A legendary stone that symbolises Swiss unity has been stolen, possibly by regional separatists. One of the country’s most cherished cultural objects, it was taken from an exhibition in Interlaken near Bern. The stone was on display ahead of the Unspunnen festival which is due to start in two weeks time. The iconic artefact was stolen once before in 1984 by a separatist group but it was recovered four years ago.It is named after the country’s most prestigious stone throwing contest and has been tossed at celebrations of national heritage for a century. The Unspunnen festival marks the reconciliation of political rivals after the founding of the Helvetian Republic – the precursor of modern-day Switzerland – in 1291. It celebrates national traditions such as yodelling and the so-called trouser fight. Reacting to the theft, the head of the Unspunnen Stone Committee said: “The shock was not as bad as the first time it was stolen. You get used to a lot of things. But it’s still hard to stomach.” The finger of blame has been pointed at Bélier, an organisation trying to achieve the reunification of the neighbouring Jura canton. Currently three districts that Bélier says are historically part of Jura come under Bern’s control. Bélier has not claimed responsibility.