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Switzerland enjoys the highs of August 1

Joseph Deiss (left, with an Italian minister) at the top of the Dufourspitze on August 1

(Keystone)

Speeches and fireworks celebrating Swiss National Day have taken place in all corners of the country – and at 4,634m in the case of Economics Minister Joseph Deiss.

From Kosovo Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey made a plea for liberty and justice, but Swiss President Samuel Schmid was heckled during his speech and left early.

Deiss was the topographical, if not political, highlight of the day: he had spent six-and-a-half hours climbing to the Dufourspitze, the highest point in Switzerland.

The 59-year-old was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the peak’s first ascent – by five British climbers and three local guides.

Deiss later called for "cosmopolitan patriotism" and pragmatic relations with other states.

Speeches

Calmy-Rey, who is on a four-day visit to Kosovo, used her National Day speech to underline that freedom does not rule out cooperation.

She said she wished that her compatriots would occasionally think of Swiss hero William Tell and his commitment to freedom for the entire community.

Calmy-Rey was addressing some 220 Swiss soldiers stationed in Suva Reka, a southern Kosovo town.

But Fulvio Pelli, president of the centre-right Radical Party, criticised what he saw as a constant falling back on history by conservatives.

"We’re running the risk today of resting on our laurels and sleeping through the future," he said.

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party surprised nobody when he said freedom, self-determination and autonomy had made Switzerland strong and prosperous and neutrality should not mean proactively poking your nose in everywhere.

Heckles

Blocher has a knack for grabbing the headlines, but August 1 this year will be remembered for the heckling of Samuel Schmid, who in his television broadcast earlier in the day had called on the Swiss to continue the country’s "success story".

Of the 2,000 people on the Rütli Meadow who were told by the Swiss president to "go forward, mentally and physically", around 700 were rightwing militants.

This section of the audience heckled and seriously disrupted Schmid’s speech with lengthy chanting, especially whenever mention was made of foreigners or integration with other cultures.

The president of the Rütli committee apologised over the microphone to Schmid for the often personal heckles such as "Traitor! Traitor! Half a minister!". The Swiss president left before the national anthem was played.

The Rütli, in central Switzerland on the shore of Lake Lucerne, is known as the cradle of the Swiss Confederation and traditionally draws crowds – especially rightwing ones – on National Day.

Elsewhere some 800 anti-fascist demonstrators took to the streets of Lucerne in a protest against racism, fascism and the presence of extremists on the Rütli.

Celebrations

Some 430 farmyards dotted around Switzerland hosted this year’s "August 1 Brunch on the Farm" which attracted around 200,000 visitors.

The Swiss Farmers' Association has organised the event since 1993 and the 430 farming families once again laid on a homegrown spread of bread, butter, jam, muesli, fruit and rösti.

In the German capital, Berlin, half a dozen cantons from central Switzerland used National Day as a publicity opportunity.

In the biggest celebrations outside Switzerland, 8,000 Berliners enjoyed cherry gateau, a giant Alp salad (including 2,000 onions), alphorn music and traditional flag-throwing.

The cost of the SFr800,000 ($628,000) event in Berlin was split between the cantons and sponsors.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Having a Swiss National Day on August 1 was introduced at the end of the 19th century but it only became a national holiday in 1994.
National Day marks the founding of the Swiss Confederation on August 1, 1291.
Three alpine states signed a treaty on the Rütli Meadow that day pledging to act together to defend themselves against outside attack.
The Swiss celebrate National Day with brunches, speeches, bonfires and fireworks.

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