Stefan Kölliker, Regierungspräsident Kanton St. Gallen während seiner Rede beim Diner im Pfalzkeller. Foto/Photo: TES

Swiss Culture in Perspective

Indian Switzerland, African Switzerland, Little Switzerland, Switzerland of Cameroun, Switzerland of the Orient, Subtropical Switzerland, Switzerland Rangers, Danish Switzerland, Berlin Switzerland, Swiss Canyon, Salvadoran Switzerland, Central American Switzerland, la Suiza Argentina, la Suiza Peruana or Austrian Switzerland, Switzerland is well represented all over the world and on the five continents.

Switzerland in the World

Next to the Federal Palace (Bundeshaus) in Bern is a stone garden, a sculpture by the artist George Steinmann. Five groups of rocks are on a rectangular surface of white gravel, each embodying one of the five continents.

The stones in the sculpture come from five continents and were taken from areas, landscapes, hills and places that bear the name ‘Switzerland’ (translated from the national language). In these foreign ‘Swiss’, where the stones are now missing, a sign indicates how far away you would find them again (in Bern!).

The designations are usually due to a resemblance to the Swiss landscape or the presence of Swiss emigrants. It turns out that Switzerland is represented in many countries. Switzerland is, therefore, known all over the world.

But how well-known is Swiss culture abroad? Under the title: “Swiss culture: an export product?” some 300 participants and experts discussed this topic at the 99th Congress of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad SwissCommunity in St. Gallen (18-20 August). Another matter was the political participation of Swiss abroad and e-voting with a view to the federal elections on 22 October.

Ariane Rustichelli, Director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad SwissCommunity

Political participation and E-voting

At its meeting on 16 August 2023, the Federal Council decided that the e-voting system may be used in the national elections on 22 October in the cantons of Basel-Stadt, St Gallen and Thurgau. Swiss nationals living abroad and registered in the voting register of these cantons can elect their representatives to parliament electronically.

The cantons have always been a constitutional and political ‘laboratory’ for federal constitutional issues. These pilot projects could be the prelude to E-voting’s (re)introduction.

Members of SwissCommunity also passed a resolution to set up a working group to increase the political participation of the ‘Fifth Switzerland’. This working group will cooperate with other similar organisations.

Members also requested further federal support for their engagement. It is also topical because emigration is often only for a limited time today. Moreover, foreign perspectives, experiences and concepts can enrich Switzerland.

Martin Candinas, president of the National Council

Swiss culture – an export product?

My office as President of the National Council has often taken me abroad this year. What always impresses me are the encounters with Swiss citizens. These encounters have shown me that Swiss culture is not just an export product. I think we can speak of an export success“.

With these words (after welcoming those present in Romansh (Sursilvan), National Council President Martin Candinas introduced the topic.

Although it may be an export success, Switzerland as a cultural country is almost unknown abroad, not only on other continents but also in Europe. A recent survey shows that other Europeans associate Switzerland with mountains, nature, cheese, chocolate, skiing, fondue and other topics, but rarely or not at all with culture.

Alexandre Edelmann (Director a.i. of Präsenz Schweiz) during his speech about the survey

Is it the Swiss modesty, the presentation, the lack of aristocratic and princely courts, or a golden age in earlier times? The Swiss cultural landscape has always been internationally orientated, and even today, many scientists, architects, writers, musicians and other artists are shaping the international stage in many fields, but often without revealing their nationality.

In itself, it is not relevant. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Switzerland’s culture is omnipresent in music, visual arts, theatre, dance, literature and modern media and is often organised at the local, cantonal or communal level. The quality is high in the numerous museums, concert halls, villages, towns, parks, and even at 2,284 metres!

Swiss culture is bottom-up and decentralised. It has always been a motor for (international) contacts, innovation, creativity and organisational success. But perhaps this federal, decentralised cultural scene is a reason for the (relative) unfamiliarity with Switzerland as a cultural country.

The Béjard Ballet in Lausanne, the Salle de la Musique in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the jazz festivals in Montreux or St. Moritz, the paper cutting in Château d’oex, the Ziegler ceramics in Schaffhaussen, The Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, the watch-industry, the broderie in eastern Switzerland, the music festivals in Lucerne or Gstaad, the Michalski Fondation in Montricher, the Beyeler Fondation in Riehen or the baroque orchestra La Cetra in Basel are just a few examples. Many Swiss artists are also active in other countries.

Tradition and innovation


The cultural landscape of Switzerland has always been internationally known but almost always ‘low profile’, in contrast to the 48 mountains with a very high profile. The humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536) already appreciated this environment.

Perhaps a specific factor is missing, such as the Golden Ages in Italy and the Netherlands, King Louis XIV of France or German, Spanish and Austrian princes and their court culture and world empires. Swiss culture and its exports are also Swiss in this respect. And that is a compliment.