Sunday 12th of July 2020

a bank for the people, going going going...


René Roca has a doctorate in history and is a grammar school teacher. He heads the Research Institute for Direct Democracy (


For more than 20 years I have, with conviction, been a member of one of the 255 legally autonomous and cooperatively organised Raiffeisenbanks. However, lately, like many other members of the cooperative, I have been alarmed by certain developments in this cooperative bank. The Vincenz case, which I will not go into any further, is only symptomatic of these.


If you visit the website of my bank, the Raiffeisenbank Rohrdorferberg-Fislisbach, you come across a comic strip, well-made in terms of PR and in a prominent position, which advertises membership of the bank and concludes with the following motto: “Become co-owner of a bank, and determine how things are going to be.” The motto confirms an important guideline of the cooperative principle. If I want to become a member of a Raiffeisenbank, I buy a share and so become co-owner of the bank. At the annual general meeting, I have exactly one vote, regardless of whether I have one or more share certificates – according to the principle of “one person, one vote”. But the cooperative idea involves much more.

Mutual self-help as purpose?

If I look at the important article stating the purpose of my Raiffeisenbank in its articles of association, I come across the following sentence (Art. 2): “The bank conducts the following banking transactions in mutual self-help in the sense of the cooperative ideas of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen [...].” What does this article of purpose mean? What does “mutual self-help” mean? What exactly do the “cooperative ideas of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen” include? Article 5 of the articles of association further states that the bank is “a member of Raiffeisen Switzerland” and recognises its statutes. Raiffeisen Switzerland is itself organised as a cooperative. My bank, the Raiffeisenbank Rohrdorferberg-Fislisbach, is thus as it were a member of Raiffeisen Switzerland, which is based in St Gallen. If one studies Raiffeisen Switzerland’s statutes, the special article stating the purpose of the association (Article 3) is also remakable: “Raiffeisen Switzerland aims to propagate and reinforce the cooperative ideas of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen in Switzerland [...]” Again, “mutual self-help” is mentioned, and the “cooperative ideas of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen” are even to be propagated and reinforced.

Cooperative roots in the 19th century

At this point it is needful to take a short trip into history. As a mayor in his German hometown, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1818-1888), whose 200th birthday we are celebrating this year, saw the hardships and worries of the farmers and traders of his time. Loans were only to be had with high interest rates and borrowers were soon caught in a debt trap. From what he saw, Raiffeisen drew the practical conclusion that the needy could only engage in the fight against usury and for fair credit in a joint alliance, true to the motto: “All for one and one for all”. The soon-to-be-founded “Aid Organisation” was “mutual self-help” in action, and the foundation stone for the first Raiffeisen-bank. Raiffeisen assigned the task to serve as garantors for debts to richer fellow citizens. For example, farmers borrowed money to buy cows. They had to pay back the loan within five years. Their wealthy fellow citizens were liable for potential losses in solidarity and with their private assets. There was no dividend. Later, the borrowers became members, too, as they formed savings in good times, which could in turn be mortgaged. This form of capacity-building is a socio-ethical principle that belongs to the cooperative idea and has its roots in Christian charity, as Raiffeisen repeatedly emphasised.

The cooperative idea can be explained as resting on three terms combined with the word “self”: In addition to self-help these are self-responsibility and self-determination. The will to self-determination has a long tradition in the Swiss Confederation. Cooperatives in various forms have been attested in Switzerland since the late Middle Ages. That is why the idea of Raiffeisen fell on fertile ground especially in our country. In 1899, Father Johann Traber (1854-1930) founded the first Raiffeisenbank in Bichelsee. Since then, Bichelsee has been referred to as the “Raiffeisen Rütli of Switzerland”. Father Traber writes about the first Raiffeisenbank: “So the institution is really democratic and at the same time genuinely Christian; it is not money that governs here, but the moral value of the individual person.” The cooperative banks supported industrialisation in Switzerland sustainably and underpinned by democracy.

Apart from that, the cooperative principle and thus the demand for self-determination were an essential tradition in the 19th century, to first of all develop and then continuously expand direct democracy with the referendum and initiative first at the communal and cantonal level and finally also in the Swiss Confederation.

Considerations for securing and strengthening the cooperative principle

So what does this cooperative idea mean today? How can Raiffeisen’s ideas be propagated and reenforced, and how can the idea of “mutual self-assistance” be filled with new content? Here are three considerations to this effect:

1. The current structure of Raiffeisen is centralised. The 255 autonomous cooperative banks are managed by St Gallen by means of a top-down strategy. This does not correspond to the cooperative idea. The basis, i.e. the cooperative members of each Raiffeisen bank, should decide by means of a decentralised (federal) structure, how things are going to be. The association must serve the individual banks, and not vice versa. That is how it was meant originally. The mergers of the Raiffeisen banks were and are also wrong, leading to ever larger entities and less and less say.

2. Raiffeisen Switzerland determines the strategy of the banking group, which is then approved by the delegates of the Raiffeisen banks. The delegates are organised in regional unions in the form of 21 associations (!). This structure is complex and above all undemocratic. As a member of the cooperative, I have never heard of these delegates at a general meeting or in any other way, so I do not know them and therefore cannot vote them in or out.

3. The 1.9 million members of the co- operative must take the development of their Raiffeisenbank more strongly into their own hands again. First, they must call for the necessary transparency within the framework of the General Assembly, and then they must assert more influence concerning the strategic management of the bank, so that the actual cooperative idea can be reasserted; only then the cooperative idea can be spread and rein- forced, which would be a blessing for the economy.

The Raiffeisen representatives are quite willing to talk, as I was able to convince myself personally. Now a broad discussion is to be conducted with the rank and file, i.e. the members of the cooperative, in order to secure cooperative co- and self-determination and to secure them for the 21st century.


(Translation Current Concerns


at top: Mural of Einstein on a bicycle. Picture by Gus Leonisky)

einstein in the leafy woods...

"I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow-men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society."

Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?, 1949



Written between October 1922 and March 1923, the diaries of Einstein released in 2018 contains racist remarks. He notes how the “Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.” After earlier writing of the “abundance of offspring” and the “fecundity” of the Chinese, he goes on to say: “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”

Einstein’s perceptions of the Japanese he meets are, in contrast, more positive: “Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing,” he writes. “Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country.”

On gay rights:

Einstein was one of the thousands of signatories of Magnus Hirschfeld's petition against Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which condemned homosexuality. The petition ran for more than thirty years in the intellectual circles thanks to the activity of Hirschfeld's Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee), which collected many signatures from the Jewish intellectual elite.






Direct democracy is a central component of political culture in Switzerland, as in no other country. It is therefore astonishing that their formation and development has not yet been a central research topic in the history of science. To close these research gaps, the scientific "research institute direct democracy" was founded.

It started in September 2006 with the director of the institute Dr. phil. René Roca founded the "Forum on the Research of Direct Democracy". He organizes regular working meetings in order to connect scientists. These colloquia worked on the state of democratic research, promoted interdisciplinary exchange and supported research projects. In the same direction, the scientific conference organized by Roca together with the Center for Democracy (ZDA) on 9 and 10 September 2010 entitled "Towards a direct democracy in the Swiss cantons". 

The newly founded institute wants to connect to what has already been achieved. The theme of direct democracy should be further systematically worked up; In addition, the institute will be active in the field of consulting and organize events and lectures on direct democracy.



second time since hitler that a jewish account was closed...

Shir Hever discusses the bank's decision to close Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East's bank account. This is the second time since Hitler that a Jewish account was closed, this time because of pressure from Israel to block the boycott and divestment movement

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Twice since the Nazis ruled Germany, a German bank has closed the account of a Jewish organization. It happened in 2016— same bank, same Jewish organization once again. The bank is called the Bank for Social Economy, which operates accounts for many civil society organizations, and it’s considered a progressive banking institution. Nonetheless, they closed the account of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. Jewish Voice— as it’s known— is a German organization promoting solidarity with Palestinian rights. We covered this here at The Real News before, describing how it was part of a worldwide campaign to demand that the Bank for Social Economy refrain from discrimination against its Jewish customers. The bank ceded and the bank reopened the account. This year, things heated up again. The bank then commissioned an external expert to investigate whether the Jewish Voice is an anti-Semitic group. Although eventually, the expert refused to conduct such an investigation. Then Jewish Voice proceeded to win the Göttingen Prize. Shortly afterwards, the bank posed an ultimatum to them— renounce BDS or we’ll close your account.

And we’re joined now by a Board Member of Jewish Voice who also happens to be a correspondent for The Real News, to discuss why Jewish Voice refused to engage in an investigation, whether they are anti-Semitic or not, or why they refused to renounce BDS. Shir Hever is a Board Member of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and a correspondent for The Real News Network living in Heidelberg, Germany. His most recent book is Privatization of Israeli Security. Welcome back, Shir. Always good to talk to you.

SHIR HEVER Thank you, Marc, for having me.

MARC STEINER This is a really complex subject in some ways, so what happened in the intervening time? I read the statement from the bank and I’ll give you my thoughts about that in a minute, but tell me what happened here.

SHIR HEVER Well, the bank conducted a negotiating process with us, with Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East and—

MARC STEINER Were you part of that? Were you part of that? The negotiation?

SHIR HEVER No, no. Other members of the board participated in the negotiation process and basically, we were quite optimistic about this negotiating process. We came with a very positive outlook to it and we thought the bank is actually willing to apologize for blaming us of anti-Semitism and arranging this investigation against us. The bank was also, understandably, under a lot of international pressure and also pressure inside Germany to close our account because it was generally understood that if a Jewish organization loses its account for supporting the BDS Movement, then every organization in Germany will have to. All the other organizations will have to announce that they reject BDS, otherwise their accounts will be closed as well in a very McCarthyistic way.

So it was very important for us in that context to tell the bank that we want to keep our account with them as a symbolic issue and that we want to ensure that our existence in this bank is proof of the freedom of speech in Germany. But at some point, the bank just told us, either you publish a statement or sign a statement that we will write for you where you distance yourself from the BDS Movement and basically say that you reject it, or we will close your account. Of course, we will not accept this kind of thought control or political control. There is, according to the German Constitution, the right to free speech and free political expression is protected. The bank doesn’t seem to understand that, and they just told us that they were going to close our account.

MARC STEINER Well let me raise, when I read the bank statement and I was, kind of, thinking about where this would live, but this seems to me a very complex issue. On the one hand, you’ve got a bank that refuses to take the Jewish Voice account in a country that is overly-sensitive about things Jewish because of the Holocaust, what happened in World War II and before. On the other hand, you have all— it seems from what I’ve been reading— you have all these right-wing Zionist organizations that were pushing to insist that your account be withdrawn and that you were in fact, even though you’re Jewish, you’re anti-Semitic. Or, some like to say, self-hating Jews. [laughs] But so, let’s talk about that, about those two, kind of, contradictions and realities that exist and how they played into all this, and your analysis of that.

SHIR HEVER I think the best analysis is to use a biblical story and I’m sure you know it, but maybe not all of our viewers know it— the judgment of King Solomon, which is in the Bible. In that story, two women who claim to be the mother of the same baby go to the king, and the king’s solution is to cut the baby in half. One mother says that she’s okay with it, but everyone will get a half and basically, no one will get a baby. And the other one says, no give it to the other one; just don’t kill the baby. And then King Solomon says, oh she must be the real mother, and gives her the baby. I think this is a very similar situation. Unfortunately, the bank doesn’t seem to know its Jewish culture and history very well because we have a situation here where the baby is Jewish life in Germany. The question is, can Jews live in Germany safe and free, and have their own political opinions and their own choice, what political opinions to hold?

And in this bank, there used to be another organization, another Jewish organization called Keren Hayesod, which is a pro-Israeli organization. Actually, Keren Hayesod is registered in Israel. It’s a Zionist organization. It funnels money to illegal colonies in the West Bank. It buys land which only Jews can live on, so it’s a very right-wing racist organization. And we never at the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace called the bank to close their account. We believe that even if this organization is racist, they are entitled to their opinion. We’ll fight their opinion, but we’re not going to silence them. We’re going to make sure that our opinion is also heard. So in that sense, we are willing to have Jewish life in Germany where everyone will get an opinion. The bank however— Now, what happened is actually that Keren Hayesod, they said if the bank doesn’t kick out us, they will leave the bank.

MARC STEINER And they have more money than you.

SHIR HEVER [laughs] They have a lot more money than us. They are supported by the Israeli government, so they have a lot more money. But anyway, when the bank last year reopened our account, they left in protest and said we’re closing our account with this bank. Now, see what’s going to happen to this bank because they are kicking us out. After we get kicked out, what happens if Keren Hayesod says, oh we want our account back in the Bank for Social Economy. If the Bank for Social Economy says, no we are not a place for having political debates— like they do in their statement— we’re not the right place for having political discussions among Jewish groups.

Then basically, they’re saying political Jewish groups may not have accounts in the bank, which is a totally racist statement. Their other option is to say, yes, we are willing to have Keren Hayesod, the right-wing organization open their account, but not the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace. That means the bank says, yes, we’re pro-occupation, pro-racism, pro-right-wing Jews, but we are against Jews who stand up for human rights. And so, this means that this is not really a bank so much, but more of a political organization— which again, the bank in their statements says we’re not a political organization. So, make up your mind. Either you’re a political organization or you are an organization that doesn’t allow Jews being customers.

MARC STEINER What do you think really pushed, forced this decision to happen? I mean, from what I’ve read about this bank, the Bank for Social Economy, I called it in the opening, kind of, a progressive institution as banks go. I mean, if this was here in the United States, it would be considered a progressive bank that takes all these civic groups, it takes their money, and it seems to back a number of those kind of progressive causes inside of Germany itself. So what happened? What do you think is really at work here?

SHIR HEVER What is at work here is that the Israeli lobby is working extremely hard in Germany to try to make BDS illegitimate and even to criminalize it. They’re willing to use every last card that they have, drawing on the guilt feelings of Germans over the Holocaust. Although, this is really not the issue so much for these right-wing Germans who are pro-Israeli and they have pushed this decision that the German parliament—They are using organizations in Germany that are pretending to be organizations that represent all Jews in Germany, but of course Jews are a very varied group, and they have many different opinions, and no one organization can represent them.

MARC STEINER Always. Always, I said.

SHIR HEVER Always. Yeah, yeah. Of course, of course. And so, these are the organizations that claim again and again, BDS is anti-Semitic, and that’s of course a lie. But our organization, the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace, many of our members support BDS. That’s a big problem for them because it proves that BDS is not anti-Semitic. We keep publishing information about the rights of Palestinians, international law, and how German policy towards Israel is riddled with internal contradictions because it’s blindly supporting Israel and still claiming to be supporting international law and the opinions of the European Union, and that just doesn’t go together. That’s why these organizations are very much focused on taking down the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace. That’s a very problematic target for them. And the fact that we won the Göttingen Peace Prize this year is something that on the one hand shows just how widespread is the support, the grassroots support for our organization in Germany. But also, it’s really like a call to arms for the right-wing pro-Israel organizations that now have to redouble their efforts and redouble their funding to try to delegitimize our organization.

MARC STEINER So with the little bit of time we have left here, just two very quick questions. A— how divided is the Jewish community, which is a miniscule community compared to what it was in the 20s and 30s, obviously, but how divided are they on this issue like they seem increasingly divided here in the United States? And B— what are the next steps?

SHIR HEVER I think in Germany what you don’t really have so much as you do in the United States is a very large and old, well-entrenched Jewish community that doesn’t concern itself everyday with matters of Israel-Palestine, that are more interested in Jewish life for itself. What you do have in Germany is a generation of Jews that came mainly from the Soviet Union and they’re somewhat of an older generation here, and they tend to be more conservative. Of course, their political opinions are just as varied as any other group, but this is the main support base for the organization called the Central [Council of Jews in Germany], which is a right-wing pro-Israeli organization, and their Chairman, Dr. Josef Schuster, is constantly attacking our organization, calling us anti-Semites. But then, you have a new generation of German Jews, many of them coming from Israel, many of them knowing firsthand what the occupation looks like and what apartheid looks like—

MARC STEINER As yourself.

SHIR HEVER As myself. Yes. And there are tens of thousands like myself who came from Israel to Germany because Germany is considered a liberal and democratic country where people can express their opinion. Only that we came to this country to find out that yes, it is a liberal and democratic country on any topic except Israel. On that issue, German politics is still very backwards, unfortunately. But among this group of Jewish immigrants to Germany, the opinion is much more to the left. Again, of course, it’s a very varied group. There are also pro-Israelis among the group, but they’re a small minority. And a very large proportion of this group supports the BDS Movement.

MARC STEINER So very quickly because we do have to end this, so what’s your next steps?

SHIR HEVER Well, we’re considering to appeal to the court and to file a lawsuit against the bank because according to the German Constitution, Article 5 of the German Constitution enshrines the right for free speech and freedom of organization. Interestingly, there’s another article of the German Constitution, Article 18, which has never been actually used before. But this article says that an organization that abuses their freedom of speech and freedom of organization in order to take away the rights of other organizations to express themselves freely, will lose those rights. And I think that the Bank for Social Economy did not do their homework and did not properly research before they took this very rash decision. The fact that they’ve taken a political position as a bank is something that puts their very existence at risk.

MARC STEINER Well, Shir Hever, it’s always a great pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for this report and we look forward to obviously talking to you again very soon.

SHIR HEVER Thank you very much, Marc.

MARC STEINER Thank you. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.


Read more:



Read from top.

the axis of evil is alive and well in the potomac swamp...

Iran is currently in an extremely delicate political and economic situation. The unilateral and unjustified termination of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) by the USA and the resulting tightening of sanctions are a catastrophe for the country. All this strengthens the radical forces in Iran, which reject further cooperation with the West.

Iran is an important regional power and, together with Russia and Turkey, has ended the Syrian war – at high material and human cost – thus preventing a second Libya. The USA played along in the end, but US foreign policy remains unpredictable. It is still unclear whether the USA will actually distance itself from the “new American century” (Project for the New American Century) declared before 9/11. Until recently, one of the initiators of the “new century”, John R. Bolton, was the National Security Advisor to President Trump. 

The fact that the situation is as it is, is not due to Iran, but to the geopolitical interests of Western countries, which prefer to advance a dis-functional and destroyed Middle East rather than to cooperate constructively and peacefully with the countries. Iran has long been sending out positive signals and calling for dialogue on an equal footing.

UN Year of Dialogue among Civilisations
  • In 2001, for example, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed the “Year of Dialogue among Civilisations”. Among other things, this was intended to formulate a counter position to the statements of the US political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. With his book, “Clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order” (original edition 1996), he hypothesised that in the 21st century there would be conflicts between different cultural areas, especially Western civilisation and the Chinese and Islamic cultural areas. The UN, on the other hand, wanted to focus consistently on dialogue: “For this reason, the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations pursues the goal of initiating a dialogue that – if possible – should both prevent and integrate conflicts.”1 The then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Giandomenico Picco as his personal representative for the UN Year. Picco was supposed to promote the discussion on diversity through conferences and seminars as well as the publication of information and school material. He had already served the United Nations for two decades and was best known for his participation in the UN’s efforts to negotiate the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan or the end of the war between Iran and Iraq. For this reason, Picco enjoyed special confidence in Iran. That was the reason why the dialogue among civilisations was also the subject of a round table at the United Nations headquarters in September 2000. The initiative was taken by the then President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammed Khatami. The round table, chaired by Unesco Director General Koichiro Matsuura, brought together the Heads of States and Governments and the Foreign Ministers of over 20 countries from different cultural backgrounds (among others Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, India and also the USA): “All participants agreed that with the help of such a dialogue among civilizations, all nations would be able to replace enmity and confrontation with discussion and understanding.”2 The countries involved had high hopes that the next UN year would set things in motion. The goals for the year were the following:
  • Opening the door to a great process of reconciliation in one or more parts of the world.
  • Making diversity understandable as a step towards peace, where dialogue is a key to progress.
  • Strengthening friendly relations among nations and eliminating threats to peace.
  • Achieving international cooperation in resolving international problems of an economic, social, cultural and humanitarian character, and to promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all.
  • Actively promoting a culture of peace and respecting one another, in all their diversity of belief, culture and language, neither fearing nor suppressing differences within and between societies but cherishing them as a precious asset of humanity. 
  • Emphasizing respect for the richness of all civilizations and to seek common ground among civilizations in order to address comprehensively common challenges facing humanity. 

The year set many things in motion, peaceful dialogue was promoted, but then came September 11, 2001, and with it the attempt to realise the “Project for a New American Century.” The USA put Iran on the “axis of evil” and initiated its war policy with the devastating campaigns against Afghanistan and Iraq. It is thanks to Iran’s skilful policy and military preparedness that the country has not been destroyed yet. How apocalyptic a war would be (see Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria), one becomes aware when one travels through the country, admiring the cultural treasures in their grace and beauty and speaking with the open and hospitable people there.


Read more:



Read from top.