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The birth of modern democracy in the heart of Europe

The "Swiss Revolution" brought democracy to Switzerland. It was an uprising against the aristocracy – and the beginning of a long journey that the country could only complete with foreign help.

On a spring day in 1798, Peter Ochs of Basel declared the birth of the Helvetic Republic from a balcony of the Aarau city hall. There was great rejoicing on the streets because this marked the liberation of the central territories from their Bernese masters.

Two democratic innovations of the Helvetic Republic stand out, and they also influenced the emergence of other democracies:

In 1799, the first assemblies of active male citizens were established.

The second experiment concerned the first national referendum. It was introduced on the occasion of the 1802 revision of the constitution. The new aspect was that there were no longer open-air assemblies: instead, secret ballots cast by individuals were counted.

This is the first episode of ‘Hotspots of Democracy’, a multimedia series with Claude Longchamp produced exclusively for SWI

Longchamp was a founder of the research institute gfs.bern and is the most experienced political analyst in Switzerland. He is also a historian. Combining these disciplines, Longchamp has for many years given highly acclaimed historic tours of Bern and other sites.

--- is the international branch of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Its role is to report on Switzerland and to provide a Swiss perspective on international events.

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About Swissinfo
SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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