National Day thinks back and looks forward

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf visits a farm for a National Day brunch. Keystone

Swiss National Day, August 1, is traditionally a day of speeches by politicians, and a day off for ordinary people when they can enjoy farm brunches or barbecues with their friends, rounded off with spectacular firework displays.

This content was published on August 1, 2012 minutes and agencies

The weather was initially kind to revellers on Wednesday, with temperatures of between 20 and 30 degrees reported all across the country at midday, and no rain. However, it later started to cloud over in some areas, and isolated storms were forecast for the evening.

In their speeches, several cabinet ministers focussed on the economic crisis and the uncertain future.

In a broadcast address, this year’s Swiss president, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, called on the Swiss not to “shoot each other in the back”  but to “close ranks, keep looking forward and march together in the same direction”.

"Nothing is stable anymore,” she said. “If the dams were to burst in Europe, Switzerland would find itself under water too.”

Two of her cabinet colleagues, Defence Minister Ueli Maurer and Interior Minister Alain Berset, also spoke about Europe – but not with one voice.

Maurer, of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, warned against linking Switzerland’s future too closely with the European Union. He predicted that as the EU’s debt and currency crisis become worse, the demands made on “small, prosperous Switzerland” will be stepped up.

“Our most important task in the next few years will be to stand up against pressure and envious demands,” he said.

While Berset, of the centre-left Social Democrat party, also saw the EU becoming more and more demanding, he warned that “Europe’s fate is our fate too”.

“Clear-sightedness, pragmatism and a realistic assessment of our own strengths and those of our negotiating partners – that is what we need!” he said.

Both ministers are delivering their speeches several times: Maurer in a total of six locations, all in German-speaking Switzerland, while Berset, having started in his own French-speaking canton of Fribourg on Tuesday, moved on to the German-speaking area before ending up in Italian-speaking Ticino.

Transport Minister Doris Leuthard made her speech from the Jungfraujoch, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Jungfrau railway. She used the occasion to praise Switzerland’s pioneering and visionary spirit.

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter and Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, have waited until the evening to deliver their speeches. Johann Schneider-Ammann, the economics minister, is the only cabinet minister not to speak.


As usual, there were plenty of activities laid on for the national holiday.

It was open doors at the Swiss parliament building in Bern on Wednesday. About 4,000 visitors took advantage of the chance to see the interior, and to ask the speakers of the two chambers questions about how parliament works.

Both Widmer-Schlumpf and Maurer mingled with a few of the 200,000 people who turned up at one of the 400 or so farms across the country which laid on a National Day brunch – a custom celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

In Geneva large crowds turned up for the unusual chance of watching a cow fight. A traditional spectacle in canton Valais, where cows of the Hérens breed fight naturally to establish a hierarchy, it is unknown elsewhere.

August 1 is the first day of the Locarno film festival, which runs until August 11. The opening ceremony includes the presentation of an excellence award to actress Charlotte Rampling.

In some places the celebrations started the previous day. Police in Basel say about 110,000 people gathered on the banks of the Rhine and the city’s bridges to watch a firework display, part of an evening of festivities.


National Day celebrates the oath taken in 1291 on the Rütli meadow on the shores of Lake Lucerne by representatives of three central Swiss cantons - traditionally regarded as marking the founding of Switzerland.

Until 2005 the Swiss president delivered his or her National Day speech on the meadow; however, since the last occasion was disrupted by rightwing extremists, this tradition has been abandoned.

This year about 1,000 people gathered there. They included a number of children, who made wishes and who then formed a living Swiss flag by holding up strips of red and white cloth. Their contribution marked the 100th anniversary of the young people’s support organisation, Pro Juventute.

Given the historical background, it is perhaps not surprising that the Schweizerische Gemeinnützige Gesellschaft (SGG) – the Swiss Society for the Common Good – has chosen August 1 to launch a competition inviting people to write new words for the national anthem, which many Swiss find old-fashioned. The SGG has a special connection to National Day, since it is responsible for managing the Rütli meadow.

All anthem entries must be submitted in two of Switzerland’s four national languages. The smallest of those languages – Romansch, spoken by only about 0.5 per cent of the population – got a boost on August 1, when the privately owned weather service, MeteoNews, added it to its website.

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