Freedom constitutes the dignity of man. And conversely, freedom is only dignified, if it is granted to the other one, too – to all people.

That this has only happened here and there in history to this day does not change the fact that this yearning has moved people at all times and in all cultures. The story of Wilhelm Tell, whatever people may think of it in detail, is essentially nothing but an expression of this originally human sentiment: man does not want to be oppressed, not be enslaved, but also not be patronised, not be directed, not be controlled, manipulated, and not be taken for a fool. Therefore, like many other legends of freedom of other nations, it has been carried on for centuries. It is nothing else that has appealed to people about Friedrich Schiller’s play for many decades. The simple core of the historical events and history, which the not-for-nothing so-called poet of freedom expresses in his play with the consciousness of the historian and with the talents of a great poet, is that a few “simple” people would not allow to be deprived of their dignity and took responsibility for it. And they fought for their freedom. This fact cannot be changed, not at all, by the epic debates about whether certain events took place sooner or later and possibly at another location, whether there existed a man named Tell and whether the apple shot was added later from other legends.

People wanted and want to be free. It’s all about this. It is a great good fortune that in the 13th and 14th century the people of the original Switzerland managed to gain this freedom as far as possible and to maintain it.

Time and again, and also after the horrors of two world wars, humanity has paused, has reflected on what the human being actually is. Has reflected, on what basis everything we do or don’t do, our living together on this planet must actually emanate from: namely that “the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.” As stated in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

That the willingness to achieve freedom of the inhabitants of the Waldstätte in the 13th century resulted in a covenant that was upheld through all turmoils and temptations, conflicts and threats for several centuries, and that finally the Swiss federal state emerged, that this federal state, committed to its liberal origin, is federally structured and that today with direct democracy we have a measure of civil liberty and creative possibilities which many envy us – all this is not our merit. It is our happiness – and at the same time our task. Because freedom is not preserved by itself. It has to be lived in the view of today’s problems.

Already in 1230, the citizens of Uri had obtained their letter of freedom by the emperor. With deliberate diplomacy, but above all with determination and the will rather to tighten the belt, even much closer than to give up freedom. They literally had to stint themselves for the amount of the compensation for the pledge of their country – once ten times of the levies, that is what we would call taxes today. But they realised that their self-imposed sacrifice would eventually pay off because they wanted to avert oppression and exploitation in the future.

Do we not face similar questions? We live in prosperity, at least many in this country – and especially compared to other world regions. For example, how do we want to regulate our power supply? Further liberalisation and eventually perhaps complete dependence on deliveries from abroad? Our agriculture? Free trade, import of “biological” products from the other side of the globe or self-determination about what we get on our plates? And our education system? Should our children become consumption-dependent, functional cogs in the power unit of the globalised economy, or do we want to educate them to self-determined personalities and citizens with an awareness of connections and historical experiences? Our healthcare? What does it suffer from really? There are many more questions that arise. To have the freedom of having a say in all these questions, having influence on and contributing to their solutions – this is a great achievement. On the 1st of August we could reflect on this.

Erika Vögeli

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