St. Imier. Foto: TES

Unrest and Unrueh in St. Imier and Switzerland

Switzerland is not known as a country of revolutionary change. Yet it is often at the forefront of scientific, industrial, democratic, ethical or social developments. One of these aspects was the foundation of the first democratic (for men only) Federation with three officially recognised languages in 1848.

In addition, the country was a refuge for anarchists, revolutionaries and political asylum seekers from all over Europe. French, Italian, Russian, Polish, German and Austrian exiles lived in all corners of the country.

Europe’s monarchs did not appreciate the Swiss concept of democracy (neither does the European Union). After the French Revolution and subsequent wars, they wanted no more experiments after 1815. The Holy Alliance was the guarantee. This alliance between Russia, Austria (Habsburg) and Prussia was concluded in Prussia on 26 September 1815.

St. Imier, building Longines in 1867. Collection: Musée Longines

Affiche Longines 1905. Collection: Musée Longines

St. Imier, Longines building today

Industrialisation created new social relations, the rise of the working class and movement, the new bourgeoisie, the first political parties and anarchist and revolutionary movements.

One of the best-organised workers’ movements emerged in the watchmaking industry in canton Neuchâtel and today’s canton Jura, until 1979 canton Bern. La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle set the tone in canton Neuchâtel. St Imier was an important watchmaking town in canton Bern.

Director Cyril Schäublin’s (*1984) film Unrueh presents a subdued and penetrating picture of the rapid changes in the organisation of capital, labour and technology in St. Imier and the rise of the anarchist movement through the eyes of a worker in the latter part of the nineteenth-century. Her task was to set the central mechanism of a watch. This part was called ‘Unrueh’.

Anarchists and revolutionaries from all over Europe waited for their chance in Switzerland. Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni (1873-1910) are the most famous or notorious examples.

Geneva, along the shores of the lake

In St. Imier and the film Unrueh, the lesser-known Russian cartographer and anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921) is one of the main characters. He was one of many anarchists and revolutionaries who used the social ‘Unruhe’ for political ends.

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820-1910),  Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921), 1900. Source: Wikipedia

(Source: The film  Unrueh by director Cyril Schäublin and the Longines Museum, St. Imier)

Collection: Musée de Longines