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Swiss to build mountain in Japan

Expo 2005 opens in Japan next March. expo2005.or.jp

Switzerland is to build a replica mountain as its contribution to the 2005 World Expo, which opens its doors in Japan one year from now.

This content was published on April 3, 2004 - 14:06

But opinion is divided about whether the country should be spending millions of francs of public money on its presence at the global event.

Visitors to the Swiss pavilion at Expo 2005 - the first global cultural event of the 21st century - will be invited to walk around inside the mountain and take in an interactive presentation about Switzerland.

“We decided to take as a theme the mountain as a cliché in order to attract visitors,” said Manuel Salchli, head of international exhibition projects at the Swiss foreign ministry.

“But inside the mountain we will show some surprising elements about Switzerland which will make people more aware of what the country is really like,” he told swissinfo.

Organisers anticipate that around 15 million visitors - the vast majority of them Japanese - will visit Expo 2005 during its six-month run.

Government funding

Last year parliament approved the government’s request for a credit package of SFr15 million ($11.7 million) to pay for Switzerland’s presence in Japan. Additional funds are expected to come from private sponsors.

But critics argue that the country is unlikely to receive any return on its investment.

Christian Democrat parliamentarian Arthur Loepfe warns of the risk of spending millions of francs on a cultural exhibition at a time when the government is attempting to rein in public spending.

“I am not against Swiss involvement in the event as such, but I do demand that the budget be respected because Switzerland has a mountain of debt and we are trying to find ways of saving money,” Loepfe told swissinfo.

Financial drain?

Switzerland invested around SFr23 million on its pavilion at Expo 2000 in the German city of Hanover and SFr32 million at the 1992 World Expo in Seville, Spain.

Organisers of Switzerland’s 2002 national exhibition, Expo.02, twice had to return to parliament to plea for additional credit packages when they ran short of cash.

“I remember the exhibition in Hanover was a financial disaster, as was Expo.02, and I am afraid that [our participation in] Expo 2005 will be the same story,” said Loepfe.

But Salchli is adamant that he will not have to call on the government for more money and that the SFr15 million package is enough to guarantee Switzerland’s presence at the Expo.

“Given the present economic climate, a request for additional funds would never be accepted. My main duty is to ensure that we do not have to go back to parliament.”

Marketing opportunity

Organisers and supporters of Switzerland’s participation in the forthcoming Expo point to the economic opportunities for Switzerland both during and after the event.

Social Democrat Anita Fetz told fellow parliamentarians during a debate last year that Switzerland could not afford to miss out on the chance to promote itself in Japan.

“Our participation at Expo is a very important opportunity to portray a positive image of Switzerland,” she said.

Salchli adds that Switzerland would be conspicuous in its absence if it did not join more than 125 countries already signed up to take part in the Expo.

“Japan is the most important business partner for Switzerland in the Far East and the [host nation] would never accept that we did not want to be part of the Expo.”

The Swiss pavilion is expected to be the key element of a long-term strategy to develop economic and cultural ties with Japan.

“The aim is to give a broader picture of Switzerland to opinion leaders from the worlds of politics, business and arts,” said Salchli.

“We won’t be able to measure each franc that we make out of this exercise…but I believe that our participation in Expo 2005, together with an accompanying programme of activities in Japan, will be very valuable.”

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

Switzerland will spend SFr15 million on its presence at the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan.
“The Mountain” was selected by a jury in 2002 from a shortlist of more than 50 projects.
Swiss diplomat Jenö Staehelin will serve as the country's Expo ambassador in Japan and will represent Switzerland at major events during the world exhibition.
Expo 2005 opens its doors on March 25 and runs for 185 days until September 25.

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