The extract from the following article ©, published in the Vaud newspaper "24heures" of January 16, 1998 is reproduced with the permission of its author, InfoSud / Daniel Wermus.
It brings a little light on some of the reasons that pushed our ancestors to emigrate ...
In 1848, Switzerland was an underdeveloped country
Famines, overpopulation, malaria, humanitarian aid ... from Russia, piracy of German inventions, low wages, child labor, massive emigration marked the development of Switzerland. Something to inspire its role to play in the world of tomorrow.
In the last century, Switzerland was an underdeveloped country, sometimes hungry and begging for help from its neighbors. Russia financed development projects such as the drying up of our marshes. The country was ravaged by malaria, deforestation, floods.
To survive, the Helvetians pirated shamelessly the inventions of the industrial powers, to compete with cheap products, low wages and child labor from 14 to 16 hours per day. Corruption, internal protectionism, bureaucratic mismanagement between the cantons (13 "customs" to pass the Gotthard!) slowed development until 1848. The ancestors of the financial gnomes refused to lend to peasants and craftsmen, or practiced usurious rates. Finally, the misery and the galloping demography caused a massive emigration until the first quarter of the 20th century.
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of our federal state, which has since become one of the richest in the world, the self-help organizations publish a fascinating document: "Switzerland, a developing country 1798-1848-1998-2048". The Swiss evolution has at first some points in common with the LDCs (least developed countries) of the Sahel: poorly productive agriculture, lack of raw materials, no maritime outlet, cyclical famines. Then the country turns into an "Asian" dragon and floods the rich countries with cheap textiles.
Today, will Switzerland become a leader in services and advanced technologies to remember its painful beginnings? It is not a question, says the Swissaid Working Community / Action of Lent / Bread for the next / Helvetas / Caritas (CT), to encourage Southern countries to copy our recipes. But the experience of the past can inspire the Solidarity Foundation project. And transform Switzerland, today accused of rapacity, into a privileged partner of dozens of emerging countries of the South or the East.
Agriculture has never managed to feed Switzerland. In the last century already, it was necessary to import half of the cereals. In the countryside especially, chronic misery struck one in ten people. In addition, there were regular crises: "Hay and fresh grass were for a great deal the daily food. Even a putrid carrion did not discourage the hungry. They were seen scouring dozens of streets and alleys, piles of disgusting manure, open sewers, and greedily swallowing peels of decaying potatoes and carrots.
Such is the testimony of Saint-Gallen pastor Scheitlin, on the ravages of the famine of 1817. Caused by the climate: : an eruption in Java had obscured the global atmosphere and cooled the temperature.
Another responsible, the world market: the end of the Napoleonic blockade caused throughout Europe an economic crisis, due to the invasion of English industrial products. Switzerland was a victim of globalization then! Its experience should make those who advocate today the uncontrolled opening of global markets think, says Yassine Fall, Senegalese economist.
Eastern Switzerland, a disaster area, received donations from Germany, France, Italy and England. Tsar Alexander I offered 100,000 rubles. Half were invested in a development project: draining the Lindt Plain and installing mountain farmers on the land gained. The other half was distributed to the cantons assigned for social assistance. But in Thurgau, money disappeared into the vaults of the state ...
Another typical aspect of underdevelopment: the environment was devastated. Massive deforestation of the slopes caused erosion and catastrophic floods. Streams of water overflowed, forming putrid mud, haunts of harmful insects. Malaria raged towards the entrance of the lakes, as in the lower Valais. The infrastructure was poor. In 1850, Switzerland has only 25km of railways, against 5850km in Germany and 3000km in France. The construction of the Gotthard Tunnel in 1875 is reminiscent of the mega-projects currently being financed in the Third World (dams, etc.): foreign capital, miserable working conditions, alcohol, brothels, fights, deaths (200 in total).
Emigrate to get out of misery
Many Helvetians were in the situation of a Tamil, an Albanian or a Moroccan: too large family, empty plate, no work, horizon clogged. What if we went elsewhere? In the past, the best way was to become a mercenary. Since 1859, it is forbidden. Then, expatriating as economic refugees, the Swiss provided abroad a cheap labor hard treated.
In Russia, they are at the origin of the word schwejtsar: porter. In 1856, the revolt of the Swiss coffee gatherers in Sao Paulo shows the gap between the Eldorado dream and the sad condition of the emigrants: they had been hired to replace the slaves.
Ticinese valleys were entirely depopulated by the exodus to California or Australia. Many communes encouraged departures to get rid of social cases. Unscrupulous emigration agencies multiplied, to the point that a law came in 1880 to protect the candidates against the exploiters. (...)
© InfoSud / Daniel Wermus