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Switzerland (German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansh: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its ISO country code CH), is a landlocked country of 7.5 million people in Western Europe with an area of 41,285 km². Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 states called cantons. Berne is the seat of the federal government and de facto capital, while the country's economic centers are its two global cities, Geneva and especially Zürich.


Switzerland map


Map of Switzerland


Switzerland is bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Switzerland is multilingual and has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Switzerland has a long history of neutrality – it has not been at war since 1815 – and hosts many international organizations, including the Red Cross, the WTO and one of the U.N.'s two European offices.

The Latin formal name of Switzerland, Confoederatio Helvetica is derived from the Helvetii, an ancient Celtic people in the Alpine region. It is rendered in German as Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, in French as Confédération suisse, in Italian as Confederazione Svizzera and in Romansh as Confederaziun svizra. The independence of Switzerland is traditionally dated to August 1, 1291; the first of August is the national holiday.


Old Swiss Confederacy

Early August, 1291, the three forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed the Federal Charter. The charter united the signatories in the struggle against Habsburg rule, the family then possessing the Duchy of Austria in the Holy Roman Empire. At the Battle of Morgarten on 15 November 1315, the Swiss defeated the Habsburg army and secured the existence of the Swiss Confederation within the Holy Roman Empire.

1548 view of ZugBy 1353 the three original cantons had been joined by the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the city states of Lucerne, Zürich and Berne, forming the "Old Confederacy" of eight states that persisted during much of the 15th century and led to a significant increase of power and wealth of the federation, in particular due to several more victories against the Habsburg (Sempach, Näfels), over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The Swiss victory in the Swabian War against the Swabian League of emperor Maximilian I in 1499 amounted to de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire.

The expansion of the federation, and the reputation of being invincible acquired during the earlier wars, suffered a first setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano, which ended the so-called "heroic" epoch of Swiss history. The success of Zwingli's (a Swiss Protestant Reformist) Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal wars in 1529 and 1531 (Kappeler Kriege). Under the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, European countries recognised Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality (ancient régime). In Early Modern Switzerland, the conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712, and the growing authoritarianism of the patriciate families combined with a financial crisis in the wake of the Thirty Years' War led to the Swiss peasant war of 1653.

Napoleonic era

Mediation act, made by the first Consul of the French Republic, between parties which divide SwitzerlandIn 1798 the armies of the French Revolution conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. This centralised the government of the country and effectively abolished the cantons. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army and destroyed centuries of tradition, including the right to worship, and made Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September of 1798 is an example of the suppressing presence of the French army and the local population's resistance to the occupation.

When war broke out between France and other countries, Switzerland found itself being invaded by other outside forces from Austria and Russia. In 1803 Napoleon organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides in Paris. The result was the Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons. Henceforth much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons' tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.

In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality. The treaty marked the last time that Switzerland fought in an international conflict. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva – this was also the last time Switzerland's territory expanded.

Federal state

The restoration of the power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes such as the Züriputsch of 1839, civil war broke out between the Catholic and the Protestant cantons in 1845 (the Sonderbundskrieg). The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties; most of which were through friendly fire. However minor the Sonderbundskrieg seems to be when compared with other European riots and wars in the 19th century, it nevertheless had a major impact on both the psychology and the society of the Swiss and of Switzerland. 


The war made all Swiss understand the need for unity and strength towards its European neighbours. Swiss people from all strata of society, whether Catholic, Protestant, or from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more if their economic and religious interest were merged. Credit to those who favored the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided among Ständerat (similar to a Senate), and the Nationarat (similar to a House of Commons). Thus, the interests of the Federationalists were accounted for. Switzerland adopted the use of referendums and a federal constitution in 1848. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. The constitution was amended extensively in 1874 in order to take into account the rise in population, the Industrial Revolution and the settling of a single currency. It also established federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters.

In 1893, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remains unique even today. Since then, continued political, economic, and social improvement has characterised Swiss history.

Modern history

Zmutt Valley with Mischabelhörner group, Valais, photochrom postcard of 1890Switzerland was not invaded during either of the World Wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) and he remained there until 1917 In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, and in 1963 the Council of Europe.

During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans, but Switzerland was never attacked. Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, economic concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Attempts by Switzerland's small Nazi party to cause an Anschluss with Germany failed miserably. The Swiss press vigorously criticised the Third Reich, often infuriating its leadership. Under General Henri Guisan, a massive mobilisation of militia forces was ordered. The Swiss military strategy was changed from one of static defence at the borders to protect the economic heartland, to a strategy of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Réduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.

Switzerland's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the Third Reich varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion, and the availability of other trading partners. Concessions reached their zenith after a crucial rail link through Vichy France was severed in 1942, leaving Switzerland completely surrounded by the Axis. Over the course of the war, Switzerland interned over 300,000 refugees, 104,000 of which were foreign troops, interned according to the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers outlined in the Hague Conventions. 60,000 of the refugees were civilians escaping persecution by the Nazis. Of these, 26,000 to 27,000 were Jews.

The Grossmünster cathedral and waterfront in modern day ZürichWomen were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971, and after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member high council being Elisabeth Kopp from 1984–1989. The first female president was Ruth Dreifuss, elected in 1998 to become president during 1999. (The Swiss president is elected every year from those among the seven member high council). The second female president is Micheline Calmy-Rey who currently holds the 2007 Swiss high office. She is originally from the French-speaking western area of canton Valais (Wallis in Swiss German). She is presently joined on the seven member cabinet/high council by a second woman, Doris Leuthard, from the canton of Aargau. In 1979 areas from inside the previous borders in the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On 18 April 1999 the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favour of a completely revised federal constitution.

In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican as the last widely recognised state without full UN membership. Switzerland is a founding member of the EFTA, but is not a member of the European Economic Area. An application for membership in the European Union was sent in May 1992, but not advanced since the EEA was rejected in December 1992 when Switzerland was the only country to launch a referendum on the EEA. There have since been several referendums on the EU issue, with a mixed reaction to these from the population, the membership application has been frozen.


Nonetheless, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to conform with that of the EU and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland, together with Liechtenstein, has been completely surrounded by the EU since Austria's membership in 1995. On 5 June 2005, Swiss voters agreed by a 55% majority to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was regarded by EU commentators as a sign of support by Switzerland, a country that is traditionally perceived as independent, neutral, or isolationist.


Switzerland had traditionally exemplified a peaceful coexistence among diverse indigenous ethnic and cultural groups, yet “a postwar increase in the country’s “foreign” population was somewhat less than harmonious” (Banks, 2006: 1133). Switzerland has been considered as the ideal example of a “consensus democracy” in that institutional arrangements maximize democratic participation of the populace (Banks, 2006: 1134). In addition “it demonstrates a system wherein a society with significant social cleavages (in this case primarily language but also religion) can establish adequate representation for all groups” (Banks, 2006: 1134). With a basis on proportional representation, this multiparty system is governed by “four moderate parties that controls the legislature and determines the composition of the collegial executive body” (Banks, 2006: 1134).

The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the Federation. It ensures the rights of individuals and citizen participation in public affairs, divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdictions. Under the Federal Constitution, there are three main governing bodies:[9] the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).

Switzerland, the Matterhorn


The Swiss Federal Council, 2007. Left to right: Doris Leuthard, Christoph Blocher, Moritz Leuenberger, Micheline Calmy-Rey, Pascal Couchepin, Samuel Schmid, Hans-Rudolf Merz, Federal Chancellor Annemarie Huber-HotzA large majority of states have one person that performs the functions of the head of state, while others have a collegial chief executive (Tremblay, 2004: 219). “An important example of the collegial chide executive is found in Switzerland. The seven-member Swiss Federal Council was designed as a consociation device to allow the main political and linguistic groups of this deeply divided land to share political power” (Tremblay, 2004: 219). This Swiss “magic formula” has been followed through since 1959 requiring four main political parties, including “the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, the Radical Democrats, and the Swiss People Party share the seven seats in the executive in a 2:2:2:1 proportion that roughly reflects the four parties’ share of electoral following” (Tremblay, 2004: 219-220). In addition to this “formula”, at least four out of the seven members of the Council must be German speakers, at least one French speaker and one Italian speaker (Tremblay, 2004: 220). Finally the most notable aspect is that the Swiss president is not the head of state and has no powers above the other members of the federal council (Turner & Barry, 2001: 1188). Also the Swiss president can only serve a one-year term and is elected at the beginning of each year by the federal assembly (Turner & Barry, 2001: 1188).

The parliament consists of two houses: the Council of States which has 46 representatives (two from each canton and one from each half-canton) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council, which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation. Members of both houses serve for 4 years. When both houses are in joint session, they are known collectively as the United Federal Assembly. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, making Switzerland a direct democracy.

Through the importance and power of Switzerland’s federal council members, one can conclude that this governmental body is thus decentralized. Power of the president does not dominate members of the federal council, yet the opposite is exercised. Members of the council are thus the heads of state that prevail over a powerless president. Presidency is often designated as a head of state, however not implemented in a decentralized government, as that of Switzerland. Switzerland is organized in a PR structure - Proportional Representation (Tremblay, 2004: 305). Switzerland’s PR structure treats minority values, interests and opinions in diverse fashions (Tremblay, 2004: 291). PR “provides a structure to capture that diversity, to bring it into the legislature, and to allow minority opinions to be heard” (Tremblay, 2004: 291). The aim to include all significant minorities allows the PR to promote a “consensual, cooperative form of social interaction and public policy decision-making”(Tremblay, 2004: 291). PR changes the mechanics of translating votes into seats, and in so doing it fosters a profoundly different political culture – a culture of partnership and inclusion (Tremblay, 2004: 291).

Switzerland executes power to a collegial chief executive (Tremblay, 2004: 219). The Swiss Federal Council share political power, leaving the president with no power to override them (Turner & Barry, 2001: 1188). This structure thus allocates power to a sub-federal system, defining the government structure as a decentralized one (Turner & Barry, 2001: 1188).

The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals of cantonal courts or the administrative rulings of the federal administration. The Federal Assembly elects the judges for six-year terms.

Switzerland however emphasises the need to provide structure based on diversity, allowing “minority opinions to be heard” (Tremblay, 2004: 291). This promotion of “social interaction and public policy decision-making” is emphasized by a decentralized government, where power is allotted to a group of individuals and not solely to one head of state.

Kramgasse with Zytglogge clock tower in Berne


Kramgasse with Zytglogge clock tower in Berne



Direct democracy

Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. The 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct democracy since it is added by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy). The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level, known as civil rights (droits civiques, Volksrechte), include the right to submit a constitutional initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.

By calling a federal referendum a group of citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament, if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Eight cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.

Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if they can get 100,000 voters to sign the proposed amendment within 18 months. Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, with voters having to indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of both the national popular vote and a majority of the cantonal popular votes.



The Swiss National Park in canton GraubündenThe Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:

Appenzell Innerrhoden* 
Appenzell Ausserrhoden* 
St. Gallen 

Distribution of Languages in Switzerland*These cantons are represented by only one councillor in the Council of States.

Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km² (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km² (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,889 municipalities. Within Switzerland there are two enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.

In a referendum held in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg on 11 May 1919 over 80% of those voting supported a proposal that the state should join the Swiss Confederation. However, this was prevented by the opposition of the Austrian Government, the Allies, Swiss liberals, the Swiss-Italians and the Romands (Swiss nationals living in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland).

[edit] International institutions in Switzerland
An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part due to its policy of neutrality. The Red Cross was founded there in 1863 and still has its institutional centre in the country. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people rejected membership in a referendum in the early 1990s. Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, in 2002, even though Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member of the League of Nations.


Switzerland Europe world location map


Switzerland - World location map


Map of Switzerland (detailed)With an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi), Switzerland is a relatively small country. The population is about 7.4 million, resulting in an average population density of 182 people per square kilometer (472/sq mi). However, the more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than this average, while the northern half has a somewhat greater density, as it comprises more hospitable hilly terrain, partly forested and partly cleared, as well as several large lakes.

Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau or "middleland", and the Jura mountains along the northwestern border with France. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country. Among the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, the highest of which is the Dufourspitze at 4,634 metres (15,203 ft), are found countless valleys, many with waterfalls and glaciers. From these the headwaters of several major European rivers such as the Rhine, Rhône, Inn, Aare, and Ticino flow finally into the largest Swiss lakes such as Lake Geneva (Lac Leman), Lake Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance.

Morcote in warmer southern Ticino 

The MatterhornThe most famous mountain is the Matterhorn (4,478 m) in Valais and Pennine Alps bordering Italy. The highest mountain, the Dufourspitze or Monte Rosa, is close to the Matterhorn. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen Valley containing 72 waterfalls is also well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m), Mönch, Eiger group of peaks, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St Moritz area in canton Graubünden, is also quite known and the highest peak here is the Piz Bernina (4,049 m).

The more populous northern part of the country is called the Middle Land. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open meadow, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruits growing, but it can still be somewhat mountainous. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country. This section, particularly the west, is also referred to as the "Seeland" (the land of lakes) and the largest lake is Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French), at the westernmost of Switzerland. The Rhone River is the main tributary to Lac Léman.

The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. Summer tends to be warm and humid at times with periodic rain so it is ideal for pastures and grazing. The winters in the mountains alternate with sun and snow, while the lower lands tend to be more cloudy and foggy in winter. A weather phenomenon known as the Föhn can occur at all times of the year, even in winter, and is characterised by a wind with warm Mediterranean air. The driest conditions persist in the southern valleys of the Wallis/Valais above which valuable saffron is harvested and many grapes are grown, Graubünden also tends to be drier in climate and slightly colder, yet with plentiful snow in winter. The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time. The east tends to be colder than the west of Switzerland, yet anywhere up high in the mountains can experience a cold spell at any time of the year. Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year, with minor variations across the seasons depending on locale. Autumn frequently tends to be the driest season, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland can be highly variable from year to year, and difficult to predict.

General map of SwitzerlandSwitzerland's eco-systems can be particularly vulnerable, due to the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains, often forming unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The tree line in the mountains of Switzerland has retreated down 1000 ft over the years, largely due to herding and grazing pressures.


Tourism is important in the Engadin valley above St. Moritz. Cheese making and dairying is an important Swiss industrySwitzerland has a stable modern market economy, with a nominal per capita GDP that is higher than those of big western European economies, United States and Japan ranking 6th behind Luxembourg, Norway, Qatar, Iceland and Ireland, though on a PPP basis, it only ranks 13th. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world.[19] For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin.

Several of the world's largest companies are headquartered in Switzerland. Notable among these are Nestle, UBS AG, Credit Suisse, Novartis, ABB, and Swatch. Switzerland is ranked one of the most powerful economical countries in the world.

Banking, tourism, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals are important industries in Switzerland. The manufacture of precision instruments for engineering is important, as is watch-making, and the biological sciences industries as well enjoy a high place in the Swiss economy. The many international organisations in Switzerland contribute to the Swiss economy and labor market.

Switzerland's unemployment rate has increased since the beginning of the 21st century, where it stood at a low 1.8% in 2001. The unemployment rate doubled due to problematic low economic growth to 3.9% in 2006 and decreased again to 3.3% in 2007. 

John Storm unravels the mystery of a break-in at a Swiss research laboratory


A Swiss research laboratory is ransacked for secret software

to decode human synapses - another mystery for John Storm to solve



Switzerland and Europe

In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the European Union in many ways, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness. The economy has been growing most recently at around 3% per year. Full EU membership is a long-term objective of some in the Swiss government, but there is considerable popular sentiment against this supported by the conservative SVP party. The western French-speaking areas tend to be more pro-EU.

The government has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign and Economic Affairs. To minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland's isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven agreements, called bilateral agreements, to further liberalise trade ties. These agreements were signed in 1999 and took effect in 2001. This first series of bilateral agreements included the free movement of persons. A second series covering nine areas was signed in 2004 and has since been ratified. The second series includes the Schengen treaty and the Dublin Convention. They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation. Switzerland most recently (2006) approved a billion francs supportive investment in the poorer eastern European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. A further referendum will be needed to approve 300 million francs to support Romania and Bulgaria and their recent admission to the ever-growing EU club. 


The Swiss have also been under EU and sometimes international pressure to open up their bank secrecy and to raise their tax rates into compliance with the EU. Preparatory discussions are being opened on four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GPS system Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products. Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union and European countries through bilateral agreements. Any internal debate on the subject has been suspended since March 2001, when the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU. Both Switzerland and Norway have consistently voted against EU membership, although the votes have been close.



Leibstadt Nuclear Power Plant


Electricity generated in Switzerland is 42% from nuclear and 53% from hydroelectricity with 5% of the electricity generated from conventional power sources (thermal etc.) resulting in a nearly CO2-free electricity-generating network.

On 18 May 2003, two anti-nuclear initiatives were turned down: Moratorium Plus, aimed at forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants (41.6% supported and 58.4% opposed), and Electricity Without Nuclear (33.7% supported and 66.3% opposed). The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes. A new nuclear plant in the Canton of Bern is presently planned.

The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is the office responsible for all questions relating to energy supply and energy use within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC).

Switzerland is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world with 66% to 96% of the different recyclable materials being recycled. In many places in Switzerland, household rubbish disposal is charged for. Garbage (except dangerous items, batteries etc.) will only be collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid when the bags are purchased. This gives a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, since recycling is free. Swiss health officials and police often open up garbage for which the disposal charge has not been paid. They search for evidence such as old bills which connect the bag to the household/person they originated from. Fines for not paying the disposal fee range from 200–500 Francs ($165–$410 at April 2007 exchange rates).


Main languages in Switzerland:[28] 
Swiss German (62.7%)
French (20.4%)
Italian (6.5%)

Romansh (0.5%)Switzerland lies at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has three official languages: German (63% according to 2000 Census) in the north, east and centre of the country; French (20.4%) to the west; Italian (6.5%) in the south.[28] Romansh, a Romance language spoken locally by a small minority (< 0.5%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts must not be decreed in this language. The federal government is obliged to communicate in the official languages, and in the federal parliament simultaneous translation is provided from and into German, French and Italian. The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of dialects collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication and broadcasts typically use Swiss Standard German. Similarly, there are some dialects of Franco-Provençal in rural communities in the French speaking part, known as "Suisse romande", called Vaudois, Gruérien, Jurassien, Empro, Fribourgeois, Neuchâtelois, and in the Italian speaking area, Ticinese (a dialect of Lombard). Also the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside of Switzerland, i.e. terms from other languages (German Billette from French), from similar term in another language (Italian azione used not as act but as discount from German Aktion). Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so most Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual (in reality, many Swiss are more fluent in English than in their own country's other languages, particularly the German-speaking Swiss.

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 21% of the population. Most of these are from European Union countries (Italians being the largest group, at 4%), with people from the various nations of former Yugoslavia making up (5%), with ethnic Albanians as the largest group among them, as well as Turks (1%). The country has seen growing immigration of various nationalities, as well as from the Caribbean and South America. Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka are the most prominent group of people of Asian origin. The members of foreign communities and national minorities, particularly those of non-European origins have expressed, often with great emotion, how they experience on a daily basis racism, discrimination, a xenophobic atmosphere, a feeling of loneliness within the population and fear of certain institutions, notably the police.



The Notre Dame de ValereSwitzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognise official churches, in all cases including the Catholic Church and the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.

Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (41.8% of the population) and various Protestant denominations (40%). Immigration has brought Islam (4.3%, predominantly Albanians) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8%) as sizeable minority religions. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll[33] found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in "a spirit or life force", 9% atheist and 4% agnostic.



Cathedral Notre-Dame of Lausanne in the French speaking west. 


The country is historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597.[34] The larger cities (Bern, Zürich and Basel) are predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, as well as the Ticino, is traditionally Catholic. The Swiss constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was clearly rejected, with only 21.1% voting in support. 


The culture of Switzerland is influenced by its neighbours and its international sentiment, but over the years a distinctive culture with some regional differences and an independent streak has developed. In particular, French-speaking regions have tended to orient themselves slightly more on French culture and tend to be more pro EU. In general, the Swiss are known for their long standing humanitarian tradition as Switzerland is the birth place of the Red Cross Movement and hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Swiss German speaking areas may perhaps be seen more oriented on German culture and can be more traditionalist and neutralist, and Italian-speaking areas can have more of an Italian culture. A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language. The linguistically isolated Rhaeto-Romanic culture in the eastern mountains of Switzerland is also robust and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition. Switzerland's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest of 1989 was in Romansh.

Many mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski town culture in winter, and a hiking/wandering culture in summer. Some areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors and a higher ratio of Swiss. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas, and this connection to the land and agriculture is a strong glue holding all the Swiss together. Even though most no longer actually farm themselves, the small farms are omnipresent outside the cities, and as well many Swiss at least have a small garden plot or many window boxes with geraniums and other flowers.


A game of HornussenLike many European nations the Swiss are big fans of football and the national team or 'Nati' is widely supported. Swiss wrestling or "Schwingen" is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport. Hornussen is another indigenous Swiss sport, which is like a cross between baseball and golf. Steinstossen is the Swiss variant of stone put, a competition in throwing a heavy stone. Practiced among the alpine population since prehistoric times, it is recorded to have taken place in Basel in the 13th century. It is also central to the Unspunnenfest, first held in 1805, with its symbol the 83.5 kg Unspunnenstein. Motorsport racecourses were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster.

Floorball is a new sport in Switzerland that grows every year in popularity. A main factor is the professional league called Nationalliga A that draws many famous players from other countries. Over the last few years several Swiss tennis players, like Roger Federer and Martina Hingis, have been multiple Grand Slam singles champions. Many Swiss also follow hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the league A. One of the world's best current ice skaters is Swiss Stéphane Lambiel. Two clubs are from the French speaking part, and two other from the Italian part. The canton Graubünden has HC Davos as its own club which won the 2006–2007 Swiss championship. The German speaking part of Switzerland has 7 clubs. Switzerland is also the home of the successful sailing team Alinghi. Other sports where the Swiss have been successful include fencing (Marcel Fischer), whitewater slalom (Ronnie Dürrenmatt – canoe, Mathias Röthenmund – kayak), ice hockey (Swiss National League), beach volleyball (Sascha Heyer, Markus Egger, Paul and Martin Laciga), and skiing (Bernhard Russi, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Didier Cuche).


Switzerland has traditionally a low crime rate. However, in recent years the crime rate has increased, including a comparatively high resident aliens fraction, which has been a topic of political controversy



  • Clive H. Church (2004) The Politics and Government of Switzerland. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69277-2.

  • Dieter Fahrni (2003) An Outline History of Switzerland. From the Origins to the Present Day. 8th enlarged edition. Pro Helvetia, Zürich. ISBN 3-908102-61-8

  • Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (2002-). Published electronically and in print simultaneously in three national languages of Switzerland.

  • The Economist, "A special case: A survey of Switzerland". 14 February 2004.

  • Swiss Statistics, official website of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

  • CIA World Factbook - Switzerland














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