Swiss literature – a presentation in Leipzig

Switzerland was the guest of honour this year at the Leipzig Book Fair, the world’s largest festival of books. Switzerland’s presentation won widespread acclaim. Authors and politicians nevertheless had much explaining to do after the referendum on 9 February.

The “red bench” was an eye-catching feature of Switzerland’s presence in Leipzig. Benches for relaxation and reading were placed throughout the city

The Swiss presence in Leipzig between 13 and 16 March was remarkable – it included over 80 authors from all four of Switzerland’s linguistic regions, around 70 publishing houses, cultural institutions like Pro Helvetia, a delegation from the Federal Council’s image promotion and communications agency known as Presence Switzerland, as well as academics, journalists and even Alain Berset, the Federal Councillor responsible for culture. “Auftritt Schweiz” (Switzerland Centre Stage) was the overarching title. The organisers of the Leipzig Book Fair avoided the term “guest country”, which is widely used elsewhere, as after all a large number of Swiss writers belong to the German-language cultural circle and there are few boundaries between Germany, Austria and Switzerland when it comes to literature. 

Many Europeans were nonetheless perplexed by Switzerland’s approval of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) initiative against mass immigration shortly before the opening of the book fair. The spotlight was on a guest that itself is no longer a good host. After the referenda of 2009 and 2010 on banning minarets and the deportation of foreign criminals, was this another manifestation of a xenophobic Switzerland? 

Federal Councillor Alain Berset succeeded in redressing the situation somewhat with a short but brilliant speech. He began with a quotation by the Austrian writer Roda Roda: “To be born Swiss is a great blessing. It is also wonderful to die Swiss. But what does one do in between?” Alain Berset’s answer was: “At the moment, one is tempted to say that one perplexes the world and then explains Switzerland to the perplexed world.” 

Berset also explained how much the Swiss enjoy crossing cultural boundaries and so are constantly obliged to produce translations for the various linguistic groups. He summed it up in one sentence: “We have the privilege of having to understand one another.” 

Many representatives of Switzerland, from the highly acclaimed young author Dorothee Elmiger to the bestselling author Martin Suter and the old master Franz Hohler, had the opportunity to give readers a closer insight into Swiss literature over the days that followed and also the task of clearing up the confusion and explaining Switzerland to the audience in panel discussions, TV programmes and newspaper interviews. Peter von Matt’s explanation of the referendum result was widely quoted: “30?% of every society is made up of idiots, Switzerland included”.


Comments (0)

Write new comment

Comments are approved within one to three days. The editorial team reserves the right not to publish discriminatory, racist, defamatory or inflammatory comments. Our detailed comment rules are available here.

The referendum with probably the most far-reaching consequences of the past two decades is currently keeping Swiss politicians very busy – the Yes...

Read more

The panther

Federal Councillor Alain Berset of the Social Democratic Party (SP) has set himself an ambitious goal – he is planning to reform the old-age pension...

Read more

World full of verve

What were the years 1900 to 1914 like? And is it possible to imagine this epoch of excitement about technology and progress as though the First World...

Read more

Ottmar Hitzfeld will make his last major appearance at football’s World Cup in Brazil. The manager of the Swiss national team is one of the most...

Read more

Switzerland as a Protecting Power

At the start of 2014, Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation, met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos and Vice President Joe...

Read more

Auslandschweizer Organisation
Alpenstrasse 26
3006 Bern, Schweiz

tel +41 31 356 61 10
fax +41 31 356 61 01