Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Conradi affair 1923 – political crime on Lake Geneva – with serious consequences for diplomacy

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100 years ago, Moritz Conradi shot a Soviet envoy in Lausanne. The Russian-Swiss man sees himself as the new William Tell who wants to free the world from Bolshevism – and he is acquitted. The result: decades of radio silence between Switzerland and the Soviet Union.

Lausanne in the spring of 1923. In the Chateau d’Ouchy, directly on Lake Geneva, the victorious powers of the First World War negotiate the future of Turkey. The Soviet Union is not invited, but Soviet envoy Watzlaw Worowski is admitted as an observer. On the evening of May 10, 1923, Watzlaw Worowski was having dinner with his companions. Suddenly the Russian-Swiss Moritz Conradi comes to the table, pulls out a pistol and kills Vorowski with several shots at close range.


Cartoon from the Daily Herald, November 17, 1923. The perpetrator defends himself like this: “The destruction of even one Bolshevik represents a step forward for the well-being of humanity.”

Wikicommons / Dodis

In a written confession he declared before the crime: “The law is on my side, because my own father starved to death, persecuted by the red dogs. […] I act from the conviction that the destruction of even one Bolshevik represents a step forward for the well-being of humanity.”

The Federal Council sees no responsibility

Because the victim, the Soviet envoy, was not officially invited to the Lausanne conference, the Federal Council does not consider itself responsible. In the minutes of the meeting the day after the crime, he states: “The crime therefore falls under the provisions of Vaud law as a common offense and must be judged by the Vaud courts. It must be condemned as common murder.”

Portrait of a middle-aged man propping his chin.  He is thin, has whiskers and wears glasses.


The murder victim: Watzlaw Worowski (1871-1923), high-ranking Soviet diplomat and a friend of Lenin.


However, there is no conviction. In the trial before a jury in Lausanne, the defense cleverly directs the focus of the trial to the crimes of the Bolsheviks during the revolution and away from Conradi’s murder. Broad sections of society, including parts of the Federal Council, were strongly anti-communist at the time.

Only five of nine jurors ultimately found Conradi guilty. Because a two-thirds majority would have been needed to convict, he is acquitted. The Soviet Union reacts with outrage and breaks off remaining ties with Switzerland.

Foreign policy isolation

The lack of relations with the Soviet Union put Switzerland in a very difficult foreign policy situation during the Second World War, says the director of the Swiss Diplomatic Documents Research Center Dodis, Sacha Zala: “The situation for Switzerland at the end of the Second World War is very, very bad. Switzerland is completely isolated in terms of foreign policy.”

The then Swiss Foreign Minister, Federal Councilor Marcel Pilet-Golaz, had to resign because his attempt to establish relations with the Soviet Union failed in 1944.

Lessons from the Conradi affair

It was not until 1946 that Switzerland was able to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. And Bern is trying to prevent Switzerland from ever again finding itself in a situation similar to that after the Conradi affair. Switzerland subsequently became one of the first states to recognize the young People’s Republic of China, shortly before the outbreak of the Korean War would have made such recognition politically impossible.

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