The Dalai Lama has begun a multi-day visit to Switzerland involving events in Bern and Zurich. As in the past, a delicate political dance surrounded his visit as the cities’ officials weighed possible effects on Swiss-Chinese relations.
In Bern on Wednesday, the Tibetan spiritual leader was formally invited by the House of Religions, a meeting and worship centre for multiple religious communities, including Buddhists. It is “not an official visit” on a governmental level, as Regula Buchmüller, the head of the city of Bern’s foreign relations and statistics office told the Berner Zeitung newspaper. However, the Dalai Lama will meet with members of Bern’s city government during his visit.
According to Buchmüller, the Chinese government “registered its dissatisfaction with the visit” with the Swiss Foreign Ministry, whom the city of Bern also consulted regarding the event.
A crowd of several hundred people, including Tibetans living in Switzerland, gathered to meet the Dalai Lama at the House of Religions. He was accompanied by Bern city president Alexander Tschäppät as he visited the venue and held an hour-long interreligious dialogue with members of the Alevite, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Judaic, Baha’i and Sikh communities.
On Thursday, the Dalai Lama will give a speech at Bern’s Kursaal venue entitled “Why do we need dialogue and solidarity in the global crisis?”
The following day, the spiritual leader will continue to Zurich where he will address a crowd at the city’s largest arena and host a prayer service at the Grossmünster cathedral on Saturday. At first, no representatives of the Zurich city government were planning to meet him, and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper reported that Chinese representatives expressed their desire that no such meeting take place.
However, the city council made a statement that it operates autonomously and welcomes exchanges with representatives of all religions. Two members of the city parliament announced on Wednesday that they will attend Saturday’s service after all.
swissinfo.ch and agencies