Period IV newsletter

All cantons are equal, Parliament Bern. Photo: TES.

Suisse romande

The Swiss artist Ben Vautier exhibited his art by the claim “La Suisse n’existe pas” at the world exhibition in Seville (1992). Switzerland exists, no doubt, but what about  the Romandie or La Suisse romande, the French-speaking part of Switzerland? Suisse romande is a nineteenth-century creation, first used in 1837 by the Societé d’histoire de la Suisse romande. The term Romandie was used in the Interbellum (1918-1939) by German-speaking Switzerland. The First World War  strengthened the identity in Suisse romande. French-speaking Switzerland supported the French, German-speaking Switzerland was in favour of Germany. L’Orchestre de la Romande was founded in 1918. The sharp increase of French newspapers, radio and later TV  contributed to the awareness and Suisse romande became an institutionalized and collective identity.

La Suisse romande consists of six cantons: Jura, Valais (Wallis), Geneva (Genf), Vaud (Waadt), Fribourg (Freiburg) and Neuchâtel (Neuenburg). The first complication is the bilingualism of Fribourg (the city of Freiburg was entirely German-speaking until the sixteenth century), Valais and Vaud. Although religion plays a less critical role nowadays, the Catholic and Protestant dividing lines crisscrosses through the cantons. The economic situation also differs per canton. The history of the cantons is different as well. Geneva has always focused on keeping Savoy out and conquering Chablais, Gex and Faucigny. The difficult relationship between  the bishop of Geneva and the Protestant city council after the Reformation complicated the situation. Neuchâtel was a sovereign county, then for a long time in the hands of a French dynasty and after 1707 it belonged to the Prussian king (formally even until 1856). Vaud has never been independent until 1798, but was first governed by Savoy and then by Bern (Protestant) and Freiburg (Catholic), hence the patchwork of languages and religions.

The French-speaking part of Switzerland was no cultural unity Until 1848. The identity was first derived from the city and canton. Today, there exists an identity Suisse romande, there is even the Tour de Romandie.  (Source: C. Meuwly e.a. (Red.), Histoire vaudoise, Lausanne 2015), F. Walter, Une histoire suisse, Neuchâtel, 2016).