WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT AUGUST 1ST?
As you are sure to have noticed over the past few weeks the shops have started to sell more and more Swiss flags in all shapes and sizes, Swiss napkins, Swiss streamers, Swiss paper plates and cups, Swiss balloons and virtually anything else that can be printed with a white cross on a red background.
Because 1st August is just around the corner and is Swiss National Day. On the 1st of August 1291, the three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (now divided into Obwalden and Niederwalden) pledged mutual aid and support to one another in their resistance of the powerful Habsburg Empire and thereby created the Confederation Helvetia.
The historic decision was cemented in the meadow of “Rütli” on the banks of the Lake of Lucerne (Vierwaldstattersee). Visitors taking a boat ride on the lake in the direction of Altdorf will be able to see the shining “Rütlistein” (Rütli Stone) standing majestically in the lake opposite the village of Brunnen. If you want to have a closer look at the Rütli meadow there are boat trips form Luzern and Brunnen on a regular basis throughout the summer. The walk up to the meadow which is 472 metres above sea-level is quite steep in parts but the views from the top are more than worth it. Refreshments are available at Rüti or Treib.
After this initial joining of Cantons the people of Central Switzerland sought to impose the new laws on their immediate neighbours and to extend the alliance to cover a greater geographical area. By 1531 a further 10 Cantons had joined the alliance and thereafter became involved in not only defending the independence of the individual Cantons but also conquering additional ones.
The battle of Marignano in the Lombardy plain in 1515 brought a halt to what had, until that time, been a fairly brutal and mercenary period in Switzerland. Continuing political development was difficult due to inconsistencies from area to area – for example the towns were ruled by the local aristocracy whereas the rural areas enjoyed a more democratic system. The Reformation taking place in Europe at this time brought a variety of religious problems and there was further disagreement over the allocation of Swiss mercenaries to foreign armies. Losses had been heavy and rewards few.
It was around this time that the decision was made, not to participate in any further European conflicts. This can be seen as the first step along the road to neutrality but it was only after the French Revolution that the Unitarian Helvetic Republic was founded in 1798 and true freedom of religion, press and speech was granted. This brought an end to a very decadent, debauch period in Switzerland’s history and served to create greater stability and understanding throughout the still relatively new Confederation.
Further Cantons continued to join the Confederation and by the time Napoleon decreed the Act of Meditation in 1803, there were a total of 19 member Cantons. Under this Act Switzerland became a Federal Republic – this lasted however only until the death of Napoleon in 1821 and thereafter Switzerland reverted to a Confederation of States – by now however, there were 22 member Cantons. The old problems of the aristocracy wanting more privileges and rights than commoners reared their heads again and pockets of internal unrest were to be found in the cities and towns.
In 1815, Switzerland’s neutrality was recognised internationally and despite a brief civil war between the seven conservative, Catholic Cantons and the Protestant Cantons, Switzerland entered a relatively peaceful phase of its history where more liberal constitutions were put into place in 12 Cantons. 1848 saw the foundation of a Federal State which was accepted by popular vote despite the country being located in the heart of Europe and surrounded by monarchies and Bern was designated the country’s capital.
The terms of the federal State were totally revised in 1874, and thereafter amended in part from time to time to keep up with the changing times and new demands. It wasn’t until 1967 that work began on a full revision of the constitution. By this time there were 22 full Cantons and a draft for the new Constitution could first be submitted in 1987 by which time Jura had split away from Bern to become a Canton in its own right and had joined the Confederation bringing the number of member Cantons to today’s total of 23 (three of which are divided into two parts).
These 23 member Cantons all have a very distinctive styles of their own. School systems vary from Canton to Canton as do tax rates and dialects. The “Röstigraben” (Rösti Divide) between the French speaking Cantons and the German speaking Cantons is very apparent and the reluctance of one group to speak the other’s language has led in some ways to English becoming the preferred language of business. Switzerland is also in the interesting position of having four officially recognised national languages – German, French, Italian and Romansch which ensures that discussions about language and culture are never far away in any gathering of Swiss people.
So, it is clear to see why the 1st of August is such a significant date in the Swiss calendar and a public holiday. Unfortunately, this year it falls on a Sunday and unlike some other European countries, there is no working-day off in lieu on the following Monday; However, you will be sure to see Swiss families everywhere celebrating the National Day of their country and if you have chance to be in Brunnen on Sunday evening you will treated to a wonderful firework display (start time approximately 21.45), music in the streets and the smell of barbecued sausages in the air.
Complied by: Nicola Auf der Maur of Le Concierge Expatriate Services GmbH