Sorvilier and Belprahon voted on Sunday to stay in the canton of Bern, finally concluding a politically sensitive issue that has rumbled on for decades.
Sorvilier’s decision was not seen as a surprise, reported news agency ATS, since a yes vote would have led to it becoming a Jura-ruled enclave surrounded by three Bern-led communes.
Belprahon’s vote was closer – the ‘no’ camp won by just seven votes – and the outcome is more surprising. The commune is right next to Moutier and is often considered a suburb of the town, so a cantonal border between them would make little sense, yes campaigners had said.
Canton Bern’s government hailed the results, speaking of a “historic day”.
“The government understands the disappointment of all those who had wanted to change canton, but democracy has spoken,” president Bernhard Pulver is quoted by ATS as saying.
The two votes should be the last in a long political campaign fought by separatists in French-speaking areas of canton Bern (the Jura Bernois).
The issue dates right back to 1815 when seven districts of the French-speaking Swiss Jura mountains were given to canton Bern at the Congress of Vienna.
After the Second World War there was increasing discontent within those districts, with many feeling marginalized by the German-speaking majority government.
That led to the birth of a separatist movement and a series of referendums in the 1970s, resulting in the creation of the canton of Jura in 1979, which aimed to unite those districts who wanted to leave Bern.
However at the time only three districts voted to join it, the other four – including Moutier – opting to stay with Bern despite their language differences.
But separatist activism continued, and with an increasingly pro-Jura administration in Moutier in recent years, the tide began to turn.
In 2013 the area voted in another, consultative, referendum, with a majority of people in Moutier expressing their support for the Jura.
It is that referendum which led to the definitive vote on Moutier’s future last June.
However it remains to be seen if this is actually the end of the saga.
Moutier’s referendum is currently subject to several appeals, with individuals challenging the result over alleged voter fraud and other irregularities.