by Andy on 4/19/2004 · 2 comments

Ever heard of Helvetistan? No? Me either… til now.

Helvetistan is the name given to the group of countries represented by Switzerland at the IMF and the World Bank.

Since 1992, Switzerland has been helping Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Poland to make the transition to a market economy.


With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Switzerland saw an opportunity to get on to the boards of the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank, the IMF and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The group became known as “Helvetistan”, and since 1992, the Swiss authorities have backed a series of projects aimed at easing the transition towards a market economy in those countries.

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is the latest member. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Update: Swissinfo has a special webpage with stories about Swiss involvement in Central Asia, inluding the news that Kyrgyzstan plans to follow the Swiss economic model…

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Mark April 19, 2004 at 8:37 pm

I just spent the weekend with a Swiss citizen. She talked about the difficulty of them maintaining their standard of living. Their ace in the hole is their secrecy in their banking system, keeps the money flowing in. Maybe they saw a good market (newly freed up Central Asian money flowing to secret Swiss bank accounts) and jumped in. THe help in transition to a free market economy is probably just window dressing.

Andy April 20, 2004 at 5:24 am

For the Swiss, a nation of bankers, I can’t imagine many more important foreign policy goals than getting on the board of international organisations like the World Bank and IMF, and creating (buying) a voting bloc like this is certainly an effective way to achieve that goal.

Switzerland certainly, like every other state, provides aid in the expectation that it will get something in return, but I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call it window dressing. They pumped $41 million into the region in 2003 alone, which is not too shabby for a country of just 7 million people.

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