In tune with the times

Overcoming tradition’s boundaries

Published: Aug 17 2016, 01:01:am

Sunday, July 27, 1986.

THE WORDS ARE SPOKEN evenly, without overemphasis or undue haste:
     “. . . the reduced job opportunities. . .”
    A bit later, the narrator’s voice discusses the results of a deep-seated political conflict. Still later, we hear the dreaded word “poverty. “
    At Expo 86, an environment where seldom is heard such discouraging words, such candour is rare. In general, pavilion films are designed to accentuate the positive, promote  the national image and turn a blind eye to unpleasant realities.
    The exception proving the rule is that of the Swiss, a confederation of landlocked German,  French, Italian and Romanish-speaking peoples who admit to human foibles and a “tradition-bound mentality.” That rather frank self-characterization is but one of the many refreshingly honest titbits contained in The Spirit of Switzerland, the Swiss pavilion’s 30-minute movie.
    “Poverty, “ we're told, was once so dire in the canton (province) of Glarus that its sons hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers.
     “Reduced job opportunities” exist in today 's Swiss economy as a result of rapid technological change.
    Political conflicts are inevitable in a "country of four languages at the crossroads of three great European cultures.” As recently as 1978, we learn, a new canton called Jura was formed to better suit the French-speaking citizens of the predominantly German-speaking Bern region.
    Working for Condor Documentaries of Zurich, director Phil Danzer has produced a solid, informative introduction to his “small, unique country.” The achievements it displays are all the more credible given the film's studied, reportorial balance.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: It's hard to get excited about Switzerland. In the popular culture it’s best known for its dodgy bankers, alpine adventurers and a little girl named Heidi. Orson Welles’s character Harry Lime summed it up nicely in 1949’s The Third Man: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
    Actually, the famously neutral nation has managed rather more than that, especially in the years since Expo 86. According to the 2016 Global Innovation Index, Switzerland is the world’s most innovative economy, a position it's held in the international survey’s annual rankings since 2010. With its emphasis on ecological sustainability, the landlocked federal republic manages to file a high number of patents, the result of quality universities which collaborate with industry on research projects. Even so, the “tradition-bound mentality” referred to in its Expo 86 film is still at play.
    In 2014, a narrow majority of voters decided to impose immigration quotas for European Union citizens beginning in 2017, effectively calling for Switzerland’s free-movement agreement with the trade bloc to be scrapped. That led to an exclusion of Swiss scientists from European projects, and negotiations began between Geneva and Brussels. Those talks are in danger of being sidelined by the more immediate question of Britain’s exit, or “Brexit,” from the EU. The clock — a Swiss manufacturing specialty since 1541 — continues ticking.

See also: The eight articles included in this, the third of four Expo 86 special reports, explore the pavilions of:

23: Expo 86 EEC/Germany
24: Expo 86 EuroSpace
25: Expo 86 EuroRail
26: Expo 86 Czechoslovakia