• Focus

A marriage of convenience

09.07.2015 – Stéphane Herzog

The extended reissue of the book “Mariage de raison.” (Marriage of Convenience) by Christophe Büchi, correspondent for the NZZ in French-speaking Switzerland from 2001 to 2014, comes at just the right time.

In this time of debate about the teaching of French in German-speaking primary schools, it is worth reflecting on the links that Switzerland has built and therefore on the rifts that could open up between the regions. And in particular on the rift created following the referendum on joining the European Economic Area in 1992, which “led to a profound division in the country”, according to the author.

“Mariage de raison.” is an erudite work, written in an effective and sometimes witty language. It is teeming with ideas and imparts intelligence to the reader through the snippets of Swiss history that Büchi brings together to talk about the state of the country today. The author is not a nationalist, but the account of battles won by the Waldstätten (which later became the Confederacy) against the great European powers – such as Morgarten (1315) and Sempach (1388) – do generate a certain emotional response. The stubbornness, the yearning for independence and the courage of our forebears demand respect.

Aside from the historical background and the political analysis, which includes the decision of the National Bank to abandon the exchange rate floor on 15 January, this work by the German-speaking journalist is a tribute to the virtues of multilingualism. It explains why Swiss-German speakers chose German for writing (it was a legacy of the Reformation) while preserving their dialect, whereas French speakers abandoned Franco-Provençal in favour of langue d’oïl, the language of the kings of France. This language, with the inherited prestige of France, made up for, and should still make up for, the minority position of French speakers in the country, according to Büchi. That is, provided German speakers continue to learn French and are prepared to use “Hochdeutsch”, the bearer of a thousand-year-old Germanic culture. French speakers who have learnt it – a least to an extent – expect their Swiss-German-speaking cousins to use it in conversation with them. “Multilingualism is a Swiss idea par excellence,” concludes the journalist.

Mariage de raison. Romands et alémaniques. Une histoire suisse. Christophe Büchi. Editions Zoé, 2015, 455 pages.

Link to a further article "No interest in Marignano" 

Link to the main article "An election campaign fuelled by history"