At the best possible moment
Two representatives of small Swiss publishing houses, Jean Richard of “édition d’enbas” in Lausanne and Madlaina Bundi from “hier + jetzt” in Baden, noted down their impressions of the book fair for “Swiss Review”.
“You’re from Switzerland, aren’t you, with that wonderful rolling “R”? Ah, the Swiss, they know how to do things right. They still put democracy into practice. The initiative on mass immigration just illustrates that. As a national conservative, I fully endorse it. I should probably emigrate to Switzerland…” Bursting with enthusiasm, a visitor to the Leipzig Book Fair shared this with me on the urban railway, without realising the irony of his words. I did not like to explain to him that immigration to Switzerland may soon become impossible. I was still too shocked by the result and fearing the worst for us in Leipzig. I was concerned that we in the publishing industry and our authors would be stigmatised as anti-Europeans by colleagues and the audience and as provincials isolated and out of touch with the world. Before my trip, I was thinking that Switzerland being guest of honour at the book fair had come at the worst possible moment.We had carried out long and intensive preparations. All the publishing houses had been asked to put forward ideas and suggestions for readings, discussions and debates a year ago. A diverse, multilingual presentation had been planned to include a wide range of cultural, political and social trends, and we were, of course, also expected to entertain. My fears did not materialise. When Federal Councillor Alain Berset stepped up to the lectern on the opening evening, he found favour with the audience within minutes. His speech was full of insight, humour and self-irony – and this self-irony ran through the programme over the following days like a common thread. Whether in the literary wrestling show, spoken-word cameos on the tram or the literary journey to the canton of Africa, the Bernese Oberland, the Swiss guests took all the clichés and examined them thoroughly in their presentations. The audience appreciated this as I experienced myself during the presentation of our book “Die Schweizer Kuh” (The Swiss Cow). Using various images, I illustrated the cult status and marketing of our unofficial heraldic animal. This went down well as the images said less about the cow and more about us Swiss. I had everyone laughing.I am also pleased that Switzerland presented itself in Leipzig as a nation with complex domestic and external relations far removed from the clichés. It is difficult to say whether we got this message across to everyone. But, in retrospect, the Swiss guest of honour status definitely came at the best possible moment.