สิงหาคม … ย้อนรอยการเสด็จฯ เยือนสวิตเซอร์แลนด์อย่างเป็นทางการของในหลวงรัชกาลที่ 9 เมื่อปี 2503 – ตอนที่ 2 | August Focus: Recounting King Rama IX’s 1960 State Visit to Switzerland – Part 2

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX and Switzerland

Going back well into the 19th century, Swiss-Thai relations have progressed in ways hard to imagine when the two governments established diplomatic relations on 28 May 1931. Their strength, multi-faceted nature and dynamic expansion has reached an extent and quality that defines the strong relation between the two countries.

With the multitude of factors that shaped and characterized this relationship, the vital role played by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX is undeniable.

Born in 1927, King Bhumibol was six years old when his widowed mother, Mom Sangwan Mahidol settled with her three children in Lausanne – only two years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The 18 years spent on the shores of Lac Léman shaped the future of the royal family and of the late King in many ways. Spending their formative years in Switzerland in a period when Europe was ravaged by war would have left deep imprints and lasting experiences. The political changes in Thailand impacted the lives and the destiny of the Mahidol family even more. King Prajadhipok’s abdication in 1935 elevated King Bhumibol’s brother Ananda Mahidol to the Thai throne as Rama VIII – and the family into the public eye, not just in Thailand. The tragic death of King Ananda in 1946 led to the succession of King Bhumibol as King Rama IX. Remaining in Switzerland until 1951 to complete his studies, King Bhumibol – together with his late brother King Ananda – were the only monarchs living in modern Switzerland while reigning as heads of state.

The close relations between the Royal family and Switzerland continued after their return to Thailand in 1951. The Princess Mother, as Mom Sangwan Mahidol was referred to after the crowning of King Ananda, retained the “Villa Vadhana” as her residence in Pully near Lausanne. This is where she and her daughter Princess Galyani would stay while in Switzerland and frequently receive Thai students and visitors coming to Lausanne from all over Europe. Moreover, when King Bhumibol, accompanied by Queen Sirikit and their four children, travelled to Europe for several state visits in a number of countries in 1960, they chose to make the “Villa du Flonzaley” in Puidoux-Chexbre close to Lausanne as their temporary residence. Numerous photographic and written testimonies exist to illustrate that the family spent a joyful summer on the shores of Lac Léman.

As a Swiss diplomat fortunate enough to be given two assignments to Thailand, I had the opportunity personally to meet the late King Bhumibol on a few occasions while serving in Bangkok in the mid-90s. It was during royal functions that I had the privilege to be present when His Majesty mingled with the guests and diplomats always with a gracious and friendly demeanor. It was also in this period when Thailand celebrated King Rama IX 50th anniversary of his accession to the throne. Other memorable moments were the official visits to Thailand of Swiss Presidents Jean-Pascale Delamuraz in 1996 and Arnold Koller in 1997. Both presidents were received in private audience by King Bhumibol underscoring the King’s lasting sympathy for the country where he spent much of his youth. My first assignment in Thailand also coincided with the passing of the much-revered Princess Mother. The year long period of mourning showed the deep fondness of the Thai people for “Somdet Ya”, as she was affectionately known. The countless homages and tributes also revealed the importance of her and her family’s time in Switzerland.

When I returned to Thailand for my second assignment in 2015, the country was preparing for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of King Rama IX’s accession to the throne. His ailing health cast a sense of premonition over the occasion. The foreboding sadly turned into a reality on 13 October 2016 when at 7 pm the announcement of the peaceful passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, turned the entire country into a state of deep bereavement. It was a moment which every Thai will remember. And it was the end of a reign that shaped Thailand in countless and lasting ways.

After an extended period of mourning, the late King’s cremation on 26 October 2017 offered the Thai people and the international community an occasion to pay their last respect to a monarch who was posthumously bestowed the title of King Bhumibol the Great. Switzerland was represented at the cremation by former President Joseph Deiss, who himself was received in private audience by the late King in spring of 2004 when he visited Thailand as President of the Swiss Confederation. The symbolism of former President Deiss’ participation was in recognition of the crucial role that King Rama IX played as Thailand’s monarch for more than 70 years. It was also an acknowledgement of his vital influence in shaping the friendship between Switzerland and Thailand, a friendship that has been embraced during the 90 years of diplomatic relations and would be further consolidating.

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Ivo Sieber
Ambassador of Switzerland to Viet Nam,
former Ambassador of Switzerland to Thailand (2015-2019)

Ambassador Ivo Sieber is currently the Swiss Ambassador to Vietnam. He was Swiss Ambassador to Thailand between 2015 – 2019. Prior to that he was Ambassador to the Philippines. He was posted also before at the Swiss Embassy in Stockholm, London, Bangkok, United Nations Office in New York, and Zimbabwe.


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