The Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden is home to a rare democratic tradition. While we are certain that most readers are familiar with the meaning of democracy and its practices; most of us would not have experienced something like the centuries-old practice that we are about to describe. It is definitely more interesting to watch than many other voting processes, and the thought that this practice started out in the middle ages is simply unbelievable.
Appenzell on the day of Landsgemeinde
In Appenzell Innerrhoden, public policies are decided through direct voting, with each citizen holding one vote. Once a year, on the last Sunday in April, citizens of the canton assemble in the canton capital Appenzell to cast their votes. This practice, known locally as Landsgemeinde, used to be practiced in many rural cantons in Switzerland since the 13th century, but today only the cantons of Appenzell Inner Rhoden and Glarus still maintain the tradition.
Each citizen carry a rapier as proof of citizenship. Traditionally these are carried by men, and handed down the family line.
Our crew had a chance to attend the Landsgemeinde session in 2004. Our local friends had explained some details of the event to us during the train journey to Appenzell, so we had a rough idea on what to expect.
The beginning of the processions
We have to say that despite our prior knowledge, the details of the actual processions really blew us away. From the moment we entered the town, it was apparent that this is a big event, with locals and tourists alike packed into the town square like sardines in a can. It took us a while to squeeze our way through to get to a good spot overlooking the square. The buildings surrounding the square were also packed with onlookers who were crowding near any open window. From a distance, we could hear the sound of a marching band. As the band plays on, small groups of distinguished persons (our guess is that they are council members) entered the square. Each group is led by a flag-bearer (whom were clad in what looked like Napoleonic-era uniforms), who skillfully waved and twirled his flag around as he approached the square. The rest of the voters sat or stood within a cordoned off area in the middle of the square.
As the Landsgemeinde drew to a close, the marching band played once more, this time they also paraded down a main street accompanying some of the council members. We had a good look at the band this time, as you can see from the following photos.
We thoroughly enjoyed the interesting Landsgemeinde that day, as well as the charming town of Appenzell. If there is any regret, it was a pity we didn’t understand what was being discussed during the session.
More information on Landsgemeinde is available at the following site:
Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden Website http://www.ai.ch/en/politik/sitzung/