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Expo.02 proves its critics wrong

Visitors don plastic raincoats as they prepare to experience an artificial cloud at Yverdon

(Keystone)

Switzerland's national exhibition, Expo.02, had a long and difficult birth, but a month after its opening many of the doubts and scepticism have evaporated.

Nelly Wenger, the director of the Expo.02, gave a positive account of the exhibition's first four weeks of business at a press conference on Tuesday.

"My first impressions are that visitors are pleased with the way Switzerland is presented," said Wenger. "They like the variation, and the fact that it doesn't glorify the country, as previous exhibitions did."

Turnout higher than expected

So far over 1.3 million people have visited Expo.02, a figure which Tony Burgener, spokesman for the exhibition, says has far exceeded original expectations.

"This is really a high figure, we are very satisfied," Burgener told swissinfo. "But what is also important is that we did a survey of visitors, which showed that over 90 per cent are very happy with what they see at Expo.02, and with what they can experience here.

"One of the big surprises is how positive the reaction has been to the lack of traditional images," Burgener continued. "Our visitors are not looking for clichés, they don't care whether there are Swiss flags around the exhibition or not."

No clichés

Foreign observers also seem favourably impressed by the "unswissness" of it all. "Be warned, there are no cows, no chocolate, and no watches," commented Britain's "Financial Times" newspaper. Instead, it said, the exhibition is futuristic and daring.

Konrad Mrusek, correspondent for Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine", was also impressed.

"It's really well done," Mrusek told swissinfo. "It gives the outside world a different picture of Switzerland - it's not patriotic and there are no clichés, it's very sophisticated."

Critics falling silent

Meanwhile the Expo.02 sceptics, who were violently critical of the exhibition before it opened, seem ready to revise their initial opinions.

Christoph Blocher, for example, the populist figurehead of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, was among the loudest critics. Recently however, he was observed enjoying himself at Expo.02, which he confessed to finding "very amusing."

And Swiss journalist Jacques Pilet, who was a sceptic from the beginning, has softened his position too. "Expo.02 has thousands of positive sides to it," he admitted. "I have no intention of spoiling it for myself."

Nevertheless, Pilet regrets that Expo.02 has not covered some wider issues. "Everything is centred on the individual - the soul and the emotions," he explained. "It's not a good sign when a society puts the individual at the centre of everything."

Expo liberation

But spokesman Tony Burgener believes Expo.02 is a positive departure from previous national exhibitions. "This is the first time an Expo has not had an official message", he said. "In 1939 and 1964 the organisers were instructed about the sort of image they had to present.

"I think it has been a liberating experience for our visitors. You can sense it in the atmosphere at Expo.02. They feel they have been freed from the clichés about Switzerland."

At the same time Burgener welcomes criticism. "We wouldn't be happy if there were no critics at all," he said. "Our intention is to launch a debate about Switzerland at the start of the 21st century, and for such a debate we need critics."

swissinfo

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