Everything started in the head of three friends
The Rencontres de folklore internationales de Fribourg (RFI) were born in 1973 in the head of three friends: Cyrill Renz, Pierre Stempfel and Albert Bugnon. The first one was part of a folk-dance troupe, the second played music in a small ensemble and the third had just been appointed head of the Tourism Office of Fribourg.
Cyrill Renz and Pierre Stempfel had already had the opportunity to meet artists coming from other countries. On the other hand, Albert Bugnon wanted to organise popular events in Fribourg and to promote cultural exchanges. The three friends immediately thought of organising a festival, even though this type of event was not very common at that time.
An ever-changing event
For their first edition, in 1975, the RFI welcomed seven groups during four days, from Thursday till Sunday. «This first edition was such a success that I remember inviting the spectators to the next year’s edition at the end of the closing ceremony», explains Albert Bugnon, who presided the organisation committee during the first seven years.
Since then, the RFI have always continued to introduce novelties. Due to the popular enthusiasm, the committee pushed the limits of the festival, both in terms of length and number of groups. Hence, the RFI lasted for up to ten days and brought together a record number of 14 groups.
Culture beyond borders
Even if the RFI constantly reinvent themselves, they have always remained true to their first purposes: the openness to the world, the cultural exchange and the promotion of the traditions. «We have always managed to overcome the political or religious constraints of the invited groups», explains Albert Bugnon. For instance, the RFI welcomed groups from Northern Cyprus, Palestine or Kosovo just after events which marked the history of these countries. «It was not easy, but in the end, culture always prevailed», concludes the co-founder of the festival.