Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia – you name it, he’s worked there. In fact, one of the few places, Hans-Peter Erismann, the new Swiss Ambassador to Thailand, hasn’t worked is Antarctica, but give him time, he’s still young.

Indeed, there are few diplomats that can match the Swiss ambassador when it comes to the diversity of the assignments he’s taken in his three decades of diplomatic work. 

Recently Scott Murray had a chance to sit down and talk to him about his new posting. Normally, we would have just proceeded into a review of Swiss-Thai relations, but as the events of September 11 have changed the global political landscape so much, it seemed natural to begin there as well as focus briefly on the Swiss banking system.

But before we get to the interview, let’s take a quick look at Ambassador Erismann’s life and career. He was born in 1941 in Saint-Gall, Canton of Saint-Gall, Switzerland, but he did not start out his professional life as a diplomat, but rather he was an economist, having studied economics at Saint-Gall University, where he graduated with a Doctoral Degree.

Then in 1971, after seven years of experience as a marketing specialist with Swiss and US-companies in Switzerland and Australia, he entered the Swiss Foreign Service as a trainee and honed his craft in Bern and Brussels for two years.

His first posting came in 1973 when he was sent to Warsaw, as the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy in Poland. In 1976, he moved in the same position to the Swiss Embassy in Canberra, Australia. Then in 1979, he went back to Switzerland for a few years because he took a position as Diplomatic Collaborator at the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Political Affairs.

Then from 1982-86 he switched to a new continent, becoming the Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, for the Swiss Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Then in 1986, he took his first posting as ambassador, becoming his nation’s top diplomat to the Republic of Korea.   

He stayed there until 1989, when he was then sent to New York City where he served as the Swiss Consul General until 1993.

Then from 1993-97 he went to Africa becoming his nation’s ambassador to the Republic of Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles, Somalia and Permanent Representative to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), with residence in Nairobi.

Craving a little Latin American experience, the versatile diplomat was then shipped to Santiago where he was his country’s ambassador to Chile from 1997 until earlier this year. Now he’s here in Thailand, where he succeeded Bernard Freymond (who is now the Swiss Ambassador to Sweden) and Ambassador Erismann says he is ready and willing to accept the challenges of his new position.

He and his wife Freda have two married daughters, Pia and Eva.

The Interview


What do you think world leaders and the global diplomatic community do to ease tensions caused by the terrorist acts of September 11?

“I have been thinking that a number of well-known people in this world should do a little more under the present circumstances. I mean not just high-ranking people in the UN like the great personality of Kofi Annan, whom I think, does have the ear of many important people in the world.

"The Pope in Rome could become more active and other religious leaders. They should use all the possible means of mass communication in the fight against terrorism to get their message across and correct misperceptions of what has happened. Otherwise we run the risk that the fight against terrorism is perceived as a religious war, which it isn’t. It is not Christianity against Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet the view so many people have is exactly that.

“Everyone in this world who has some influence should use it in the fight against terrorism, also political leaders.


How about the American response to the attacks?

“Sometimes I feel very sorry for the Americans. I think they are almost condemned to commit errors. They absolutely had to react to the events of September 11, due to external and internal political reasons. It would have been impossible for them not to react. But could they have responded differently? This is what I don’t know. Would it have been possible for the US Government under the current circumstances, to tell the American people and the world, "look, we don’t want to go in with air attacks, we have seen in other situations that success is doubtful. What we will do is slow investigative work with which we try and infiltrate the terrorist network in a quiet way, and maybe, we will have results in a year, or five or ten?

“This would have been an alternative but probably not feasible given the current atmosphere in America. That’s why I think they have been condemned to a plan of action, and a quick one at that.

“The Americans and their allies are predominately fighting against the symptoms of the problem right now, but they must also focus on the causes, such as a new attitude towards the Middle East, including the relations between Israel and its neighbors.”

Where were you when you heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and how did it affect you having worked and lived in Manhattan?

“I was in France on vacation at the time and I saw it on TV a few minutes after it had happened. It really did affect me sincerely. I have visited the WTC towers many times. My two daughters live in America; one used to study and work in New York and due to the repercussions of September 11th has lost her job. I am really concerned about the future, not only for my two daughters, but for the world as well. I believe the world has changed because of these attacks.”  


Were any Swiss killed in the attacks?

“Two Swiss-Americans were killed in one of the hijacked airliners.”


Was there any evidence that money supporting the terrorist network was funneled through Swiss bank accounts?

“Some bank accounts have been blocked and investigations are under way.

It is extremely difficult for terrorists and money launderers to use Swiss banks. Swiss banking laws today are much stricter than most people believe. Switzerland in this sector deserves a much better reputation.”


What brought about this cleaning up of the Swiss banking business?

“Ongoing bank reforms and also external pressure are responsible for the change. Fines for delinquent banks and other financial institutions are very large.”

While we are taking about global matters why doesn’t Switzerland have a permanent seat in the United Nations?

“Switzerland is not a member of the UN. This is because Switzerland has a system of direct democracy. The Government cannot decide to join the UN against the people's will. A decision must be taken by popular referendum. If anywhere in the world people are asked by their respective governments to decide on any issue such as this, they normally tend to be much more conservative then the respective governments.

“We last voted for UN membership in 1986 and seventy-five percent of the voters voted against it. Now we will hold another vote on 3 March 2002.”

Your predecessor was very concerned about counterfeiting and protecting the intellectual property rights of Swiss products here in Thailand, where do you stand on this issue?

“It depends on what company and what product you are talking about. For example, you find copies of certain well known and relatively expensive Swiss watches the whole world over. The manufacturers of those watches have found out that it is the first step in the life of the owner of a fake watch to eventually own a real Swiss watch of that particular Swiss brand.

“Of course, we Swiss are all concerned, and of course we will try and fight this problem, with all legal means at our disposal. The protection of intellectual property rights is also especially important in the pharmaceutical sector and for artists. The fight is not easy since not only private companies but governments are involved as well.”

Is there any new expansion of Swiss companies currently operating in Thailand?

“Nestle is building the world’s largest milk processing factory for condensed milk in Samut Prakan, and they will export its products throughout the region. And this will mean a lot of jobs and be a real boost for the economy.”

“Another new factory is being constructed for the manufacture of all kinds of different ropes at the ThaiSwiss SME Industrial Center Limited in Pranburi, Prachuap Khirikhan.”


Contact Info:

Tel: (662) 253-0156, ext.#114

Fax: (662) 255-4481

E-mail: hans-peter.erismann@ban.rep.admin.ch

Website: www.swissembassy.or.th


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