Swiss abroad feature on posters at home

OSA director Wyder is leading through the exhibition

A poster campaign has been launched in central Switzerland to raise awareness of the importance of the Swiss expatriate community.

This content was published on August 20, 2005 - 17:01

Officials say the general public and the media often underestimate the contribution made by the Swiss abroad.

The 20 laminated posters are displayed on Expatriates' Square on the edge of a park in Brunnen on Lake Lucerne. The exhibition was officially inaugurated earlier this month.

From the square a visitor can look across the lake to the Rütli meadow, the mythical birthplace of Switzerland.

Workers are putting the finishing touches to a series of large posters. "Do you know where the fifth Switzerland is?" asks one of them. And the answer comes with it: "it is spread over the whole globe. More than 600,000 Swiss live abroad."

The aim of the poster campaign is to explain to the public what prompts people to emigrate while maintaining links to the country of origin; what life is like in a different culture, and what it feels like to be an unofficial ambassador of Switzerland.

More information

The Foundation of the Expatriates' Square and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), which jointly organised the campaign, say the Swiss are not well enough informed.

"The Swiss are not really aware of the strong network active outside the country," said OSA president Georg Stucky in a speech at the inauguration.

"We perceive our presence abroad through the periscope of a submarine - a narrowed view of the outside world," he added.

Stucky said the media showed little interest in Swiss expatriates unless there was a sensationalist element to the story.

"It is typical that the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation [swissinfo's parent company] wants to scrap most of its internet sites for the Swiss abroad, except the English one, after it suspended shortwave radio programmes," he said.

While swissinfo's multilingual internet platform is under threat, the organisers of the exhibition still believe in a multicultural approach. The short texts on the posters are in four languages. They explain the main reasons why emigrants leave the country: namely love and work.

Love and work

"Swiss volcano experts - fortunately - find no work in Switzerland," said OSA director Rudolf Wyder.

But experts in other fields, such as cooks and hoteliers, are in demand around the globe, he says.

Last but not least there are those who are sent abroad for a limited time by their Swiss employers, Wyder added.

The permanent exhibition in Brunnen also highlights the less glorious side to emigration.

"Up to the 20th century the federal and cantonal authorities often encouraged people to leave Switzerland. Not to conquer new territories but sometimes to get rid of poor and difficult citizens," says one poster.

Wyder pointed out that some people were also driven out of Switzerland on religious grounds.

Poster designer Urs Kohli told swissinfo he tried to illustrate the topic and convey a message through emotions.

Behind and beside the texts, which were written by Myriam Mauserhofer, are images of the famous Death Valley in the United States, a blue bay in the Caribbean, a skyscraper and children at a Swiss school.

Other pictures show a Swiss winegrower in Australia who empties grapes onto a lorry, or the sign "voting this weekend" against the backcloth of the Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome.

Money worries

The exhibition, which is to last about five years, cost about SFr700,000 ($555,953) and was sponsored by the federal authorities.

"I'm very pleased that our lengthy and sometimes difficult efforts to refurbish the Expatriates' Square could be concluded with an opening ceremony," said Toni Dettling, president of the Foundation of the Expatriates' Square.

Initially plans to renovate the square included a project by a renowned French-Swiss architect, Cuno Brullmann. But these plans all failed for financial reasons.

As a result the Expatriates' Square, formerly known as Wehrihaggen, was left unchanged and still serves as a popular meeting point for locals.

As if to prove the point normality takes over at the site after the official ceremony is closed and the guests have gone home. Young couples lie in the grass, children play and some British tourists take a dip in the nearby lake.

A young man walks past the new panels and posters. He says he likes the exhibition. "It's good that they did something cultural."

swissinfo, Philippe Kropf in Brunnen

In brief

The Expatriates' Square in the town of Brunnen was built in 1991 as part of celebrations for the 700th anniversary of Switzerland.

On National Day, August 1, cabinet members met 1,000 Swiss expatriates at the site.

The 5,000m² square juts out from the shores of Lake Lucerne.

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Key facts

The renovated Expatriates' Square was officially inaugurated earlier this month.
20 posters tell of the Swiss expatriate community.
They highlight the motives of emigration and how many emigrants still feel close to Switzerland.

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