Swiss Magazine: Mr Schwarz, Avenir Suisse has acquired a certain brand notoriety as a think tank. Are you really so good at what you do, or have other people simply run out of ideas?
Gerhard Schwarz: Well, I think our success has much to do with the fact that we’ve been active for 13 years now. One also has to admit that the middle class camp in Switzerland hasn’t been particularly clever in its approach. lt all adds further impact to our work. International networking with other think tanks helps too – in Germany, the USA and Singapore, for example. In Vienna, a new Agenda Austria is being set up using our group as a model.
Your book “Ideas for Switzerland” is a best-seller. Why is it a must-read?
The book is a colourful mix of 44 proposals covering a wide range of topics. Some of the ideas are very practical, some less so – certain readers might term them fanciful. But the ideas put forward in the book all qualify as possible responses to a set of social, political and economic problems which we have identified. Our aim is to provide an easy-to-understand, clearly presented impetus for further thought, with infographics to illustrate the various points.
How would you define a good idea?
lt must have the power to inspire and motivate. lt should also be simple and easy to understand.
Ideas provide stimulus for change. Are you a fan of change?
I’m not a fan of change per se, but I’m definitely a fan when it springs from rigorous, dispassionate analysis. And ideas which have been successfully implemented in the past often have to be reformatted to adapt them for the future. Think of what Tancredi says in Lampedusa’s novel “The Leopard”: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”!
Avenir Suisse favours a liberal philosophy. Is there a future for the liberal school of thought, or is it in danger?
There is truth in both sides of what you say. The liberal- democratic philosophy certainly has a future. Equally, however, it is under threat from increasing interventionism. Liberalism has a rather dented image, but we should not forget that we owe much to it. including our prosperity and our relatively generous freedom.
You’ve lived in Various countries and travelled a lot. Which place made the biggest impression on you?
In addition to Bogota, Boston and Paris, where I lived for some time, I’d say it’s the Bregenzerwald in the Vorarlberg. It’s a region which is deeply rooted in the past, yet full of inspiring ideas such as the timber architecture for which it is now known worldwide.
This interview was published in "Swiss Magazine" of October 2013.