The Swiss are wiser about more than direct democracy. Part III.


Hi! Thanks for visiting! This is the last of the three posts on Swiss pragmatic political wisdom.

I am particularly impressed by the wisdom of Swiss German-speakers and Swiss French-speakers.

I am impressed because they could have fallen for “cultural identity”. The Swiss German-speakers in particular could have thought; “since we are 65% of the population of Switzerland, then Switzerland should be a German-speaking country”.

But they did not do that. They decided they would not even have one big German-speaking region or canton, that it was better to have seventeen unilingual German-speaking cantons or states.

Likewise, the Swiss French-speakers have four unilingual French-speaking cantons, not one big French-speaking canton. Swiss-Italians, which are a relative small group, have one unilingual Italian-speaking canton.

The people of some cantons, where more than one language is spoken, decided to have bilingual or even trilingual cantons.

However, the Swiss federal government has four official languages, although the country does not have four official languages.

Four official languages at the national government level means citizens can communicate with the national government in their mother tongue. It does not mean there is a national or cantonal effort in Switzerland to have bilingual, trilingual of tetra lingual citizens. In Switzerland, if you move from a German-speaking canton to a French-speaking or Italian-speaking one, you have to work in the local language.

The Swiss seem to believe more than one language within one jurisdiction is not a good idea.

The Swiss also decided you are not German-Swiss, French-Swiss, Italian-Swiss or Romansch-Swiss. Your main identity is tied to the canton where you live, not to the language you speak.

The Swiss have done within the country what is the norm at the international level. For example, the citizens of Austria are first of all “Austrians”, not “Austrian German-speakers”. Why this is not the norm in other “multi-culture” countries I do not know. To me it seems the logical thing to do.

The division into small cantons also prevents domination of Switzerland national institutions by the German-speaking Swiss.

To stress “cantonal identity” the Swiss federal government also has very limited powers. It only occupies itself of areas the cantons decide are not proper for them to handle. For example, the cantons decided foreign and security policy, customs and monetary matters, are not proper for them to handle. This is why the federal government is responsible for those areas.

By “pushing down” citizenship and identity, the Swiss prevented the rise of identities based on language, culture or religion, and the divisions they create.

Dividing the country into many small territories has other advantages. For example, no canton is powerful enough to dominate Swiss federal institutions, or other cantons.

It is as if the Swiss had deliberately decided: “cantons can have all the power they want, as long as they are weak enough not to threaten the nation and other cantons”.

It is important to know also that if the people of one area of a canton feel they should have their own canton, the Swiss will accommodate then.

This is what happened with Canton of Jura. The people of the Canton of Jura used to form part of the Canton of Bern. In  1978, the Jura, a French-speaking area of the Canton of Bern, became a new canton. It also seems the majority of the people of the Canton of Bern, who are German-speakers, accepted the split.

As I already said, Canada, Belgium, the UK, Spain, are examples where organization along the lines of language, culture or religion has created big problems.

To illustrate how much the Swiss want to keep language off the “identity table”, let us look at La Francophonie.

La Francophonie, is the international organization of French-speaking peoples. Several Swiss cantons and several Swiss parliamentarians are represented in La Francophonie, but there is no such a thing as one body in representation of all Swiss francophones.

The Swiss have been wise separating government and identity from religion, culture and language. Others should study what the Swiss have done.

Switzerland is not just another prosperous, democratic country, Switzerland is the best managed country in the World. It is the most politically stable, it has one of the highest levels of human development, one of the highest living standards, the more democratic, etc.  I am not Swiss…

Thanks for visiting.

Myself and many others would like to know your point of view on this subject.

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