The Jurassians are a French-speaking linguistic minority who live in the Jura region of the otherwise predominantly German-speaking Swiss canton of Bern. The region consists of the districts of Porrentruy, Delémont, Franches Montagnes, Moutier, Courtelary, and Neuveville. The Jura region borders France and has a total French-speaking population of about 1,235,000, constituting about 19 percent of the Swiss population as a whole.
The "Swiss Jura question"—the question of self-determination for Jurassians—has its roots in the early nineteenth century. Beginning in a.d. 1000, when Rudolph III, king of Burgundy, granted the lands of the region to the Catholic bishop of Basel, Jura was a small, independent state. It maintained its autonomous status for hundreds of years. However, when war broke out between France and Austria at the end of the eighteenth century, the Jurassians ultimately voted to become a department of the French republic. When Napoleon I was defeated in 1813, the Treaty of Paris forced France to give back the territories it had gained during the war, including Jura, and the region once again became a part of the Swiss polity—over the strong protests of the people of Jura themselves.
After their return to Swiss control, the maintenance of a French-speaking identity and the regaining of political autonomy became issues of great importance to the people of Jura, but these issues were complicated by questions of religious orientation. The northern districts (Porrentruy, Delémont, and Franches Montagnes) were, and remain, Catholic. Their cultural identification has been strongly linked to that of France. In the southern districts of Moutier, Courtelary, and Neuveville, which are Protestant, there has been more political and religious sympathy with the canton of Bern, which is also Protestant. Although both northern and southern districts resisted all efforts toward linguistic assimilation into the German-speaking majority of Switzerland, the impetus to Jurassian political autonomy has historically been strongest by far in the districts of the Catholic north.
In the years immediately following World War II, separatist feeling ran high in the north, giving rise to the "Rassemblement Jurassien," a movement dedicated to the formation of an autonomous, French-speaking, pan-Jura canton. Although sharing the dedication to maintaining their French linguistic identity, the Jurassians of the south did not whole-heartedly support separation from the canton of Bern, and so the mostly Protestant oppositionist party, "Les Patriotes Jurassiens," was formed. The issue of Jurassian separatism thus came to polarize the region.
After nearly twenty years of political debate, the Rassemblement Jurassien succeeded in forcing a referendum on the future of Jura in 1965 that dealt specifically with the question of creating a separate canton of Jura. By 1970, the movement for an autonomous Jurassian canton had moved from the sphere of political debate: acts of violent protest against targets symbolizing the Bern regime were committed by the clan-destine "Front de Libération Jurassien" with increasing frequency. At last, in 1970, the question of Jurassian autonomy was brought up before the Swiss Federal Council, which appointed a commission to study the problem. The committee recommended approval of cantonal status for Jura. The north-south division within Jura, however, was clearly shown in the results of the vote that was finally taken in 1974: while the Catholic districts voted overwhelmingly in favor of autonomous status, the three southern, Protestant districts opposed the change with a vote of seven to three against. Thus, although the total vote came out in favor of separation, the margin of victory was slim. These results required a further political decision, for the southern districts were granted the right to decide whether or not to remain a part of Bern's canton or to join with their neighbors to the north. Two votes were taken, in March and then in September of 1975. The results were that eight communes of the southern districts cast their lot with the new canton of Jura, while the remainder retained their membership in the canton of Bern. For the Jurassian separatists this constituted a major victory, but not a complete one—their goal was, and remains, the unification of the entire French-speaking region into a single autonomous whole.
Bassand, Michel, Christian Lalive d'Espinay, and Pierre Thoma (1976). Un essai de democratie culturelle: Le centre culturel jurassien. Bern: Herbert Lang.
Clavel, Bernard (1981). Terres de mémoire: Le Jura. Paris: J.-P. Delarge.
NANCY E. GRATTON