Why does Canton Jura celebrate Independence Day on June 23?

Why does Canton Jura celebrate Independence Day on June 23?

On June 23 every year, the residents of Canton Jura celebrate their Independence Day. But who are they celebrating independence from? Here’s all you need to know about the history of the youngest canton in Switzerland.

Juran Independence Day: Why is June 23 a holiday in Canton Jura?

The roughly 73.000 residents of Canton Jura get to celebrate a public holiday on June 23 each year in the form of Juran Independence Day, an event designed to celebrate the day in 1974 when Swiss citizens in the region voted in favour of creating a new canton. 

The story of Jura’s creation has its origins in Napoleon, language differences, protest and unrest, culminating in true Swiss fashion in several referendums that helped shape the region for generations to come.

Jura became part of Canton Bern in 1815

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna of 1815, the lands we know today as Canton Jura were handed from the Bishopric of Basel to Canton Bern as compensation for losing Vaud and parts of Aargau. This meant that the mostly French-speaking Roman Catholic population of Jura were under the control of a canton dominated by German-speaking Bernese Protestants, leading to discord and tension. 

In the 19th century, despite Bernese attempts to assimilate the land and push the population to learn German, the region’s residents resisted through societies designed to preserve Juran traditions and the French language. The most famous of these was the Société jurassienne d'émulation or Juran Emulation Society, which was founded in 1847.

The birth of the Juran independence movement

Tensions between Bern and Jura continued to simmer below the surface until the 20th century, when the first calls for Juran independence were made. In 1917, the first committee for the “creation of a canton of Jura” was founded.

The boiling point for the modern independence movement came in 1947, when Juran elected politician Georges Moeckli was denied a cantonal department by Canton Bern, on the grounds that he had not mastered the Swiss-German dialect. This caused much anger in Jura, leading to a demonstration in the capital Delémont and the creation of the official separatist movement Rassemblement Jurassien in 1949. 

Calls for Juran separation from Bern continued in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1950, Canton Bern modified its constitution, acknowledging the existence of the Juran people as a separate entity from the Bernese.

Pro-independence groups in Jura cause violence and unrest

The 1960s were a time of great unrest in Jura thanks to the development of the Bélier Group or Rams in 1962 - a group of young people committed to fighting for the independence of the region. Their actions included marches, speeches, demonstrations and even the painting of Juran flags on nearby mountains.

The Bélier Group was soon eclipsed by the Jura Liberation Front or FLJ in 1963. This far more radical and part-terrorist organisation claimed responsibility for various violent and destructive acts done in the name of independence. These included, among several others, setting fire to numerous army barracks, the threatening of political figures, and the bombing of several pro-Bernese farmsteads, the rail line between Bern and Biel / Bienne and the Delémont branch of the Bernese Cantonal Bank

Swiss police managed to contain the militant part of the movement by 1966, and by the 1970s most of the youth independence movements joined Rassemblement Jurassien in being in favour of non-violent protest.

Juran region split between pro-Jura and pro-Bern factions

Showing just how complicated the situation had become, at the same time several pro-Bernese groups like the Sanglier Group (Boars) rose up to challenge the Bélier Group (or Rams) and the FLJ. This led to a situation where northern Jura generally favoured independence, while the south mostly wanted to remain part of Bern.

Juran independence referendum of 1974

Following pressure from the federal government and pro-independence groups, in 1970 Canton Bern changed its constitution again, allowing the seven districts of the Bernese Jura to vote on creating a new canton. This finally occurred on June 23, 1974, when just 51,93 percent of the population voted in favour of creating Jura - the reason why Juran Independence Day is held on that date.

As per the results of the referendum and subsequent votes in 1975, three districts of the Bernese Jura (Delémont, Franches-Montagnes and Porrentruy) formed Canton Jura, while Courtelary, La Neuveville, Moutier and Laufen remained part of Canton Bern - though Laufen would go on to join Basel-Land in 1994.

Jura becomes the youngest canton in Switzerland

In 1977, Jura ratified its first cantonal constitution, and with 82,3 percent of the electorate, voters across Switzerland approved the creation of Canton Jura on September 24, 1978. The Republic and Canton of Jura was declared on January 1, 1979, making it the youngest and latest canton to be admitted to the Swiss Confederation.

Is the Jura question finally resolved in Switzerland?

While lawmakers hoped the “Juran question” had been resolved by independence, divides and differences between the Bernese Jura and Jura remain. In 1984, the Swiss media uncovered the so-called Black Box scandal, where it was found that Canton Bern had illegally distributed 430.000 francs between 1974 and 1982 to loyalist groups in a bid to sway the vote. This has convinced many pro-Juran groups that the independence votes should be re-run in areas that chose to remain Bernese.

Finally, there is the matter of Moutier, a district that chose to remain part of Bern in 1974 with a majority of just 70 votes. This majority fell to 41 votes in 1998 and in 2013 a majority of Moutier residents voted in favour of joining Jura, though the district itself wished to remain part of Bern. Moutier residents chose to join Jura again in 2017, but this vote was declared invalid.

Finally, on March 28, 2021, 54,9 percent of Moutier residents voted in favour of joining Jura. The town is expected to join the district of Delémont on January 1, 2026.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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