Jurassians of Switzerland

Location: north-west of Berne canton
Population: 67,000
% of population: about 1%
Religion: 67% Catholic, 33% protestant
Language: French

The Jurassians are a French-speaking people who were for nine centuries citizens of the autonomous Prince Bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire, and then briefly French subjects. The Jura, a mountainous wooded region, comprising seven districts which together constitute a distinct geographical area, was joined to the mainly German-speaking Swiss canton of Berne as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Berne grew to become an exceptionally large canton of the 24 then in existence, with about one million inhabitants, almost 15% of the Swiss population.

Because of the degree of decentralization and direct democracy within the cantons of Switzerland, French was preserved as the main language of local administration and education; nevertheless the 1950s and 1960s saw a rise in militancy within the Jurassian community. Particularly strong was the Rassemblement Jurassien, a non-party movement formed in 1948 with the aim of creating a separate canton of Jura. The movement gained much support and demonstrations were given widespread publicity. Although the mainly Catholic Jurassians seemed to have few obvious grievances, their language and religion being respected by the German-speaking Protestants, many felt the need to have their own small powerful canton. A Commission appointed in 1968 found the demand to be reasonable but also found the situation to be much complicated by the actions of unionist movements based in the three southern districts. It was recommended that if 20% of the electorate of any district so demanded a second referendum would be carried out to decide the future of that district, and a third referendum would be needed in border communes.

In 1970 self-determination was granted to the Jura as a whole and in 1974 the separatist vote gained a small majority in the Jura. The following year the three southern districts opted out of the new canton although over one third of electors voted for staying in. A third referendum in border communes resulted in eight southern communes joining the new canton and one northern district opting out. A major issue was which citizens qualified for a vote on the matter, almost half the citizens of the southern districts originating in German-speaking areas.

The new canton of Jura had at its inception a population of about 67,000 and it was admitted to the Swiss federation on January 1, 1979. The arrangement satisfied the majority of Jurassians but some felt that the Jura, for nine centuries a single territorial unit, had been split into two by those who had opted to remain in Berne canton, largely French-speaking Protestants and German-speaking immigrants, and at the time of separation Berne had a French-speaking minority of 32,000 people or 4.8% of the population. There have been as a result clashes between extremists on both sides. The Jurassian movement has been unusual in the Swiss context, not because of the wish to form a new political unit or divide an existing one, or because of the issue of minorities as such, but because of its (occasional) resort to violence.

1Cantons are represented by two members in the Council of States and in proportion to their population in the National Council, although all have at least one member.