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Commentary: Swiss Media Uproar over Prachanda Visit

The “fearsome” in Switzerland shows his revolutionary zeal. The local media there decry his visit. A Nepal Monitor commentary.

Whatever their motives and manners on the ground in Nepal, the Maoists are trying to gain international legitimacy in their effort at consolidating powers. That started with their recent famous handshake with the visiting former US president Jimmy Carter. That desire at improving their image as a legitimate political force was evident in their plea to Carter to help remove their party from the US State Deparment’s list of terrorist organizations.

And they are flexing their muscles not only domestically, but also internationally. Their desire to appoint their cadres to some of the key ambassadorial positions in some important foreign capitals is one such manifestation.

Already, other lesser Maoist leaders are on official trips to Beijing (Prakash Dahal, Prachanda’s son, is currently over there) and several European capitals. Such an effort gained further momentum this past week when the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (his maiden Europe visit) and his second-in-command Dr. Baburam Bhattarai took a trip to Switzerland on the invitation of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of that central European country.

The Maoist duo were part of a delegation that comprised members of the three main political parties in Nepal—Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Lenist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). It was intended to be a study trip in which members would learn about federalism issues and human rights in three cities of Switzerland-- Bern, Fribourg and Geneva.

This is not the first time that Nepali delegations have visited Switzerland for a similar purpose. A group of politicians and representatives of the civil society were in Switzerland in January 2007. The study trips to Switzerland are designed to familiarize Nepalis with Swiss experience in the fields of constitutionalism and federalism so that they can then analyze the situation in Nepal more effectively. The delegations usually consist of influential politicians, constitutional specialists and representatives of civil society.

In fact, the Swiss involvement in Nepal goes back many years, epitomized at one time by the famous Swiss turned Nepali Toni Hagen. Switzeraland has been involved in human rights initiatives and have been providing humanitarian aid to Nepal for more than 40 years.

The Swiss DFA said in a statement that the latest trip was part of Swiss government’s support for Nepal peace process: “As part of its commitment to lasting peace and development, Switzerland supports Nepal in its efforts to hold free and fair elections for the formation of a constitutional assembly on 22 November 2007. The Nepalese parties agree that the new constitution should contain federal elements. This is why Switzerland's offer to explain its federal system, the mechanisms of distribution of power and the nature of state structures met with considerable interest,” the brief statement said.

During its five-day study visit, the delegation had opportunities to hear the views of representatives of the administration and academics. There was also an exchange with representatives of the central government and the city and canton of Bern as well as a meeting with prominent persons such as Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

While in Bern, Dahal told a news conference that Nepal could adapt the Swiss model of federalism to the situation in Nepal. The Swiss system shares powers between the Confederation and the cantons, and consists three governing bodies: the legislation (bicameral parliament), the executive (Federal Council) and the judicial (Federal Court). Swiss presidency is largely ceremonial.

Although compared to the Americans and the British governments, European powers, specially the Scandinavians are generally cozy towards the revolutionary Maoists, not everybody welcomed the Maoist leader Prachanda in Switzerland. Some sections of the Swiss media slammed their authorities for inviting Prachanda. The Suedostschweiz newspaper described Nepal’s “fearsome” as a “brutal murderer.” This article in German on Bieler Tagblatt also says Prachanda’s participation created an uproar in the Swiss media.

Prachada’s revolutionary zeal, however, did not wane, despite the media criticism. Speaking at Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) on July 4, he suggested the Maoist “People’s Army" was more legitimate than the national army. The peace agreement singed in November 2006 requires the militia to be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated in back in society or the national army. But the Maoist chief said he did not believe his militia should be subjected to that requirement. He tried to legitimize the continued deployment of the Maoist armies (now in Seven UN cantonments) saying that they had, for more than a decade, fought on behalf of the people and against feudal forces.

Duing their tour in Switzerland, Prachanda and Bhattarai also dropped off in Zimmerwald near Berne, the historic spot where international communist movement met before it split into the revolutionaries and social democrats in 1915. Several European communist leaders of the time, including Trotsky and Lenin , participated in that convention.

NZZonline, another German language outlet says that Swiss-Nepalese forum over federalism is a way towards planning the Nov 22 elections. According to the Swiss foreign ministry, the Swiss government hopes to contribute to a solution of fundamental issues, which include a possible federal structure of the country and the different political convictions of the key players.

The Swiss foreign ministry said that at the end of the visit, guests and hosts agreed that it was a positive experience. The exchange was valuable and cooperation was strengthened. On this basis, Political Affairs Division IV Human Security and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation of the DFA will continue to be active in Nepal. Swiss activity for peace, human rights and development cooperation made a major contribution to the conclusion of the comprehensive peace agreement of 21 November 2006, which ended ten years of civil war.

Let’s hope that the Maoists' efforts at re-engineering their image and gaining international legitimacy are genuinely guided by a desire for a lasting peace and their newfound love for non-violence. Let’s also hope that the hosts in Europe will not forget the fact that the Maoists as well as other political parties still need to win legitimacy among a large section of their populations in Nepal. The street uprising of April 2006 were only a beginning of, hopefully, a profound and a long-lasting process of change in Nepal.

Posted by Editor on July 7, 2007 6:43 AM