In Switzerland, almost every village has one or more historical, cultural or natural sites of importance. For instance, Bubendorf (Canton of Basel-Landschaft) does not immediately evoke associations with Afghanistan.
Yet the village houses Europe’s most extensive collection of books, documents, photography and other visual, cultural and historical objects from this country, the Bibliotheca Afghanica.
Its founders, Paul Bucherer and his wife Veronika Dietschi, have been visiting the country since 1971 and founded the Bibliotheca Afghanica in 1975.
Paul Bucherer was also a sought-after expert for the US, German and British governments, liaising with various Afghan governments and even the Taliban.
He knew the (last) Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah (1914-2007), who was deposed by a coup in 1973. Afghanistan was then a modern country seeking closer relationship with the West. The Soviet Union did not accept this development and installed a communist reign of terror, followed by an (other) invasion in 1979.
However, the couple did not abandon the country. The country’s culture, history and nature and the pride and characters of its people fascinated and inspired the couple.
In 1998, the US government even asked Paul Bucherer to consult with the Taliban on a ‘Swiss federal model’ for the (civil) war-torn and devastated country. However, the divisions could not be bridged and after 09/11, nothing was the same anymore.
He did manage to establish, however, an ‘Afghanistan Museum im Exil’ in Bubendorf, with the cooperation of the Afghan government and the Taliban!
In 2007, after the apparent improvement in the political and military situation, more the objects were transported back to the National Museum in Kabul, facing an uncertain future since 2021.
Bucherer is convinced, however, that Afghans want to preserve their cultural and historical heritage. According to him, non-Afghans combattants are mainly responsible for the destruction of heritage.
Besides thousands of videos, films and photographs, the library houses over 17,000 titles in Farsi, French, English, Russian and German on (contemporary) history, politics, religion, geology, geography, fauna and flora, economy, culture and Afghan literature. Even travel guides and (recent) dissertations are present.
However, after more than half a century of involvement with Afghanistan, even today, the couple tirelessly keeps the dialogue going, and the Bibliotheca Afghanica remains committed to raising (scientific) awareness of Afghan culture, history and society.