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17 June 2019

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čt, 11.10.2018



“SELLING CHOCOLATE AND WATCHES ISN’T ENOUGH ANY MORE”

JACQUES TORRENT, Business mir #21 - 2012-02 MAIL PRINT 
Ever since an Honorary Russian Consulate opened its doors in Lausanne, the nation has acquired fresh and remarkable new visibility in terms of cultural and scientific activity in our country. Dr. Frederik Paulsen – the figure behind this policy of strengthening ties between Switzerland and Russia – is a man of varied interests who holds several positions, including Chairman of Ferring Pharmaceutical Group and Honorary Consul of Russia in Lausanne.
Dr. Paulsen, you father was born on a German island in the North Sea, your family emigrated to Sweden and you are now Honorary Consul of Russia in Lausanne. Why Russia?
Let’s consider history. It teaches us that Lake Ladoga was part Swedish, part Russian. At that time, the two neighbouring nations may have been rivals but their destinies were already inextricably connected. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to Russia to participate in polar expeditions in the 1990s. I made faithful friends who were competent in their fields. Moreover, that’s exactly why I had decided to go to Russia in the first place; I knew that Russians had first-rate experience in the matter and that they couldn’t be beat.
At the last conference you organised in Coppet, an official lamented the Swiss people’s lack of empathy following tragic events that affected Russians enormously, such as when Beslan’s school children were held hostage or the plane crash involving Bashkiri children. However, aside from the cautious reserve regularly exercised by players and officials, my impression was that the Swiss were deeply sympathetic to Russia’s various tragedies. How did you perceive it?
The media has a rather negative view vis-à-vis Russia in Europe. On the other hand, I sensed an enormous amount of empathy from the Swiss, particularly at the time of the two events you cited. The exchanges in Coppet were devised to give people a more detailed and better documented perspective on Russia than the one that they usually have. In reality, things are moving in the right direction. For example, in the matter of obtaining visas. Moscow has clearly indicated that they would like visas to be abolished but Bern can make no bi-lateral decisions as Switzerland is within the Schengen zone.
A group of Cossack singers from the Urals performed in Geneva last spring and the church was packed. Seven young Russian soloists performed at Montbenon in Lausanne and it was sold out, not to mention the Bolshoi ballet’s appearances in Lausanne. Russia packs the house every time. Is it that Russia piques the public’s interest? That people are irresistibly drawn to Russian culture? It appears to me that the spectre of the Soviet bear and the Cold War are long gone. What is your opinion on the matter?
The success of the engagements you mentioned was startling. I myself was surprised by the excitement two particular events engendered – namely, the Bolshoi’s performances in Lausanne and the scientific explorations of Lake Geneva by Russian submersibles Mir-1 and Mir-2. The Swiss people have been generally receptive to Russian events. One should take into account the extremely strong ties linking Switzerland – particularly Vaud Canton – and Russia over the past two centuries. For example, Frédéric-César de la Harpe, who was an important player in Vaud’s political emancipation at the beginning of the 19th Century, was Tsar Alexander I’s tutor. The Swiss are obviously very intrigued by Russia. The economic, scientific, financial and cultural ties linking Bern and Moscow are growing increasingly strong.
Economic delegations representing the interests of various cantons are arriving in Russia one after the other – what is your opinion on this diversification? What do you think Switzerland should do to improve its penetration of the vast Russian market?
It’s a fact that Swiss delegations come to Russia in no particular order but then again, Switzerland is impossible to unify! My advice to any small or medium sized enterprise seeking to do business in Russia is to avoid the large cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. If I were in their position, I would choose smaller cities which can bring a lot to the business. One mustn’t forget that there can be communication issues due to the language barrier. It’s advisable to always be accompanied by a person who can communicate directly with Russians, without using an intermediary. Personal contact is indispensable. That’s the way to gain access to the valuable technology and know-how hidden in this vast country’s cities and regions. A number of locations remain trapped in their own bubble, without contact with the outside world.
The Russians have very sophisticated technology in certain fields. How can it be given more exposure in Switzerland? Couldn’t we promote and intensify student exchanges in every field? Be it for semesters or during school holidays?
Contrary to universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg that have all the international opportunities they could possibly want, universities – which are often highly demanding – in other cities or provinces are eager to foster exchanges. Anyone demonstrating a willingness to do so is welcomed with open arms. I’d like to recall that special visas for Russian students in Switzerland do exist but the full amount available has never really been used. I financed a scholarship system to allow Russian students from all over the country to come to EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne). I launched the same programme with the London School of Economics and it’s working out very well.
What steps would you suggest taking to improve and reinforce ties and collaboration in all fields?
In my functions as Honorary Consul for Russia in Vaud Canton – and in general – I try to showcase Russian projects and help the country I have learned to love. I’ll cite a few examples; I’m a member of the Board of Administration at Moscow’s MGIMO University and I organised a fund raising drive with a specialised PR company, the university’s Vice-Dean and students. We raised several tens of millions of dollars for the University. As I mentioned earlier, last summer’s exploration of Lake Geneva’s depths with the Mir submersibles was a great success. The project aims to analyse micro-particles suspended in the lake waters and detect pollutants. It is a collaboration with EPFL. Our next project plans to study the surfaces of Lakes Baikal and Geneva. I’ll be supporting the project in my role as member of the Russian Geographical Society’s Board of Administration. Incidentally, we discovered a frozen mammoth during an expedition in Yakutia. I named my vodka “Mammont” in its honour and the bottle is shaped like a mammoth tusk. It’s important to take into account the changes that have taken place in Russia over less than 20 years since the fall of communism. At first, Russia imported many consumer goods and technologies. Today, Russians want to manufacture themselves. It’s legitimate, it’s normal, it’s even vital. Russia and its markets will be open to those who are willing to introduce the technology needed to manufacture locally. Selling chocolate and watches simply isn’t enough any more...
What in particular makes Russia so appealing to you?
To me, Russia is captivating in that it’s a country where the possibilities are endless. From Lake Baikal to the Arctic regions, Russia’s vast expanses, its riches, are a source of inexhaustible fascination. And the Russians I know are among the most cultured people I have ever encountered. One of Russia’s dramatic issues is its declining population. One can touch on any and all topics – society, politics, the army’s future – but if the population declines, it’s all in vain! I therefore supported both the concept and financing of fertility clinics in Briansk and Moscow. We are going to open one every 2 years and train specialists. 6,000 children have already been born this way and I held the first of those many babies in my arms. I was even prouder than the father! In 2008, I was awarded the Order of Friendship by President Putin himself at a ceremony held in the Kremlin. This was following my participation in a dive at –4,261 metres vertical depth from the North Pole at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. I gave a speech thanking the President and promised him a million babies! There’s still a lot to be done...
JACQUES TORRENT, Business mir #21 - 2012-02  MAIL PRINT 
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Ежедневные новости и аналитика из Швейцарии и Европы, политика, экономика, интервью

Daily news and analytics from Switzerland and Europe, policy, economy, interview