Student societies

Keeping the flame alive in Fribourg


The Sarinia delegation at Corpus Christi, in their official uniform:  Léa Baracchini ("Esmeralda"), 22, law student, president; Joris Fasel ("Dandy"), 22, law student, vice-président; Grégoire Pedrazzini ("Lucky Luke"), 21, economics and sociology student.

Jean Bacher ("Sultan"), 85, one of the oldest members of the Sarinia. In addition to his Band (ribbon) on which his name is embroidered, he also wears a veteran's Band, marking 50 years of membership.

Anne Liblin ("Brie"), 22, is a law student. Her nickname - or "vulgo" is a pun on Bree, a character in "Desperate Housewives", one of her favourite TV programmes, and the famous French cheese, since she is French too.

The emblem that is passed on from one president to the next, with the one belonging to the current president.
The badge of the Sarinia, with the letters V, C, F, S and an exclamation mark, represent its (Latin) motto: Vivat Crescat Floreat Sarinia! Or "May the Sarinian live, grow and prosper!"

Giacomo Bizzozero ("Richelieu"), 21, law student. "For my treasured item, I would say this song book. It's a customised book where each Sarinian whom I am particularly close to has written a message."

Lubna Raboud, ("Mata Hari"), 21, law student. "My vulgo might seem derogatory, but I am quite proud of it because it is strong. There are two sides to me: a masculine one (I served in the army), and a feminine one (I love sequins and very high heels). So it was the double agent/courtisan aspect that swung it." Lubna is the only Muslim to be an active member of the Sarinia.

Small round hat and white leather gloves are part of the "Vollwichs", the official uniform for the student society ceremony and parade.

Father Jean Hervé Mas ("Metua"), 68, chaplain and honorary member of the Sarina.

Delphine Thiémard ("Jerry"), 25, pharmacy student.

Beer plays an important part in academic societies. The members obey the "Bierkomment", a series of rules about drinking properly.
Autographs and messages are written on the inner lining of the cap as a sign of exchanges of friendship.

Dominique de Buman ("Petit Suisse"), 57, member of parliament and deputy chairman of the Swiss Christian Democratic Party. He was president of the Sarinia in 1978 and 1980. "My vulgo is the name of a dairy product [a kind of soft cheese, literally "little Swiss"] because my brother, who was already a member, was called  Yoghourt".

Aline Burnand ("Etna"), 23, law student. The fox tail pinned to her cap indicates her role as "Fuchsmajorin", responsible for the initiation of new members into the customs of the societý.

Joris Fasel, ("Dandy"), 22. Law student. Does anything stand out in his experiences in the Sarinia? "When the Stamm (meeting place) was being transferred, I was carried through Fribourg on our old table. We stopped at the various bars on the way, and sang holding our pints of beer!"

The book where the names of the Sarinia's members are recorded.




Some people might think student societies have had their day, but they still attract enthusiastic members. Stéphanie Borcard and Nicolas Métraux spent more than a year photographing the Sarinia club at Fribourg, using a visual language which echoes the traditions kept alive by its members with their caps and tricolour ribbons.

Friendship, Knowledge and Virtue: those are the basic values of the Society of Swiss Students, symbolised by its three colours, burgundy, white and green. The society has 70 sections in senior secondary schools and universities throughout the country, including 11 in Fribourg, a bastion of student societies in Switzerland.

They include the Sarinia, a French-speaking society with male and female members. Founded in Fribourg in 1895, it was the result of a split between German and French speakers. It is currently headed by a woman: Léa "Esmeralda" Barrachini, a 22 year-old law student.

To see them in action, just go down the steps leading into the cellar of the Café du Tunnel in Fribourg on a Wednesday evening. There they all are, sitting with a beer in their hand, while the sounds of singing and talking merge and bounce around the walls of this inn with its medieval-style vaulting.

Before being allowed to wear the three colours, the novice first goes through the "Fuchs" (fox) stage. Then after a very specific ritual, he or she becomes a "Bursch" (lad) and can join the committee which gives new members their nickname (or "vulgo") on the basis of their character, appearance and interests.

The most important thing is to create strong links betweeen members, young and old. The Sarinia is a kind of big family, whose genealogy is based on… beer. On joining, each new member chooses a beer Father or Mother, usually a Bursch. The duties include being a friend to the beer Son or Daughter during their studies.

So "entering society", as they call it, is a bit like "entering a monastery", even if the Christian associations are not as strong as they may have been in the 19th century. But anyone who accepts the colours will wear them for life, and will have to accept certain rules, such as the "Bierkomment", the rules for knowing how to drink, which distinguish the noble carouser from the pathetic drunkard.

Pround of its sterling past (it gave the country four ministers during the course of the 20th century), the Sarinia today has only about 15 active members (mainly from the law faculty) and admits that not many recruits are clamouring to be admitted. But according to Lubna "Mata Hari" Raboud, "a lot of people have the wrong idea, not only because of some of the things they have heard, but also because of some of the things we do, which could be misinterpreted. It's a pity, because people who don't join a society miss out on an enjoyable experience".

(Photos and captions: Stéphanie Borcard and Nicolas Métraux )

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