Multilingualism and multiculturalism celebrated at 2019 Swiss Prize ceremony

Stellar essays written by ANU students of German, Italian and French were commemorated at the Embassy of Switzerland in Australia on the European Day of Languages.

The essays were submitted as part of the Swiss Prize, a cherished collaboration between the Swiss Embassy and the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics that is now in its 21st year.

At the Swiss Prize ceremony, Ambassador of Switzerland to Australia Mr Pedro Zwahlen explained that the prize was established to promote the three official languages of Switzerland; to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity; and to introduce Australians students to Swiss culture and society. He informed the audience that since 1998, over a thousand students from ANU have competed in the essay competition.

“Thousands of pages were written, and thousands of litres of coffee have been consumed,” Ambassador Zwahlen said warmly.

“Language is essential to every one of us. Whether spoken or written, being able to communicate with each other in language is what makes us truly human.”

He added: “Multilingualism and multiculturalism carry the values of openness and respect onto our children. They are the foundation of a society with plural identity capacity.”

The theme for this year’s competition related to the introduction, or preamble, of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, which was re-written in the 1990s and approved in 1999. The theme was The preamble of the Swiss Constitution: A moral compass in a troubled world? 

Ambassador Zwahlen noted that the preamble text is younger than the Swiss Prize and that it states the general intent of the constitution and the confederation with principles such as diversity, liberty, and responsibility. He congratulated the ANU language students for their hard work and commitment to learn a Swiss language.

“I'm impressed by your efforts and by the results submitted in the three official languages of my country,” he said.

Representing the ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt at the ceremony was Pro-Vice Chancellor (Innovation & Advancement) Professor Michael Cardew-Hall. Professor Hall said the ANU considers Switzerland an important partner in the range of activities we’re doing in education and research.

“In these interesting times in which we live, we have to acknowledge the critical role that Switzerland and the multi-national organisations based there play in ensuring an international rule-based order,” he said. 

“Switzerland is seen as a bastion of that rule-based order, and I think that's increasingly important today.”

Professor Hall joked that when he read about the tri-lingual Swiss Prize, he had an image in his mind of the tri-wizard tournament in Harry Potter, eliciting laughter from the audience. Then he offered an overview of the history of the Swiss Prize and how it was borne out of a commitment by the then-Swiss Ambassador in 1998 to work with the then-Vice Chancellor of ANU.

The Swiss Prize has endured to this day, he said. “Handed over from Vice-Chancellor to Vice-Chancellor, and from Ambassador to Ambassador.”

“We're very fortunate that the ANU has probably the largest range of languages taught at any Australian university. […] I think it's important we do keep that balance of a global footprint of those languages.”

The ceremony included performances by ANU School of Music lecturer Miroslav Bukovsky on the trumpet, accompanied by Leisa Keen on piano.

This year, 56 essays were entered into the Swiss Prize and judged by representatives from the ANU and the Embassies of Switzerland, France, Germany and Italy in Canberra. Here were the winners.

Award Winners

1st prize: Kayla Spithoven - Ich bin Switzerland: eine Studie zur Neutralität der Schweiz ("I’m Switzerland": A Study in Switzerland’s Neutrality)
2nd prize: Michelle Thomas - Schweiz Artikel (The Swiss Constitution)
3rd prize: Victoria Westenfelder - Motorsport in der Schweiz (Motorsports in Switzerland)

1st prize: Renuka Blewitt - La tradizione umanitaria svizzera: la compassione è la chiave per migliorare un mondo travagliato (The Swiss Humanitarian Tradition: compassion is the key to improving a troubled world)
2nd prize: Massimo Martelli - Come il Vaticano ha contribuito alla formazione della neutralità Svizzera (How the Vatican contributed to the formation of Swiss neutrality)
3rd prize: Davis Evans - Una Costituzione trascurata: l’uguaglianza di genere in Svizzera (A Constitution Ignored: Gender Inequality in Switzerland)

1st prize: Jake Hester - La constitution fédérale suisse et la démocratie: le préambule est-il fidèle à la réalité de la société suisse actuelle? (The Swiss Federal Constitution and Democracy: Is the Preamble Faithful to Contemporary Swiss Society?)
2nd prize: Katie McNamara - Le nom de Dieu: Tout-puissant ou trop puissant en la Suisse d’aujourd’hui? (The Name of God: All Powerful or Too Powerful in Today’s Switzerland?)
3rd prize: Lauren Abrahams - La Capitale des Droits de l’Homme reste aveugle à l’âgisme? (Is the Human Rights Capital Blind to Ageism?