Emigrating - some bases

Emigrate to "succeed"
Swiss emigration History
When the Swiss made America
The Red River Colony

The Junod and emigration

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Emigrate to succeed ... (get out of misery)

The following ©article extract was published in french in the vaudois «24heures» newspaper on January 16th,1998 and is reproduced here - a free translation - with the permission of its author, InfoSud/Daniel Wermus. It brings light to some of the reasons that pushed our ancestors to emigrate...


In 1848, Switzerland was an under-developed country

Starvation, overpopulation, malaria, humanitarian aid of... Russia, hacking of the German inventions, low wages, work of children, massive emigration marked the development of Switzerland. Something to inspire its role to be played in the world of tomorrow.

In the last century, Switzerland was an underdeveloped, sometimes famished country and begging the assistance for its neighbors. Russia financed projects of development: the draining of our marshes. The country was devastated by the malaria, deforestation, the floods. To come out themselves, Helvetians pirated without shame the inventions of the industrial powers, to compete by offering cheap products good, low wages and a work of children from 14 to 16 hours per day.

Corruption, internal protectionism, the bureaucratic mess (13 "customs check points" to pass the Gothard!) slowed down the development until 1848. The ancestors of the gnomists of finance refused to lend to the farmers and to the craftsmen, or used usurious rates.
Lastly, misery and galloping demography caused a massive emigration until the first quarter of the 20th century.

In the 150 years occasion of our federal State that became the richest of the world, the organizations of mutual aid publish an incredible document: " Switzerland, developing country the 1798-1848-1998-2048" (1).

Swiss evolution has initially common points with the LAC (the least advanced countries) of the Sahel: not very productive agriculture, lack of raw materials, no maritime outlet, cyclic famines. Then, the country molted in "Asian" dragon and floods the rich countries of its textiles at low prices. Today, will Switzerland - that became leader in services and advanced technologies - be able to remember its painful beginnings? It is not a question, affirms the Community of work Swiss aid / Action de Carème / Pain pour le prochain / Helvetas / Caritas (CT), to incite the countries of the South to copy our receipts. But the experiment of the past can inspire the project of Foundation of solidarity. And to transform Switzerland, now accused of rapacity, as a privileged partner of tens of emergent countries of the South or the East.

Agriculture never succeeded in nourishing Switzerland. For the last century already, it was necessary to import half the cereals. In the country-side especially, chronic misery struck a person out of ten. Added to its regular crises: " the hay and the fresh grasses were for many their daily food. Even putrid carrion did not discourage the famished ones. One saw them excavating per tens in the streets and the lanes, on heaps of disgusting manure, in the open air sewers, and to gluttonously swallow potato peels and carrots in decomposition".

Such is the testimony of Pasteur Scheitlin of St-Gall, on the devastations of the famine of 1817. Caused by the climate: an eruption in Java had darkened the planetary atmosphere and had cooled the temperature. Other cause, the world market: the end of the Napoleonic blockade caused an economic crisis in all Europe, due to the invasion of English industrial products.

Switzerland was victim of the then existing globalization! Its experiment should reflect on those who preach today the uncontrolled opening of the world markets, notes Yassine Fall, Senegalese economist.

Eastern Switzerland, disastered area, accepted gifts from Germany, France, Italy, England.
The Tsar Alexandre 1st offered 100.000 roubles. Half was invested in a project of development: to drain the plain of the Lindt and to install mountain farmers on the gained grounds. The other half was distributed to the cantons and affected for social assistance. But in county Thurgau, the money disappeared in the vaults of the State... Other typical aspects of the under development: the environment was devastated.

The massive deforestation of the slopes caused the erosion and catastrophic floods. Rivers overflowed, forming putrid mud, harmful dens of insects. The malaria prevailed towards the input of the lakes, as was the case in the lower Valais county.

The infrastructures were pitiable. In 1850, Switzerland has only 25km of railways, against 5850km in Germany and 3000km in France. The building site in 1875 of the tunnel of Gothard reminds us of the mega-projects that are financed today in the third world (dams, etc.) : foreign capital,miserable working conditions, alcohol, brothels, fights, deads (200 in total).

Emigrating to "succeed"... (get out of misery)

Many Helvetians were in the situation of a Tamil, Albanian or a Moroccan: too large family, empty plate, no work, stopped horizon. And if one was going to see elsewhere? Formerly, the best means consisted in "working" as mercenary.

Since 1859, it is prohibited. Then, being expatriated as economic refugees, the Swiss supplied a handful of cheap labor abroad, treated hard. In Russia, they are at the origin of the word schwejtsar: gatekeeper. In 1856, the revolt of the Swiss coffee gatherers in Sao Paulo shows the gap between the dream of el dorado and the sad condition of the emigrants: they had been engaged to replace the slaves.

Valleys of county Ticino were entirely depopulated by the exodus to California or Australia. Many communes encouraged the departures to get rid of their social cases. Agencies of emigration without scruple multiplied, so much that a law came in 1880 to protect the candidates against the exploiters. (...)

©InfoSud/Daniel Wermus

(1) Brochure available by phone: +41-21-612.00.95