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Thread: Switzerland in the unification wars of Italy and Germany

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    Defender of the Faith Rey's Avatar

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    Switzerland in the unification wars of Italy and Germany

    Hello folks.

    In the 19th century unification movements there was a nice load of irredentism among their members which called for the creation of nation-states composed of the territories where nationals were living.
    Sometimes opinions diverged and some people wanted to join with others to form a greater nation, while some wanted to stay apart and keep their existing rights.

    I think Switzerland is an interesting case to speak of, as we know, this country is composed by people with different ethnic background: german, french and italian. Nut, If I recall correctly, Switzerland was kept untouched by the wars/nationalist movements ravaging her neighbours. However, I remember reading that in WWI there were clashed between the swiss who supported the side of thei ethnic background (french vs germans).

    I want to know how big was the support among the swiss for unification with their cultural kin during the unification wars.
    Also, how come that neither Sardinia/Italy nor Prussia/Germany tried to grab their respective language areas of Switzerland? Nobody could stop them from doing it, since France and Austria were badly beaten. I can guess France wouldn't mind much, since they could get their share through direct anexation or puppeting of the remaning french swiss cantons.

    While thinking of this I can imagine Garibaldi infiltrating into Bellinzona area trying to spark an inside rebellion and then calling for Sardinia aid (like he done in Two Sicilies)

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    The Congress of Vienna had guaranteed the neutrality of Switzerland. In practice, it means that the remaining great powers guaranteed the independence of Switzerland meaning that if someone was foolish enough to try to grab Swiss lands then that party might experience both Swiss and British fury at the same time. Britain didn´t want to intervene wars between continental great powers but she firmly opposed land grabs in continental Europe. Also, British naval blockade was never a good thing for maritime trade.

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    Defender of the Faith Rey's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Finnish Dragon View Post
    The Congress of Vienna had guaranteed the neutrality of Switzerland. In practice, it means that the remaining great powers guaranteed the independence of Switzerland meaning that if someone was foolish enough to try to grab Swiss lands then that party might experience both Swiss and British fury at the same time. Britain didn´t want to intervene wars between continental great powers but she firmly opposed land grabs in continental Europe. Also, British naval blockade was never a good thing for maritime trade.
    The Congress of Vienna agreements were disregarded when the Dutch kingdom was splitted, the German Confederation was disbanded, Germany and Italy united, etc. But, eventually, did the Congress establish any disposition against in the case of a petition from some Swiss cantons to join either Germany or Italy?

    Apart from this, was there popular support in the cantons for unification with either Italy or Germany?
    Last edited by Rey; 29-07-2012 at 23:33.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rey View Post
    The Congress of Vienna agreements were disregarded when the Dutch kingdom was splitted, the German Confederation was disbanded, Germany and Italy united, etc. But, eventually, did the Congress establish any disposition if there was a petition from some Swiss cantons to join either Germany or Italy?

    Apart from this, there was popular support in the cantons for unification with either Italy or Germany?
    During 19th century, the canton of Neuchatel revolted from Prussia and joined the Swiss Confederation in 1848.

    AFAIK, during 19th century no Swiss canton wanted to leave Switzerland. There might have been some people who wanted to move their canton from Switzerland to Germany, France or Italy after the unification. However, something like that would have antagonized Britain, Russia and possibly Austria. The Swiss people were also quite capable of defending themselves against foreign incursions. That country is perfect for guerilla war.

  5. #5
    I guess Switzerland being a democratic federation also played a role. There were cantons wanting to leave the confederation during the XIXth, but not to join any other country AFAIK. And how to claim that you're fighting for the good of the people if the people already has a way to express its opinion, and it is "no"?

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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    Swiss German is so very different from "High German" that it is practically another language and has many dialects. You might as well ask whether the Netherlands wished to join Germany or whether the Germans wanted the Netherlands.
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    Defender of the Faith Rey's Avatar

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    What about the french and italian areas? For example, there was support in Belgium (Wallonie) to join up with France, and this support continues to the present day.

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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    AFAIK the French part of Switzerland has ummed and ahhed about "rejoining" France and never really come to any conclusion. Back in the day the Swiss French part was something of a bastion of Protestantism and this might explain why it wasn't so keen on joining Catholic France.
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    It's all rather complex.

    First switzerland is a union of smaller "cantons" who decided to unite for self defense and freedom. They did indeed fight multiple times for their independence against the Habsbourg (who have their castle in canton Argau if a recall correctly).
    Little by little more and more city states (Lucern, Zug, Zurich) joined into the Confederation. Thanks to the commerce between north and south these cities grew stronger and either "sphered" certain regions or even afforded armies to battle for conquest (Bern was the military powerhouse of the group). This led to certain members vying the downfall of their "confederate allies"; all to a certain level of course. Don't forget that during the XIV to XV switzerland was famous for their famous mercenary Switzers.
    The battle of Marignano can be seen as a turning point in this aggressive expansion of Switzerland. After securing Tecino region and battling for Milano the swiss were defeated into submission and eternal peace with France by Francois I. After that swiss borders stayed rather stable with a few minor additions (Geneva for example: post napolean 1815; Neuchatel).

    Now to the core question : understanding the cultural and linguistic differences:
    • Mountains have always been an unhospitable place. Back then people even thought that the devil lived on the mountain tops. The region was agriculturally and minerally poor. Hence it was left mostly to attend for itself. A small difference however was that peasents back then were allowed to keep weapons at home; mostly to protect themselves from the harsh environment and wild life (most weapons were outlawed in medieval europe). This lead to a stronger revolt risk. People develloped a sense of unity and belonging to something else then "them golden boys down in the plains" (ex:kings).
    • Regions controlling mountain passes such as Uri had received Imperial Immediacy which granted them quasi full freedom as they only had the emporor as sovereign. So no in-between men taking their taxes. I might add that canton Uri was occupying Ticino for a long time and when they finally granted them autonomy Ticino felt this system suited them as well.
    • Regarding french cantons: Fribourg has always been free and was a close buddy of Bern. Always (and still)! Geneva and Neuchatel joined later the alliance (more on that below). Vaud and Valais were during the early middle ages under the rule of Savoy. As Savoy authority declined bern conquored most of what is today cantons: Solothurn, Arau, Vaud, Valais and Jura (to give you an example almost 35% of what is today Switzerland). Napoleon was the big guy who came around and splitted Bern up into what we know today. Vaud, Arau, Solothurn gained their freedom then. Jura only later in the mid 1950's.
    • Now regarding unification wars. Switzerland had their civil war during the Revolutions of 1848 it's called the Sonderbund. It was more religiously oriented but was pacified rather quickly.
    • Keep in mind that most regions are born from city states that would rather stay autonomous and self governing than receive laws coming from someone else. A mentality that is today still very palpable, especially in this economic situation. Geneva hesitated to become french as Gordy posted above but the benefits of staying more or less autonomous in the Confederation (Federation today) outweight the rest.


    Now for my personal interpretation: The Swiss don't like each other. If they could they would split off and live in self-sufficiency. But they can't. So they'de rather live with each other than the others. That's how I see it and i'm one of them.

    What I write is definately not 100% accurate and only a small window of the story, but i hope it can help some get a better picture.
    Haven't proof read everything. Will do it a bit later.
    Last edited by Annales; 01-08-2012 at 17:32.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy View Post
    Swiss German is so very different from "High German" that it is practically another language and has many dialects. You might as well ask whether the Netherlands wished to join Germany or whether the Germans wanted the Netherlands.
    It's not really that different, a Bavarian can understand it after a short period of adaption. North Germans struggle more but then again they struggle with Bayerisch as well but Bayerisch is only listed as a German dialect, so I wouldn't view Swiss as a separate language. German just happens to be a very pluricentric language in comparision to say English, Australian-American-British English varies much less than say Kölsch-Hamburger-Bayerisch despite being thousands of miles further apart.
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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Londinium View Post
    It's not really that different, a Bavarian can understand it after a short period of adaption. North Germans struggle more but then again they struggle with Bayerisch as well but Bayerisch is only listed as a German dialect, so I wouldn't view Swiss as a separate language. German just happens to be a very pluricentric language in comparision to say English, Australian-American-British English varies much less than say Kölsch-Hamburger-Bayerisch despite being thousands of miles further apart.
    That's not what I have been told by Austrians and the Swiss themselves.

    Australian-British and American are standard forms of the language, if you were to compare dialects found within England then the differences can still be very profound, even more so if you count Scots.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy View Post
    That's not what I have been told by Austrians and the Swiss themselves.

    Australian-British and American are standard forms of the language, if you were to compare dialects found within England then the differences can still be very profound, even more so if you count Scots.
    I guess it depends on what part of the dialect continuum you're on. I have a Bavarian friend and she understood Swiss German quite easily after about a week of hearing it, with comprehension problems no larger than what you'd expect between say American and British English speakers. On the flip side I have a German friend from Hamburg who struggles to even understand Swiss German but he struggles with Bayerisch also.
    Last edited by Londinium; 06-08-2012 at 17:50.
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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    It's all relative to what "quite easily" means to that individual I suppose.. I had an Austrian student who said that Swiss German was difficult for Austrians to understand.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy View Post
    It's all relative to what "quite easily" means to that individual I suppose.. I had an Austrian student who said that Swiss German was difficult for Austrians to understand.
    Difficult yes, but it's easy to get into when you're exposed to it. I managed to get into Swiss German just fine. Also I would not judge 19th century Swiss German just by looking at Swiss German nowadays. Language and especially dialects are very prone to changes. I remember some radio programme where some language scientists talked about Swiss German distinguishing itself more from Standard German after WW1, whilst before there had been a drift towards Standard German.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy View Post
    Australian-British and American are standard forms of the language, if you were to compare dialects found within England then the differences can still be very profound, even more so if you count Scots.
    In England it's much more about understanding the different accents then the dialect. I've been able to understand everyone I've encountered in Britain, so long as they can speak English.
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    Well there are a few things to note on germanic languages: Swiss-germans speak an allemanic dialect that can be found in south-western germany (Baden-Wuttemberg) and in Alsace france. Even though with time (and wars) some differences have appeared.
    Austrian and Bavarian are both from the same sub-group of the german language and thus share more in common.

    Now both these language regions border each other and are hence similar. Frankly it's all a repercussion of the great invasions with all the various germanic tribes moving in central and western europe. That's a different story but I find this subject utterly astonishing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Londinium View Post
    I guess it depends on what part of the dialect continuum you're on. I have a Bavarian friend and she understood Swiss German quite easily after about a week of hearing it, with comprehension problems no larger than what you'd expect between say American and British English speakers.
    British and American speakers can understand each other 99% of the time without any problems, barring a few extreme cases (there are a few odd regional accents in both nations), without any adjustment period. Leaving aside whether or not you're right to say that it's not really an entirely different language for the moment, it's certainly sounding like a worse situation than British vs American English, especially if we're talking the "newscaster standardized" accents for both nations.

  18. #18
    It´s all pretty easy actually: For transforming any german word into switzerdütsch, you simply drop the last syllabel (if it has at least two) and replace it with -li. Throw in umlauting the first vowel, for good measure. Wagen -> Wägli. Do the same with ´-erl´ for austrain german: Hahn -> Hahnderl or Hähnderl. Without knowing, i´d just assume, that the first is ´Wägerl´ or ´Wagerl´ in austrian german, while the later is ´Hähnli´ in swiss german. [Wagen = cart, Hahn = rooster]

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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr_B0narpte View Post
    In England it's much more about understanding the different accents then the dialect. I've been able to understand everyone I've encountered in Britain, so long as they can speak English.
    You wouldn't have been able to do so in 19th century England.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy View Post
    You wouldn't have been able to do so in 19th century England.
    Ah of course, I mis-interpreted this thread as it seemed to me people were starting to refer to the modern-day.
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