Winston ChurchillSpeech to the academic youth in Zurich

2.3     Winston Churchill, Speech to the academic youth in Zurich, September 1946

a) Background

After remaining neutral throughout World War II, Switzerland found itself required to readjust it’s position following the allied victory in 1945 and the new power relationships that resulted in Europe.
Despite its neutrality, Switzerland was faced with an increasing interdependence on the outside world. There was also a pressing need for a fundamental reorganization of the economy and the society. The progressive dissolution of traditional bonds such as religion, nation, family, heritage and professional and collective groupings like associations, political parties and unions left the country insecure. (see for the broader picture Ian Buruma, Year Zero: A History of 1945, Penguin Press, 2013)

In the post-World War II environment, the visit to Switzerland by Winston Churchill was the highlight of international affairs in 1946. After the Conservative Party lost the 1945 election, Churchill became the leader of the opposition. It was at that time that he visited Switzerland, met with the Federal Council in Bern and gave the seminal speech to the academic youth at the University of Zurich and on the public square of Münsterhof on September 1946. Churchill was celebrated by the inhabitants of Zurich as a hero.

Although the visit and speech does not address Swiss EU relations, it continued a long standing tradition of addressing Europe’s future in Switzerland, in continuation of much of the work of Richard Nikolaus Couedenhove-Kalergi, mainly operating out of Switzerland in the interwar period. (see Henrich Schneider 2.5).

The speech considerably enhanced awareness on European integration, particularly in Switzerland. The project was favourable received and cheered by the academic youth, idealistic after the end of the war. It largely contributed to the creation of the Council of Europe in 1949. Swiss enthusiasm, however, dissipated in light of real politics and economic interests. The country was in no need to fundamentally change its basic principles of armed neutrality, federalism and direct democracy. The speech of Churchill therefore remained without profound impact in the country, albeit a number of personalities eventually dealt with European integration and were certainly stimulated by Churchill’s vision. .

b) Summary

This summary is limited to two passages of Churchill’s speech with a specific look at the post-war-Europe- to be.

At the outset of his speech Churchill said:

“I wish to speak to you today about the tragedy of Europe. This noble continent, comprising on the whole the fairest and most cultivated regions of the earth, enjoying a temperate and equable climate, is the home of all the great parent races of the western world. It is the fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics. It is the origin of most of the culture, the arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern time. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and the glory, which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that have sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations in their rise to power, which we have seen in this twentieth century and even in our own lifetime, wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind. And what is the plight to which Europe has been reduced?”
Churchill ends his speech as follows:

“I must now sum up the propositions which are before you. Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the strength of the United Nations Organization. Under and within that world concept we must recreate the European Family in a regional structure called, it rnay be, the United States of Europe. And the first practical step would be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the states of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can. The salvation of the common people of every race and of every land from war or servitude must be established on solid foundations and must be guarded by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than submit to tyranny. In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead -together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America and I trust Soviet Russia – for then indeed all would be well – must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine. Therefore I say to you: let Europe arise!”

Winston Churchill’s speech is commemorated annually in the hall of the University where he held the speech. The Swiss Institute of International Relations, in the tradition of Churchill’s speech, has organized for more than 30 years up to this day a program of prominent speakers from all over the world: dignitaries, statesmen and other renowned public individuals speak to the academic community of the Zurich University and to Zurich at large. (see Die Welt versichern, 35 Berichte aus der Geschichte des Schweizerischen Instituts für Auslandforschung, Martin Meyer ed, Zurich, 2013)

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
E_2.3_Churchill_Speech to the academic youth_europe-web

© Prof. Jens Drolshammer,,

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