Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Swiss Independence Day

Schloss Thun, Switzerland

It's not much to boast of, Schloss Thun, but it has a special place in my heart because Thun was home for the first twelve years of my life. The Zaeringer's built it in 1190 and today it still stands proudly astride the entrance to the Alps as ever.  The Zaeringers, together with the Savoys, the Habsburgs, and the Kyburgs--old feudal families--controlled the plateau and access to the mountain passes on the north side of the Alps. That was before Switzerland. But the mountains, the lake, and the Aare were the same then as now.

Yesterday, the first of August, Switzerland celebrated its national holiday. The bonfires, fireworks, flags, lanterns, cowbells, and traditional dresses mark the initial confederation of three small mountain provinces: Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden in 1291, when Schloss Thun was already a century old. These small mountain provinces managed to obtain letters of Imperial Immediacy--granting limited political autonomy--from the Holy Roman Empire.

According to the Wilhelm Tell story immortalized by Schiller, the nascent Swiss confederation entered into a more robust defense agreement in order to assert their independence on the Ruetli meadow overlooking Lake Luzern.
Wir wollen sein ein einzig Volk von Brüdern,
in keiner Not uns trennen und Gefahr.
Wir wollen frei sein, wie die Väter waren,
eher den Tod, als in der Knechtschaft leben.
Wir wollen trauen auf den höchsten Gott
und uns nicht fürchten vor der Macht der Menschen.
We want to be a band of brothers, free like our fathers; give us death before enslavement; we wish to trust in God and fear no man. So said Schiller's Tell. Some historians date this event to 1307.

In 1314--the start of that most miserable of centuries-- there was a political crisis in the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Louis IV of Bavaria (who would become Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor) and Frederick the Handsome, a Habsburg prince, made competing claims on the crown of Holy Roman Empire. The Swiss Confederates supported Louis IV. When a dispute over access to pasture lands resulted in a raid on the Habsburg-protected Einsiedeln Abbey, the result was war with the House of Habsburg.

The battle of Morgarten (1315) from Wiki:
Leopold of Austria, led a large army, including a small number of knights, to crush the rebellious Confederates. He planned a surprise attack from the south via Ägerisee and the Morgarten Pass, counting on complete victory. ...The Confederates of Schwyz, supported by the Confederates of Uri, .... prepared a road-block and an ambush at a point between Lake Ägerisee and Morgarten Pass, where a small path led between a steep slope and a swamp..... The Confederates attacked from above with rocks, logs and halberds, (and) the Austrian knights had no room to defend themselves and suffered a crushing defeat. 
Flush with their victory at Morgarten, the nascent Swiss confederation was renewed. By 1353 Bern, Glarus, Zug, Zurich, and Luzern joined to form the original 8 state confederation. The independence of this confederation was further consolidated in the Battle of Sempach in 1386.

From Wiki:
The Battle of Sempach was fought on 9 July 1386, between Leopold III, Duke of Austria and the Old Swiss Confederacy. The battle was a decisive Swiss victory in which Duke Leopold and numerous Austrian nobles died. The victory helped turn the loosely allied Swiss Confederation into a more unified nation and is seen as a turning point in the growth of Switzerland.
Switzerland's de facto independenc, earned at the battle of Sempbach,  and the later Swabian wars,  (1499) was formalized into full sovereignty by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Here is Jessica Mathews, writing in the New York Review of Books:

"From the mass of overlapping rulers--emperors, kings, dukes, popes, bishops, guilds, cities--the Peace of Westphalia produced a solution of dazzling simplicity and longevity. From henceforth the governing unit would be the state. Borders would be clearly defined and what went on inside those borders (especially the choice of religion) would be decided by its rulers and a matter of noone else's business. In modern terms the delegates invented and codified modern state sovereignty,a single authority governing each territory and representing it outside its borders, no authority above states and no outside interferance in states' domestic affairs." 
But it would take another two hundred years, including occupation by Napoleon and a mini, half-hearted civil war, for Switzerland to emerge as a truly modern democracy with its own constitution.

The first Swiss Federal Constitution was enacted on September 12, 1848. It was modeled after the U.S. Constitution and incorporated ideas emerging from the French revolution. The constitution was partly revised in 1866, and wholly revised in 1874. Among the changes made was the introduction of the federal referendum. The constitution assures the right of initiative, providing for Switzerland's direct model of democracy.

I think the builders of Schloss Thun would approve if they dropped by for a visit.

Ruetli meadow, August 1, 2016/NZZ

No comments:

Post a Comment