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Remarks by Ambassador Sibi George at Community Reception hosted in Berne, on December 26, 2019

Posted on: December 26, 2019 | Back | Print

Remarks by Ambassador Sibi George at Community Reception hosted in Berne, on December 26, 2019

Hon’ble Member of Swiss Parliament Dr. Nik Gugger, Hon’ble Mayor Jean Pinto, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Evening.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. On behalf of my wife Joice and my embassy officers I welcome you all today. As Ambassador of India to Switzerland, I bring to you greetings from 1.3 billion people of India and also from over 30 million vibrant Indian diaspora abroad.

I have been in this beautiful country for just over two years now. During this period, as Ambassador to Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Holy See, I was honoured to bring greetings of 1.3 billion people to an Hon’ble President, His Highness Prince and Holy Father Pope. Last week I was at the Swiss Parliament to witness democracy in action when the Parliament elected the new President and Vice President and members of the Federal Council. Last month I was at Vadus attending a panel discussion with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Principality of Liechtenstein. Last three days, I was at Vatican participating in the Holy Mass by Holy Father Pope Francis and also attending to His Holiness delivering the Urbi et Orbi yesterday. I also prayed for good weather today, I am happy that my prayer has been heard.

It is my privilege to welcome you to India House today. We have today with us Dr. Nik Gugger, Member of Swiss Parliament and also President of India – Swiss Parliamentary Group in Swiss Parliament. He has been a friend and partner in my efforts to bring India and Switzerland closer. Despite his busy schedule as a social entrepreneur and as an active member of the Foreign Commission of the Parliament, Dr. Gugger always finds time to build bridges between India and Switzerland. Nik thank you very much for your presence. I also welcome Mayor Pinto who has joined us today with his mother. He is an active member of the Indian Diaspora and contributing to our relationship.

I welcome each one of you Rev Fathers, Rev Sisters and Rev Brothers for joining us today. I am happy that you come and celebrate Christmas and New Year together. Please feel at home, this is India House and your own home.

I have to thank a few people for their support in holding this get together today here. Rev Fr. Sebastian Thayil, one of the most highly regarded priests wherever he has served. He is the one whom I first consulted with this idea of Christmas get together. He immediately offered his support and came up with names of Fathers and Sisters from all across Switzerland. Thank you Father for your support. I thank Rev Fathers, Brothers and Sisters who spread the message so that we could have this good gathering today.

One of the dreams I had for today was to cut the Indian style Christmas Cake, actually Kerala style plum cake. When I mooted the idea among my colleagues, Mrs. Roshni Thomson, Second Secretary readily volunteered to prepare the cake. I suddenly noticed a mobilization effort in the embassy with our ladies running around collecting various ingredients. It was a great sigh of relief when she finally WhatsApp me the photographs of the cake today. I thank Roshni and her team for their efforts. 

I should also thank the Rev fathers and Rev Brothers who have prepared carol songs for us today.

Last but not least, I should thank my life partner Joice for having decorated this house into a Indian style Christmas house, particularly for her patience in setting up this beautiful Christmas tree. It took several hours and several days to make this come up. She chose it to be blue this year. The only instruction I received was not to come anywhere near with my ‘ideas’. She always reserved me the right to place the angel on top of the Christmas tree, a privilege that I enjoyed for twenty five years as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our marriage this year. In fact, in the last few years, my son joined me placing the angel. Thanks Joice. I request your prayers for us to keep doing this for at least another, say fifty years!

During my stay in Switzerland, I had the fortune of having met and interacted with many of you. I am sure that like me you are also enjoying the natural beautiful and serene landscape of this country. I am not disclosing any State secret when I say that population in India dwindles in the months of April to June each year. Why?  Because during these months many of my countrymen travel to Switzerland as tourists. They can be found in large number in Bernese Oberland trying to climb mountains and run around in the valleys. From the land of Himalayas, our countrymen travel all the way to Alps to enjoy snow. Some even travel to places like St. Mortiz and Montreaux as if there are no serene wedding locations in India, of course contributing to Swiss economy.

We are missing the snow here today. But we were able to stop the rain at least for now. I recall a conversation yesterday inside the St Peters Basilica with the Commander of Swiss Guards, Col Christoph Graf who was missing the white Christmas in Italy. I told him that we are also missing the snow in Bern this time. I recall that last year we celebrated New Year in an Igloo with my friend Nik Gugger and his family.

Representing India abroad is a great honour for any citizen of India; one of the oldest, largest and perhaps among the very few continuous major civilizations in the world. It is a civilisation which gave rise to ancient religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In fact, India is home to other many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism. In fact, Christianity, which again originated in Asia, not in Europe, reached India and flourished there since 52 CE, in the first century immediately after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, much before it reached most parts of Europe. You will see a sizeable number of Indian Christians including me and wife who claim that their ancestors embraced Christianity directly from St. Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. The fact is the Christianity flourished in India for over two thousand years and continue to grow. Today India has more Christian population than the total population of Australia or Canada.

Over past millennia, many a conqueror coveted the riches of India but none could conquer Indian culture, traditions or philosophy. Even those that came with a sword were soon assimilated into India’s composite and inclusive culture. History is also replete with examples of India giving refuge to those fleeing persecution in their own lands. The Jewish population came to India in large numbers from Israel in the year 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish community found home in India for nearly two thousand years till the creation of modern Israel. Today, Parsees, who came from Iran, are one of the most vibrant communities in India while some of the oldest Jewish synagogues are still active in India. In India, we speak several hundred languages, we worship different Gods, we eat different foods, we wear different clothes, but there is a feeling of oneness and common consciousness, a civilizational bond, that keeps us together, make us proud as Indians.

Dear Friends,

India and Switzerland always maintained excellent bilateral relations. India signed a Treaty of Friendship with Switzerland, way back in 1948 immediately after our independence. Last year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Treaty. I met some of you during the Festival of India that we celebrated last year. In fact, the last few years have been very eventful in India – Swiss relations. We maintain highest level of engagement at political level. We had four summit level visits in the last three years. Prime Minister visited Switzerland in June 2016 and Jan 2018. Swiss President visited India on a State visit in August 2017. Swiss Foreign Minister was in New Delhi and Varanasi in August 2018. Our President was in Switzerland in Sept this year for a five day State visit. The new President of Switzerland, Madam Sommaruga was in India in October. Very few countries have that kind of high level exchanges. In addition, we have over ten official bilateral dialogue mechanisms which meet regularly. As Ambassador I hold regular meetings with the Swiss leadership and also at Cantonal and city leadership and with senior officials in most of the line Ministries. We actively participate in World Economic Forum in Davos.

Equally important is our business and cultural engagement with Switzerland which is growing rapidly. Our bilateral trade today is nearly USD 20 billion. It is not just cheese and chocolate. It is Gold and silver, it is chemicals and high end precision machines. The engagement between Indian and Swiss companies are deepening. So is the cultural engagement. We just concluded a Festival of India in Switzerland with Indian cultural troupes performing fifteen cities in Switzerland. This year we are again in various cities celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. I urge you to visit Villeneuve to see the new statue of Mahatma Gandhi that the President of India unveiled on Sept 15 there.

As a diplomat, one is happy to be in Switzerland. A country which ranks among the top globally in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, quality of life, economic competitiveness, innovation index, human development, happiness index. During my travels to the length and breadth of this landscape, I realised that what makes this country the attraction of the world, is that here every Canton, every city, every small township and every village has something unique to offer. Wherever you go, you return with the satisfaction of having experienced something unique. The more you explore, the more you realise that there is much more you need to enjoy and explore.

This is exactly what you hear from those Swiss friends who have been to India. Many have spent a few weeks in some part of India. Most speak about their experience and experiments with Yoga and Ayurveda and their houseboat ride in the backwaters of Kerala. Many share their memorable experiences in Rajasthan and Agra, beaches of Goa, most of them are eager to visit India again. A visit to India has always been in the wish list of most of our Swiss friends. I am happy that it is now moving from a wish list to an active ‘things to do this year list’ and the number of Swiss visiting India is on the rise. 

A few centuries ago, India was one of the richest countries in the world. It is not for fun that maritime explorers like Christopher Columbus and Vasco-de Gama went around oceans and seas dreaming to reach India. It was for its wealth and richness. Since its independence from two hundred years of colonial rule in 1947, India has made notable achievements in diverse fields, including atomic energy, space science, agriculture, bio-technology and, of course, information technology, for which India is well-known the world over, including in Switzerland. It is a matter of pride for an Ambassador to say with confidence that the economic and scientific transformation India achieved was not under oppressive dictatorial regimes but under a constitution which guarantees liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity. Very few Ambassadors can say this with confidence.

India today is a land of billion opportunities. India will soon overtake China as the most populous country in the world.  When a billion population grows in standard of living, it offers a billion opportunity for technologically advanced countries like Switzerland. With half of India’s population, that is 600 million people, below the age of 25 years, and about 550 million people as the labour force, India has abundant and youthful human resources. Today, India has emerged as a global hub for manufacturing and innovation. It is moving towards a knowledge-based society, which aims to build a five trillion dollar economy by 2024. In all these, there is huge potential for cooperation between India and Switzerland.

We, at the Embassy, work on two basic mottos ‘Connecting Himalayas with Alps’ and ‘Embassy of India – Home Away from Home’. The strong connection between Himalayas and Alps is getting stronger, every day.  Awareness on India is growing in Switzerland. People do not look at India any more just as a charity destination. Its economic transformation and scientific achievements like its space programme is getting more attention. The connection between Himalayas and Alps are stronger than we think. It is not just the connection of our similar foreign policies based on neutrality and non-alignment. It is not limited to Bollywood and Mountains and Snow. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I see an India connect in every corner of Switzerland. It is one involving universities, business establishments, laboratories, factories, technology cooperation, research, music and dance, you name it. If nothing else, there is the connection of Yoga and Ayurveda.

In each of these connects, the vibrant Indian diaspora plays a significant role. They contribute immensely to strengthen our partnership with Switzerland. They include Members of Parliament and Cantonal Councils, scientists, professors, artists, doctors, engineers, medical professionals, lawyers, business persons, government officials in key positions, all contributing to the progress of the country where they live, at the same time not forgetting about their Indian routes. I should specifically mention the growing number of Indian students in Switzerland.

I request your support in strengthening the partnership between India and Switzerland. A word by you to your friends and colleagues about India, its civilization, its diversity, its emerging economy, its scientific progress, its tourism potential, would go a long way in building bridges between India’s two great democracies. I invite you to participate in the various activities of the Mission. We look forward to visiting you at your cities. Let’s remain in touch directly and through social media. With those words I once again wish you a merry Christmas and happy New Year 2020. I thank you for coming over today and celebrating Christmas and New year with us.

Thank you very much.