistently been opposed by the country’s largest party, the populist, right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP).

READ MORE: Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

Switzerland looks set to join the Security Council for two years from 2023.

The wealthy Alpine nation and Malta are the only candidates for the two seats allocated to western Europe up for election in New York in June.

The Swiss government believes Security Council membership will strengthen the country’s international standing.

President Ignazio Cassis insisted that Switzerland’s neutrality was not at risk, the domestic ATS news agency reported.

“Our candidacy is in the interest of Switzerland as much as in that of the world,” he told lawmakers.

“A neutral state listening to minorities, we are always looking for compromise.

READ MORE: How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already changed Switzerland

“As the saying goes: The absent are always in the wrong. You have to be at the table to take part.”

Some in Switzerland suggest that, in a Security Council vote on the use of force, even a Swiss abstention would, by definition, be taking a position.

The SVP maintained its vehement opposition to the plan.

“Entry to the Security Council would torpedo Swiss neutrality. It is an uncalculated risk for our country,” said lawmaker Roger Koppel, putting the party’s case to parliament. “A neutral ground is necessary to allow the parties to a conflict to speak to each other without arms.”

Switzerland has long been the site of diplomatic tete-a-tetes.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit in Geneva last June. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his US counterpart Antony Blinken held ultimately fruitless talks on Ukraine in Geneva on January 21.

The 1985 Geneva Summit brought together then-US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev for landmark talks on the Cold War-era arms race.

Koppel slammed Bern’s recent decision to adopt the neighbouring European Union’s sanctions on Russia, saying neutrality implied avoiding economic conflict.

Switzerland only joined the United Nations in 2002.

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.