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Muba fair opens amid controversy

A young, naked pregnant woman and a Swiss Army simulator have given much free publicity to Switzerland's largest consumer fair, Muba, which has opened its doors in Basel.(Picture shows Muba director, Kurt Frischknecht, next to controversial poster).

A young, naked pregnant woman and a Swiss Army simulator have given much free publicity to Switzerland's largest consumer fair, Muba, which has opened its doors in Basel.

Both caused controversy and divided opinions before the start on Friday of the ten-day event, which is expected to attract 400,000 visitors.

Controversy number one involved the advertising campaign. The organisers had wanted to give Muba a new image to face the 21st century, so they invited United States star photographer Robert Avedon to produce a picture depicting Muba as "the mother of all fairs".

The result was a photograph of British model Zoe Gaze in a naked pose as a modern and self-confident pregnant woman.

Sprayers and feminists had a field day with the resulting poster that appeared on more than 800 billboards. The poster was not even allowed in canton Solothurn and was censored in canton Lucerne.

But the organisers say they have received more positive responses than negative criticism and believe the poster served a useful purpose.

"We are convinced that the aesthetic campaign pleases most potential fair visitors and therefore will have the desired effect," says Muba director Kurt Frischknecht.

The Muba management has, however, been shaken by the sprayers and the critics. "We did not want to provoke and I am surprised at the vehemence of those who oppose it," said Jürg Böhni, head of Basel Fairs.

Controversy number two centred on a shooting simulator to be shown by the Swiss Army at its special exhibition stand.

After a storm of protest - focussing mainly on the possible negative effects on children - it was withdrawn at the last minute, but not without the shaking of heads.

"This simulator is more than 10 years old and it's been shown at fairs before. In fact, 60,000 civilians have practised on it so it's nothing new," said Brigadier Faustus Furrer, project leader of the Army's presence at the fair.

He added that the simulator would have taken up only 80 square metres of the 5,000 the Army occupies at Muba.

The Swiss Army has also come under fire for having a budget of up to SFr5 million for its stands in Basel. But the Army has shot back.

"If you look at the Army as an enterprise, we have a duty to inform. The Army is on the verge of change like never before," said Brigadier Furrer.

"We have to show the public at large what the Army is doing with its budget and how it appears at the beginning of the new millennium. We also have to illustrate the various aspects of the targets it's been set in Switzerland's future security policy," he added.

Controversy aside, the Army is showing one of its FA-18 military jets, a Super Puma helicopter which has been involved in missions in the former Yugoslavia and animals, ranging from dogs which patrol borders to horses that work in the mountains. Military bands and military cuisine are also on hand.

The guest country at Muba 2000 is Brazil which wants to show that it's not just a country of samba and football. High-tech firm Embraer is on show to highlight its deal providing Swiss regional carrier Crossair with its new family of jet aircraft.

Add attractions such as Switzerland's world champion kick-boxer, Andy Hug, a show devoted to classical and complementary medicine, an area for modern living and a Business Class for schoolchildren...and you end up with something for everyone. That's Muba 2000 in Basel.

by Robert Brookes

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