LATEST UPDATE: JANUARY 1998



Debates over Switzerland's neutral stance during the Second World War and the behaviour of its banks at that time and thereafter (the latter debate began in the second half of 1996) dominate the political arena, and the national and international media. Accusations levelled against the country concern the handling by private banks of unclaimed accounts of victims of the Holocaust and the role of the Swiss National Bank in purchasing gold from the German Reichsbank (and supplying foreign currency with which the Nazi government bought arms from other neutral countries). Since much of this gold had been stolen by the Nazis from occupied states, Switzerland was required to return it to the Allied authorities after the war.

The controversy over these claims, and especially about how to react to them, was particularly intense in the early months of 1997. The myriad of opinion polls carried out testifies to the country's preoccupation with the allegations and the perceived damage to its reputation. The controversy has now cooled somewhat. Attention is no longer focused exclusively on Switzerland; the role of other neutral states and countries allied with or occupied by Germany during the war has come under scrutiny. Furthermore, payments to Holocaust victims, from a fund set up by the Swiss banking sector and Swiss companies, began to be made in November 1997.

The high profile afforded issues of Jewish concern no doubt contributed to the apparent rise in the expression of antisemitic sentiments in 1997, the conclusion reached by the Eidgenössische Kommission gegen Rassismus (EKR, Federal Commission against Racism) in their report, Anti-Semitism in Switzerland, published in English in November 1998. The report claims that there was an increase in the number of anti-Jewish letters written to Swiss newspapers and Jewish organizations, and that opinion polls showed an increase in negative attitudes towards Jews. Almost half the complaints filed in 1997 for infringements of Switzerland's anti-racism laws concerned antisemitism.

Demographic data

Total population: 7.1 million

Jewish population: 18,300 (mainly in Zurich, Geneva, Berne and Basel)

Other minority groups: of the approximately 1.2 million foreigners (19.6 per cent of the population), the largest immigrant groups are from Western Europe (Italians: 383,000, Croatians: 173,000, Portuguese: 110,000, Germans: 86,200, French: 52,700, Austrians: 30,170) and from Eastern Europe (22,100); there are also communities of Africans (24,750), South-east Asians (136,000), Latin Americans (16,200), Chinese (3,500) and Japanese (3,300).

Religion: Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion with 3.2 million adherents; there are 2.75 million Protestants and 29,000 members of non-Christian religions; a total of 511,000 people are not affiliated to any religion (figures based on the 1990 census).

Language: four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romantsch)


Political data

Political system: republican constitution and federal-canton based democracy. There are twenty cantons and six half-cantons which retain considerable autonomy. The president of the confederation is elected every year by the cabinet, the seven-member Bundesrat/Conseil fédéral (federal council), which is elected by the legislature, the bicameral Bundesversammlung/Assemblée fédérale (federal assembly).

Government: President Arnold Koller (CVP/PDC) heads the ruling four-party coalition, including the Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz/Parti démocrate chrétien suisse (CVP/PDC, Christian Democratic Party), the Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz/Parti socialiste suisse (SPS/PSS, Social Democratic Party), the Freisinnig-Demokratische Partei der Schweiz/Parti radical-démocratique suisse (FDP/PRD, Radical Democratic Party) and the Schweizerische Volkspartei/Parti suisse de l'union démocratique du centre (SVP/UDC, Swiss People's Party).

Date of next parliamentary elections: 1999


Economic data

GDP 1997: US$303.2 billion

GDP per head 1997: US$42,350

Inflation 1997: 0.5 per cent

Unemployment 1997: 5 per cent

Currency: Swiss franc (US$1=SFr1.47, end of 1997)

Switzerland's Jews were the last in Western Europe to achieve complete emancipation. The 1848 constitution was amended in 1866, giving Jews civic and legal equality, and again in 1874, granting them freedom of religious expression (except in Argau/Argovie canton, where they waited until 1879 to obtain their rights).

In 1933 and 1935 the Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund/Fédération suisse des communautés israélites (SFJC, Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities) took legal action against the distribution of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Henry Ford's The International Jew.

During the Second World War more than 30,000 refugees, mostly Jews, were refused asylum by the Swiss authorities and were compelled to return to Austria, Germany, Italy or France. The cost of the upkeep of the 24,000 Jews who were accepted, mostly for a short time towards the end of the war, was partly imposed on the Swiss Jewish community. This information came to light in 1994 when the Swiss government finally granted historians access to war-time files on Jewish immigration.

The period from 1945 to the late 1970s saw only isolated incidents of public antisemitism. Christian and Jewish organizations united to fight all forms of xenophobia.

In 1978-9 the screening of the American television series Holocaust was followed by the desecration of cemeteries, the daubing of graffiti and arson attacks on synagogues in Basel and Zurich. Apart from the activities of some small neo-Nazi groups, antisemitic incidents during the 1980s occurred in Switzerland mainly as a reaction to events in the Middle East. The 1982 Lebanon war brought about a new wave of anti-Israel manifestations that subsided shortly afterwards.

In the autumn of 1992, following the scenes of xenophobic violence in the German town of Rostock, there was a marked increase in far-right and antisemitic incidents.

In 1944 Winston Churchill called the Swiss 'the only decent neutrals in the world'. It is this notion that the current Swiss reappraisal of its history challenges.

Switzerland's war-time record is complex and often appears contradictory. Historians argue that Switzerland suggested to Nazi Germany in 1938 that a 'J' (denoting Jude or Jew) be stamped in German Jewish passports to facilitate recognition by Swiss border police. Many Swiss also recall that Switzerland offered sanctuary, albeit under ambiguous terms, to more than 20,000 Jews among the 200,000 war-time refugees it sheltered (see Antisemitic legacy). In the late 1950s details about Switzerland's decision in 1942 to refuse entry to at least 30,000 Jewish refugees began to emerge. But it was not until the 1990s that the questions of dormant bank accounts and trading in gold with Nazi Germany became high-profile issues. Critics say these ties to the Third Reich show that Switzerland profitted from the war, while defenders say they were necessary to maintain independence from the fascist powers. Many Swiss historians who have been scrutinizing the nation's past for the last decade have come to feel that the reason Hitler did not invade Switzerland was because its value as a financial clearing-house and a source of hard currency was much greater than its value as an occupied land.

A number of recent developments concerning gold looted by the Nazis and the search for assets left in Swiss banks by victims of the Holocaust - including the release of findings by two major commissions, the release of details of dormant bank accounts and the unprecedented waiving of bank secrecy - have generated a great deal of publicity, particularly in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel. Action and debate have been further fuelled by the Meili affair, controversial comments by politicians and the activities of international Jewish organizations. The following is a summary of the events of 1997.

January 1997

In a statement of 31 December 1996 the late Jean-Pascal Delamuraz (FDP/PRD), at that time economics minister and a former president, characterized the establishment of a compensation fund for Holocaust victims as 'blackmail' and 'an admission of Swiss guilt'. In response the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel, through their joint organization the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), broke an uneasy truce with the so-called Volcker Committee - a committee of eminent persons headed by Paul Volcker (former charman of the US Federal Reserves) and established by agreement in May 1996 between the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), the WJRO and WJC in order to provide audits on the dormant accounts of Holocaust victims opened in Swiss banks between 1933 and 1945 - and outlined steps to increase the pressure on Swiss banks, including a boycott of Swiss banks. According to Avraham Burg, the chief executive of the Jewish Agency, the measures were designed to clarify to the Swiss authorities, the SBA and the public at large that their only option was 'full co-operation with the representatives of Jewish organizations'. The proposed measures included the withdrawal of investment in Swiss banks by US pension funds and other bodies; a re-examination of Swiss banking licences in the USA; a class-action suit against the SBA; and a partial boycott of the Swiss banking system. Although the banks rejected the notion that they were threatened by the boycott, Swiss bank shares fell by 2 per cent as a direct result.

At the same time the Swiss National Bank denied allegations - which surfaced as a result of a WJC investigation of a 1946 US intelligence document - that the Swiss had encouraged Nazi Germany to restamp looted gold bars to hide their origin. A spokesperson said the bank supported the probe by Swiss and international historians, and that the lack of clarity in this particular document revealed the importance of further research into the period.

In an unprecedented response to the mounting pressure the SBA agreed to allow investigators to search for bank accounts of Jewish Holocaust victims without restriction. (The breaching of bank secrecy remains a serious criminal offence in Switzerland.)

The Meili affair also broke in late January 1997 when the country's most powerful bank, the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), acknowledged that they had been negligent in allowing historical records to be destroyed, despite a ban on the destruction of documents that might contain details about financial transactions with Nazi Germany. Weeks earlier, Christoph Meili, a bank security guard, had by accident found containers of shredded records, some of which referred to the Second World War, and handed them to a local Jewish organization. He was suspended by the security firm which employed him and dismissed from the bank on the grounds that he had contravened its secrecy laws. On receiving death threats, Meili and his family moved to the USA. Months later, in October 1997, the Swiss legal authorities announced they had dropped all charges against Meili, although the bank stated it saw no reason to issue an apology to him. It was reported in January 1998 that Meili intended to sue UBS for US$2.56 billion, including US$60 million in damages for himself and the rest as compensation to the Swiss people for their contribution to the Swiss Solidarity Foundation (see below). The suit was to be filed in an American court.

Amid the row over the shredding of historical evidence by UBS, the WJC released documents charging the UBS with storing paintings stolen from prominent Jewish collectors until they could be picked up by middlemen working for Hermann Goering.

On 23 January 1997 Switzerland's three largest banks and the government agreed to the establishment of a fund for Holocaust victims and their families. The government however indicated that it would not contribute to the fund until all the facts related to the fate of Jewish war-time assets were fully established. The chairman of Crédit Suisse, Rainer Gut, proposed that the banks, the Swiss National Bank and the government would each contribute a third to the 'well-endowed fund' he envisaged. He said his proposal was in response to the fact that Switzerland's credibility was at its lowest point since the Second World War.

On 27 January 1997 the Swiss ambassador to the USA, Carlo Jagmetti, resigned following the leaking to the Swiss newspaper Sonntags Zeitung of a confidential memo containing comments about Jewish groups. In connection with the problems faced by Switzerland over claims for compensation arising from Swiss bank accounts from the Nazi period, Jagmetti was reported to have written that Switzerland was engaged in a 'war' that must be won 'on the foreign and domestic front', adding that 'you cannot trust most of our adversaries'.

On 30 January 1997 more than 100 prominent Swiss writers, lawyers, doctors, university professors and film producers published a petition stating, among other things: 'The standing and credibility of Switzerland as a democratic nation are compromised and endangered. The behaviour of the president and the federal council has caused severe damage to our country's view of itself and our culture.' The petitioners were particularly critical of the late Jean-Pascal Delamuraz (see above).

February 1997

On 5 February the government formally approved the establishment of the humanitarian fund, as agreed in January, in association with the WJRO. The three banks - Crédit Suisse, the UBS and the Swiss Bank Corporation - deposited SFr100 million (US$68 million) in an account as the fund's foundation, and invited contributions from the government, the Swiss National Bank. The fund would be used 'to support persons in need who were persecuted for reasons of their race, religion or political views or for other reasons, or otherwise were victims of the Holocaust, as well as to support their descendants in need'.

Lawyers backed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center responded by petitioning a US federal court to block the distribution of money from the humanitarian fund on the grounds that distribution would prevent many survivors from reclaiming their assets. Three class-action suits had already been filed against the three largest Swiss banks on behalf of 18,000 Holocaust victims and their heirs, claiming billions of dollars in damages (see below). The lawyers alleged that, by transferring money to the fund, the banks were moving the survivors' compensation out of their reach. Disclosure, it was argued, was a central aim of the lawsuits, hoping to force the publication of financial records, and not just those relevant to the issue of dormant accounts.

US senator Alfonse D'Amato, chairman of the US Senate Banking Committee and the unofficial spokesman in the USA for Jewish interests in the re-assessment of Switzerland's war-time role, said: 'The world has already rendered its verdict: The Swiss were guilty. We're now debating the penalty, and the penalty should fit the crime.' Swiss government officials, including Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti (CVP/PDC), criticized the statement, as did Rolf Bloch, president of the Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund/Fédération suisse des communautés israélites (SFJC, Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities).

In an interview in February 1997, concerning his forthcoming book, La Suisse, l'or et la mort (Switzerland, the Gold and the Dead), Jean Ziegler, a socialist member of the Swiss federal assembly and a professor of sociology, claimed that the Second World War would have ended a year earlier if Switzerland had not sustained the Third Reich's war-time economy.

Also in February 1997 Switzerland supported a proposal by a group of British parliamentarians to hold an international conference, to be attended by representatives of all the countries that handled gold and other assets looted by the Nazis during the Second World War. The main aim of the conference would be to establish how much gold the Nazis had plundered from countries and individuals across Europe, and where it had ended up. It would also consider what to do with the residue of some £40 million (US$65 million) of gold seized in Germany at the end of the war and held by the Allies. The conference took place in December 1997 in London (see United Kingdom).

March 1997

In March 1997 Swiss companies and banks pledged additional money to the fund, increasing it to SFr265 million (US$180 million). The fund was to be administered by a seven-member executive board, comprising three members recommended by the WJRO and four named by the Swiss federal council. In April 1997 the federal council named SFJC leader Rolf Bloch as president of the board. The first meeting took place in July 1997.

The first plenary session of a panel of independent historians and legal and financial experts met in order to explore Switzerland's war-time history. The panel, the Independent Commission of Experts, known as the Bergier Commission after its chairman, Jean-François Bergier, comprises nine eminent persons from around the world. It was created by a December 1996 federal decree which granted it the temporary power to access bank records, and charged it with the twin tasks of unravelling Switzerland's war-time past and fostering debate on the country's role as a financial centre with close ties to Nazi Germany. The panel will also examine specific charges made against the Swiss government and banks. As well as scrutinizing archives, the commission will also appeal for written statements from 'witnesses' about their Swiss war-time experiences. The work of the panel is expected to take up to five years.

Six months later, in October 1997, it became known that some Swiss companies were refusing to open their archives to the commission, arguing that the investigation should be limited to banks. The commission has maintained, however, that its mandate includes the investigation of matters such as property seized by the Nazis under the 'aryanization laws', and allegations that Swiss companies, with operations in Nazi Germany or German-occupied lands, used forced labour. In order to assuage fears that contemporary company secrets could leak out as a result of investigations into records pertaining to the 1930s and 1940s, the commission plans to draw up a standard contract between the parties concerned.

On 5 March 1997, in an address to the federal assembly, President Koller confronted Switzerland's war-time role, its treatment of Jewish asylum-seekers and dubious financial dealings with Nazi Germany. He noted that in the past few months the Swiss had been accused of dishonesty, stubbornness and arrogance, and that the country's reputation 'has been tainted by the impression that the country profitted and enriched itself from the war'. He stated that this criticism went to the foundation of Switzerland's economic values and its perception of ethics and morality. Koller also acknowledged that Switzerland's tactless response had aggravated matters. Instead, he insisted, the past should be approached in a spirit of humility. He urged self-examination because the Swiss 'cannot and must not take leave of the century in a state of uncertainty, confusion and embarrassment, for that would be a mortgage that would fatally burden the decisions to be made in the next century. We should not be ashamed of being spared by the war: we had the right to survive.' But, he added, 'through a lack of courage, people arriving at our borders in great distress were sent to certain death. There generosity should have been possible or even required.'

Koller also proposed that Switzerland contribute SFr7 billion (US$4.7 billion) from its gold reserves to a foundation which would make contributions to victims of catastrophes, poverty, genocide and other severe human rights violations in Switzerland and elsewhere. The prosposed Stiftung solidarische Schweiz (Swiss Solidarity Foundation) - which it is hoped will be set up before the 150th anniversary of the founding of modern Switzerland in 1998 - would not, he emphasized, replace the separate humanitarian fund created in February by the three leading Swiss banks. As the establishment of the Swiss Solidarity Foundation would require amendments to the Swiss constitution and a revision of the banking laws, a referendum on the issue would be held in 1998.

Right-wingers, including one of the governing coalition partners SVP/UDC, expressed dissatisfaction with Koller's statement. Christoph Blocher, a member of the federal assembly and president of the nationalistic Zurich section of the SVP/UDC, said that 'the government has lost its head'. He said that the Swiss should not apologize for their business dealings in the Second World War. 'The trade policy was not false: it was legal, correct and necessary for Switzerland's survival', he said. 'I want to send the clear message that reparation or an apology is out of the question.'

The SVP/UDC then began to place advertisements in newspapers (the first was in April 1997) protesting the 'blackmail' of the Swiss people by Jewish groups, and put up anti-Jewish posters in the Zurich area. At the end of May 1997 the Neue Zürcher Zeitung carried an advertisement for the party in the Zurich canton: under the headline 'Blackmail - Awfully Mean', the ad depicted a caricatured head being squashed, its mouth spewing coins; the main body of the text read: 'Little Switzerland at war. Closed off from an enemy world. We showed that we had heart and saved persecuted Jews. Much more than any other country. We are not looking for praise. Guilty blackmail we reject outright.'

On 16 March 1997 the UBS announced a merger with the Swiss Bank Corporation to form the United Bank of Switzerland, and would henceforth be known by the acronym UBS. Although critics saw this as an attempt by the UBS to distance itself from its Swiss origins, the bank put the merger down to international 'rationalization'.

April 1997

Robert Holzach, honorary chairman of the UBS, was quoted in the April 1997 issue of the New Yorker as follows: 'The banking scandal is really a war. It has to do with a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world's prestigious financial markets, something which is already happening in New York, London and even Frankfurt.' In May he claimed he did not remember using the word 'conspiracy', and said his remarks were intended to show support for Carlo Jagmetti, the former Swiss ambassador in Washington (see above). A UBS spokesperson said the bank's board of directors regretted Holzach's interview and that his statements did not reflect the views of the bank.

May 1997

The various investigations into Switzerland's war-time role began to bear fruit in May. Following an intensive investigation of documents in US archives, the US government published a report on war-time and post-war negotiations with its allies, the Swiss and other neutrals. The report, prepared under the direction of Stuart Eizenstat, the US under-secretary of state for commerce, accuses Switzerland and other neutral countries of having prolonged the Second World War by dealing in plundered gold on behalf of Nazi Germany. It also condemns post-war US administrations for not having tried hard enough to recover gold that had belonged to European Jews, and confirms that 'Nazi gold' held in Swiss banks included gold stolen from individuals and private businesses, as well as jewellery, coins and dental fillings removed from concentration camp victims. The latter - 'non-monetary' or 'victim gold' - was combined with gold looted from banks and melted to disguise its origins. The distinction is significant as the 'gold-pool' used after the war to satisfy claims from nations whose banks had been raided now seems to have been 'tainted' by 'non-monetary gold', assigned specifically to resettle survivors after the war.

The report claims that Swiss bankers showed 'indifference to the needs of the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs which persisted until the current international pressure came to bear'. It also criticizes other neutral countries and the Allies. In response to the report the Swiss authorities acknowledged that it had entered into 'questionable deals' with the Third Reich but denied helping to prolong the war.

The report cites no evidence that the Swiss knowingly accepted 'victim gold', only that they may have identified gold carelessly with appearance as the sole criteria (gold fillings, for example, could be smelted down and would therefore appear as bullion). The report also throws light on the shortcomings of the USA and its allies, showing, for example, that the US government consciously 'misdirected' gold from Nazi victims into the pool established by the Tripartite Gold Commission (including the USA, Britain and France, see United Kingdom), whose aim was to compensate governments and not individuals.

According to material from Swiss diplomatic archives published more or less simultaneously, Germany received nearly two-thirds of Swiss exports of arms - SFr600 million (US$408 million) worth - and war matériel in 1940-4. The exporting of arms to Germany apparently ended only in September 1944, following Allied pressure. Archival documents also showed how war-time Swiss foreign minister Max Petitpierre had complained at the time about the excessive secrecy of Swiss banks and of the Swiss authorities being denied access to bank records.

In May 1997 the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS) also released a detailed report of its gold transactions with Nazi Germany. The report confirmed earlier BIS statements that Hitler's Reichsbank transferred 13.5 tonnes of gold to the BIS in 1939-45. These transfers enabled Nazi Germany to maintain a number of international financial commitments until a month before its collapse in May 1945. The report also suggests that during the Second World War Germany kept up interest payments on First World War reparations and transactions due under the world postal system, either of which could have been a cover for transfers to further the war effort. Following the war BIS returned to the Allied powers 3.7 tonnes of gold after it was identified as having been looted by Germany from the central banks of Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. Although the report gives a 'bar-by-bar account' of dealings with the Nazis, it offers no judgement on the motives of the bank's war-time governors. The BIS pledged to open its war-time archives to the public the following July, and its board of directors, made up of central bank governors from G7 (the group of seven industrialized countries), decided that from January 1998 all documents older than thirty years would also be made available.

June 1997

In June 1997 the Volcker Committee (see above) announced that initial audits would begin on ten Swiss banks believed to hold dormant accounts from before and during the Second World War. Five of the banks were subject to pilot audits and the committee expected to assess the results of those audits in September 1997, and then launch a full-scale investigative audit programme. The other banks were subject to document-retention audits (to ascertain whether there was evidence that documents had been shredded). Following the publication of the first list of dormant accounts, the Volcker Committee's task was to institute 'an independent and objective international claims restitution panel to decide claims definitively and equitably'.

It was reported, also in June 1997, that the Swiss government was paying more than US$500,000 to two American public relations firms to improve its image in the USA.

July 1997

In July 1997 the humanitarian fund (see above) allocated SFr17 million (US$11.6 million) to assist victims of Nazism, primarily in Eastern Europe. It included SFr15 million (US$10.2 million) for Jewish victims and SFr2 million (US$1.4 million) for others, including Gypsies and homosexuals. The first payment went to Holocaust survivors in Latvia at the end of the year.

In July 1997 an Australian Jewish family announced that it had made a successful claim for funds held in a UBS account belonging to a Holocaust victim.

Following this annoucement, on 23 July 1997, the SBA published a list of the names and countries of over 1,800 holders of dormant accounts of non-Swiss individuals opened before 1945. The list was published in newspapers in twenty-eight countries (including Britain, USA, Germany, Israel, Australia and the former Soviet Union) and on the Internet. Israel Singer, the secretary-general of the WJC, said: 'Never mind the money. The lists published today are not important if the 18,000-member Jewish minority of this country should suffer from antisemitism.' In Washington the Swiss ambassador to the United States, Alfred Defago, said that his government was committed to fighting antisemitism. The Simon Wiesenthal Center said it had found on the list at least six names believed to be those of prominent Nazi war criminals. The WJC said it had also identified the name of a known art dealer who had traded in paintings looted by the Nazis. In August 1997 the Wiesenthal Center highlighted an additional ninety-four names and asked for the assets of the relevant accounts to be frozen pending an investigation to determine whether the money belonged to members of Nazi organizations.

At the end of July 1997 the hearing of the US lawsuit filed against the three largest Swiss banks on behalf of 18,000 Holocaust victims and their heirs, claiming billions of dollars in damages, began in the district court of Brooklyn before Judge Edward Korman. In March 1997 what had previously been three class-action lawsuits (see above) had been consolidated into the one. In April the Swiss banks had petitioned the US court to dismiss or delay the lawsuit on the grounds that they were willing to discuss settlement, and because of the other initiatives in Switzerland to resolve victims' claims. In July both Paul Volcker (see above and below) and the Swiss ambassador to the USA also asked the judge to dismiss the case. Judge Korman had not reached a decision by the year's end. (The case would not in fact be resolved until August 1998 when the banks agreed a settlement of US$1.25 billion.)

September 1997

The Swiss government apologized to an eighty-year-old Holocaust survivor and paid him SFr50,000 (US$34,000) compensation for handing him over to the Nazis during the Second World War. He was passed to the German police in October 1939 and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After five years at the camp he emigrated to Palestine.

October 1997

In October 1997 the WJC published the results of its investigation into the looted gold. The central finding of the report, written by Washington-based economist Sidney Zabludoff, is that Nazi Germany looted at least US$8.5 billion in gold (valued at today's worth) in 1933-45. A major revelation is that as much as one-third of the looted gold was 'victim gold'. One reason for this figure, which is considerably higher than the estimates of the Eizenstat report, is that a broader time period is covered. The report also estimates that more than US$2 billion of privately owned gold ended up in Swiss banks. 'Switzerland will now have to pay some US$2 to $3 billion to compensate for taking in looted gold', the report concluded, a sum much greater than they had indicated they were willing to contribute. The report also stated that Portugal had received about US$139 million in looted gold, returning between US$5 million and US$6 million after the war; Spain US$100 million, returning US$100,000; Sweden US$23 million, returning US$8 million (see Sweden); and Turkey approximately US$10 million, returning US$1 million.

Also in October 1997 New York City financial controller Alan Hevesi barred the UBS from taking part in a US$1 billion loan for the city. He said he would not allow the UBS to profit from dealings with the city while its top officers remained unrepentant in the face of the disclosures of the widening investigations in Nazi gold. The action was criticized by the US State Department and Stuart Eizenstat (see above), who said that a confrontation with the banks would be less productive than co-operation.

In mid-October 1997 Swiss banks stepped up their campaign to bolster their international image. The campaign included full-page advertisements in 120 newspapers in thirty countries. The advertisements, which appeared several days after the UBS was dropped as lead manager for New York City loan, outlined the 'significant progress' the banks had made.

Several weeks later the UBS apologized for 'mistakes' in handling Nazi-era deposits. It was the first such apology by the bank since the 'affair' began. The chairman stated: 'If we have in our sincere efforts to resolve the serious problems posed by the past, upset people, then we are very sorry. . . the bank has not finished facing up to its past.'

On 29 October 1997 the SBA released a new list of some 14,000 dormant accounts, comprising over 3,600 foreign names and over 10,000 Swiss names. The list appeared on the Internet and in the New York Times, the international edition of the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the Israeli newspaper Yediot Akharonot.

December 1997

On 1 December 1997 the first preliminary report of the Bergier Commission was published. It underlined Switzerland's central role in gold dealings with the Third Reich and revised upwards the part played by Swiss banks. The report states that the Nazis took US$146 million in gold from Holocaust victims and other individuals in Germany and the occupied territories, and that Switzerland took 76 per cent of all gold transferred abroad by the Reichsbank. The study also revealed that Swiss commercial banks received US$61.2 million in gold from Nazi Germany, three times more than previously assumed.

Evidence from newly discovered microfilms of war-time Reichsbank records and analyses of them by US financial experts in 1945 look to disprove the theory that Switzerland had processed so much 'non-monetary gold'. The documents suggest that the Dresdner and Deutsche Banks, still the most powerful in Germany, took nearly 90 per cent of the concentration camp gold, resmelted on the orders of the Reichsbank to hide its origin.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press although the authorities may legally restrict these freedoms for groups deemed to be a threat to the state. In addition, an article of the penal code criminalizes racist or antisemitic expression, whether in public speech or printed material.

According to unverified NGO statistics reported in the 1998 US State Department Annual Report on Human Rights, there were 33 reported attacks against foreigners in the first half of 1997, compared with 41 for the same period in 1996. The number of such attacks appears to have increased in the latter half of 1997. In the State Department's opinion, investigations into these attacks were conducted effectively, and led, in most cases, to the arrest of the persons responsible. The punishment for persons convicted of racist crimes is a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to SFr40,000 (US$27,200).

In accordance with the first anti-racism law, approved in 1994, that criminalizes racist or antisemitic actions or public speech, in 1995 the government appointed a commission to consider preventative measures and serve as a mediator for conflicts between individuals. According to NGO statistics, about a dozen judgements have since been made by the commission, the heaviest penalty meted out so far being four months' conditional imprisonment.

Despite being severely criticized by the Tribunal fédéral (supreme court) on a number of occasions, legislation implemented in 1995 allowing the imprisonment of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants from the age of fifteen for up to a year without trial continues to be on the books.

Mainstream politics

None of the political parties that form the government coalition tolerates antisemitism, although individual members may participate in racist or antisemitic events. In the spring of 1997, however, one of the coalition partners, SVP/UDC, defended Swiss war-time activities and protested against the 'blackmail' of the Swiss people by Jewish groups (see Legacy of the Second World War).

Two parliamentary xenophobic parties, the populist Schweizer Demokraten/Démocrates suisses (SD/DS, Swiss Democrats) and members of the Freiheitspartei der Schweiz (Swiss Freedom Party) have in the past associated with far-right activists and skinhead groups, and been known to tolerate antisemitism in their ranks. In 1997 the SD/DS sold a mail order cassette entitled Eine neue Weltordnung (A New World Order), inspired by Jan van Helsing's Geheimgesellschaften und ihre Macht im 20. Jahrhundert (Secret Societies and Their Power in the Twentieth Century) (see Publications and media).

Far-right parties

Most far-right organizations in Switzerland are small, fragmented and locally based, with rarely more than a handful of members. An article in the mainstream paper Sonntags Zeitung in August 1997 expressed concern that the far-right scene is growing and increasingly co-ordinated. The article reported that far-right activists are increasingly to be found among the 14-18 age-group, generally from middle-class backgrounds and in continuing formal education. The leaders of the various movements were said to be of 'respectable' appearance and to hold 'respectable' jobs.

The 1995 study Rechtsextremismus in der Schweiz (Right-wing Extremism in Switzerland), commissioned by President Arnold Koller, then minister for justice and police, estimated the total number of far-right activists at the time as being 300-400. Most of the small and short-lived neo-Nazi or skinhead groups that existed then were linked by the involvement of Geneva lawyer Pascal Junod. Most of them have by now been dormant for years or replaced by new, more militant groups - with the exception of Cercle Thulé, which was revived in October 1996 and holds private meetings in the suburbs of Geneva. In September 1997 Junod was an unsuccessful candidate in local elections; he was among the seventy-five candidates who stood under the banner of 'Respect de la volonté populaire, alliance des citoyens contribuables, pêche, nature, environnement' (Respect for the will of the people, an alliance of tax-payers, fishing, nature and the environment).

National Koordination/Coordination Nationale (National Co-ordination), led by the veteran antisemite Gaston-Armand Amaudruz from Lausanne, remains the main umbrella organization for far-right groups. Since its creation in 1983 National Co-ordination has served as a meeting-point for traditional fascists, Holocaust-deniers, racists and skinheads. Today younger neo-Nazis tend to see National Co-ordination as an 'old men's club'.

For many years Amaudruz was also the soul of Le Nouvel Ordre européen (New European Order), which was founded in 1951 and thereby one of the oldest far-right organizations in Western Europe. Since the early 1970s the group has lost much of its influence. Amaudruz, the author of racist and antisemitic books and articles, publishes the monthly magazine Courrier du Continent, which has a limited distribution and is available by subscription only (see Holocaust denial). Amaudruz was prosecuted in 1995 for violations of the new anti-racist legislation, although he carried on his activities. Following complaints against him in 1996 by the Swiss section of the Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l'antisémitisme (LICRA, International League against Racism and Antisemitism) and SFJC, he was charged with racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial under article 261 of the Swiss penal code. His trial is due to take place in Lausanne in August 1998 (see Legal matters).

The Vereinigung gegen Tierfabriken (VgT, Association against Cruelty to Animals), led by Erwin Kessler, was one of the organizations that campaigned against the adoption of the 1995 anti-racist legislation (see Legal matters). Kessler is also an unrelenting opponent of shekhita (Jewish religious slaughter of animals). The VgT's quarterly newsletter, Tierschutz Nachrichten (Animal Protection News), is published from its Tuttwill base (Thurgau). In July 1997 Kessler was convicted of violating the laws against racial hatred after Sigi Feigel filed charges against him in May 1996 (see Antisemitic incidents and Legal matters).

In March 1997 a group called Nationale Initiative Schweiz (NIS) participated in a European neo-Nazi demonstration in Munich, carrying banners in honour of 800 Swiss citizens who had joined the Waffen-SS. NIS members are in their twenties and maintain close links with German right-wingers in Baden-Wurtenberg.

The number of skinheads in Switzerland appears to have grown in recent years but may be as few as 300. The most significant group is probably the Schweizer Hammerskins (SHS, Swiss Hammerskins), active in the cantons of Lucerne, Zurich, Thurgau and, to a lesser extent, Vaud. Members of this group, who dress in black, are inspired by several Hammerskins groups in Europe and the USA. Their ideology is racist and antisemitic, and their publications advertise skinhead events. In 1996 they announced plans for an Internet web-site. There are strong connections between Swiss and other European skinheads; neo-Nazi skinheads from Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Liechtenstein have apparently been attending skinhead gatherings in Switzerland.

In April 1997 more than 100 skinheads and neo-Nazis marched through the Zurich district of Niederdorf shouting anti-foreigner slogans and giving the Nazi salute. There were no serious injuries and the police broke up the incident without identifying the assailants. On 20 April the anniversary of Hitler's birth was marked by a demonstration and a counter-demonstration in Zurich; there were no violent clashes.

In August 1997 a group of neo-Nazis disrupted a celebration marking the 149th anniversary of the creation of the Swiss confederation in Ruetli, near Lucerne. They gave Nazi salutes and shouted Nazi slogans. The police did not intervene, claiming that they wanted to avoid over-reacting.

In September 1997 a number of neo-Nazi skinhead gatherings were reported in the press. On the day of an anti-racist rally, forty-four skinheads were arrested in St Gallen for possession of fire-arms and 'propagandist materials'; police feared they would attack participants of the rally. Two days later thirty skinheads gathered at the station in Neuchâtel to mark the onset of the 'fête de vendanges', the wine harvest.

Despite the high profile of controversial Jewish issues in Switzerland throughout 1997, there is no documentary evidence of an increase of serious - violent or life-threatening - antisemitic incidents in Switzerland. However, according to data collected bythe federal police, there was a large increase in the amount of antisemitic and Nazi propaganda (videos, CDs, printed material) which they confiscated in 1997. Furthermore, a report by the Eidgenössische Kommission gegen Rassismus (EKR, Federal Commission against Racism), entitled Anti-Semitism in Switzerland and published in English in November 1998, claims that there was an increase in the number of anti-Jewish letters written to Swiss newspapers and Jewish organizations in 1997, and that opinion polls showed an increase in negative attitudes towards Jews. Almost half the complaints filed in 1997 for infringements of Switzerland's anti-racism laws concerned antisemitism.

In January 1997 Martin Rosenfeld, general secretary of SFJC, attributed the increase in antisemitism to the late Jean-Paul Delamuraz's characterization of Jewish demands for compensation as 'blackmail' (see Legacy of the Second World War). In October 1997 the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland, Gabriel Padon, was quoted in Tribune de Genève as as saying that antisemitism was being used by certain Swiss politicians for their own ends and that the situation was 'very serious'.

Nonetheless, findings from the report 'Racist Incidents in Switzerland', published in September 1997 by two Zurich-based organizations, suggest that the incidence of 'extreme forms' of racism and antisemitism has been in decline in Switzerland since 1995, although the decline stabilized in the second half of 1997, and that the most common forms of racism and antisemitism are written texts and Holocaust-denial materials. The report also suggests that the anti-racist legislation introduced in 1995 has far from eradicated the dissemination of such material, despite the fact that legal proceedings have been initiated against several activists (see Legal matters).

There has been a recent resurgence of threatening letters being sent to Jews, particularly in German-speaking Switzerland. Between January 1996 and April 1997 the Jewish community reported the receipt of 176 antisemitic letters compared to an average of 12 received in previous years. Some Jewish leaders - including Sigi Feigel, honorary president of the Zurich Jewish community and a well-known lawyer - were given police protection in August 1997 after receiving death threats. Feigel was threatened after he filed a complaint against animal rights activist Erwin Kessler for remarks about Jewish ritual slaughter (see Legal matters).

In January 1997 an advertisement in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper for the medicine 'Siniphen' promised to ease pain if 'Nazi gold teeth give you a headache'. The company in question, Pharma-Singer, apologized for the advertisement and said there was no antisemitic intent.

In February 1997 an antisemitic cartoon was published in the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures. The cartoon depicted a row of grotesque-looking stereotypical Jews, clothed in black and praying at a Western Wall constructed of gold blocks. The newspaper's editor claimed that the cartoon was not in fact antisemitic, but a satirical depiction of members of the Swiss government.

In July 1997 in Zurich a man wearing a skullcap was attacked by someone who cried: 'The Jews are stealing Switzerland's money. Get off the tram, stinking Jew!'

In August 1997 Rabbi Abraham Pinter, principal of a rabbinical school in north London, cancelled a family holiday to Arosa when the owner of the apartment in question said he would not accept a booking from a Jew. As a replacement the family were offered and accepted a holiday in Montana-Crans, in the French part of Switzerland.

Also in August 1997 a letter objecting to increased security measures outside a Jewish community centre in Geneva was sent to the city's authorities from 'concerned' local residents. The letter accused the centre's directors of arrogance and vulgarity towards 'goyim, as you name us'.

Despite the 1995 anti-racist legislation (see Legal matters), Holocaust-deniers continue to publish and disseminate their propaganda.

In German-speaking areas of the country, veteran deniers Andres Studer, Jürgen Graf, Gerhart Förster and Arthur Vogt continue to be active in writing, publishing and distributing propaganda (see Publications and media and Legal matters). In the French-speaking part, Gaston-Armand Amaudruz edits the monthly Courrier du Continent in which he supports far-right groups, advertises racist and antisemitic books and publishes Holocaust-denial propaganda (see Parties, organizations, movements).

In Châtel-St-Denis (Fribourg), René-Louis Berclaz has been randomly sending out Holocaust-denial brochures in his area, and selling antisemitic literature by mail order under the name Libre reflexion (Free Thinking). A complaint was filed against him in May 1997 (see Legal matters).

In August 1997 Holocaust-denial leaflets were reportedly put on the windscreens of cars parked at an open-air screening of the film Schindler's List in Dielsdorf. Police were said to be investigating the matter.

In April 1997 the Neue Zürcher Zeitung carried an advert for a 600-page book by Harry Zweifel entitled Uns Trifft Keine Schuld (We Are Not Guilty) and subtitled 'A Report on the American-Jewish Attack and Lies against Switzerland'. Extracts from the book are published on the Internet.

In May 1997 the far-right Swiss publisher Neue-Visionen-Verlag, directed by former Wehrmacht soldier Gerhart Förster, published the German writer Erich Glagau's Der babylonische Talmud (The Babylonian Talmud), a compilation of talmudic quotes manipulated to justify antisemitism. Neue-Visionen-Verlag has a history of publishing Swiss-produced as well as international antisemitic and Holocaust-denial texts.

After several complaints were filed in Swiss courts, Jan van Helsing's (pseudonym for Jan Udo Holey) Geheimgesellschaften und ihre Macht im 20. Jahrhundert (Secret Societies and Their Power in the Twentieth Century) (see Parties, organizations, movements) has been withdrawn from most bookshops, and shops and individuals who sold it have been fined. In December 1996 Holey and his publisher were charged in Germany with incitement of the people. The book claims that world events are determined by a secret supranational council composed of politicians and 'Jewish bankers' whose aim is to rule the world. A French version, entitled Livre jaune no. 5 (Yellow Book Number 5) and said to have been written by a group of researchers, was published in France and is being circulated in Switzerland; steps are being taken to have it removed from bookshops.

A web-site has appeared on the Internet that claims an international conspiracy is being perpetrated against Switzerland by the 'Le Congrès Juif Mondial' (WJC) and aided by the 'opportunist' Senator D'Amato (see Legacy of the Second World War). The site, posted by a server in New Zealand, carries a Geneva postal address. The text on the site claims that Jews found refuge in Switzerland during the Second World War and the Swiss population did everything to aid them. The Swiss were heroic, while in other countries Jews were deported and the Allies were indifferent to their fate. It claims that the WJC and D'Amato are leading the 'crusade' against Switzerland in order to enhance their own profiles. The site includes links to other far-right and Holocaust-denial web-sites, such as Resistance Records, FAQ-Holocaust, Michael A. Hoffman II's Campaign for Radical Truth in History, Storm Front White Nationalist Resource Page and White Civil Rights Now - KKK.

In January 1997 Swiss radio released the findings of a telephone survey which showed that six out of ten Swiss people believed that the criticism of the country's war-time record is exaggerated. However, 46 per cent of respondents accepted that the Swiss authorities were morally culpable for having cultivated financial ties with Nazi Germany and refusing to admit thousands of German Jewish refugees from 1938 to 1945; 35 per cent of respondents believed the authorities had acted correctly, while 20 per cent had no opinion. On another matter 38 per cent felt that Delamuraz had been 'correct' in his characterization of the establishment of a compensation fund for Holocaust victims as 'blackmail' and 'an admission of Swiss guilt' (see Legacy of the Second World War). The survey, commissioned by Ipso, polled 704 people aged over eighteen and took place on 9-11 January 1997.

In February 1997, in a poll of 864 people published in the daily newspaper Le Matin, 54 per cent of respondents supported the humanitarian fund set up by the banks (see Legacy of the Second World War), while 25.8 per cent were opposed to it; 50.5 per cent said they did not think the taxpayers should underwrite the fund; 34.2 per cent thought they should. Nearly 65 per cent thought 'the current reproaches' of Switzerland for its stance towards Jews during the war were justified or partly justified, while 18.3 per cent said they were unjustified. Around 43.5 per cent believed Switzerland's assistance to Holocaust victims after the war was insufficient, while nearly 39 per cent said it was sufficient and 4.6 per cent felt it was excessive. A total of 40.2 per cent saw antisemitism as a major problem; 46.3 per cent did not.

A poll published in March 1997 in the newspaper Berner Zeitung showed that half the respondents supported the government's plan for a humanitarian fund for Holocaust victims (and others) to be established using gold reserves (see Legacy of the Second World War). However, a telephone survey carried out by the tabloid Blick in the same month found that 90 per cent of nearly 4,000 callers had denounced the plan as a waste of Swiss gold reserves.

A survey carried out in June 1997 by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) on the media's treatment of reports on Switzerland's role in the Second World War polled 650 people throughout the country. Forty-nine per cent claimed that the debate 'only creates bad blood' or 'unnecessary divisions', and 47 per cent stated that the accusations should be 'partially' or 'completely' rejected; 45 per cent believed there were more people with negative feelings towards Jews as a result of the debate on Switzerland's war-time role.

Anti-racist legislation

New provisions of the Swiss penal code (article 261 bis ) entered into effect in January 1995 (see Racism and xenophobia). These provisions enabled Switzerland to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), adopted by the United Nations in 1965 and which entered into effect in 1969. Switzerland has thereby fulfilled CERD's requirement that it 'declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin'.

Implementation of the new anti-racist legislation has been slow; there have been few convictions and many appeals. The law has suffered from some imprecise terminology and from differences between the French, German and Italian versions. Public opinion has been divided, particularly in relation to the issues of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of information. In the French-speaking part of the country, freedom of speech is considered sacrosanct. In the German-speaking part, people understand the need for limitations on freedom of speech in order to fight far-right organizations.

In June 1997 a motion in the federal assembly by fifty-two members demanded a revision of the anti-racist law. The motion was rejected by the federal council (the cabinet) but there will be a vote in the federal assembly.

Trials and prosecutions

In May 1997 the examining magistrate in the canton of Fribourg opened an inquiry into an alleged distributor of Holocaust-denial material in Châtel-St-Denis. Three copies of Germar Rudolf's Holocaust-denial work, Rudolf Expertise, were seized from the home of René-Louis Berclaz (see Holocaust denial).

Also in May 1997 Arthur Vogt was fined SFr20,000 (US$13,600) for having edited and distributed the Holocaust-denial journal Aurora. He lodged an appeal. Jürgen Graf and Gerhart Förster were also awaiting trial in Baden for Holocaust denial (see Holocaust denial).

In July 1997 Erwin Kessler was sentenced to two months in prison for violating Switzerland's racial hatred laws. He wrote in a brochure that the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals was equivalent to the Nazi slaughter of Jews (see Parties, organizations, movements). He has appealed against the sentence.

In August 1997 a court in Geneva fined two bookshops for selling Roger Garaudy's Les Mythes fondateurs de la politique israélienne (Founding Myths of Israeli Politics) (see France). The shops were fined SFr5,000 and SFr3,500 (US$3,400 and US$2,400) respectively. Although the new anti-racist law has been used to penalize Holocaust-deniers, this was the first time in Geneva that a sentence had been pronounced in accordance with the paragraph specifically punishing Holocaust denial. The law penalizes anyone who 'publicly, in text, denies, grossly trivializes or seeks to justify genocide or other crimes against humanity'. As a result of this outcome two further booksellers in Geneva were charged with selling Garaudy's book. One was fined SFr1,000 (US$680); the other is to be tried in May 1998.

In December 1997 Aldo Ferraglia, the Montreux-based distributor of Garaudy's book and other Holocaust-denial texts, was sentenced to four months in prison with parole. He lodged an appeal. The judge said that an author is not solely responsible for the contents of his book; a bookseller also carries a responsibility for distributing the book. Ferraglia was also ordered to pay SFr10,000 (US$6,800) to the Swiss branch of LICRA, SFr10,000 (US$6,800) to SFJC, and SFr8,000 (US$5,400) to the Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France (Association of Children of French Jewish Deportees), all of whom had filed civil complaints against him. It was reported that his bookshop, Libre R, had moved to Romont (Fribourg) shortly after the trial.

Others who have been tried for publishing or distributing racist and/or antisemitic propaganda are Dr Fischbacher in St Gallen, sentenced to two months with parole in April 1997; Andres Studer, awaiting trial for sending out leaflets and posting propaganda on the Internet (see Holocaust denial); and Emil Rahm, editor of the bi-monthly Memopress, who was fined SFr5,000 (US$3,400) for selling Jan van Helsing's book (see Publications and media). Two complaints were filed against Rahm, an entrepreneur from Schaffhaussen, in August 1996.

On 18 September 1997 a court in Basel sentenced Ernst Indlekofer to three months' imprisonment with parole for racial discrimination. The fifty-eight-year-old computer engineer was on trial for having written Holocaust-denial articles. Indlekofer was the publisher of the magazine Recht+Freiheit (Law+Freedom), founded in Basel in 1995, which hosted many antisemitic writers.

In the autumn of 1997 the guilty sentence passed in July 1996 on the leader of the Swiss chapter of the Universale Kirche (Universal Church), German-citizen Reimer Peters, was upheld on appeal by the canton tribunal in Zurich. He was fined an additional SFr600 (US$400). Peters was charged with racial discrimination as a result of a circular he sent to 400 members of his church and to government officials in July 1995 claiming that Jews had fomented the Second World War because of 'their satanic greed'.

In January 1997 a group of high-school students in Berne launched a fundraising drive for Holocaust victims. They said that time was running out while the government was considering reparations for the victims.

In January 1997 Thomas Borer (head of the task force on assets of heirless victims of Nazism set up by the department of foreign affairs in Berne) wrote in the Jerusalem Post : 'Switzerland is deeply aware of the pain, mistrust and confusion that surrounds this issue. Switzerland is not afraid of the truth. In fact, the Swiss government and federal assembly consider it essential to obtain the truth as quickly as possible.'

In February 1997 it was reported that the Swiss Friends of Judeo-Christians had raised around US$100,000, to be given directly to survivors of the Holocaust in Switzerland and abroad. Much of the money was raised at a rally in Berne to protest against increased antisemitism and to express solidarity with the Jewish people.

In April 1997 the Conférence centrale romaine de Suisse (Central Catholic Commission of Switzerland) pledged to begin an detailed examination of the relationship of the Catholic Church to the Jewish community from 1939-45.

In a July 1997 performance entitled 'I Don't Have Anything against Jews, but' in Biel, north-western Switzerland, four actors read extracts from antisemitic letters published in newspapers and sent to Swiss Jewish officials, as collected by the Swiss actress Shelley Kastner. One letter referred to Switzerland's being 'terrorized by Jewish circles'. The government's humanitarian fund was referred to in letters as a Jewish plan to 'set up an eternal pension' and as 'greedy' and 'insatiable'. The performance was followed by a panel discussion . The production plans to tour other cities.

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Institute for Jewish Policy Research and American Jewish Committee

© JPR 1999