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Fireworks, feasts and food for thought

Traditional costumes and music were in evidence in Zurich on National Day Keystone

The Swiss have been celebrating National Day - August 1 - in bright sunshine, with temperatures peaking at about 30 degrees; perfect for barbecues, farm brunches, flag throwing, alphorn playing and other such traditional activities.

Festivities started in several towns in the evening of July 31, with spectacular firework displays. About 120,000 people are reported to have gathered on the Rhine bridges and banks in Basel just before midnight, where the fireworks were let off from two boats on the river.

On Thursday morning tens of thousands of people – including Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann and his wife – enjoyed a brunch of fresh produce at some 400 farms, according to the Swiss Farmers Association. The pressure group has been supporting such events for the last 21 years, with the aim of bridging the gap between the inhabitants of town and country.

About 4,000 people took advantage of the chance to visit the Swiss parliament building in Bern, which opened its doors for the day.

Many more fireworks were let off all over the country on Thursday evening.


National Day is also a day of speeches. Ueli Maurer, who holds this year’s rotating Swiss presidency, engaged in a round of whistle-stop visits to nine communes in different parts of Switzerland, starting already on Wednesday.

In his address to the nation – which he also delivered at each of the places he visited – he spoke of the pressure exercised by international organisations and large nations upon smaller ones like Switzerland, whose sovereignty was being violated.

“It is all the more important for the Swiss people to stand together and to hold fast to its central values,” he said. “The more concessions we make, the greater the demands will be.” And he warned that the pressure on Switzerland would continue.

August 1 was chosen as Swiss National Day in 1891.

August 1 1291 was believed to be the day on which three cantons of central Switzerland – Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden – took an oath of mutual support.

This act has traditionally been regarded as marking the establishment of the country.

It has only been a holiday since 1993.

His cabinet colleague, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who is on an official visit to the Baltics, delivered his National Day speech on Wednesday in the Latvian capital, Riga. He too spoke of Switzerland’s relationship with other countries and organisations, in particular with the European Union and of its upcoming chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“In a world that is globally interlinked and in which there are highly diverse relationships and interdependences between states and regions, it is not possible to tackle global challenges alone,” he told his audience.

For his part, Interior Minister Alain Berset acknowledged In his speech, also delivered on Wednesday, that it was understandable that the Swiss feel under pressure. ”The new, less stable world threatens our identity, and certain of our interests too,” he said. But he added that looking at the present in the context of the past would help clarify Switzerland’s situation in a world of power blocks.  

“We are not currently surrounded by enemies, but simply confronted with changing realities,” he said.

The Swiss president used to deliver his or her address on the Rütli meadow by Lake Lucerne, the place traditionally regarded as the spot where Switzerland was founded in1291. However, since right-wing extremists disrupted the festivities there in 2007, the practice has been abandoned. This year the celebrations there were dedicated to football, with about 450 amateur players among the 1300 people who registered to attend the event.

On a patriotic note, the Swiss Public Welfare Society – which also administers the Rütli meadow – announced on Thursday details of the competition it is launching for a new national anthem. It hopes the government will agree to make the winning entry the official anthem in 2015.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR