Remo Gysin will step down as President of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) at the end of the month. He shares what he learned during his six years in office.
SWI swissinfo.ch: How does it feel to be at the end of your term as the President of the OSA?
Remo Gysin: It was time. I had planned to step down a year ago. But then the pandemic happened.
SWI: You have been involved for 21 years with OSA. Do you remember your first impressions?
RG: What fascinated me from the beginning was this unique worldwide organisation.
SWI: At the same time it’s a long-established Swiss organisation, embodying a kind of old-style Swiss spirit.
RG: Indeed. We saw that on the “day of the Swiss abroad” at the Fête des Vignerons (winegrower’s festival held every 20 years) in 2019 and at the OSA’s centenary celebrations in 2016 – two high points of my time in office. It’s a venerable Swiss tradition to emigrate. That holds for numerous occupations. I know a cheese-maker who emigrated to Bhutan, fell in love, and stayed. He brought his know-how and creativity there. The hamlet where he settled acquired electric power and running water soon after.
SWI: An emigrant like that used to leave the country for good. But things have changed. Today many people go away for a few years and then return home. Does that help OSA when you are trying to defend the political rights of the Swiss abroad?
RG: The young generation has a vital interest in contributing to developments back home. Today you see people coming and going. Stays abroad are shorter. The connection with Switzerland stays active.
SWI: These people are highly mobile and cosmopolitan. Are they less Swiss for that?
RG: Not at all. They act like a sort of leaven, which does the country good. They bring outside views, experience, and even solid personal connections. That is worth a lot to this country. For me it was always a highlight when I met a Swiss abroad who had this amazing mixture of Swissness and openness to the world at large.
SWI: It is noticeable, too, how attached these expatriates are to maintaining a bank account back home in Switzerland.
RG: They are right to do so, and given the situation with payment of pensions and reimbursements from health insurance companies, they often have no choice. Financial instability and the risk of money losing its value abroad means it makes sense to have a bank account in Switzerland. But also the need to make payments of various kinds, say for the upkeep of houses or family plots in cemeteries. Many Swiss abroad had their accounts with Swiss banks terminated or were not allowed to open an account. The Geneva Cantonal Bank is now a partner that makes a real effort. I don’t see the big banks doing that much.
SWI: The bank fees seem a bit arbitrary too, don’t they?
RG: Yes, and the same can be said of requirements to deposit CHF 100,000 or more. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – but there is a lack of will. Even in the case of the government-owned Postfinance, I regret to say. The OSA and several parliamentarians have raised this issue with the federal government from time to time.
SWI: The government brushes off the situation as independence of the private sector.
RG: That has its limits. Basic needs of people are more important than just maximising profits.
SWI: What sort of an organisation will your successor inherit?
RG: The OSA is a well-established organisation with good relations with private- and public-sector institutions. It looks forward to the challenges of the future, and can count on 650 active Swiss organisations that belong to it.
Born in 1945 in Basel, Gysin studied economics and worked as a business advisor. From 1984 to 1992 he was a member of the cantonal government in Basel City.
In 1995 he was elected to the national parliament as a member of the left-wing Social Democrats, and sat in Bern until 2007.
Gysin campaigned for…