Yesterday, the first of August, was Swiss National Day. Even though I hold ambivalent feelings towards this type of ‘imagined community’ event (to borrow from Benedict Anderson’s concept), I nevertheless felt that we had to make use of this day away from work to go for a walk to Signal de Sauvabelin and then to the woods that bears the same name to enjoy a stroll outdoors as the weather was much nicer than it had been for quite some time.
So from home we went on foot to the Signal to enjoy the panoramic view from this lookout point, my favourite National Day decorations at the nearby Chalet Suisse and then we went to the woods to try and find some blackberries. We were lucky enough to pick a box full. After that we went through the woods along a shortcut path we had never noticed until yesterday to Tour de Sauvabelin. This tower (photo here) offers a sweeping view of the lake and its surroundings. For want of an aerial vantage point that would allow a bird’s eye view of the confederation’s full twenty-six cantons, Tour de Sauvabelin at least allowed to behold two and it also gave me the opportunity to assess the progress made with regard to the various construction sites near our home.
Whether in remembrance of this event [treaty between the people of Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri ‘to act jointly if their freedoms were threatened by outside aggressors’ signed at the beginning of August 1291], or just because it is fun, every municipality in Switzerland now lights its own bonfire and sets off fireworks. Children parade through the streets with paper lanterns – often decorated with the Swiss cross or the cantonal coat-of-arms – and people burn candles in their windows. For many, the Swiss National Day is the perfect opportunity to share a meal and spend some quality time with family and friends.
Even though the second part of this quote on our National Day from Swissworld.org (operated by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) seems to describe better what takes place in the German-speaking cantons (although I cannot speak from experience as I have never celebrated the first of August elsewhere than in a French-speaking canton) for what seems to be an American audience, the event is indeed here (in the two French-speaking cantons I know of, namely Geneva and Vaud) the opportunity to have fun with relatives and friends usually in some open space where the mayor will make a speech which is followed (and/or preceded) by some form of entertainment with food (often raclette with potatoes or grilled sausages) being available for purchase and then by the lighting of a bonfire and the setting off of fireworks.
Unfortunately, the walk down to Sauvabelin, then through the woods and back home had left my wife a little tired. My initial intention was to head to Ouchy and listen to the speech of the mayor, Daniel Brélaz. Although Mr Brélaz was probably the world’s first green to sit in a national parliament (in 1979), I was a little disappointed by his recent endorsement of a proposed tower (i.e. a high rise building) at Beaulieu (fortunately rejected in a public referendum earlier this year) and I was wondering whether the municipality of Lausanne’s future plans for Beaulieu would be disclosed in his speech for the first of August.
However, my wife was still suffering from jetlag (there is a 6-hour difference between Switzerland and Singapore in summer) and I advised her to go for a nap as I was expecting her to be up again on time for us to catch the fireworks at Ouchy (Lausanne’s harbour). I found her fast asleep when I went to our bedroom to see whether she was awake. However, I did not dare to wake her up given that back home it was 3 am. So I decided that I would end up watching the fireworks from home, approximately 300 metres higher than were the fireworks would be set off.
Yet I was not really in the mood to do so – I felt a little like this little girl who looks in revulsion at the two regions ablaze (you can guess where) on the Mercator representation of the world she is carrying as a paper lantern (the cartoon, entitled ‘First of August pyrotechnics in Switzerland and in the world/Feux du 1er août en Suisse et dans le monde’, is by the cartoonist Raymond Burki of 24 Heures).
So I decided to engage into something which, I reckoned, bore some semblance with ‘Swissness’: I ate the mini Swiss cake we had bought the previous evening at the Coop. Usually, I like to go for something more ‘solid’, namely fondue, but I had decided on the previous evening that I would not opt for this quintessential Swiss dish. This is because I need to shed some extra pounds to become lighter for my running …
Even though I did not really watch the fireworks and I did not go down to Ouchy for the mayor’s speech, this was not because I rejected the idea of celebrating National Day. On the contrary, I think that such events play an important part in helping to sustain a sense of national identity in a country with three main languages and therefore different mentalities (as is often demonstrated by the results of country-wide votes). However, rather than have politicians utter ‘top down’ speeches, I wish that National Day would be instead the opportunity to survey the people’s aspirations for the country, to think about common goals as a nation, etc).
Furthermore, do not get me wrong: I am proud to be Swiss (even if I do not have a single drop of Swiss blood as I became a Swiss citizen through naturalisation close to twenty years ago). In particular, I am proud of the country’s humanitarian tradition; I am proud of the fact that Switzerland maintains an army purely for defence purposes (even though some Swiss companies are engaged in the business of manufacturing weapons); I am proud of Switzerland’s so-called direct democracy (I have written entries on this topic here, here and here); I am proud of Switzerland’s emphasis on education (Switzerland’s high school/university teachers are among the best paid in the world); I am so glad that we are not part of the EU (thanks to a wise politician), otherwise we would have had to join the fray and impose sanctions on the wrong countries (this is a reference to the EU’s recent sanctions against Russia versus its lack of sanctions against the perpetrators of mass killings in several countries in the Middle East); I am proud that our economy is diversified and that there is still a strong manufacturing base; I am proud that the country is a good mix between the high tech (too many examples to list here) and the low tech (think of our cows in the Alps), etc, etc, etc …
In short, I understand why the Swiss consider themselves among the happiest people on earth (according to the Better Life Index of the OECD, the Swiss are the most satisfied with their lives (just slightly ahead of Norway, Canada, Sweden, Australia — see the position of the ‘flowers’: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/#/22313112311). This does not mean that there are not things which need improving; on the contrary, … but it certainly sets a good basis from which to do so!
- Back in Aletsch for a run on Swiss National Day (Swiss National Day 2013)