When talking about Switzerland, one thinks of a recreational café society, living at a luxurious alpine resort, and probably choosing an expensive watch. Behind such high standards are the hard-working people who carefully promote an image of their country. What do the Swiss people look like living abroad?
SUISSEPIC had a chance to attend one of the meetings of Swiss Club Russia. This is an autonomous association of Swiss individuals who wanted change in their lives, and moved from the alpine beauty of Switzerland, to the immense megacity of Moscow. This opportunity has allowed for the development of relations between Switzerland and Russia in various fields. Since the quality of the meetings are important, they meet once a month at the luxurious Metropol Hotel, which is one step from the Kremlin, and is managed by Dominique Nicolas Godat, who is of Swiss descent.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Till Frey of Swiss Club Russia.
SUISSEPIC: Mr. Frey, thank you for agreeing to an interview with SUISSEPIC. Please tell us about the idea of Swiss Club Russia.
Till Frey: Swiss Club Russia was founded in 1992. While this club is not as old as other Swiss Clubs around the world, the idea was to keep the Swiss people living in Russia together. We have approximately 200 names on our mailing list, and once a month, we have a meeting. It is nice to have a get together and speak your own language – Swiss-German, Swiss-French, or Swiss-Italian. All of our members are normal people that discovered Russia, but have Switzerland in their hearts. Most of our members also represent traditional areas where the Swiss people have expertise, such as watchmaking, banking, law, and tooling.
SUISSEPIC: Who was the founder of Swiss Club Russia?
Till Frey: A lawyer named Karl Eckstein, who was invited to work in Russia by a Swiss company that produced tool machines. This is an area where Switzerland has a lot of experience. He also founded his own company. Today, the President of the Club is Markus Schaer, who is also a lawyer.
SUISSEPIC: How many Swiss are currently living in Russia?
Till Frey: I think there are about 400-500 Swiss individuals living in Russia, but I do not have the latest figures from the Embassy [of Switzerland]. In Moscow alone, there are approximately 200 Swiss individuals, and there are about 15-25 guests who attend our meetings on a regular basis.
SUISSEPIC: Prior to 1917, there were thousands of Swiss people living in Russia. However, they seemed to have disappeared. Why?
Till Frey: In the 19th century, before Switzerland became an industrialized country, there were about 20,000 Swiss living in Russia. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, almost all of them left except for those who were inspired by the idea of communism. They even built their own village, but were killed by the Soviet government. From its early days until the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no Swiss history and no Swiss Club. This is why our country does not have a second generation of Swiss people living in Russia. These would be the children that were born in Russia from the Swiss parents who moved here.
SUISSEPIC: Are there any obligations for being a member of Swiss Club Russia?
Till Frey: We do not have any strict membership requirements, but we do like it when people come to our events.
SUISSEPIC: Is it possible to attend meetings of Swiss Club Russia if you are not Swiss?
Till Frey: We invite our English-speaking friends, as well as our Russian friends of Switzerland to develop our Swiss-Russian network.
SUISSEPIC: Do you cooperate with the Embassy of Switzerland in Russia?
Till Frey: The Swiss Embassy and Swiss Club Russia keep in contact with each other. The club acts as a platform for individuals to interact with the Swiss community. This is why sometimes representatives of the embassy will take part in our events.
SUISSEPIC: Do you have any future plans for expanding Swiss Club Russia in other cities?
Till Frey: We do not. There are no formalities, no obligations, and no plans for expansion. There is just a sense of belonging for this club. It is purely social – to meet once a month at the table, on the Swiss National Day (1 August), at our Christmas celebration, and other special events that allow us to enjoy the company of other Swiss individuals. There is another Swiss Club Russia in Saint Petersburg; however, they exist autonomously.
You can find more information about Swiss Club Russia at www.swissclubrussia.ch.