This article originally appeared on VICE Switzerland
Swiss people like to take pride in their neutrality. But that neutrality doesn't run very deep – Switzerland exports billions in war material every year, to countries that blatantly disregard human rights and are directly or indirectly involved in wars. In 2015, Swiss companies exported war material worth 446,6 million Swiss francs (about £ 355 million) to 71 countries.
As it goes, the Swiss National Bank and various foundations and pension funds in the country are involved with the arms industry, in the form of shares and loans. On Tuesday morning, 86-year-old peace activist Louise Schneider decided to take a stand against that and sprayed "Money for Weapons kills!" in red on a construction wall of the Swiss National Bank. She was subsequently taken away by police.
Her act was right on schedule for the launch of a campaign of the Group for Switzerland without an Army (Gruppe für eine Schweiz ohne Armee – GsoA), which aims to prohibit Swiss financial stakeholders from being involved in the arms industry. I visited Louise Schneider in her home in Köniz near Bern, to learn more about how she plans to break the system.
VICE: On Tuesday morning, you sprayed "Money for Weapons kills!" on the construction wall of the Swiss National Bank. What motivated you?
Louise Schneider: I'm motivated by peace. I'm convinced that every weapon on this planet is one too much. Every franc channeled into the arms industry contributes to evil and suffering in the world. I can't accept that the Swiss National Bank invests in the arms industry and even makes a profit from it. There are Swiss weapons all over the world. There's no neutrality in that. Sorry, what paper do you work for again?
VICE – it's for young people.
Oh, well, in that case you absolutely have to show the bigger picture to your readers, help them connect the dots. Media often just report on events in separate categories and columns – they don't connect them. But everything is connected. Hunger is connected to money, weapons are connected to money. Money means power. You can't just talk about a rifle without talking about where it came from and what it can do.
Are you happy with what you did?
Very happy, I think it went well. It ended with a lovely sightseeing tour in a police car.
Were you charged with anything?
No, they just took me away from the site. But I climbed in that police car with a light heart. It was exactly what I hoped would happen. When the police first came it seemed they wanted to let me off the hook, but then the police chief arrived and he told the younger officers to take me away from the scene. They were lovely – treated me like I was their own grandmother.
Take me through the process of deciding to spray a political message on the wall of the National Bank.
Well, someone had sprayed "No human is illegal" on that same wall before – that wasn't mine, though it could have been. That got removed, so the wall was completely white again. It looked so innocent and chaste. It was just too tempting for me. I couldn't accept that those bankers had just wiped away people's concerns.
How long have you been a peace activist?
I witnessed the war in all its intensity as an 8-year-old girl – I was so afraid then. My parents talked about politics a lot. I heard Hitler's speeches on the radio and saw how they made grown ups feel – worried, scared, hopeless. My father was drafted against his will and back then, people who dodged military service were shot. I had already caught on to that as a child. My teacher said I read too much into things, but it was clear to me early on that the world needs peace. My father taught me that every blow strikes back, even if that retribution comes in a different form. I've followed that philosophy all my life.
How has Switzerland's role in the international weapons industry changed over time?
We got a lot smarter for a while after the war – we recognised the amount of evil it carries. In the post-war era, pacifism took the form of an organised movement. Those were the times of religious socialists, who are still around today. Do you know Karl Barth?
No, should I?
This guy doesn't even know who Karl Barth is! You don't know Kurt Marti either? They were great theologians who promoted peace and worked against the arms industry. It's a hard job – it's not like sitting around at home waiting for something funny to happen so you can write about it. It took so much time and effort to reveal that the Swiss pension funds invest our money in the manufacturing of weapons.
You mentioned religious socialists – what role does religion play in your life? Is the fight for peace a Christian task, too?
Well, the Gospel is one of the most revolutionary books in the world. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the first will be the last and the last will be the first. I believe that, too. But I'm not hardcore, I don't think that Jesus had to bleed to death for our salvation. I do believe that there is an order to this world, that the earth is on a course and that that course will one day be completed. In that order, I have my own purpose to fulfil, and I'll do that with all my good faith, my strength and time, my blood, sweat and tears.
That's why you went to the National Bank?
Exactly. I wanted to tell the people that Switzerland's money shouldn't go into producing weapons.