“Moutier-Exit”; again!, and again without fanfare, Switzerland shows the world how real democracy works; this time at the local and canton levels.

Yesterday I wrote about a referendum in the small town of Moutier. Today we know; they decided to leave Bern and join Jura.

2114 votes were for “leave” and 1740 for “remain”; 55% vs 45%. 88% of the voters participated; where did I hear “voter participation a in direct democracy is low”?; hogwash! The Swiss take part at the rate they consider the issue requires nothing to do with “voter fatigue”, and assorted verbal tricks to distract us from demanding direct democracy in our countries.

Most of the people of Moutier are French speaking, but language and culture are not the primary motivation for leaving. We know that because in the seventies, several other French-speaking municipalities organized a referendum, but not to leave Bern and join the adjacent French-speaking Canton of Neuchatel, they demanded their own French-speaking canton (state or province).

It is also important to note that Bern is a bilingual German-French canton, but the French speakers wanted much more than language recognition.

I believe in other countries where they try to make bilingualism work, they will fail because the minorities also want and need their own administrative territory to control more of their own destiny. Minorities will demand their own territorial identity and that their language be the only official language. It goes beyond language, much like the Swiss have done.

Bilingualism only makes sense in very specific areas where the minority is not a small minority and where there is a high degree of mixed neighbourhoods, business, etc.

But the Swiss have gone beyond autonomy based on language alone, that is why Switzerland has many German-speaking and French-speaking cantons, instead of one large German-speaking canton and one large French-speaking canton; it is a stroke of collective political genius.

Switzerland also proves that majority rule, including areas where the minority is the majority, direct democracy at all levels, is not mob rule at all but rational rule; much more rational than ruling by elected representatives, which is what we have in representative democracies.

Each Swiss Canton also has more autonomy and independence than a German Lander, a state in the US, a Canadian Province, a Spanish Autonomous Region, etc.

It is interesting how other federal, or almost federal, governments, like the ones of the countries I just mentioned, often speak of “local identity”, “give minorities a voice”, “recognise founding minorities” etc., but when it comes down to political power, the national government politicians insist that most power be with national government.

It is not like that in Switzerland at all, as we see in Moutier’s case and in the creation of the Canton of Jura. In Switzerland, the national government manages only the areas which the cantons can not manage, such as external relations and defence.

The result of the Swiss system is that the majorities and minorities of Switzerland, have their own territories and far more rights than the majorities and minorities in any of the representative democracies I just mentioned, or any other representative democracy.

But the case of Moutier is not unique. In 1996 the 72 inhabitants, yes, seventy two, of the village of Vellerat, also in the Canton of Bern, and also French-speaking, had a referendum to join the Canton of Jura. The proponents of the referendum won, and Vellerat is now part of the Canton of Jura. In this case, the people feel joining another canton is enough. They did not demand their own canton, although in Switzerland, some cantons are very small.

In my next post I will discuss the changes required to develop a representative democracy into a direct democracy.

The next step now for the government of Moutier, and the governments of the cantons of Bern and Jura, is to start the process of a smooth transition to ensure the people of Moutier continue to enjoy being citizens of the most stable, democratic and prosperous country on Earth.

Victor Lopez

 

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