Bürgergemeinde

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For the smallest divisions of some states in Germany, see Verbandsgemeinde.

The Bürgergemeinde (also Burgergemeinde, Ortsgemeinde, Ortsbürgergemeinde, Tagwen, bourgeoisie, commune bourgeoise, vischnanca burgaisa, English: Citizen's Community) is a statutory corporation in public law in Switzerland. It includes all individuals who are citizens of the Bürgergemeinde, usually by having inherited the Bürgerrecht (citizenship), regardless of where they were born or where they may currently live. Instead of the place of birth, Swiss legal documents, e.g. passports, contain the Bürgerort (place of citizenship). The Bürgergemeinde also often holds and administers the common property in the village for the members of the community. The political communes or municipalities, the parish and the Bürgergemeinde often include the same area but have different focuses. With the increase in mobility since the first half of the 19th century, the Bürgergemeinde and the rights associated with citizenship in the community have lost most of their meaning. Today, in Switzerland there are nearly 2000 Bürgergemeinden and corporations.[1]

Names[edit]

The Bürgergemeinde is known by different names in individual cantons. These names include: bourgeoisie (in Valais and Fribourg), commune bourgeois in Jura, Burgergemeinde (Bern, Valais), Ortsbürgergemeinde (Uri, Aargau), Ortsgemeinde (St. Gallen, Thurgau), vischnanca burgaisa (Graubünden) or Tagwen (Glarus). In Ticino, they are called patriziati, which emerged from the so-called vicinanze and are their legal successor.[2] In the cantons of Nidwalden, Schwyz, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Neuchâtel, Geneva, and Vaud there are no Bürgergemeinden (the political communes handle the associated responsibilities; however, citizenship of the Bürgerort resp. Heimatort is still inherited). In Nidwalden, Schwyz, and Appenzell Innerrhoden, however, there are privately organized corporations (German: Korporationsgemeinde) that operate in much the same way.

The various types of Bürgergemeinden indicate the large differences in the degree of organization, powers and responsibilities that they hold throughout Switzerland. While in many places the political municipality holds the power to make and implement policy, in some cities the Bürgergemeinde has right to self-government, and can have its own executive council. In Basel and Bern the Bürgergemeinden even have their own parliament. In some cantons, the Bürgergemeinde still grants municipal citizenship, without which the acquisition of Swiss citizenship is impossible. In addition, in many places the Bürgergemeinde is active in the local community. They may run hospitals, retirement and youth homes, provide scholarships and support the unemployed, the disabled and addicted. Some Bürgergemeinden also provide services in the cultural field, such as supporting libraries and museums. To cover these tasks, the Bürgergemeinde may collect taxes or interest, or use their community assets (such as fields, farms and woods).[2]

History[edit]

The beginnings of the modern municipality system date back to the Helvetic Republic. Under the Old Swiss Confederacy, citizenship was granted by each town and village only to residents. These citizens enjoyed access to community property and in some cases additional protection under the law. Additionally, the urban towns and the rural villages had differing rights and laws. The creation of a uniform Swiss citizenship, which applied equally for citizens of the old towns and their tenants and servants, led to conflict. The wealthier villagers and urban citizens held rights to forests, common land and other municipal property which they did not want to share with the "new citizens", who were generally poor. The compromise solution, which was written into the municipal laws of the Helvetic Republic, is still valid today. Two politically separate but often geographically similar organizations were created. The first, the so-called municipality, was a political community formed by election and its voting body consists of all resident citizens. However, the community land and property remained with the former local citizens who were gathered together into the Bürgergemeinde. During the Mediation era (1803–1814), and especially during the Restoration era (1814–1830), many of the gains toward uniform citizenship were lost. Many political municipalities were abolished and limits were placed on the exercise of political rights for everyone except the members of the Bürgergemeinde. In the Regeneration era (1830–1848), the liberal revolutions of the common people helped to restore some rights again in a few cantons. In other cantons, the Bürgergemeinden were able to maintain power as political communities. In the city of Zurich it wasn't until the Municipal Act of 1866 that the political municipality came back into existence.[2]

The relationship between the political municipality and the Bürgergemeinde was often dominated by the latter's ownership of community property. Often the administration and profit from the property were totally held by the Bürgergemeinden, leaving the political municipality dependent on the Bürgergemeinde for money and use of the property. It wasn't until the political municipality acquired rights over property that served the public (such as schools, fire stations, etc.) and taxes, that they obtained full independence. For example, in the city of Bern, it wasn't until after the property division of 1852 that the political municipality had the right to levy taxes.[2]

It wasn't until the Federal Constitution of 1874 that all Swiss citizens were granted equal political rights on local and Federal levels. This revised constitution finally removed all the political voting and electoral body rights from the Bürgergemeinde. In the cities, the percentage of members in the Bürgergemeinde in the population was reduced as a result of increasing emigration to the cities. This led to the Bürgergemeinde losing its former importance to a large extent. Nevertheless, the institution was not fundamentally challenged. This may be due, primarily, to the tradition of the Bürgergemeinde providing relief to the poor. This is a tradition that dates back to the 16th Century. In the 20th Century, this was taken over by the Federal Social Welfare organization. However, many Bürgergemeinden have remained active in this on a voluntary basis. In a few places, such as for example in the city of Lucerne, the Bürgergemeinde and political municipality have merged into each other.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Website of the Swiss Association of Bürgergemeinden and Kooperationen (German)
  2. ^ a b c d e Bürgergemeinde in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.

External links[edit]