New director believes in "vibrant" Swiss culture

Jean-Frédéric Jauslin

Mathematician Jean-Frédéric Jauslin is to take over as director of the Federal Culture Office on April 1.

This content was published on December 11, 2009

swissinfo caught up with Jauslin in Bern, where he spent the past 15 years at the helm of the Swiss National Library, which he restructured and modernised.

Handpicked by Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin as successor to David Streiff, Jauslin - a mathematician by training - may appear on the surface an unusual choice for the job.

swissinfo: You have three children, the youngest of whom is 12 years old – how do you explain culture to him?

Jean-Frédéric Jauslin: You cannot define culture or, to put it better, I wouldn’t dare to define it. You have to live it, breathe it and, above all, get young people involved.

It’s important to demonstrate that culture is not elitist or dusty or boring, as people frequently think. Culture is something that is vibrant and which can be practised every day.

swissinfo: You have a degree in mathematics and a doctorate in IT and are the new head of Swiss culture. Isn’t that out of the ordinary?

J.-F.J.: When I was named director of the National Library, people found it strange that a mathematician could be chosen for the post. I have now been in the world of culture for 15 years... so [it is no longer] anything peculiar.

I am an ardent believer in humanism in the purest sense of the word, that is to say, [one should] keep an open mind. I see no incompatibility between the worlds of maths, culture, IT, biology and other sectors. Our society needs to open its mind and that’s how I see my arrival at the culture office.

swissinfo: What did your time at the National Library teach you about the Swiss political world?

J.-F.J.: Switzerland is a complex country. The ties among the federal government, the cantons and the communes in the field of culture are extremely complicated and the experiences I gathered at the National Library will stand me in good stead.

We are a multicultural country and the essence of my role is to guarantee that each culture can express itself.

swissinfo: Some politicians have raised their voices over "leftist" networks that would like to govern the world of culture in Switzerland. As a man of the right, are you there to swing the balance in the other direction?

J.-F.J: I did not have to bring politics into my function at the National Library and I am not convinced that there’s any need in this instance to bring a political counterbalance. There are different cultures, we are a multicultural country, and my basic task will be to make sure that everyone can express themselves.

There is at present a debate between the state that is a patron and a state that sponsors. I lean quite clearly in favour of a state that acts as a patron, but for me the state should not get involved with content. We are there to put the framework and infrastructure in place but not to intervene when it comes to content, except to guarantee certain limits that are already defined by law.

swissinfo: Which tasks will you undertake first?

J.-F. J.: The first job will be to push through parliament the law on promoting culture, followed by another on the National Museum. That should be followed by legislation on the role of languages and a final law on coordinating institutions and bodies in the culture field.

It’s about trying to bring people together around the same table. Everyone will have to make an effort but there aren’t that many differences of opinion. We will find a way to work together. The cultural nucleus of this country is incredible – we are just not aware of it enough.


Key facts

The Federal Culture Office is responsible for cultural policy and has a mission to encourage diversity.
It is made up of three divisions: encouragement of culture, the National Library, and the National Museum.

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In brief

Jean-Frédéric Jauslin was born in 1954 in Locle, canton Neuchâtel.

He holds a degree in mathematics and a doctorate in IT.

After having worked in insurance, he was director of the Swiss National Library for 15 years.

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