In 30 years at the foreign ministry, Urs V. Strausak has worked in countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe. This month he became the new consul general in Vancouver.
Strausak tells swissinfo.ch he is already starting to feel at home in the Canadian city set between the Strait of Georgia and snow-capped mountains – the low horn blasts of cruise ships departing from Vancouver’s waterfront remind him of alphorns.
Strausak, who arrived in Vancouver in June, says he looks forward to serving for several years in British Columbia, which is home to about 6,000 Swiss citizens, and its neighbouring provinces.
In the meantime, he says his priority is establishing contacts with the business community in western Canada to promote Swiss businesses.
swissinfo.ch: What is the main day-to-day work of the consul general’s office?
Urs Strausak: First of all we have the consular work, which involves dealing with passports and paperwork for births of the Swiss living abroad. Another part is to cover the sphere of culture and business. Most of my work is networking to establish contacts with economic partners in Canada. A very important sector for us now is clean tech – Switzerland has a lot to offer in terms of clean tech.
swissinfo.ch: How do the Swiss abroad in Vancouver differ from those in Zimbabwe, Australia and other places you have worked?
U.S.: We have a lot of farmers here and in Alberta who have established themselves. There are also bankers and other businesses. We have mountaineers – many Swiss came here at the beginning of mountaineering in the Canadian Rockies. They still have a good reputation.
swissinfo.ch: How are the Swiss here similar to those elsewhere?
U.S.: It takes a certain type of person to emigrate. These are people who have left Switzerland for economic reasons or just for other reasons, for example they want to see other countries. In all those countries, you have an opportunity to build up something for yourself. It’s also for adventure.
swissinfo.ch: You recently attended the Sängerfest festival in Vancouver. What role does folk culture play for Swiss living abroad?
U.S.: You see them organised into many clubs, for hiking or sport. I think it’s amazing that even in the second or third generation they are related to Switzerland that much and are trying to keep the tradition alive.
swissinfo.ch: Are Swiss who live abroad in some cases more enthusiastic about Swiss folk culture than Swiss in Switzerland?
U.S.: I would say so. Maybe this is more emotional than living at home, because at home you have it around the corner. Here you are in a different culture. Here the outdoors clubs are very strong. People go every weekend to organise something. They do a lot of sports activities outside. There’s also a volleyball club and an old people’s club where they show Swiss films.
swissinfo.ch: Have you gone hiking yet with the outdoor club?
U.S.: Not yet. I haven’t had time. But this is part of my work. I will visit all these clubs and meet the people.
swissinfo.ch: Switzerland has federal elections in October. How do the Swiss living abroad participate in politics back home?
U.S.: They have the possibility to vote. I think around the world, about 12 to 15 per cent use this opportunity. That’s actually one of our aims: to make sure people know of the opportunities to vote in Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch: What are your other priorities for your time here?
U.S.: We’ll discuss priorities when the new ambassador [to Canada, Ulrich Lehner] arrives [in the autumn]. At the moment, I’m paying lots of visits to economic organisations and local officials. We want to see if there’s an opportunity for Swiss companies to do business here, especially in the field of renewable technologies.
Swiss Foreign Service
The foreign ministry operates about 300 foreign representations abroad, including about 40 consul offices like the one in Vancouver.
The Vancouver consul office, which consists of ten employees, handles things like passports and birth certificates for Swiss citizens living in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Before arriving in Vancouver, Strausak served as consul general in Düsseldorf, but the ministry recently closed that office due to budget cuts. He also worked in Algeria, Australia, Ethiopia, Germany, the United States and Zimbabwe.end of infobox