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‘State politeness’ VIPs get red carpet welcome in Geneva

Geneva boasts more protocol receptions and international conferences than any other city in the world. A team is dedicated to giving heads of state, princes and top diplomats a special welcome at the airport. A new photo exhibition takes us behind the scenes. 

Last year, Geneva welcomed around 4,700 international VIPs, including 97 heads of state, 44 prime ministers, over 2,000 ministers and nearly 700 royal family members. 

The local authorities boast that there are “more protocol receptions in Geneva than in New York and more international conferences than in any city in the world”. 

In 2016, 2,831 international conferences were held in the city, which is home to the European headquarters of the United Nations and 37 international organisations, such as the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization. 

in depth

International Geneva The ‘capital of peace’

Geneva is known as a hub for dozens of international organisations, the United Nations and over 380 non-governmental agencies.

Photographer Mohammed Zouhriexternal link has been covering the comings and goings of world leaders and diplomats in Geneva for the past 15 years. An exhibition of his work, “Protocol, reception, protectionexternal link”, which runs until May 21 on the Quai Général-Guisan in Geneva, takes us behind the scenes this little-known work of International Geneva officials. 

“This kind of thing doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Zouhri told swissinfo.ch. “It’s a well-oiled machine. They have been welcoming people like this for over 30 years. Everything is timed to perfection.” 

‘Image of Geneva’ 

For François Longchamp, the outgoing president of the Geneva government, Geneva and Switzerland’s expertise in “state politeness” is much more than flawless timing and impeccable protection. 

“It’s also a matter of the sincerity of the looks exchanged and the quality of the introductory speeches,” he says. 

Longchamp hinted at this special diplomatic know-how two years ago in a speech at the opening of a similar photo exhibition. 

“I know, having witnessed complicated situations, that there are highly educated people around the world and others of very poor upbringing who sometimes have very senior positions,” he noted, addressing the Geneva protocol service. 

“You must welcome them all with the same smile, talent and patience. You do so brilliantly and in so doing you carry the image of Geneva – perhaps the most important – as it’s the first thing visitors get when they arrive on the tarmac.”

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