May 16, 2012


[Switzerland’s two enclaves mirror each other in funny ways. Each had an ineffective pro-Swiss referendum: the citizens of Büsingen had theirs in 1919, after the First World War had made Germany the most unpopular country in Europe. A whopping 96 percent of the inhabitants voted for annexation by Switzerland. The people had spoken loud and clear, but their voices were ignored. As the Swiss were unable to offer Germany any suitable territory in exchange, the deal was off. Büsingen would remain, somewhat reluctantly, German.]
 Switzerland Borderlines explores the global map, one line at a time. Related More From Borderlines
Joe Burgess/The New York Times
You could go to Switzerland for the mountaineering, the chocolate, the precision-watchmaking or, once every three years, the National Yodeling Festival [1]. You could also go enclave-hunting. The alpine confederacy is rife with bits and bobs of subnational territories stranded outside their “mainland” [2].
Why are there so many geopolitical islands on the Swiss map? Three factors come to mind. First, mountainous terrain tends to produce isolated communities (giving the lie to the Diana Ross song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”). One could also argue that Switzerland’s long tradition of local democracy favors small political units. Most important, however, is that the Alps have helped keep out invaders, who might have forced uniformity onto the decentralized mountain geography [3].
Thanks to all that, today we have a treasure trove of intra-cantonal enclaves and exclaves. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to collect them all? If only there were such a thing as the All-Switzerland Enclave Stamp Card [4], you could get stamps for each of the five exclaves of the bilingual canton of Fribourg/Freiburg; for Céligny [5], the only exclave of Geneva, in the neighboring canton of Vaud, but consisting of two separate parts; and for the picturesque little town of Steinhof, a little piece of Solothurn enclaved in Bern — among many, many others.
The stamp cards could also include, for the completists, two cantonal quadripoints, and some space for the curious case of the two Appenzells, formerly a unified canton enclaved within Sankt Gallen. In 1597, it was split along religious lines into a mainly Catholic Appenzell Innerrhoden, and a largely Protestant Appenzell Ausserrhoden. Since each, after the split, is surrounded by two cantons, neither is a proper enclave anymore. But the situation looks delightfully complex on a map, and is further embellished by two Innerrhoden exclaves inside Ausserrhoden [6].
However, the two crown jewels on any card would be Campione d’Italia and Büsingen am Hochrhein, Switzerland’s two international enclaves. They make excellent bookends to your Swiss enclave hunt: Campione is located in the south, a stone’s throw from Switzerland’s mountainous border with Italy, while Büsingen borders the Rhine frontier with Germany in the north. You could start with either, and work your way to finish at the other.
Campione is a splinter of Italy wedged in the westernmost of Switzerland’s three alpine fingers [7], in the Italian-speaking south of the country. Barely three times the size of the Vatican [8], this is Italy’s only exclave — the Vatican and the ancient republic of San Marino being Italy’s two better known enclaves.
Administratively, the little town on the eastern bank of Lake Lugano is part of the Italian province of Como [9]. The Italian border is less than a mile away, but only if you follow Diana Ross’s mountaineering advice. The only overland connection to Italy is a wraparound road, over nine miles long.
Founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. as the garrison of Campilonum [10], Campione’s administrative separation from its surroundings dates from A.D 777. At that time, the local Langobard lord, Toto of Campione, left his inheritance to the archbishopric of Milan, which consigned it to the Milanese abbey of Sant’Ambrogio. That abbey would retain ownership of Campione for just over a millennium, until the French takeover in 1798.
Initially, the surrounding area, known as Ticino, remained under the sway of the bishop of Como [11]. But in 1521, Pope Julius II gave Ticino to the Swiss as thanks for their support during the Wars of the Holy League, which were fought between 1508 and 1516 [12]. “Nothing to do with us,” said the monks of Sant’Ambrogio, who went on maintaining their sovereignty over Campione, which then still extended to the lands on the opposite, western shore of Lake Lugano, around Capo San Martino.
By sheer luck or whimsy, Campione’s status aparte even survived the attention of the Sarkozy-size Corsican. Even as Ticino was fully absorbed into the Helvetic Republic, Campione maintained its ancient privileges, remaining part of the political entity to the south — even if this was also another short-lived Napoleonic creation, the Cisalpine Republic.
Ticino twice tried to absorb Campione: in 1800, it proposed exchanging the enclave for Indemini [13], a border town south of Lake Locarno judged by its inaccessibility to be the “remotest town in Switzerland.” In 1814, the campionesi themselves were asked their opinion in a referendum, and the overwhelming sentiment was: “Grazie, ma no grazie.”
This they would come to regret. By 1848, with chaos and violence gripping pre-unification Italy, Campione petitioned the Swiss for annexation. In Ticino, they couldn’t break out the festive polenta fast enough. But the Swiss federal government, keen to maintain its vaunted neutrality, felt obliged to reject the offer.
With Italy unified in 1861, both governments fixed the frontier and established free-trade privileges for Campione within Switzerland. This was to compensate for the enclave’s considerable loss of territory: the San Martino shore became Swiss in order to solve two traffic problems. The postal road from Lugano to Melide, passing by Capo San Martino, would no longer have to cross a small stretch of Italian territory. And Switzerland’s gain of San Martino facilitated lacustrine [14] navigation by removing a strip of Italian territorial waters from between two Swiss parts of the lake. Campione’s portion of the lake now extends only halfway.
The agreement led to an increasing symbiosis of Campione’s economy with Switzerland’s, causing Mussolini to assert the exclave’s “Italianness” in the 1930s by adding the epithet d’Italia, and by building an ornamental gate at the entrance to the town.
For all Il Duce’s bluster, the town’s separation from Italy proper put it outside of his reach, making it a magnet for political refugees. During the final stage of Fascist rule in Italy, under a Nazi puppet state called the Repubblica Soziale Italiano, Campione became a focal point for Italy’s royalists [15]. The exclave also was a staging ground for O.S.S. operations [16] inside Italy.
All of which must have made for some very interesting evenings at Campione’s casino. That casino was set up in 1917 by the Italian government with the explicit intention of being a “listening post” — to extract sensitive military information from foreign diplomats in a relaxed atmosphere. Its tax-exempt status arguably proved more useful to the Italian state: since its extension in 2007, the casino now has 56 tables and 500 slots, and is not only one of the largest casinos in Europe, it is also the largest employer of the enclave. Its revenue is more than enough to allow life in Campione to be pretty much tax-free.
Campione, and the casino in particular, continues to exert an attraction on Italian royalists. But perhaps for the wrong reasons. In the summer of 2006, Prince Victor Emmanuel of Savoy, son of the last king of Italy, was arres¬ted on charges of procuring girls for prostitution at the Casino di Campione.
Things are a bit less lurid in the German enclave of Büsingen am Hochrhein, in the north of Switzerland — noted for its Bible college rather than for the absence of a casino. Even so, this enclave’s history is equally bizarre, and even more ancient.
Büsingen’s acquaintance with borders goes back to Roman times, when it was on the¬ limes — the defensive wall shielding Roman civilization from Germanic barbarism. Fast forward to the 17th century, by which time Büsingen has been an Austrian fief for a few centuries, despite a standing Swiss claim on it. In 1693 the Swiss abducted, tried and condemned to death Eberhard Im Thurm, the Austrian lord of Büsingen. The local dispute came close to all-out war. Austria was dissuaded from marching on Bern, but it swore never to relinquish control over Büsingen to the perfidious Swiss — if merely to spite them.
This held true even after Austria sold its rights to the nearby villages of Ramsen and Dörflingen to the canton of Zürich in 1770, effectively making Büsingen an enclave within Switzerland. In 1805, the Peace of Pressburg handed Büsingen to the southern German kingdom of Württemberg. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the town came under the overlordship of the Grand Duchy of Baden. Last left holding the parcel was the German Empire, which acquired jurisdiction over Büsingen after the first German unification in 1870.
Switzerland’s two enclaves mirror each other in funny ways. Each had an ineffective pro-Swiss referendum: the citizens of Büsingen had theirs in 1919, after the First World War had made Germany the most unpopular country in Europe. A whopping 96 percent of the inhabitants voted for annexation by Switzerland. The people had spoken loud and clear, but their voices were ignored. As the Swiss were unable to offer Germany any suitable territory in exchange, the deal was off. Büsingen would remain, somewhat reluctantly, German.
Renewed negotiations in 1956 backfired spectacularly. Not only did the Landkreis of Konstanz, to which Büsingen belongs, refuse to consider the idea of a transfer; as if suddenly alerted to the exclave’s existence, it demanded a land corridor to Büsingen instead. Since 1956 was not yet the best time for Germans to start demanding territorial concessions from their neighbors, the answer was a no-brainer: Nein!
By a combination of historical accident, geopolitical inertia and bad timing, both Büsingen and Campione d’Italia have remained marooned inside Switzerland. Over the centuries, coping mechanisms were developed, some of which are quite similar.
For one, both enclaves are in a customs union with Switzerland, but de jure in Buesingen’s case, and de facto for Campione. And the more common currency in both territories is still the Swiss franc instead of the euro, though the latter by its sheer volume is more prevalent than the German mark and the Italian lira ever were. Moreover, both countries share two post codes, one Swiss, the other their national one. And in both cases, their special tax status attracts tax refugees, largely from abroad in Campione’s case, and more from inside Switzerland as for Büsingen.
But each also has its peculiarities. The Swiss police may pursue and arrest suspects in Büsingen, but no more than 10 Swiss police officers are allowed in the town at one time. Similarly, there may never be more than 3 German police officers per 100 inhabitants in Büsingen. And Campionesi who work in Switzerland pay taxes where they work; Switzerland transfers part of this tax to Italy.
Such is the absurd paradox of daily life in the enclaves: they’re foreign splinters in the Swiss body politic, but they’re also inextricably connected to their Swiss surroundings. If there’s one overriding argument to maintaining a situation that causes so much trouble — apart from the tax breaks — it must be that enclaves relish their peculiar status. Who knows, maybe one day it will even bring tourists, bearing stamp cards.
Frank Jacobs is a London-based author and blogger. He writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.
[1] Previous one was at Interlaken in 2011. Next one in 2014, location to be confirmed. Check the Eidgenössisches Jodlerverband Web site for updates.
[2] That definition actually describes an exclave — which is often, but not always the same as an enclave. For an overview of the difference and the similarity between both, see this previous entry: An Apology of Enclaves.
[3] Invaders know they won’t win popularity contests, and are often able to sweep away centuries of local privileges and particularisms. The Swiss did have to contend with one such unsolicited visit. Napoleon overran the Old Confederation and felt obliged to restructure Switzerland. But the highly centralized Helvetic Republic was very unpopular, and extremely short-lived, lasting from 1789 to just 1803.
[4] Dear Swiss Tourist Board, do we have to do everything ourselves?
[5] Notable not merely because it comes in two parts. It is also the burial site of Richard Burton, the actor (unfairly) best remembered for marrying Elizabeth Taylor twice. His last resting place is itself also part of a double act: a few yards from his grave lie the remains of the writer Alistair Maclean, whose book “Where Eagles Dare” was made into a movie, starring … Richard Burton.
[6] Not surprisingly, both are Catholic convents: Kloster Grimmenstein and Kloster Wonnenstein.
[7] Of these three protrusions, this one reaches farthest south. Switzerland’s southernmost point at Chiasso is only 25 miles north of the city center of Milan. For good measure, there are also three Italian protrusions north into Switzerland. Again, the westernmost one penetrates farthest into the other country’s territory, halfway up the 90-mile distance between Chiasso and the central Swiss city of Lucerne.
[8] Note that much of Campione’s surface is lake, though.
[9] See also the eponymous Lake Como. If you’re around, don’t forget to visit the Isola Comacina, an island in the lake, about 100 meters from shore. Formerly the site of a Byzantine fortress, it was given to Belgium’s King Albert I in 1919 — no doubt as a consolation prize for Belgium’s suffering in World War I. It was handed back to Italy in 1920.
[10] Ironically to keep out the Helveti, the nominal forebears of today’s Swiss (Switzerland’s official name and its two-letter ISO country code abbreviation still refer back to these Celtic tribes: Confoederatio Helvetica, CH).
[11] A similar feudal origin lies at the basis of the separation of the two Baarles on the Belgian-Dutch border, also discussed in the previous post mentioned in [2].
[12] The same pope in 1506 asked the Swiss to send him a contingent of soldiers to serve as guards. The Swiss were once famed for their mercenary skills, and many European courts had Swiss Guards. The unit in the Vatican is the last remaining today.
[13] Hence “indemnity”?
[14] Of or relating to lakes. I had to look that up, obviously. “Lakial” just didn’t sound right.
[15] The Italian monarchy was abolished by referendum in 1946, in part because of its association with Fascism, and members of the formerly ruling house were barred from Italian soil until 2003.
[16] The Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA.