The Jura Conflict: Direct Democracy in Practice

The Jura Conflict: Direct Democracy in Practice

On 18 June 2017 the citizens of Moutier, a small town in the heart of the Jura region in Switzerland, decide on the future of their city, whether to remain in the Canton of Berne or to leave and join the Canton of Jura. The referendum vote is above all about identity and therefore highly emotional. It is an episode in the centuries-old Jura conflict that divides the people of the region, and part of a strategy that was devised to deal with this conflict in a democratic way and without violence.

The Jura conflict provides a useful example for studying the impact of direct democracy in a conflictual established-outsiders relationship. It shows how direct democracy has worked in practice. In the course of the Jura conflict direct democracy turned out to be an indispensable tool of conflict regulation, and indeed conflict resolution, which is still underway. In describing the events emphasis is placed on the role played by direct democracy, its functions and effects in practice. The Jura conflict shows that there is a democratic alternative to (ethnic) nationalism and civil war, that the relentless pursuit of dialogue and decision-making by the people can prevent a spiral of violence in the struggles between minorities and majorities which differ politically and culturally from each other. Whatever the ultimate solution will be, it has to pass the test of a democratic decision at the ballot box by all the citizens concerned.

What is and has been happening in the Jura is not only a regional affair, but of far greater interest for the countless autonomist and separatist movements in Europe and worldwide. This explains why for example Catalonia takes an active interest in the Jura conflict and the use of direct democracy and federalism for the regulation and resolution of this conflict. Continue reading …

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