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Swiss festival opens amid terror fears in New York

Grand Central Station will be hosting some of the Swisspeaks events

(Per otto settimane la Svizzera sarà di casa al Grand Central Terminal di New York (www.swisspeaks.ch))

A two-month festival promoting Switzerland is getting underway in New York amid a heightened state of alert over possible terrorist attacks.

But festival organisers say they are confident that New Yorkers will turn out in force for "Swisspeaks" despite the potential threat.

Swisspeaks chairman Raymond Loretan doesn't expect festival attendance to be affected by the problems of the United States economy nor by the heightened level of alert.

"We all pay more attention to security since September 11, 2001. But the festival will not be protected by additional measures other than those already put in place in New York in view of the alert," he told swissinfo.

Swisspeaks is intended as a celebration of Swiss creativity in arts and culture and business. Loretan also sees it as a way of improving US-European ties.

Rapprochement

"At a moment when relations are tense between the US and Europe about Iraq, we have an opportunity with the festival to operate a rapprochement between two cultures."

New Yorkers will have a chance until April 30 to attend and participate in hundreds of Swiss shows and events in more than 20 venues, including: theatre, cinema, music, visual arts and design, even investment seminars.

The budget for Swisspeaks is SFr3 million ($2.2 million) and is being split evenly between the public and private sectors in both Switzerland and the US. Among the sponsors are, for instance, swissinfo and American Airlines.

Similarly, the choice of artists and events was not imposed by Switzerland but put together with many partners based in New York.

Institutions such as the Lincoln Center, the American Folk Art Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, were involved along with jazz clubs, art galleries and non governmental organisations linked to education.

Loretan says he doesn't expect "an explosion of attendance the first day", but sees the festival as a way of forging closer cultural, educational and economic exchanges between Switzerland and New York over the longer term.

Creative

The festival is aiming to promote Switzerland as an open and creative country in a city that has had mixed feelings about Switzerland in response to the Holocaust assets affair.

"After the dormant account crisis, it is time to polish the image of Switzerland again", said Johannes Matyassy of Presence Switzerland, in a recent interview with swissinfo.

Matyassy heads the publicly funded body, which is charged with promoting Switzerland's image abroad, and which is behind Swisspeaks.

"The [Holocaust assets] crisis is behind us and we have normal contacts with the Jewish-American community," Loretan told swissinfo.

"But we are reaching a point where confidence must be rebuilt. Some Jewish Americans I meet tell me that they are grateful because Switzerland saved them."

Absent

Noticeably absent from the official opening of Swisspeaks will be New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg. His deputy Daniel Doctoroff will attend instead.

Bloomberg did not endear himself to the Swiss last year, when New York hosted the World Economic Forum summit, which is usually held in Davos. At the time Bloomberg said: "Go to Switzerland to ski, but leave the World Economic Forum in New York".

Bloomberg has since made amends with welcoming words about Switzerland and Swisspeaks, and he is scheduled to meet the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, on Friday.

As for the opening ceremony: "Mr Bloomberg is a very busy mayor and we will have Mr Doctoroff who is an important person," says Loretan.

swissinfo, Marie-Christine Bonzom in New York

In brief

Swisspeaks runs until the end of April, and aims to show New Yorkers how creative Switzerland is in the arts, culture and business.

A special installation has been set up in Grand Central Station with a Switzerland Shop with food tasting, and large model trains.

Cultural events, such as art exhibitions, musical recitals and film festivals are taking place in the Lincoln Center, the American Folk Art Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Swisspeaks also aims at educational exchanges through a virtual classroom linking students in New York's Brooklyn with some in Winterthur.

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