Today, another demonstration of direct democracy and cultural and political wisdom, of the Swiss people at work (I hope); this time at the local level.

In today’s case, the people of the small Swiss town of Moutier, just over 7 000 inhabitants, will decide if they will leave the Canton of Bern and will join the Canton of Jura.

Years ago, the people who now make up the Canton of Jura, also decided they were not happy in the Canton of Bern. After some political agitation, even some minor violence, the Canton of Bern, and the whole of Switzerland, decided the people of the area of Jura should hold a referendum to decide if they wanted to create their own Canton.

In the referendum, the proponents of separation won. In 1979, they created the new Canton of Jura.

The major reason for the people of the Jura to want their own Canton was linguistic, and the desire to have their own territory. This was because they speak French, but most of the people of the Canton of Bern speak German. The French-speakers are also Roman Catholics, German-speakers are Protestant.

But the key was not religion; it appears than language, culture and, above all, being in control of the territory they inhabited, played a larger role in their decision to become a new Canton. If language and religious affiliation had been the key factors, the people of the Jura would have asked to join an adjoining French-speaking canton, but they didn’t, they wanted their own canton, and they got it.

But in 1979, some French-speaking areas of the Canton of Bern decided to stay in Bern, not go with the others to create the Canton of Jura. But as time passed, it seems many people have changed their minds.

Among them are many people in Moutier. They have been pressuring to leave the Canton of Bern and join the Canton of Jura. In 2017, the Canton of Bern agreed they could hold a referendum to decide. The vote to leave won by a small margin, they got 51.7% of the vote.

Unfortunately, some people not living in Moutier illegally voted in the referendum. This prompted the government of the Canton of Bern to declare the result of the referendum illegal.

But that did not mean that issue died. The people of Moutier insisted on holding another referendum, and that is what will happen tomorrow. If the proponents win, Moutier will join the Canton of Jura.

I believe most other countries could learn from the Swiss here; how democratically, the Swiss, again, show that the will of the people is supreme, if it is not, it is not a democracy; that is the big problem in representative democracies. In such democracies the will of the politicians prevails, not the will of the people.

But the Swiss people also show something, perhaps even more important, that when people sharing a language-culture want to have control of their own territory, they must have it.

However, the Swiss do it with a very interesting twist; the Swiss reject the idea of a state with one language, one culture. They also reject the idea of one big unitary canton or region for each language-culture.

The Swiss, the peoples and cultures of Switzerland, by acknowledging that languages-cultures require territorial control they have given themselves the sense of autonomy and control they need. By preventing the creation of unitary territories for all German-speakers, French-speakers, etc.,  they have prevented the rise of “tribal-nationalist” feelings among the four Swiss cultural-linguistic groups.

Other countries, like the UK, Canada, Spain, and others, have not done that; separatism along cultural and linguistic lines, threatens, lurking in the background, the stability, even the existence, of those countries.

Unitary nations, such as France, have suppressed anything not “French”, but separatism raises its ugly head there too.

Switzerland is stable and prosperous because the Swiss people practice direct democracy and political common sense at all levels; at the local, regional and national levels.

The Swiss people are also wise when they avoid creating unitary administrative regions for each language and culture.

They are also masters of “orderly flexibility”; they show it in situations like the Jura and Moutier. In Switzerland, the people can can do anything, but not with demonstrations and riots; with orderly debates and orderly referendums, no mob rule in Switzerland. In fact, the politicians in representative democracies use emotional discourses that sound more like the screams of an excited mob.

It is time other countries adopt the wise Swiss measures, or perhaps even improve on them.

In my next blog I will discuss what happened in Moutier today, and how perhaps our countries can apply a similar approach to our political problems.

Victor Lopez

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