Launch of the ‘Gersau 2014′ celebrations
My current research on parish republics has led to a close engagement with the rural community of Gersau on Lake Lucerne. For over 400 years, this remarkable micro-state ran its own political and ecclesiastical affairs, complemented by a defensive alliance with the Forest Cantons (a new local history has just been published). Following their military invasion of 1798, French revolutionary troops turned the loosely structured Swiss Confederation into a centralized puppet state and Gersau lost its independence. However, as soon as Napoleon was defeated and the political future up for negotiation, the communal assembly of 2 February 1814 decided to restore the ‘free land’ of Gersau. This was a romantic gesture, entirely at odds with the European trend towards large nation states, and it lasted a mere three years, after which the Swiss Diet decreed integration into the neighbouring Canton of Schwyz.
To mark the bi-centenary of this temporary restoration, and to take stock of where Gersau stands today (given comparable pressures towards European integration and globalization), I have teamed up with the local authorities to plan ‘Gersau 1814/2014 – Shaping History’, a year of commemorative and celebratory events. After extensive preparations, the full programme has just been published. From my point of view, the highlights include a ‘imaginative re-interpretation’ of the historic assembly in the parish church (attended by the current mayors of two other once ‘free’ communes: Dithmarschen and Gochsheim) and an international conference on the relationship between territorial size/resources and the extent of ‘freedom’ in pre-modern republics (with an associated public panel debate in the school hall on 22 March 2014); but there are also guided walks to historic sites, communal pilgrimages, informal discussion evenings, a ‘future workshop’, concerts and even a specially minted republican currency (the Gersauer Gulden) for use in all shops and restaurants. A dedicated website provides further information and regular updates. Alongside, I hope to offer some contextualization through articles in regional magazines (the Y-Mag of Schwyz) as well as specialized journals (a comparative examination of the political cultures of Gersau and the parish confederation of Dithmarschen on the North Sea coast is due to appear in the Zeitschrift für historische Forschung 2/2014). It promises to be an exciting year for the people of Gersau and their guests.