by Thomas Kadelbach

Thomas Kadelbach, né en 1979. Après des études d'histoire et littérature française à Angers, Fribourg et Madrid, il collabore au projet de recherche FNS Les relations culturelles internationales de la Suisse, 1945-1990. Thèse de doctorat sur Pro Helvetia et l'image de la Suisse à l'étranger. Actuellement collaborateur scientifique à l'Université de Neuchâtel.
, Thomas Kadelbach, born in 1979. Studied history and French literature in Angers, Fribourg and Madrid. Research assistant in the SNSF research project Switzerland's International Cultural Relations, 1945-1990. PhD thesis on Pro Helvetia and the image of Switzerland abroad. Currently scientific collaborator at the University of Neuchâtel.


In 1972, the Swiss ambassador in New Delhi sent a letter to the Political Department, highlighting the fundamental problem of Swiss information policy in India. How to reach 500 million people, populating an area of more than 3,287,263 square kilometres in a country eighty times the size of the Confederation? According to the diplomat, the only realistic way to raise awareness of Switzerland in India was to use film, a medium apt to reach a wide audience at comparatively little expense.

However, in the early 1970s, the New Delhi Embassy only had twelve colour films (most of which were in poor condition) and two in black and white, made in the 1950s. Therefore, the image of Switzerland as shown by the embassy via film was limited to folklore and tourism, hardly corresponding with the reality of an industrialised country.

The situation in India was characteristic of Switzerland’s information policy concerning film documentaries. Financially underequipped and hampered by communications problems between various actors in this field, this line of Swiss information policy developed only very slowly throughout the 20th century.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Swiss film documentaries were almost exclusively produced by the National Tourist Board and the Swiss Office for the Development of Trade, reducing Switzerland’s image abroad to the usual clichés of beautiful scenery and industrial advancement. In 1950, the Swiss consulate decided to show the documentary Swiss Alpine Flowers at the opening of an exhibition of Swiss books, in St. Louis, USA. During the same period, China’s Swiss Minister used promotional tourist films such as A Nation of Skiers and Switzerland and A Source of Health, to spruce up lectures he gave at schools.

During the 1950s, Pro Helvetia commissioned several informational films, documenting cultural life in Switzerland. These productions were mainly designed to publicise characteristic elements of Swiss culture, such as Ferdinand Hodler’s paintings and Swiss architecture.

In 1963 when film promotion was subordinated to Federal jurisdiction, there was a sharp decline in Pro Helvetia’s activities in this field. Nevertheless, the Foundation kept producing documentaries on cultural life in Switzerland in collaboration with the Swiss Broadcasting Company SRG, such as e.g. portraits of artists. At the same time, Pro Helvetia played an important role in the distribution of Swiss documentaries abroad, making them available to embassies around the world. From 2007 onwards, the Swiss Films Foundation took over as the provider of all types of productions for Pro Helvetia, Swiss embassies, and film festivals

In the 21st century, documentaries and commercial films remain essential media for official information policy and are used by all institutional actors. Presence Switzerland, part of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, provides schools and universities with DVDs illustrating achievements considered typically Swiss, such as multilingualism and direct democracy. (tk)

AFS E2003(A) 1980/85, Vol. 385
AFS E2003(A) 1990/3, Vol. 486


Pro Helvetia’s first documentary

Pro Helvetia commissions its first documentary about cultural life in Switzerland in 1951. The movie, produced by Condorfilm SA, is about Swiss architecture and aimed at audiences abroad. It is of particular value for the exhibition on architecture, mounted in the USA in 1953.

The film contains passages highlighting rural Switzerland

Film still, Swiss Federal Archives E 9510.6 1991/51, Vol. 369

Architecture - the movie, 1953

...and on modern Switzerland.

Film still, Swiss Federal Archives E 9510.6 1991/51, Vol. 269

Architecture - the movie, 1953

The documentary, produced by Condorfilm SA, highlights schools and educational institutions.

Film still, Swiss Federal Archives E 9510.6 1991/51, Vol. 269

St. Gotthard on screen

The Saint Gotthard pass is a symbol of Swiss identity. Many documentaries distributed abroad deal with the history and the significance of the pass. Pro Helvetia finances a documentary on the St. Gotthard in the 1950s. Similar priorities for communications abroad are set by Presence Switzerland at the beginning of the 21st century.


Documentaries on direct democracy

Direct democracy is an integral part of Switzerland’s image promoted abroad. Praesens Film SA produced a documentary on Swiss democracy as early as 1947. Almost 60 years later, in 2005, Presence Switzerland uses a DVD on the same topic for its communications abroad.


Voting in Riehen

The short film, distributed by Presence Switzerland, demonstrates the workings of Swiss democracy by portraying the debates about the purchase of a work of art by the commune of Riehen.

© Präsenz Schweiz

Baroque art in Switzerland

In 1957, Pro Helvetia commissions a documentary about baroque art in Switzerland. It is exclusively aimed at audiences abroad and details among others the frescoes in the church of Arlesheim.

Swiss Federal Archives E 9510.6 1991/51, Vol. 385


A “second path” for Third-World countries

1970 to 2000

By their very nature, museums of ethnography are part of a country’s cultural relations.

The Swiss abroad – promoting cultural influence

1916 to 1976

For  a long time, Switzerland had been a country of emigration, its inhabitants leaving because of

Cultural relations and the National Commission for UNESCO

1949 to 2016

By joining UNESCO in 1949, Switzerland not only became part of one of the agencies of the UN, but

Rousseau made in Switzerland

1945 to 1968

Quite often, Rousseau was instrumentalised, reinvented and “helvetised” by Switzerland’s cultural

A brief survey of Swiss culture in Japan

1950 to 1970

In Japan book fairs enjoy high regard.

A young historian thinking about Switzerland’s cultural influence


Pro Helvetia was founded in 1939 to join the struggle for the Spiritual Defence.

The architects and the renewal of cultural relations between Switzerland and Germany after World War II


After the war, the question of cultural relations with the German neighbour remained something of

The origins of the Swiss pavilion at the “Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris"

1925 to 1933

Combining cultural and science diplomacy, the Swiss pavilion at the “Cité Internationale Universit

Men and women working for Pro Helvetia

1939 to 2012

First and foremost, Pro Helvetia is a Board of Trustees, originally consisting of 25 members, and

Switzerland and UNESCO - a culture of peace


“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must b