Period IV newsletter

Fête de Vignerons 2019, Vevey (Vaud). Photo/Bild: TES.

The Röstigraben

The 26 cantons of Switzerland differ in seize, religion, language, economy, rural or urban character.

After 1848 (and after the Sonderbundskrieg of 1847) religion is no longer a matter of political dispute.

The language borders are a serious dividing line, however, especially between the Romandie (six (mostly) French-speaking cantons in western Switzerland, and the (mainly) German-speaking cantons.

The First World War was a period of tension between these two regions. Various incidents were the direct cause (e.g. the appointment by the parliament of the German-speaking general Ulrich Wille (1848-1925) and espionage affairs).

The Romandie mainly sympathised with the Entente (France, England, Russia, Belgium), German-speaking Switzerland was mostly at the hand of Germany and Austria.

The Sprachgraben was born, the ‘gap’ separating Romandie and German-speaking Switzerland. The expression Röstigraben dates from the 1930s.

Rösti is ‘German-speaking’ food, mainly made of potatoes. The river Saane near Freiburg is the (symbolic) language border.

It is also an indication of the irony of history. Freiburg, now mainly French-speaking (Fribourg) was for centuries a biligual (catholic) canton and was founded by German-speaking dukes in the twelfth century.

The German-speaking writer Carl Spitteler (1845-1925) was one of the moderate  voices in 1914. Personalities from the Romandie were also reconciliatory. They prevented a possible rupture or escalation.

The General Strike of November 1918 reconciliated the French- and German-speaking elites.

French-speaking soldiers from canton de Vaud were deployed in German-speaking Grenchen (canton Solothurn) to break the strike. As a token of gratitude, the town gave des amis Vaudois a generous bonus.

However, the Röstigraben had not yet disappeared. That became clear when Switzerland joined the League of Nations in 1920. The German-speaking cantons and citizens were much less enthusiastic than the citizens and cantons in the Romandie.

The rejection of membership of the in 1992 also ran along these lines, although the French-speaking citizens were (and are in 2020) also opposed in the second referendum in 2001.

The Second World War united both regions in their support of the Allies and rejection of the German-Italian dictatorships.

The appointment of the French-speaking general Henri Guisan (1874-1960) certainly contributed to this attitude.

The political dividing line nowadays is not primarely the Röstigraben, but rather the ‘gap’ between rural and urban areas in both regions.

The Röstigraben still exists, but there seems to be (more) uniformity in many areas, partly due to the globalisation.

Rösti became popular in the Romandie after all.