Saturday, 20 October 2007


Eminent Swiss writer, philosopher and journalist Hugo Loetscher writes in German language.
Recipient of numerous literary awards, including the prestigious Schiller Prize of the Swiss Schiller Foundation and the Charles Veillon Prize, Loetscher’s first novel Abwässer (1963), introduced him as a critical and independent author to the world of literature. He is also one of Europe’s premier experts on Latin American literature.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation we had recently.

* As a thinker, novelist and journalist how do you look at India?

I visited Mumbai and Goa 20 years ago. This time I am travelling to other parts of this country. You could say, I am learning more this time in wider settings. During my first visit to India, I came across 14 different languages as compared to four languages we have in Switzerland. While in Mumbai, someone had told me that his language is that of minorities in India. I found that they were about 20 million then. In Switzerland a minority community is about 20 to 30 thousand only. It was then I realised the vastness of India. I also look at India from the perspective of its contact with the West. In fact, I wrote about it in my book on Goa. It is a great country.

* What is the level of interest in Switzerland about Indian literature?

Last year (2006) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, India was the ‘guest of honour.’ There was lot of interest about Indian literary works. Several works of important Indian authors have been translated into German. But, in Switzerland mot many Indian authors are well-known beyond Tagore. People know more about India for its wisdom, for Yoga and sometimes for the political developments. Let me put it this way - we must be global in true spirits. India is an important country and there should be constant exchanges between both the countries in cultural sphere. That’s what Pro Helvetia has been doing.

* You have often been described as the most ‘cosmo-political writer.’ How do you react to that?

Well…I have travelled a lot and wrote about the places. Once the third world countries were important for journalists to cover. I also travelled such countries in Latin America and East Asia. That’s how this description came about. I want to add something here…I believe the destiny of third world cannot be separated from that of the first world. We all need each other and must act together for a better world.

* Talking about languages, what do you think could be the common language of the European Union?

In Europe there are several languages. And you will find leaders using their own language while addressing an international forum. But, you will find more and more young people learning English and their first language is gradually becoming that of the minorities.

* Is it happening in Switzerland as well?

In Switzerland, there are four languages. But with people from other countries getting in there, we are coming in contact with many non-European languages also. In fact, many foreign students cannot speak in any of the four languages of Switzerland. There has to be an impact of this. This is also happening in other countries.

* As in the UK, for example, the debate about multiculturalism and integration….

Yes that’s right. As we know, language is the tool for communication. If there is no common language, then this communication between different sections of a society breaks. There has to be some commonality among people. Let me further explain, Switzerland is made of 25 cantons (provinces). Each canton has different education system. I think this is not proper. There has to be common education system. Once again, the Swiss situation reflects the problem in the European Union.

*But in that case, for example, English becomes the common language for the European Union, won’t there be a backlash in different countries across the continent?

Language should be a horizontal concept. In countries like France there are linguistic rigidities. They do not even want to use the word ‘computer.’ They have a French word for that. But, things cannot remain like that. I am certain, in future, to survive, one has to be at least bi-lingual. You see, the idea of pure language do not exist anymore. For an Englishman, the American way of speaking the language may be bad English but for most of the world it is acceptable. We have to accept that. Correct form of any language is mostly of academic interest. This will increase. In Latin America, for example, the Portugese of Brazil varies from that in Portugal. I do not see any such backlash happening, if we also maintain our own languages.

* What do you understand by democratisation of democracy in a multi-lingual country?

Previously, federalism was important in the way – one nation, one people and one language. Now it is different. There is no longer one nation, one language and one people. Taking example of Germany for example, which once promoted this one nation concept. Now there are not only native Germans but also people from the African and Asian countries. There are Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others. Similarly, in Switzerland, there are others. In cemeteries, spaces have been provided for people belonging to different faith groups. These changes, I would say, are democratisation of a democracy – in terms of language, religion and other expressions of culture.

* How do you look at the current situation in Iraq?

I believe all international actions should be under the aegis of the United Nations. It has become necessary to control the United States. I am very happy that most of the European nation did not follow something that I call the ‘Bush ideology.’ Whatever they did in Iraq and Afghanistan was wrong. And the irony is the weapons used by the insurgents in Afghanistan were once provided by the USA.

* Are you suggesting there has to be a balance in the power equation?

Yes, there is too much of tilt on one side. And as you know this concept of ‘balance for peace’ corresponds to my basic principle.