From St. Gall to Haiti - and back
In the beginning there was my preoccupation with the history of the canton of St. Gall.
Of course the historical part of a satiricial programme for the celebration of my home-canton's
200th anniversary would have to start with its founding, the French Revolution and the
"Helvetik" period, Napoelon's "Mediation"-constitution of 1803 and with "founding father"
But then I am known for sometimes having a mind for heated political debate and provocation.
Why not enrich the official festive mood of mainstream St. Gall by celebrating the anniversary of
another event in history dating back to 1803 ? Or why not an altogether different anniversary,
entirely unprovincial and un-Swiss? The search in my own head, in history books and in the
internet yielded interesting and ironic results: the 350th anniversary of the "Peasants' Revolt",
250 years of scurvy, the 200th anniversary of the Lousiana Purchase, 200 years of chocolate,
100 years of Bolshevism, the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the DNS...
And then at last, by accident, I came upon the death of Toussaint L'Ouverture in the year 1803 at
the Fort de Joux, near the Swiss border, and the expulsion of the French from Haiti by the black
revolution and movement of independence of the same year. Suddenly everything fell into place.
There were the similarities between Switzerland and Haiti: two small countries, two national
movements of independence under the influence of the French Revolution and Napoleons
foreign policy. And there were above all the differences: white vs. black, the exploiting "first world"
vs. the colonized "third world", conditions for setting out into national development that could not
be further apart. And still today, the result of these differences: one of richest countries on this
planet in stark contrast with one of its poorest .
All of this set a process going: the preoccupation with the history of Haiti and the biography of
Toussaint l'Ouverture became more and more important for me. At the beginning of this process
Haiti had been a historical footnote to St. Gall's history. At the end of this process St. Gall's
cantonal anniversary jubilee could end up as a mere footnote to Haitian history and the history of
the liberation of the colonised peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Where
exactly, between these two points of view, the satire project "L'Ouverture died in 1803" will
position itself remains to be seen. It certainly will be a far cry from the official provincialism and
patriotism which is threatening for the year 2003.
Hans Fässler, January 2001