Private sponsors come to aid of National Day

The Rütli meadow - the cradle of Switzerland - gained iconic status in the 19th century Keystone

Plans by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey to hold a traditional Swiss National Day celebration on the Rütli meadow on August 1 have been given a boost.

This content was published on June 21, 2007 - 12:05

A group of private sponsors has agreed to pay for security costs, and the city of Lucerne will provide transport to the site of the festivities in the heart of Switzerland, which is only accessible by boat.

The committee in charge of the Rütli meadow gave the formal go-ahead on Friday.

The celebration had become a bone of contention between political parties after Calmy-Rey – a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party – announced she would give a speech on the Rütli alongside the speaker of the House of Representatives, Christine Egerszegi.

Calmy-Rey said she was not willing to leave the Rütli to supporters of rightwing parties and extremists who in recent years had heckled other cabinet members from the People's Party and the centre-right Radical Party as they delivered speeches.

Her presence at the celebrations had looked in doubt when the cabinet decided in May not to contribute towards the cost of security – estimated at SFr2 million ($1.6 million). Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, a leading light of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, argued National Day celebrations were purely local and not a federal matter.

Image of Switzerland

On Wednesday parliamentarian Johann Schneider-Ammann, president of the umbrella organisation of the Swiss engineering industry, said a group of entrepreneurs had to decided to step in and act as sponsors.

The entrepreneurs include the chairman of the Swatch Group Nicolas G. Hayek.

Schneider-Ammann said Switzerland's image would suffer if the row over the National Day celebrations on the Rütli continued much longer.

"If we want to sell our products, we have to prove to the world that Switzerland is a reliable and credible country where quality and law and order are key values," he told Swiss television.

Hayek said money was not a question for him and that he was proud to do something for Swiss democracy.

"The main thing is that the Swiss president can go to the Rütli and give her speech without risking an attack," he told the tabloid newspaper Blick.

Reactions

For her part, Calmy-Rey said she was pleased that a solution had been found.

The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, one of the few papers that commented on the deal on Thursday, welcomed the initiative by private sponsors and the city of Lucerne.

The Rütli meadow is only accessible by water and the central Swiss cantons bordering Lake Lucerne had previously refused to allow any boats to depart from their landing stage for the celebrations. Lucerne has now agreed to allow boats to travel to and from its quays.

However, the Tages-Anzeiger added that the federal authorities could no longer pretend the National Day celebrations on the Rütli were a purely local or regional matter.

"At least the deal spares us one embarrassment. Switzerland organises the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos and the European football championships, but it appears to capitulate when it comes to the festivities on the Rütli meadow."

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

An association of concerned Swiss citizens purchased the meadow in 1859.
Their aim was to keep it in its original state.
A year later, the association donated the site to the Swiss government.
The government charged a special commission with the task of administering the meadow.

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In brief

In the 13th century leaders of the three forest cantons, Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, met at the Rütli meadow in secret.

They swore an oath of allegiance, considered Switzerland's founding act, in 1291.

There is no evidence that William Tell took part in these meetings, but according to legend, his heroic deeds inspired these men to take action.

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