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Freiheitstrychler: Who are Switzerland’s ‘freedom bell ringers’?

Federal Councillor and former President Ueli Maurer
Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer has stirred controversy with his ‘provocative’ attire. Photo Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
For non-German speakers, Freiheitstrychler is a difficult word to pronounce, but this group has become a symbol of how age-old Swiss customs and traditions can lead to political resistance. Here’s what you should know about it.

If you have been following Swiss news in the past two months, you have likely seen images of the Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, who heads the Finance Department, wear a white t-shirt decorated with a Swiss flag as well as edelweiss and other Alpine flowers.

While the shirt may look innocuous enough, it is worn by a group of vocal anti-vaxxers, who oppose Switzerland’s policies toward  managing the pandemic.  

Trychler versus Freiheitstrychler

The Trychlern are bells worn by Swiss cows, and the word is also used to describe men who take part in traditional bell-ringing processions in the Alps.

Freiheitstrychler (“freedom bell ringers”) on the other hand, is an offshoot, militant group of the traditional ringers, who have been voicing their disagreement with the government’s anti-Covid measures.

Covid-19 vaccines: Why is Switzerland lagging behind other countries?

Before the health crisis, the trychlers were only known to folklore lovers, mainly in the Swiss-German regions of the country.

But during the pandemic, and after the “freedom” prefix was attached to their name, the offshoot group started to ring their bells during unauthorised anti-Covid protests.

“Founded by a group of committed Swiss people, we put our heart and soul into our constitutional rights”, the group says on its website.

The Maurer controversy

Perhaps the Freiheitstrychlers would be largely unnoticed if a Federal Councillor had not been photographed wearing the group’s t-shirt.

Ueli Maurer, a two-time President of Switzerland who is a member of right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), was photographed at an SVP event in September wearing the Freiheitstrychler shirt.

This was taken by many as a deliberate provocation and a stance against the government’s Covid policies.

Maurer was accused of breaching the Federal Council’s principle of collegiality and consensus: no matter which political parties they represent or what their personal views are, all councillors must uphold and support the common government policies. 

In this particular case, Maurer sent conflicting messages, because while the Federal Council is trying to convince the population of the need for Covid vaccinations, the Freiheitstrychler reject this and other the official measures.

“With this behaviour, Maurer clearly stabbed the Federal Council in the back, said Balthasar Glättli, president of the Green Party.

After the fallout from incident, Maurer denied he wore the shirt as a political statement as he didn’t know what it stood for.

READ MORE: Thousands take part in illegal protest against Covid measures in Switzerland

Tradition versus political activism

Combining political opposition with an ancestral tradition is not to everyone’s taste.

The “freedom” faction is facing criticism from traditional trychlers, who accuse the anti-Covid group of harming the old custom.

“The Freiheitstrychler abuse our customs and damage our image”, according to traditional bell-ringer, Josef Winiger.

Due to the media hype, he said, some of their shows have been cancelled, “as the organisers of these events fear our performance will be politically motivated”.

Traditional trychlers want to distance themselves from the other group, especially as many “are not even real trychlers. They just got some bells somewhere and parade with them ”.

Photo by Wikimedia commons

Ruedi Herger, president of the Trychlerclub Herger of Seelisberg in the canton of Uri, is also fed up.

“We have to separate our bells from politics. If someone wants to go and demonstrate, he can do so, but our custom must not suffer ”.

That’s one message that rings a bell among the traditionalists.

READ MORE: Sluggish Swiss jab rates up despite anti-vaxxer sabotage


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