Restoration of the Republic of Gersau: Bicentenary 1814-2014
For over 400 years, the parish of Gersau on Lake Lucerne formed a sovereign mini-state under the protection of the Swiss Forest Cantons and the Holy Roman Emperor. From the purchase of all feudal rights in 1390 to the French invasion in 1798, this rural commune passed its own laws, ran its own jurisdiction and maintained its own militia. It even appointed the local priest and wrote its own chronicles. Following the defeat of Napoleon, the Swiss were free to return to the old order. On 2 February 1814, the Landsgemeinde (communal assembly) decided to restore the independent republic. This was short-lived, however, and Gersau became a district of the Canton of Schwyz in 1818.
In the course of researching The Communal Age in Western Europe and a Bristish Academy project dedicated to rural republicanism, I devised a proposal for a series of 'Gersau 2014' bicentenary celebrations under the general theme of 'Geschichte Gestalten' (Shaping History). The project, also intended to reassess how Gersau sees its future, was officially endorsed by the district council and I joined its organizing committee (see my interviewLink opens in a new window in the regional newspaper Bote der Urschweiz). A Landsgemeinde in the parish church and 'Feast of the Republic' in the school served as launch events on 2 February 2014 (covered e.g. in the Wochen-ZeitungLink opens in a new window and a Swiss National Radio podcastLink opens in a new window). In March 2014, furthermore, I hosted a workshop on premodern republics (see video interviewLink opens in a new window) and chaired a public panel debate on the extent of Gersau's freedom past and present.