Martin Strub, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Switzerland in India, says that the embassy is looking towards extending its cultural cooperation activities

The friendship between India and Switzerland has been constant since 1948 when the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Swiss ambassador to India, Armin Daeniker, signed the Indo-Swiss Friendship Treaty. Fast forward to 2012 and the relation between the two nations continues to prosper – the cooperation nowadays extends to many socio, economic, commercial and cultural fronts. Lately, the Embassy of Switzerland in India has started to step up its cultural cooperation activities across the country, including in Kerala. Earlier in the year, the embassy, in tandem with the Goethe-Zentrum, organised a Swiss film fete in the city. Then on Wednesday, in association with the Goethe-Zentrum and the Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum, the embassy organised a French-German poetry evening. “We are delighted to come to Kerala.; There is a lot more of Switzerland in Kerala in the offing,” promises Martin Strub, Minister and Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Switzerland in India. In a chat with MetroPlus, the diplomat, who is based in Delhi and is on his second visit to the city, talks about Switzerland’s “enduring” ties with India. Excerpts…

More than 60 years of friendship

Switzerland was perhaps the first country to sign a friendship treaty with post-independent India. But I believe that the two nations are not friends purely because of the treaty. What we share is something far beyond the terms specified in it. The treaty gives shape to a part of the bi-lateral relations, which are mainly on the economic and commercial side. Switzerland collaborates with India on areas as diverse as machine tools and bio-chemicals to pharmaceuticals, chocolates, cheese and films. At present there are 200 Swiss companies in India. On the other hand India’s exports to Switzerland are growing, especially in the textile sector and the services sector. We have only Maruti-Suzuki cars in Switzerland. We want other major Indian cars on our roads too. There are a lot of Indian professionals working in Switzerland… So I would say there is a good complementary exchange of goods and ideas happening.

Interests in Kerala

Our association with Kerala goes back to 1963 when the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) started its first project in India. The project was to improve livestock farming in Kerala, especially dairy production [SDC helped set up the Mattupetty dairy farm]. It proved to be a factor for change, most notably for the manifold increase in dairy production and development of the Swiss-Brown cross-breed of cattle. Nowadays, from the Kerala perspective, we are looking towards increased cooperation in the Ayurveda sector, which has a huge potential in Switzerland. We are currently in the process of negotiating a memorandum of understanding with India on a complementary exchange for the same. Already there are quite a number of health care professionals and IT professionals from Kerala working in Switzerland. Come to think of it, there are quite a number of priests from Kerala there too. In fact, a priest in my native village, situated near Basel, is a Keralite!

Cultural diplomacy

On the cultural front our objective is to promote Switzerland, the country, its art and culture, its heritage and languages beyond the metros; until recently most of our activities were confined to Delhi, and also Bangalore and Mumbai, where we have consulates. We are looking for more collaborations – in Kerala, for example, partnering with the International Film Festival of Kerala. We’re hoping that Kerala’s standard of education will make our task easier. Last evening’s event is a step in that direction. We wanted to showcase Switzerland’s four national languages – German, Italian, French and Romansh through the medium of poetry. I think these kind of soft diplomacy initiatives are a great way to understand a country. On a personal note, I am very interested in the arts and culture of India. When I was a student in Basel, I remember being completely absorbed by a recording of Shivkumar Sharma playing the santoor. I myself play the flute; I tried to play the Indian flute, but it is so hard!

The Yash Chopra effect

The number of tourists from India continues to rise. Yash Chopra was by far the biggest ambassador of Swiss tourism in India. I am told that he was enamoured by the place after he went there on his honeymoon. By featuring my country in his movies he has done such a lot for tourism. In Interlaken, a lake has been renamed as Yash Chopra lake! I’m also told that he shot a few scenes of some of his movies [Waqt and Silsila] on the grounds of the Swiss embassy in Delhi.