Sixty years ago, more than 100,000 people gathered in Bern to celebrate the arrival of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. Through a grand state visit, the Swiss government wanted to make up for the fact that they had failed to shelter him during the 1936 Abyssinian war against Mussolini’s troops.
An exhibit at Jegenstorf Castle, where the guest of honour stayed during his state visit, looks back on the big event of 1954 when the exotic ruler greeted those paying homage to him from a horse-drawn carriage and schoolchildren got the day off to wave flags along the route.
There were other political motives behind the enthusiastic welcome that greeted the emperor: the Swiss government wanted to return to Selassie’s good graces after having gambled them away in 1936. After Mussolini’s fascist troops invaded Ethiopia, using poison gas in the process, the Swiss showed the exiled emperor the door instead of giving him refuge in a neutral country.
But the relationship between Selassie and the Swiss weapons manufacturer Bührle didn’t suffer, as the company sent large shipments of weapons to Ethiopia.
The exhibit “Hosting a Kaiser: Haile Selassie’s 1954 State Visit” is on display through October 19 at the Jegenstorf Castle’s Museum for Bernese Interior Design.
(Text: Renat Küenzi, swissinfo.ch)