In current debates about Brexit, right wing populism, the crisis of democracy and the future of Europe Switzerland does not feature much, although it provides an intriguing case from a variety of angles. It is praised for its direct democracy and hailed as a model for Europe, yet it also receives sustained criticism as an opportunistic and self-serving tax haven for dictators and drug barons. It has one of the biggest and loudest right-wing populist parties in Europe, yet it integrates it fairly successfully into its system of consensus politics. One of its intriguing, yet under-discussed contradictions is that while it is arguably among the most untraumatized countries in history, it very effectively mobilizes the rhetoric of cultural trauma for its isolationist and xenophobic policies and for its wider identity narratives.
The Swiss writer Thomas Hürlimann, a central voice in Switzerland’s cultural and societal debates and son of a prominent Swiss politician, employs a variety of sophisticated life-writing strategies to reflect the construction of cultural trauma in Swiss identity discourses. In fusing personal and national history, his work mirrors many of the hypocrisies and repressions of recent Swiss history and current controversies in the taboos and silences of his own family history. Themes reflected in this way are for example anti-Semitism, Swiss opportunism towards Nazi-Germany and its ongoing legacies, patriarchal power structures and gender issues, or globalisation and its effects on notions of place and belonging. This lecture will use Hürlimann’s work as a prism through which to read and discuss recent and current crises in Switzerland in their European context.