Canton Jura celebrates 40th birthday – without Bern delegation

Swiss cabinet minister Alain Berset (right) and Jura officials took part in canton Jura's 40th anniversary celebrations on June 23, 2019 in Saignelégier © Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Large crowds gathered in Saignelégier, canton Jura, on Sunday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Switzerland’s youngest canton. An official delegation from neighbouring canton Bern did not attend over fears for their safety.

This content was published on June 23, 2019 - 15:08

The 40th anniversary celebrations, which took place in canton Jura from June 21-23 attended by 14,000 people, culminated in a meeting on Sunday in Saignelégier, a small Jura municipality in northwest Switzerland. 

However, the visit of a delegation led by Pierre Alain Schnegg, a Bern state councilor who had fought to keep the town of Moutier in German-speaking canton Bern, was cancelled at the last minute.

"We were informed on Sunday morning. The Jura government and the police told us that they cannot guarantee our safety," Schnegg told the Keystone-ATS news agency.

Schnegg was not supposed to make a speech on Sunday but his presence had been considered a provocation by some Jura activists.

"This is regrettable, but we had no choice but to inform them that the situation was extremely delicate," said Jacques Gerber, the president of the Jura cantonal government. 

He said certain disruptive elements and groups “remained tied to a certain past”.

Sensitive issue

The last-minute cancellation underlines the sensitivity of the Jura issue. French-speaking Jura became the 26th Swiss canton in 1979 when a separatist movement won a vote to secede from German-speaking canton Bern. Since then, the question has been raised in some towns and villages along the border about which canton they would like to be part of. 

On June 18, 2017, Moutier citizens voted to switch allegiance from canton Bern to canton Jura. However, the authorities were called in to investigate allegations of electoral tourism – claims that some people had registered themselves as eligible voters in Moutier without actually residing there.

The authorities declared the vote invalid. A district official said that six out of seven legal complaints over misleading propaganda and organisational flaws were justified. This decision prompted an emotional reaction and resulted in a legal appeal which is ongoing.

Cabinet minister Alain Berset said on Sunday: "We can only hope for a quick legal decision that will allow everyone to finally know what to expect.” 

Before the official ceremony, about 300 activists demonstrated demanding that Moutier be attached to Jura. The 40th anniversary celebration otherwise took place without incident.

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