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Inspirational tolerance for others

SWITZERLAND sees its multiplicity of cultures and languages as an advantage for the country – something which could serve as an inspiration to Slovakia, according to Slovakia’s ambassador to Switzerland, Štefan Schill. “We could also follow the example of Switzerland when it comes to generosity, tolerance, patience, and their respect for the identity of others,” Schill said, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. Schill also spoke about investment and tourism potential, education exchanges and cultural ties between Slovakia and Switzerland. The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Unlike Slovakia, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU). Has Switzerland’s presence outside the EU influenced bilateral relations in any way? And if so, how?

Štefan Schill (Source: László A. Nagy)

SWITZERLAND sees its multiplicity of cultures and languages as an advantage for the country – something which could serve as an inspiration to Slovakia, according to Slovakia’s ambassador to Switzerland, Štefan Schill. “We could also follow the example of Switzerland when it comes to generosity, tolerance, patience, and their respect for the identity of others,” Schill said, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. Schill also spoke about investment and tourism potential, education exchanges and cultural ties between Slovakia and Switzerland.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Unlike Slovakia, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU). Has Switzerland’s presence outside the EU influenced bilateral relations in any way? And if so, how?

Štefan Schill (ŠS): In spite of the Swiss Confederation not being a fully fledged EU member, it is strongly integrated into EU structures through bilateral contracts. From November 1, 2008, it will also become part of the Schengen zone. These facts are a good precondition for close co-operation with member states. In the political and economic spheres, Switzerland naturally cooperates most intensively with its neighbours. Bilateral relations with Slovakia are problem-free. After Slovakia joined the EU, the interest in intensifying political and economic relations has increased on both sides.

TSS: Switzerland is proud of its neutrality, and there is a strong tradition of Swiss political and military neutrality. How does this neutrality operate in practice?

ŠS: Swiss politicians stress the neutrality of their country in foreign policy, and tend to respect it. As for military neutrality, there is a strict rule that the armed forces exist to secure and protect the country’s territory and can be deployed abroad only to maintain peace and order in crisis regions and to tackle the effects of natural disasters.

TSS: Switzerland is a country of several official languages – Italian, French, German and Romansch. How could experiences from such mixing of languages and cultures be applied in Slovakia? What can we take as an example from the Swiss?

ŠS: The proportion of people speaking German is 65 percent, French 15 percent, Italian 10 percent, and Romansch 1 percent. All languages are put on the same level. In our terminology, we could say that they are all state languages. German and French are used in many cantons, Italian only in Ticino, and Romansch just symbolically. The Swiss consider mixing of cultures and languages an advantage for their country.

For Slovakia, defining equality when using different languages in the constitution and in laws could be useful. We can also take an example from Switzerland when it comes to their generosity, tolerance, patience, and their respect for the identity of others.

TSS: Slovakia has been seeking to attract Swiss capital. Have Swiss investors in your opinion fully discovered Slovakia?

ŠS: I think there are relatively few Swiss investments in Slovakia. This is due to the fact that Swiss companies have concentrated mainly on Germany, Austria, and the United States. They had very little information about Slovakia. Moreover, the Swiss are cautious, and until we became EU members, they did not look intensively for opportunities to invest in Slovakia. A big boom of investment has already been recorded in Slovakia, and it can be supposed that Swiss companies will only look for co-operating businesses in Slovakia for their parent firms.

TSS: According to recent polls, the interest in working abroad has been decreasing in Slovaks lately. However, when it comes to Switzerland the trend is different and Slovaks’ interest in the country has been growing.

ŠS: The reasons are probably the relatively good average wages, the proximity of Switzerland and the options to communicate in German and English. Of course, the security situation in the country also contributes to this, along with the environment and natural beauty and the country’s good reputation. I could also mention that the relatively intensive development of the Swiss economy over recent years means that it needs, and can absorb, qualified labour.

TSS: Are there strong cultural links between Switzerland and Slovakia? What are the major events in this area? How is Slovak culture perceived in Switzerland and what aspects of Slovak culture are interesting for Swiss people?

ŠS: Due to the fact that both culture and education is the responsibility of the cantons in Switzerland, co-operation between Slovakia and Switzerland starts from these positions – i.e. based on the initiative of compatriots, individuals, cantons and municipal councils.

Just recently, on July 1, there was a concert of 130 secondary grammar school students who sang Slovak folk songs at the initiative of our countryman František Szántó. I could also mention the twin towns meeting between Hünenberg, in the Zug Canton, and Banská Štiavnica on May 31 this year, in addition to the presentation of photographs of the Slovak town. In co-operation with the Slovak Pavilion in Geneva there also was an exhibition of paintings of the Slovak artist Ivan Schurmann. To name just a few performances in Switzerland, let me name the famous Slovak Philharmonic, the folk ensemble Technik, or the Choir of Bratislava Conservatory.

TSS: Is Switzerland a popular tourist destination for Slovaks and vice versa?

ŠS: I would say that tourism between Switzerland and Slovakia is at this point rather a one-way street. Not that many tourists from Slovakia come to Switzerland, and very few Swiss visit Slovakia. Here, I see a big potential mainly for tourism to discover the country. Slovakia has great opportunities in spa tourism, and that could be interesting for the Swiss. But to increase tourism from Switzerland to Slovakia requires effective marketing by Slovak tourism businesses and authorities and, last but not least, also the support for that marketing from the state.

TSS: Are there intensive links between Slovak and Swiss academia? Do some Swiss and Slovak schools co-operate as twins?
ŠS: Co-operation between schools, as with most activities with Switzerland, is at the elementary level, which means that individual schools have sought partners themselves. The Swiss organization Jugendaustausch (Exchange of Youths), which at the end of last year invited ten Slovak teachers for a two-month stay, has also helped. I was especially delighted by the project of the Swiss Football Association, organised as part of the European Championships in June and called Euroschools, where Swiss and Austrian schools drew one of the UEFA member states and then made a presentation and competed in their name in a nationwide competition.

Slovakia was represented by two schools from the Luzern Canton; they made very good presentations of Slovakia at schools, and competed in home-made shirts bearing Slovak state symbols. At these schools, pupils will surely not mistake Slovakia for Slovenia anymore.

Topic: Foreigners in Slovakia


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