The stability and complacency of Switzerland are showing strains.
The facades of the banks along this city's elegant Bahnhofstrasse look as imposing as ever and the countryside seems just as beautiful and prosperous. Yet, concern is beginning to surface over how Switzerland uses its wealth: over its attitude toward the developing world, racism and foreign workers: and over an increasing polarization in domestic politics.
The most effective critic so far is Jean Ziegler, 42, a leftist author and member of parliament who has rocked the ruling circles with a scathing attack on what he calls "the double standard of Swiss morality . . . and Swiss imperialism."
There is a collective neurosis here," he said in an interview in Bern. "Everybody knows we live on a mountain of stolen money," a reference to hundreds of billions of dollars from all over the world kept in secret Swiss bank accounts with few questions asked about where it comes from.
"It is a schizophrenic existence. We wear the mask of the [Swiss-run] Red Cross and kill people at the same time," he charges.
The killing, in Ziegler's view, results from "stealing from the people of the world and living off their misery. People are dying from hunger and all Swiss banks have offices in those countries. They collect money from an oligarchy in Colombia, for example, who, instead of investing it in the uncertain future of their own country put it in a numbered Swiss account.
"The black money - or money from fraud - plus the flight capital from the ruling classes who fear for their privileges in the Third World or France or Italy, comes into Switzerland where the bankers get it free or at very low interest and they don't want to know where it came from. That is the major problem today," he says.
Ziegler says the bank oligarchy here has such power "that no government or parliament can do anything about it," although there is very little evidence that many Swiss want to do anything about it either.
Ziegler's views are extreme. Switzerland's legendary devotion to privacy and neutrality have sometimes played positive roles, such as keeping much European wealth out of Nazi hands. If there were no Switzerland, some other country would undoubtedly try to step in and fill the same need.
Still, Ziegler has hit a long-dormant nerve here. His controversial book, "Switzerland Above Suspicion," is an extraordinary best-seller.
While many Swiss intellectuals believe Ziegler has exaggerated his case, few seem to believe he is wrong about the major thrust of his criticism.
Indeed, what may be most important about Ziegler is that Switzerland has not had such a powerful, radical critic before from within its own normally unbroken ranks of solidarity.
"There is a gap between our morality and our interests," says Claude Torracinta, producer of a popular and probing Swiss television documentary.
"The question of whether you can get the banks under better control is important because it concerns not only how our wealth is used but our image. But it is complicated because the people are very committed to free enterprise and against intervention of the state in any field. A large amount of Swiss people feel their own prosperity is tied up with the prosperity of the banks.
"Twenty years ago, we didn't raise such questions. We believed that our system and conception of society were perfect."
"Today," he says, "more and more people think we must adapt our policy to a moral concept, that we are too egotistical and must become more cooperative, that we always speak about democracy and solidarity but in fact we do not do it. But the people who say such things now are only an active minority."
The ambivalenc of Switzerland today, however, is that while there are at least some calls for change, "there are no forces that can really reshape the industrial morality," says television coproducer Claude Smadja. That, in effect, is Switzerland's state religion.
"The trade unions are very well integrated in the system, with respect for the rules of capitalism . . . and the power and the ethics of the industrialists are actually increased because of the lack of political power" in the country, he points out.
Aside from the banks, Switzerland is also the home of huge multinational companies, such as chocolate-king Nestle and the Ciba-Geigy chemical group, plus some of the most well-run industrial firms in the world.
"The multinationals are too big for a small country," says Prof. Dusand Sidjanski, head of the political science department at the University of Geneva, where Ziegler also teaches. "So the problem is not only what they do externally but their influence on political life in Switzerland, too."
"Many parliamentarians are big businessmen and bankers," he says, so that collaboration between the big firms and the political structure is "organic," with all agreed compromises worked out in the federal council before matters go to parliament and with parliament then able to change "only small and never important things."
Ziegler says that about 60 percent of the two-house parliament - which operates mostly on a part-time basis like some state legislatures in the United States - are board members or active officers of big industries.
There is an all-party coalition here "so you don't have a real political opposition," Sidjanski says.
Sidjanski believes there is something of a moral crisis stirring that is noticeable among some university and secondary school children that are "especially critical of our way of life. The elites in Switzerland are very conscious of the problem but the majority are not. Most people have the impression that the situation can be dealt with through democratically approved reforms, and very few think in revolutionary terms like Ziegler."
Still, the list of warning signs is growing.
Though the Swiss democratic system is so liberal that a petition with only 1 percent of the voters signing can bring about a national referendum, the fact is that voter turnout is quite low.
"More than half the people seem to have no interest in their country," says Torrachinta. "Only 25-30 percent go to vote and the absenteeism is very important because it really means that people don't disagree with the general course of the country."
When the Swiss do vote, it sometimes also hurts their image. A proposed $120 million loan to the International Development Agency was voted down two years ago, a move that brought criticism from Third World countries that supposedly humanitarian Switzerland "was just like the others."
The criticism stung the Swiss image of charity. The Swiss are a charitable people, Smadja explains, but it is a charity based more on a personal style of giving than institutionalized aid. Average citizens here donated some $12 million to victims of a Guatamala earthquake.
Switzerland contributes slightly less than two-tenths of one percent of its gross national product to development assistance, putting it near the bottom of Western industrialized nations in this.
Some critics here have also attacked Nestle, for example, for allegedly excessive promotion of powdered milk and baby foods in developing countries at the expense of more nutrious and natural diets.
The concern of many young Swiss today toward "what's going outside the country, "and especially toward the Third World may be the most powerful sign of basic change here yet," says Smadja.
In recent years, the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of some 300,000 foreign workers to avoid unemployment problems that otherwise might have been severe following the 1973-74 oil crisis, has raised the spectre of racism.
On top of these things, there have been bank scandals here, including a monumental affair last year by Credit Suisse, one of the pillars upon which the image of Swiss stability rests, that have shaken confidence of people. The Swiss franc has been drivent o astronomical levels in comparison to the U.S. dollar, posing a real threat to the export of Swiss goods, to the tourist industry, and eventually perhaps to jobs.
The Swiss are very private people, more citizens of their local canton that of the country. They do not communicate easily with each other about what may be bothering them. Although there are some good newspapers here, the signs of a society's human stress - crime rates, suicides, divorces, mental illness - are hard to find in their pages. Several persons interviewed said a sort of self-censorship was imposed by the pres in certain matters.