We were reading our local paper, the Zofinger Tagblatt of Nordwestschweiz, about a speech given by the Swiss Defense Minister, Ueli Maurer, on the meaning of Usterag for today.
Acccording to Wikipedia, about 100 farmers, called peasants at the time, meaning people who worked on the land, got together in late November of 1830 and decided to hold a meeting in Uster, a small town in the center of the Canton of Zurich, to discuss how to give the countryside residents more representation and freedom. A few days later, more than 10,000 people showed up.
They wrote up a declaration of their demands and desires, namely: a peaceful adjustment of cantonal constitutions by changing the way seats were allocated. Secondly, they sought a way to amend the constitution. Very few cantons even had a way to amend or modify the constitutions, and none of them allowed citizen’s initiatives to be added.
Following a day of speeches, in the evening they went peaceably back to their homes, without rioting or violence. On 6 December that year, a new Cantonal Council was elected with two-thirds of the representatives coming from the rural areas. By March 1831 a new constitution was in force that addressed most of the points from the Ustertag.
Focussed peaceful public pressure can indeed bring about changes.
In this year’s Ustertag observance, Maurer noted that the lessons from that day 182 years ago still apply. In spite of tremendous pressure from other European governments, Switzerland managed to go its own way, he said, because for the Swiss at that time, freedom was more important than international praise.
Today, Switzerland is again under much international pressure, not because they have done anything wrong, he continued, but because they are doing much better than those countries. He warned that Switzerland sometimes stands in its own way because they desire to cooperate with others.
Thus endeth our lesson on Swiss history for today. Perhaps you can see something of their determination in the header we have put up above. The photo is from the Landesgemeinde in Appenzell.