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Ruth Dreifuss

(1940- )

DREIFUSS, RUTH (1940– ), Swiss politician. Born in St. Gall, she spent her youth in Geneva. Her father was active on behalf of Jewish refugees in Switzerland. After receiving a diploma in commerce, she became editor of the consumer association's magazine coop in Basle (1961–64). She joined the Social Democratic Party in 1965 and studied economics at the University of Geneva, beginning her academic career there as assistant professor (1972–74). She was engaged by the Federal Foreign Ministry (1972–81) and was elected secretary of the Swiss Labor Union (Berne, 1981–93). She also served on the city council of Berne as a member of the Social Democrats. In 1993 she was elected by the Federal Assembly (Parliament) as a Federal councilor, becoming the first Jewish member of the Swiss government. As minister of the interior, she fought to cut welfare spending and was broadly perceived as fighting for women's equality in Swiss private industry. Her vision of social justice had roots in Jewish tradition, even if she declared herself an agnostic and did not become a member of a Jewish community.

In 1998 she was elected vice president of the Swiss Confederation and in 1999 she became president for the one-year term, serving in effect as the Swiss head of state. As such, she reiterated Switzerland's official apology to the victims of the Holocaust, acknowledging that Swiss asylum policy had been "marred by errors, omissions, and compromises." In 2002 she resigned from the government after being reelected councilor twice. In 2004 she contributed to the jubilee volume of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, describing the changes in the position of Swiss Jewry from pre-emancipation times until the present.


Sources:I.M. Fischli, Dreifuss ist unser Name (2002); U. Altermatt, Conseil fédéral (1993), 611.

[Uri Kaufmann (2nd ed.)]

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