4 January 2021
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 Romandy or La Suisse romande, the French-speaking part of Switzerland?
Although religion plays a less critical role nowadays, the Catholic and Protestant dividing lines crisscross through the cantons. The economic and political situation and history also differ from canton to canton.
The Romandy is a nineteenth-century creation, first used in 1837 by the Societé d’histoire de la Suisse romande. The term Suisse romande was used in the Interbellum (1918-1939) by German-speaking Switzerland.
The First World War strengthened the identity in the Romandy. French-speaking Switzerland supported France, German-speaking Switzerland was in favour of Germany.
L’Orchestre de la Romande was founded in 1918. The increase of French newspapers, radio and later TV contributed to the awareness and la Suisse romande became an institutionalized and collective identity.
The Romandy consists of six cantons: Jura, Valais (Wallis), Genève (Genf), Vaud (Waadt), Fribourg (Freiburg) and Neuchâtel (Neuenburg).
Jura (see also Swiss Spectator 16 February 2021)
The canton Jura exists since 1979. Until the French occupation in 1792-1798, the territory belonged to the Prince-Bishop of Basel. The area belonged to Bern and Basel-Stadt (later Basel-Landschaft) after 1815.
History does not end in 1979. There is an ongoing discussion in some French-speaking communes in the Jura Bernois to join the canton of Jura. A (new) referendum will take place in Moutier in 2021 (see Swiss Spectator 15.2.2019, Mexit in Switzerland).
Fribourg and Valais
The complication is the bilingualism of Fribourg (the city of Freiburg was also German-speaking in the twelfth century but became more and more Fribourg after the 16th century) and Valais (Swiss Spectator 16.10.2020).
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 Geman and French dynasties (1504-1706). After 1707, it belonged to the Prussian king (formally until 1857).
Vaud has never been independent until 1798. The area was first governed by Savoy and then by Bern (Protestant) and Fribourg (Catholic), hence the patchwork of languages and religions in this region.
The French-speaking part of Switzerland was no cultural unity until 1848. The identity was first derived from the city and canton.
There exists an identity Suisse romande nowadays, there is even the Tour de Romandie. (Source: C. Meuwly e.a. (Red.), Histoire vaudoise, Lausanne 2015), F. Walter, Une histoire suisse, Neuchâtel, 2016).