Switzerland celebrates its birthday. On August 1, 1291, 730 years ago, Switzerland as we know and love it today got its start. To mark the anniversary, we shed light on heroines and heroes in our history.
It's that time again, Switzerland's national holiday will be celebrated for the 730th time this year. Since 1291 and the infamous "Rütlischwur" in the heart of Switzerland, the Swiss people always celebrate on August 1 exuberantly in red and white. At that time, people joined together as a loose "confederation". From 1798, a centralized "Helvetic Republic" was established between the various confederations and in 1803 (or reorganized in 1815) the "Swiss Confederation". Since the adoption of the Federal Constitution in 1848, Switzerland has had the status of a federal state. Since then, Switzerland has maintained its valuable neutrality - fighting and overcoming two world wars, a Cold War, several economic crises, humanitarian and health crises, such as the current Covid 19 pandemic.
Switzerland is culturally and traditionally very diverse and therefore has much to offer. The fact that we are still able to live in peace and prosperity today has a long history and cannot be taken for granted. That is why we want to dedicate this article on the occasion of the round anniversary of 730 years to some of the most significant heroines and heroes in Swiss history. By heroes and heroines, we mean on the one hand mythical heroes and heroines, but above all influential personalities who helped shape Switzerland during their lifetime. And of course the list is not complete, therefore the length of this article is limited.
Heroes and heroines from mythology
The hero of all Swiss heroes is and remains, of course, William Tell, the bearded Alpine Adonis with hood and crossbow. He was an inner-Swiss freedom fighter who defied the regulations of the Habsburg rule, then as punishment had to shoot an apple from the head of his son Walter with his crossbow and finally shot the Habsburg bailiff Hermann Gessler in the "Hohlen Gasse" right through the heart with this very crossbow. A heroic story - if it really happened that way, because it is based on a drama by Friedrich Schiller from 1804. William Tell is and remains a hero and even graces our 5-franc coin to this day.
To this day, Switzerland is still often romanticized and idealized in the way it was portrayed in the Heidi novels from the 1880s. Wonderful mountain landscapes, cows in lush flower meadows and an orphaned girl with pigtails who lives with her grandfather on the alp and doesn't want to go to town or school, but would much rather spend time with the young goatherd, Peter. Hardly any other woman has shaped the image of Switzerland as a perfect mountain nation as much as Heidi. The story is known worldwide, has been translated into many languages and has been filmed several times.
The heroines of the Villmerger War
Unfortunately, there are only few sources of female heroes from next past. However, the women of Fahrwangen and Meisterschwanden (today's canton of Aargau) have so well earned their hero status with their deeds. Since 1912, their efforts in the Villmerger War of 1712 have always been honored with a three-day festival in January. At that time, they marched noisily and in large crowds through the surrounding forests and made the enemy from neighboring Villmergen believe that an army was approaching.
Heroes who shape us to this day
General Henri Guisan (1874-1960)
Switzerland and its neutrality. There is hardly anyone to whom we owe the preservation of this precious asset as much as Henri Guisan. The last Swiss general led Switzerland through the Second World War, in the center of the European war, surrounded by fascist war actors. The whole nation stood behind him and trusted him completely - for many of the older generations he is considered the "savior of Switzerland" and an undisputed national hero.
Henry Dunant (1828-1910)
He has the same first name as the previous one and his influence is no less. Henry Dunant was the founder of the Red Cross, which to this day provides incredible humanitarian service around the world, he also founded the Geneva Convention and was honored for his lifelong fight against suffering as the first Nobel Peace Prize winner.
John Calvin & Huldrych Zwingli (1509-1564 & 1484-1531)
Without these two reformers, we would not live in such a free and democratic Switzerland as we do today. Zwingli reformed the church and caused important parts of the country to break away from conservative Catholicism. Calvin had similarly modern economic ideas and gained approval for them in surrounding countries. These two, and other Enlightenment thinkers such as later Jean-Jaques Rousseau, are partly responsible for modern Switzerland as it is today.
Heroines and heroes from the present
Lise Girardin (1921-2010)
Equality between men and women and the associated right to vote and to stand for election are still burning issues today. This right was not introduced at the national level until 1971, and in certain regions even later. When speaking of this struggle, there would be various personalities to be mentioned here, but one of the central and representative figures was Lise Girardin. She was the first woman in an executive government (State Councillor and Mayor of Geneva), she was also the first woman Councilor of States in Switzerland and the first woman on the Board of Directors of what is now UBS (then Union Bank of Switzerland).
Roger Federer (1981)
Is Roger Federer really a hero? We think so, he is the most successful Swiss sportsman of all time, a public favorite as well as a magnet. He is a consummate professional, a role model and THE figurehead of Switzerland par excellence. With his modesty he represents Swiss values on the international stage. King Roger is a cult figure and still plays tennis at the highest level at almost 40 years of age - and has therefore earned hero status.
All helping forces who care for us in times of crisis
Corona has become part of everyday life - countless measures, restrictions and changes have completely turned our lives upside down in recent months. And while we are annoyed that there are only four of us allowed to sit at the table in the restaurant, we forget how well we are actually doing, because many people have lost loved ones because of Corona and are now sitting alone at the table. For about a year and a half, thousands of people have been working tirelessly in many areas to ensure the well-being of us all. And for that, we at NIKIN just want to say thank you. Solidarity is incredibly important in times of crisis - continue to be considerate, stick to the measures and keep the case numbers low.
Who have we forgotten?
Who are your Swiss heroes? Who has done something extraordinary and therefore deserves hero status? Let us know - in the comments.