More upright gait* suits Switzerland well

A look back at a watered-down 1 August

by Peter Küpfer

The 1 August has been the Swiss Confederation’s bank holidays for 130 years. On this day, Switzerland recalls its founding days in memory of the Letter of Confederation of 1291. In commemoration of the pact of assistance in the event of warlike threats, the three old founding valleys of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden assured each other of mutual assistance in the High Middle Ages. The conclusion of this fundamental treaty is generally regarded as the “birth of Switzerland”, officially celebrated on 1 August and commemorated with seriousness, reflecting on history and the present. Recently, this reflection has increasingly moved into the background. Is this due to the lack of self-confidence of Switzerland and some of its representatives, as diagnosed by many?

Switzerland’s national objective, protected by its constitution, is not only to safeguard its quadrilingual population internally, but also to protect it against external threats, including military ones. The protection of Swiss territory and the prevention of war are constitutionally established as a state duty and were credibly and efficiently protected for 160 years by the Swiss militia army. The fact that the Swiss army is being largely dismantled today is due to reasons that we have repeatedly named and documented in this newspaper (see also the article "Switzerland without a constitutional army in the next war?" in this edition by Gotthard Frick).

Insufficient analyses

This development away from substance was promoted by circles that already see “right-wing bias” in the reflection on the nation, dismiss pride in the preserved freedom as arrogance and denigrate the defense of one’s own interests, even Swiss sovereignty, as “typical Swiss egoism” and “cherry-picking”. According to various media texts on 1 August 2021, a certain listlessness or the attempt to switch to sidings predominated. The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, the internationally respected forum of the Swiss Liberals, limited mainly its contribution to 1 August to a two-page potpourri in which it gave original idea producers space for promising ideas for the future, or what was thought to be promising, in the sense of a “Swiss Future workshop”. The CH media newspapers (“St. Galler Tagblatt” and other media) published an interview with former Federal Councilor Couchepin (FDP), in which he represented the Federal Council’s determination to put an end to the tragedy of the Framework Agreement with the EU as “power play”. Contrary to the mood of parts of his own party, whose policy of affiliation with the EU has recently experienced resolute and factually argued opposition within the party, he continues to advocate the credo that only adaptation to the EU is of benefit to Switzerland. The former Federal Councillor did not address the question of how this was compatible with its sovereignty, its direct democracy and its neutrality.
  Die Weltwoche published an ill-tempered, sarcastic commentary by its editor-in-chief Roger Köppel under the title “Surviving in a crazy world”. It is obvious that many things are out of control. But the fact that sentences like the following from a pointedly bourgeois position claim to be taken seriously is astonishing. Köppel writes in his editorial on the federal celebration, among other things: “People have a disposition to avarice and greed for power. The strong would kill or exploit the weak if they were allowed to. I am amazed every day that something like Switzerland exists at all. A country where the people govern themselves.” A little later, he argues that Switzerland owes its existence essentially “to chance”. However, the fact that Switzerland exists is not so much due to chance and not at all due to the characteristics that the author attributes to our species, contrary to the established findings of anthropology. On the contrary, the human species has survived precisely because individuals have always been able to join forces and work together.


While all this seems like a kind of concerted distraction from the real issue, some encouraging statements stand out in a good way. They should be mentioned here. In the “Tages-Anzeiger”, author Marius Huber sees in his editorial the main problem of the insipid 1 August celebrations in the state of isolation of the citizens among themselves: “We are becoming a country of fools who no longer want to listen to each other. Who prefer to untroubledly celebrate their ego-partys. That has to change.” (Huber, Marius. So, we’d rather skip 1 August, “Tages-Anzeiger”, 31 July 2021). He sees a large part of this isolation in the retreat of many to pure self-affirmation circles, a phenomenon in which the social media play a major role. As a remedy, Huber expects much from the new initiative launched at the same time as 1 August, which calls for the creation of a general service to civil society, for him a possible “way out of this dead end of egocentricity”. In a guest commentary, historian Markus Somm rightly places the emphasis on the early autonomy of the nascent Confederation: “In Uri, which was now de facto autonomous, the Landsgemeinde ruled from 1231 onwards, all men over the age of 14 were entitled to vote and be elected, and so a new political entity grew up here in the Alps that was not unique in Europe, but rare nonetheless: a kind of republic where no prince ruled, but where the country people ruled themselves.” (Somm, Markus. Switzerland has its charms, guest commentary, “Tages-Anzeiger” of 31 July 2021).
  The thereby encouraged spirit of solidarity and the struggle for common action was also emphasised by various Federal Councillors in their speeches on 1 August this year. President Guy Parmelin, in his speech on the Glacier 3000 in the middle of the Vaud Alps, is quoted here as a representative of them. He put the often painstakingly won but sustainable decisions of Switzerland as a “Willensnation” (nation based on a common political will) into the image of a demanding mountain climb: “Switzerland owes its success to clear decisions. Not guesswork, coincidence, arrogance or recklessness. Our country was built with hard work, with mutual help, with courage and optimism. [...] We face great health, environmental, social and geopolitical challenges. Only if we see ourselves as a team in which everyone is committed to the other, will our country succeed in mastering these challenges. Just like a roped party here in the mountains that wants to conquer a peak. [...] Let us move forward step by step – with a steady foot and trusting in our abilities.” ( There is nothing to add. Parmelin, showing backbone as demonstrated in Brussels and afterwards, suits him well. Not only on 1 August.  •

* The usage that is still present today, often in the realm of politics and society, was shaped in particular by the philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), who understood the “upright gait” as an expression of human dignity. – Ed

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