INTERVIEW WITH THE SWISS AMBASSADOR
By Scott Murray
Talking with Swiss Ambassador Bernard Freymond is like receiving a lesson in modern history. Besides Thailand, he has served his country in Yugoslavia, Chile, Indonesia and South Korea and he is indeed a very knowledgeable man.
He's always a pleasure to interview because you learn so much by talking with him.
Swiss Ambassador, Bernard Freymond
First, let's get some background on the Balkan crisis: "In 1974, the new Yugoslavian constitution declared Kosovo an autonomous province, just like Vojvodina to the north" he says. "But their autonomous status was revoked in 1989 by Slobodan Milosevic and that's when the problems started because the Kosovars who are ethnic Albanians not Serbs, and Muslims not Christians, thought they had lost many of their privileges which included having an autonomous parliament which was dissolved by Serbia in 1990.
"Milosevic is unfortunately on a street without exit. We always talk about how Asians hate to lose face, but this applies to all people. Once a situation like this is triggered, it is very difficult to go back to square one. It remains to be seen, however, if the Serbian population is united behind Milosevic in this crisis. Remember, although they have problems co-existing, the Serbs have accepted that Kosovars had rights before."
What about Indonesia?: "We all knew that the transition from Suharto was going to be very difficult. And very violent confrontations between Indonesians have taken place in the past, so this is not the first time, and the Chinese living in Indonesia knew there was a possibility that this would happen again. But it is very difficult for the security forces to control the violence because of the geographic make-up of the nation. You have so many ethnic groups in the country but there isn't any ethnic unity at all.
"The recent ethnic cleansing suffered by the Madurese in West Kalimantan at the hands of the ethnic Malay and Dayak groups is horrible, but when you study the history of the Dayak you will learn that they have a tradition ofcutting off the heads of their enemies and keeping them as trophies.
"One of the major problems in Indonesia is that sixty percent of the population is concentrated on one island - Java. So the government came up with a plan to give Javanese farmers more land, by shipping them to the provinces. This program called trans-migration was supported by the United Nations. Unfortunately, in many cases, it wasn't accepted by the locals receiving these migrant Javanese, who would come into new provinces and who would not attempt to assimilate themselves with the native culture. This policy of transmigrating full villages, along with their mosques, language and traditions allowed Javanese Muslim enclaves to develop in other provinces that had little or nothing in common with that of the indigenous people whose land they were now sharing.
"The Indonesia government finally started to respond to the resentment in the province of East Timor by deciding it was better to send in armed forces from anywhere but Java, and soldiers who were Christians not Muslims, hoping that this would ease tensions somewhat.
"It is interesting in hindsight, because when Indonesia was granted independence Vice-President Hatta, who was from Sumatra, wanted to set up a federal state, but President Sukarno, who was from Java, said it was too dangerous and that it wouldn't be manageable, so federalists had to accept a unitarian state with a heavily centralized government. With such strong multi-ethnicity, the government, in an attempt to instill some nationalism, decided to adopt one common language, Bahasa Indonesia, which it hoped would link all Indonesians from Aceh to Irian Jayah."
On General Pinochet and his extradition proceedings?: "There is a tendency now within the international community to accept the principle that those responsible for major crimes while in office can be brought to an international court, and there have been negotiations to set up an International Court of Justice for Human Rights Abuses.
"But remember, the Chileans have taken some action themselves against those who served for Pinochet, as former Police Director Contreras and an Army Colonel were put on trial in Santiago and sentenced to prison terms for their involvement in crimes they committed during Pinochet's rule. These included the car-bombing of Minister Letelier and his secretary in Washington D.C.
"Those who suffered, or who had family members who were disappeared and murdered by the armed forces or the special services (DINA), obviously want Pinochet punished. But there is a large segment of the population who were opposed to the Marxist experience and Salvadore Allende, who ruled the country from 1970-73, and who considered Pinochet to be the one who rescued the country from a political disaster. These people say that without General Pinochet, Chile would be another Cuba today. So these people do not consider what he did wrong first, but what he did right. And indeed, Pinochet did rebuild his country and made it possible for it to progress industrially and economically fin the latter half of the twentieth century."
On the South Korean economic recovery?: "One of the problems, which explains the fragile nature of the South Korean economy is that because of the rapid industrialization of the country, a few big groups known as chebols, such as Samsung, Daewoo, or Hyundai, control the economy so if one of these chebols has trouble, or shuts down, it severely affects the economy of the whole country and it can be very dangerous. I though hope that as a result of the crisis, the chebols will re-organize and reduce their size. The South Koreans, like the Thais, are also suffering adverse psychological effects from the crisis because they are not used to this type of recession whereas in Europe we know these things are cyclical and that they will eventually improve."
Why did the economy collapse here and how can it recover?: "It was a problem of confidence which started with doubts in the solvency of the Thai financial institutions. Banks wouldn't grant any credit to anyone so the economy couldn't function. The government had to re-establish confidence. It wasn't a problem for Thai producers to export their products, and to take advantage of the devaluation of the baht, but how could they when the banks won't give them letter-of-credits so that they could order materials they needed from abroad to make their industries work. This essentially paralyzed many sectors here. So the aim of the IMF rescue program and of the Miyazawa Plan is to reinstate confidence and to refuel the banking sector under the condition that the government closed the ailing financial institutions.
"For the economy to turn around it is essential to attract new investors to the country and the Swiss have invested so far one billion Swiss Francs in everything from watch manufacturing and food production to textiles, ceramics and packaging material here in Thailand.
"Last year, ironically, Thai exports to Switzerland actually outnumbered Swiss imports to Thailand, and although the Thais continue to buy Swiss watches, the Swiss are importing components for those same watches from Thailand.
"Our mission here is also organizing trips for private Swiss investors to examine business opportunities in neighboring Cambodia and Laos to help boost their economies as well."
What about the counterfeiting dilemma (Siam Trade did a major story on this Vol.7, #.77)?: "It's still a huge problem and will be as long as the volume of goods seized and destroyed are far outnumbered by those offered and sold.
"If the authorities were serious about eliminating this problem, it would require a simultaneous and systematic crackdown in Patpong, Khao San, Sukhumvit, Phuket, Samui, Pattaya - everywhere these counterfeit items are sold."
For more information contact:
The Ambassador of Switzerland
35 North Wireless Road, G.P.O. Box 821, Bangkok, 10501
phone: (662) 253 0156, ext. 114;
fax: (662) 255 44 81