I don’t know anything about that. Is she?” replied Switzerland Ambassador Alain Gaschen good-naturedly, as we chatted and quizzed him on the reported whereabouts of Russia President Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast.
Kabaeva is purportedly in hiding in Switzerland together with her children by the Russian leader, amid the war in Ukraine. Some reports claim she and her children also carry Swiss passports.
Gaschen was entertaining an intimate group of media guests at his residence in Makati on Tuesday, to mark the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Philippines.
It was the first face-to-face event the Swiss embassy was holding at the residence post-COVID. Gaschen arrived for his Manila posting in 2019, shortly before the pandemic hit. A gathering with the press in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
The residence was recently renovated, its common areas tastefully decorated with the Gaschens’ eclectic art collection, accrued from their various diplomatic postings—from Mozambique to Colombia and China and even from the Cordillera. The envoy’s wife, Daniela, is herself an artist. (Read Lifestyle’s feature, “Shapes, shades and stories of Swiss envoy’s home,” 12/20/21)Media guests noted the home’s resort-like feel, its lawn decorated with varicolored lighted acrylic boxes bearing the Swiss cross, lending a festive air to the evening.
In his welcome speech, Gaschen stressed on the role of media to fight disinformation, as he paid tribute to Filipino Nobel Peace Prize laureate and journalist Maria Ressa, who was not present that evening.
“We see fake news every day on social media, and we continue to see a lot of disinformation around Ukraine. There is a war in Ukraine and there’s also a war on disinformation,” he said. “And if I talk about Ukraine, we talk about Swiss neutrality.”
He may have been understandably circumspect on addressing reports linking his country to Putin’s so-called Eva Braun, but Gaschen did tackle his country’s stance on the war in Ukraine. The embassy had also released a flier on social media clarifying this.
“I heard some things … And there was no intention to … manipulate what Swiss neutrality means,” Gaschen said. “We remain neutral, we don’t send weapons to any party; that would risk violating our duties as a neutral state … But we are not indifferent, meaning we defend our core values, rule of law, human rights, the UN (United Nations) charter, the sovereignty of the state, territorial integrity. We follow the sanctions of the European Union and we will continue to fight for those rights, values and principles.”
Swiss neutrality, Gaschen added, is part of their identity as a nation, it’s “deep in our DNA.”
In its flyer, the embassy explained further its position on Ukraine vis-à-vis Swiss neutrality:
“Switzerland condemns the Russian military attack on Ukraine in the strongest possible terms and calls on Russia to deescalate the situation immediately, cease all hostilities and withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory without delay.
“Switzerland continues to adhere to neutrality, and the adoption of EU sanctions does not change this. Neutrality is an integral part of the Swiss identity, but it does not stop Switzerland from furthering other fundamental values such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
“Swiss neutrality also allows Switzerland to exercise its long-standing tradition of humanitarian aid and peace.”
On Switzerland’s diplomatic ties with the Philippines, Gaschen underscored the embassy’s commitment to innovation and sustainability—two areas where Switzerland consistently ranks among the best in the world.
Sustainability, for one, is no lip service to the Swiss, according to Kent Marjun Primor. The Swiss embassy’s commercial attaché had seen how Swiss investors buck any suggestions of cutting corners for extra profit. The Swiss are earnest about making a positive impact on the lives of those they do business with, he said.
In a statement, the Swiss embassy said the two countries have signed agreements to further trade promotion. The agreement between the Philippine-Swiss Business Council and Switzerland Global Enterprise is proof of renewed interest in the Philippines as a premier destination for the Swiss.
This week, said the envoy, the embassy is releasing “65 Stories for 65 Years,” showcasing the stories of 65 individuals who have helped solidify the two countries’ relationship. INQ