Mountain region shows its pride
The current session of the Swiss parliament in the mountain resort of Flims is giving new impetus to the Romansh-speaking part of the country.
But Claudio Lardi, the president of the Graubünden cantonal government, tells swissinfo that the three-week event was not intended primarily as a promotion platform for the area.
The region in the southeast of the country is often perceived as a charming but remote canton, ideal for a holiday against a splendid alpine backdrop and renowned for destinations such as Davos or St Moritz.
But besides its hundreds of peaks and valleys, Graubünden is also the sole canton out of the country's 26 with three official languages. A majority of inhabitants speak German, but there are also Italian and Romansh-speaking minorities.
swissinfo: How does a peripheral region such as Graubünden, and Flims in particular, react to being the temporary political centre of Switzerland?
Claudio Lardi: Two weeks into the parliamentary session we still feel perfectly normal. Actually we don't think of ourselves as a remote region far away from the urban centres of the country. But of course it is great to host so many important people.
swissinfo: What do the locals think of all these politicians?
C.L: People haven't lost their traditional serenity and have a certain pride that everything has gone smoothly so far.
Besides being a political and tourism event the session is also a major organisational feat. It took about 24 months preparation, and it required close cooperation between the federal, cantonal, regional and cultural authorities.
There were some difficult moments, especially when we had to reject local offers for a multitude of fringe activities for the parliamentarians. We had to remind organisers that the politicians came here to work and not to relax.
swissinfo: What's the payoff for the canton?
C.L: It is not about getting a direct return on investment for us. We would like to see politicians understand that Graubünden is not only a nice holiday destination or an alpine wasteland, but also a region where people live and work.
Like most mountain regions, we struggle to keep people from moving away to the cities looking for jobs. During the session we have a unique opportunity to show the politicians what it means for a region to maintain a costly infrastructure, such as a road and railway network.
swissinfo: Why is Flims of all places in Graubünden playing host to parliament? It is not even a Romansh-speaking village...
C.L: Flims provides an excellent venue for the parliament with accommodation and ultimately it was the choice of the Romansh-speaking community.
Flims can also serve as an example for the situation the linguistic minority faces. The resort is on the language border and Romansh speakers are fighting for the survival of their idiom.
From an economic viewpoint Flims can help to stop the steady trickle of people leaving for urban centres by offering jobs in the region.
swissinfo: What did the language community do to raise awareness for Romansh among the parliamentarians?
C.L: We recruited a number of Romansh speaking volunteers who can gently introduce politicians to the sounds of this language. The parliamentarians were also given an audio course.
There are also a series of cultural events and all the signs for the session are exclusively in Romansh. So we are asking the politicians to make a very small effort themselves.
swissinfo: What about Italian, the other minority language, in the Graubünden region?
C.L: The situation is not comparable, because Italian is not facing the threat of extinction. But I see it as my duty to explain to the public that Graubünden wouldn't be complete without its minority languages. They are a crucial part of our identity.
swissinfo-interview: Urs Geiser
It's only the third time in the history of modern-day Switzerland that the federal parliament is holding a session outside the capital, Bern.
In 1993 it convened in Geneva (French-speaking part of the country) and 2001 in Lugano in the Italian-speaking region.
During the session in Flims, which is costing an estimated at SFr3.5 million ($2.8 million), the parliament building in Bern is undergoing major renovation.
Romansh is the fourth national language in Switzerland, besides German, French and Italian.
About 35,000 people, mainly living in canton Graubünden, consider Romansh as their main language.
Lardi was born in the Italian-speaking Poschiavo Valley in 1955.
A lawyer by trade he was elected to the Graubünden government in 1998 as the only representative of the centre-left Social Democrats.
He is in charge of education, culture and the environmental policy. Lardi is holding the rotating presidency of the local government this year for the second time in his political career.
He is known as staunch supporter of Rumantsch Grischun – a standardised version of Romansh – and of the other minority language, Italian.
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