Basel establishes friendship ties with Massachusetts

The Swiss House in Massachusetts is a concrete symbol of US-Swiss relations Keystone Archive

A new friendship agreement has been inaugurated between the American state of Massachusetts and canton Basel City in Switzerland.

This content was published on May 4, 2001 - 13:01

Despite the geographical distance - Massachusetts lies nearly 3,800 miles west of Basel - there are long-established links between Switzerland and the US state. Around 1,600 Swiss people live in the Boston area, and roughly 400 of those are studying at local universities.

Basel, like its new American partner, has become an important centre for the pharmaceutical industry, while both are major employers in the financial services sector.

Ties between Basel and the US were given a head start after the opening last year of the Swiss House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Billed as the world's first academic and scientific consulate, its purpose is to facilitate exchange between Swiss scientists researching in the Boston area and their American counterparts.

But the new "Friends of Massachusetts" association set up with the support of Basel's regional government is keen to focus its attention not just on strengthening scientific and economic ties but developing cultural ones.

Eva Krug, a founding member of the association, said the new friendship would be a boon to Basel's thriving arts and music scene.

"I expect we'll see regular exchange in terms of art exhibitions and orchestras," she told swissinfo, "since both Basel and Boston have an incredibly rich and diverse cultural history."

The United States ambassador to Switzerland, Richard Fredericks, says the Basel-Massachusetts initiative is indicative of a shift in focus from national to regional diplomacy.

"We have to take into consideration the strengths of regional ties," Fredericks said in an interview with swissinfo.

"You can't talk about Switzerland without mentioning an area like Basel, Zurich or Geneva. We already have an agreement between Lucerne and Chicago, and I think more Swiss cantons will seek closer ties with individual American states in the future."

So what would a citizen of Basel make of life in America's northeast state?

"I think they'd just be tremendously excited," said Krug. "You have the impression that everyone in Massachusetts has at least one or two PhDs."

But Krug points out that while the similarities between Basel and Massachusetts may have encouraged initial cooperation between the two regions, the cultural differences are just as significant.

"What I love in the US is the way they say, 'If that's what you want to do, then do it!', whereas the Swiss would give you a million reasons why you couldn't do it, why it had already been done, why you would fail or why it would be illegal."

by Ramsey Zarifeh

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