helvetia3.gifOpening at the Parliament Building on 2 June 2015

Dear guests, dear visitors to the Fantastic Parliament
In this year of grace 2015, the cantons of Valais, Geneva and Neuchâtel are celebrating their bicentenary of their entry into the Confederation. Two hundred years is a long time; however, today we will go back even further throughout the centuries, all the way back to the dawn of time. Zéphyrine Tinguely, the heroine of the magical tome entitled ‘The Fantastic Parliament’ [PDF, 14.9 MB], “Das fantastische Parlament”, “Il Parlamento fantastic”, “Le Parlement fantastique”, will be our guide.

Way back in the mists of time, the “Breath of Origin”[1] swept across Middle-earth[2]. There were no hobbits, but three good giants lived there. The giants did not yet know that they would end up as figures of stone at the heart of the Parliament Building.

In those days, there were many adventurous noblemen who were eager to conquer Middle-earth, a small territory through which people and merchandise passed to cross the Alps. Putting up resistance had become second nature to the Swiss, and even more, a matter of survival. They were rebellious and their ways were, to say the least, somewhat rough, in spite of the Covenant of Sempach (1393), which forbade plundering … at least until the leaders gave the go-ahead. At the time, the Swiss had already developed a sense of discipline.

Sometime later, in his book ‘Utopia’, Thomas More called the Swiss ‘Zapoletes’. He described them as greedy barbarians, placing them in a land called Venalia, 500,000 steps[3] east of the island of Utopia. The name Venalia speaks for itself. François Rabelais, a contemporary of Thomas More, reported that when the people of Geneva greeted each other, they wished each other: “May you make a good profit!” Was this an omen of the recent events that have affected our country? No worries! Rabelais called the people of Geneva the residents of Genoa and not of the city located at the end of Lake Geneva. Our honour remains intact.

At the time, in the Old World, the inhabitants of Middle-earth had to choose between living peacefully within established borders and enlarging their territory and repelling danger as far as possible away from centres of population, which were of economic importance. These choices led to disarray, disturbances and disputes.

An old hermit, Nicolas de Flue, who is facing me now, improved the ways of the Swiss and limited their ambition, as Zéphyrine learns in the tome that she inherits from her grandfather, “The Fantastic Parliament”. From then on, peace, consensus and compromise became the essential elements of the politics in our country. This ‘Quest for Balance’ is our national philosophy. It is so deeply engrained in our Helvetian genes that it became second nature. In Switzerland, behaviour has to change before fairness reigns…

“The four mercenaries”[4] surrounding us represent the four linguistic regions of Switzerland, and are a symbol of this conciliatory attitude. They are worthy successors of the “four giants of European history”, whom Victor Hugo placed like the arrows of a compass rose at the centre of our country, namely “Hannibal in the Allobroges Alps, Charlemagne in the Lombardy Alps, Caesar in the Engadine and Napoleon in the Saint Bernard... “.

Put on your seven-league boots and let’s leap forward to the middle of the 19th century. The “Ancient wisdom”[5], “One for all and all for one”, inscribed in colour above our heads according to the wish of the Great Architect[6], is now rediscovered by the founders of the modern state. The old hermit can be proud of himself: his message has been handed down through the centuries, from generation to generation. It was heard and inspired the creators of the federal state to forge measure and balance.

The magic, or even alchemy, of the Swiss system lies in its capacity to transcend individual interests and to develop a community project which everyone can identify with.

Etymologically speaking, the Secretary of Parliament is the guardian of secrets. I will, however, tell you a secret: at night, Zéphyrine’s zephyr breathes life into our good giants and all the other figures preserved here in granite or marble, including Winkelried, Nicolas de Flue and William Tell. The Three Confederates don’t just decorate the monumental Federal Palace, they live in it, are always present and provide a source of inspiration. When parliamentary debates become disjointed, or even chaotic, or when parliamentarians engage in petty skirmishes or in obstructionist tactics, our three giants stand there placid and appeasing. They restore coherence whenever the house begins to resemble a Tinguely machine, when the parliamentary mechanisms threaten to behave erratically, when the work of the Councils threatens to break down and when the agenda goes down the drain.zeph2.png

Ladies and gentlemen,
History, especially when it comes to wars and battles, always seems to be written by men and about men, including Winkelried, Guillaume Tell and Nicolas de Flue. Women and children have not had a say on the matter in a long time.

I am therefore particularly pleased that Zéphyrine, our guide leading us through the history of the country, is a young girl. She will help us see the building where we work every day through different eyes. I let this likeable character take me by the hand and I would like to warmly congratulate all the women and men – young designers for the most part – who contributed to the creation of this wonderful album, which brings us together today.

Far from being out of touch with history, this album provides an adventure full of twists and turns, based on a thousand years of memory, stories and legends. You will meet imaginary figures, charming characters and vengeful spirits. This turbulent history is our history.

Let yourself be inspired by the authors’ imagination. Just like Scheherazade, Zéphyrine invites you to join her on her wanderings and daydreams: “Welcome to the Fantastic Parliament!”.

Philippe Schwab, Secretary General of the Federal Assembly

[1] Chapter title in the “Fantastic Parliament”
[2] Reference to the “Lord of the Rings”
[3] About 800 kilometres
[4] Chapter title in the “Fantastic Parliament”
[5] Chapter title in the “Fantastic Parliament”
[6] Character and chapter in the “Fantastic Parliament”