Literary Switzerland


Writers are leading ambassadors of Swiss culture. Right from the beginning, Pro Helvetia promoted and propagated Swiss literature, making a point of actively encouraging literary creation.

In Switzerland’s cultural image, the written word takes prominent place in many forms, illustrating the various dimensions of Swiss cultural policy especially concerning information, translation, artistic and literary creation, and the numerous exchange programmes. When created in 1939, Pro Helvetia regarded books first and foremost as information media, useful for highlighting specific aspects of Switzerland

In the literary field, activities were focussed on the translation of some of the 19th century classics, such as works by Jeremias Gotthelf and Gottfried Keller.

From 1951 onwards, the Foundation began to play a more active role in the promotion of literature by annually awarding grants to authors representing the four linguistic regions.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that writers themselves started to play a significant role in the promotion of Swiss culture abroad, particularly by participating in readings and exchange programmes. During this decade, reading and lecture tours became a regular and often used element of Pro Helvetia’s policy. At the same time, the Foundation contributed to the development of permanent structures such as e.g. the Swiss Writer- in-residence programme in Los Angeles, combining the support of literature and writers with its general policy of promoting Swiss culture abroad. Finally, also the exchange programmes and the reception of writers’ delegations in Switzerland enjoyed some further development.

Concerning the perception of Switzerland and its image, literature and theatre, like film, often critically reflected the actual situation of the country. In 1956, the controversial nature of Der Besuch der alten Dame by Friedrich Dürrenmatt prompted Pro Helvetia’s refusal to subsidise a presentation of the play in Paris, as it was judged inconsistent with national values. From the 1970s onwards however, the Foundation supported the distribution of non-conformist and critical literature, thus contributing to the ongoing debate about Swiss myths and the national identity.

During the same period, there was an opening up to non-western cultures in the field of translation, particularly supporting the literary dialogue between Switzerland and Asian countries. This trend continues even today, with several literary exchange programmes between Switzerland, India, and China.


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