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Parliament session scales new heights

Many of the signs in Flims were in Romansh

(swissinfo.ch)

The three-week session of parliament in the mountain resort of Flims has drawn to a close with a colourful public event on Thursday evening.

More than 2,000 people took part in the official closing ceremony in the ski-resort of Laax near Flims, including 100 parliamentarians.

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger thanked the population of the area for their welcome and said that the Flims session had in every way been "extraordinary".

Most parliamentarians appeared pleased with the venue in the southeast of the country, chosen due to construction work in the parliament in the capital, Bern, and to promote the minority language Romansh.

Many of those who witnessed the session agreed it had been a good idea to hold it in Flims, including local woman Anita Candrian, who visited parliament. She was not surprised by the sometimes rather confusing proceedings in the parliamentary chambers, but was struck by the friendliness of the politicians.

Senator Eugen David was pleased by the considerable interest the local population showed in the work of parliament.

He said the session in Flims had also given him a clear picture of the life of a minority group in a mountain area.

"I'm astonished to see the strong commitment by the Romansh speakers and I think parliament could find it hard to reject possible demands to increase funding for the language," David said.

Romansh

The locals are not convinced that the session will make a difference to the survival of the Latin-based language, which is only spoken by 0.5 per cent of the Swiss population.

"Media attention and financial support certainly help, but it can't buy what we have to achieve ourselves: use the language in everyday life and show pride in our culture," Candrian said.

Politicians appear divided over the economic impact of the session on the region of Graubünden and for local businesses.

Parliamentarian Hans Kaufmann from Zurich said he was convinced that innovative entrepreneurs would benefit, notably the luxury hotel where parliament met and where many politicians booked rooms.

Jacques-Simon Eggly from Geneva was more cautious. "I wonder whether it is a sustainable boost for the region, because it takes more than a one-off effort."

Chiara Simoneschi-Cortesi, from the minority Italian-speaking Ticino region, said the main goal of a session outside the capital was not to give a helping hand to the local economy.

"We want to bring the world of politics to the people, especially here, in a remote part of the country."

Merits

The Flims venue at 1,130 metres above sea level has won over even sceptical voices like Kaufmann.

"I initially voted against another session outside the capital also for cost reasons. But the infrastructure here was superior to that of Lugano where parliament met in 2001 and we also took a series of important decisions on tax breaks, transport and social security," the member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party said.

For Eggly, one of the longest-serving parliamentarians who had a make a long journey from the western Switzerland, Flims was not all about raising awareness about the region.

"It was a friendly atmosphere and that will probably stick in the minds of many politicians," Eggly said.

"The official staff and the – oddly enough German – hotel employees here did their utmost to make as feel at ease," he commented. "Even if it wasn't quite the true Romansh feeling," he said with a twinkle in the eye.

David added that all the sessions outside Bern had their specific merits, be it the one in Geneva in 1993 or the one in Lugano, which proved that the southern region was more than a traditional holiday destination.

But despite the enthusiasm about Flims, none of the politicians was too sure whether there should be another session outside parliament in the near future.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser in Flims

Key facts

Flims is a mountain resort in southeastern Switzerland with a population of about 2,800.
Both Swiss-German dialect and the minority language Romansh are spoken.
The session took place in a luxury hotel compound which had been specially converted.
Estimated costs: SFr3.6 million ($2.9 million) from the federal, cantonal and local authorities as well as private sponsors.
The parliamentary services registered just over 10,000 visitors during the three-week session in Flims.

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In brief

The federal parliament has held just three sessions outside the capital, Bern. In 1993 it met in Geneva (French-speaking part of the country) and in 2001 in Lugano in the Italian-speaking region.

Romansh is the fourth national language in Switzerland, after German, French and Italian.

About 35,000 people, mainly living in a mountainous region of southeastern Switzerland, consider Romansh their main language.

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