Confoederatio Helvetica
Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft
Confédération suisse
Confederazione Svizzera
Confederaziun svizra
Swiss Confederation
Flag of Switzerland Coat of arms of Switzerland
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (traditional[1])
(Latin for "One for all, all for one")
Anthem: {{{national_anthem}}}
Location of Switzerland
Capital Bern (federal capital)
Largest city Zürich
Official language German, French, Italian, Romansh[2]
Government Direct democracy
Federal republic
 - Federal Council M. Leuenberger
P. Couchepin (VP 07)
S. Schmid
M. Calmy-Rey (Pres. 07)
C. Blocher
H.-R. Merz
D. Leuthard
 - De facto 22 September 1499 
 - Recognised 24 October 1648 
 - Restored 7 August 1815 
 - Federal state 12 September 1848 
 - Total 41,285 km² (136th)
15,940 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 4.2
 - July 2005 estimate 7,252,000 (95th)
 - 2000 census 7,288,010
 - Density 182/km² (61st)
472/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $264.1 billion (39th)
 - Per capita $32,300 (10th)
GDP (nominal) 2005 estimate
 - Total $367.5 billion (18th)
 - Per capita $50,532 (4th)
HDI  (2004) 0.947 (high) (9th)
Currency Swiss franc (CHF)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Internet TLD .ch
Calling code +41
Switzerland portal

Switzerland (German: die Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansh: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked alpine country in Central Europe. The country, which is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, was historically a confederation, and has been a federation since 1848. Switzerland has a strong economy in finance and banking, and a long and strong tradition of political and military neutrality. This background allows Switzerland to host various international co-operations and organizations. Switzerland is among the most affluent nations on earth with a median household income of CHF 96,000 (USD $54,000 in PPP).[4][5]The PPP was rated at 10th place, showing $32,300 per person, where the US at 3rd was rated $41,399 and luxembourg 1st at $69,800. The country was small, however, so the total GDP was rated 18th place near Turkey, Belgium, Taiwan, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia, and was approximately 2%-3% that of the United States or the European Union. Yet as of its banking sector Switzerland managed 10% or so of the world's private wealth.

Confoederatio Helvetica, the country's official Latin name, means Helvetic Confederation. The use of Latin avoids having to favour one of the four national languages. The abbreviation (CH) is used for the same reason. The titles commonly used in French (Confédération suisse), Italian (Confederazione Svizzera) and Romansh (Confederaziun svizra) translate as "Swiss Confederation", while the German name of Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft translates literally as "Swiss Oath Fellowship" or "Swiss Commonwealth of the Covenant". A male native of Switzerland is said to be a Schweizer and a female is a Schweizerin in German; Suisse (male) and both Suisse or Suissesse (female) in French and svizzero (male) or svizzera (female) in Swiss Italian.





Old Swiss Confederacy

In 1291 people of the three forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed the Federal Charter. The charter united the involved parties in the struggle against the rule by the Habsburgs, the family then holding 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 existence of the Swiss Confederation within the Holy Roman Empire.

By 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 (although Zürich was expelled from the confederation during the 1440s due to a territorial conflict) and led to a significant increase of power and wealth of the federation, in particular due to the victories over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The traditional listing order of the cantons of Switzerland reflects this state, listing the eight "Old Cantons" first, with the city states preceding the founding cantons, followed by cantons that joined the federation after 1481, in historical order. 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 invincibility acquired during the earlier wars, suffered a first setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano. The success of Zwingli's 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

In 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. Uprisings were common and only the presence of French troops kept them from succeeding. 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. The Swiss were divided mainly between "Republicans" who were in favour of a centralized government, and "Federalists" who wanted to restore autonomy to the cantons. In 1803, Napoleon organized 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 recognize Swiss neutrality. At this time, Switzerland experienced its last increase in territory to date, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva.


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. Apart from small riots, this was the most recent armed conflict on Swiss territory.

1548 view of Zug
1548 view of Zug

As a consequence of the civil war, Switzerland adopted the use of referenda 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

The Grossmünster of Zürich during Christmas Season
The Grossmünster of Zürich during Christmas Season

In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, and in 1963 the Council of Europe. Switzerland proclaimed neutrality in World War I and was not involved militarily in the conflict. Neutrality was again proclaimed during World War II, and although a German intervention was both planned and anticipated, it ultimately did not occur. The massive mobilization of Swiss armed forces under the leadership of General Henri Guisan is often cited as a decisive factor that the German invasion was never initiated. These findings also imply that Switzerland's neutrality was compromised, as Swiss banks and some Swiss citizens may have helped to launder the wealth stolen in the Holocaust.[6]

Women were granted the right to vote in the first cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971, and in the last canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, in 1990. In 1979, parts of the canton of Bern attained independence, 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 referenda on the EU issue, but these have not enjoyed enough attention. However, 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 isolationist.

For more on the issue of membership in the EU, see Switzerland and the European Union.


Federal Palace in Bern
Federal Palace in Bern

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: the Federal Assembly (or Parliament), the Federal Council (or government) and the Federal Court.

The bicameral Swiss parliament, the Federal Assembly, is the primary seat of power, which has administrative and judicial, but not legislative powers. The power to legislate is delegated to the two Chambers of Parliament: the Council of States (Chamber of cantons) which has 46 canton representatives (two from each canton and one from former half cantons) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council (the People’s Chamber), which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation. Both houses, the Council of States and the National Council, have equal powers in all respects, including the right to introduce legislation. Members of both houses serve for 4 years. Through referenda, citizens may challenge any law voted by federal parliament and through initiatives introduce amendments to the federal constitution, making Switzerland a direct democracy.

Under the 1999 constitution, cantons hold all powers not specifically delegated to the federation.

The top executive body and collective Head of State is the Federal Council, a collegial body of seven members. Although the constitution provides that the Assembly elects and supervises the members of the Council for a four-year mandate, the latter (and its administration) has gradually assumed a pre-eminent role in directing the legislative process as well as executing federal laws. The President of the Confederation is elected from the seven to assume special representative functions for a one-year term.

From 1959 to December 2003, the four major parties were represented in the Federal Council according to the "magic formula", proportional to their representation in federal parliament: 2 Christian Democrats (CVP/PDC), 2 from the Social Democrats (SPS/PSS), 2 Liberal Democrats (FDP/PRD), and 1 from the Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC). This traditional distribution of seats, however, is not backed up by any law, and in the 2003 elections to the Federal Council the CVP/PDC lost their second seat to the SVP/UDC, which became the strongest party in Switzerland's legislative the same year.

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

See also: International relations of Switzerland and Voting in Switzerland

Direct democracy

Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. Since the entry into force of the 1848 federal constitution, Switzerland features a people's rights system of government, in which its people are able to challenge a law. Switzerland is the first and only country to implement people's rights system of government also known as direct democracy. (Sometimes called half-direct democracy since it is complemented by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy.) The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level are the constitutional initiative and the referendum, also called people's rights.

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.[7] Parliament can complement 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.[8]


International institutions in Switzerland

An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part due to its politics of neutrality. The Red Cross was founded there in 1863 and still has its institutional centre in the country. It is not a member of the European Union; a major referendum proposing the Swiss people rejected membership in the early 1990s. Switzerland was one of the last countries to join the United Nations, in 2002.


Energy politics

The energy generated in Switzerland comprises around 40% nuclear power and 60% from hydroelectricity.

On 18 May, 2003, a popular initiative named Moratorium Plus asked about an extension of an existing law forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants. Both were turned down: Moratorium Plus by a margin of 41.6% for and 58.4% opposed, and Electricity Without Nuclear by a margin of 33.7% for 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 (see Nuclear power phase-out in Switzerland for details). There is currently talk of a new nuclear plant in the Canton of Bern.


Cantons (states)

St. Gallen
Appenzell Innerrhoden
Appenzell Ausserrhoden
Cantons of Switzerland

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:

  • Aargau
  • Appenzell Innerrhoden*
  • Appenzell Ausserrhoden*
  • Basel-Stadt*
  • Basel-Landschaft*
  • Bern
  • Fribourg
  • Geneva
  • Glarus
  • Graubünden
  • Jura
  • Lucerne
  • Neuchâtel
  • Nidwalden*
  • Obwalden*
  • Schaffhausen
  • Schwyz
  • Solothurn
  • St. Gallen
  • Thurgau
  • Ticino
  • Uri
  • Valais
  • Vaud
  • Zug
  • Zürich

*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 Swiss-French.[9]



Map of Switzerland (overview)
Map of Switzerland (overview)
Map of Switzerland (detailed)
Map of Switzerland (detailed)
Wintertime view of Sent, in the eastern canton of Graubünden
Wintertime view of Sent, in the eastern canton of Graubünden

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 a population density of 182 people per square kilometre (472/sq mi).[10]

Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau or "middleland", and the Jura mountains along the northwest 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. The smaller lakes near the mountains tend to be a brilliant turquoise color, especially in the summer. The most famous mountain is the Matterhorn (4478m) in Kanton Wallis and Pennine Alps bordering Italy. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen Valley containing 72 waterfalls is also well known for the Jungfrau (4158m), Mönch, Eiger group of peaks. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley encompassing the St Moritz area is also quite known and the highest peak here is the Piz Bernina (4049m).

The northern, more populous part of the country is more open and hilly, but can still be mountainous, for example, in the Jura Mountains, a smaller range in the northwest. The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from glacial conditions on the mountain tops to the often pleasant Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. The 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 tends 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 characterized 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, and 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 yet anywhere up high can be cold. Precipitation tends to be spread throughout the year with minor variations.

Switzerland's eco-systems can be particularly vulnerable due to the many valleys separated by high mountains, often forming unique ecologies, and the mountainous regions themselves, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes.

See also: Swisstopo topographical survey, List of lakes of Switzerland, List of rivers of Switzerland, List of mountain passes in Switzerland.



A view of Saas-Grund (right) and Saas-Fee (left) in southern Switzerland
A view of Saas-Grund (right) and Saas-Fee (left) in southern Switzerland

Switzerland is a prosperous and stable modern market economy, with a nominal per capita GDP that is higher than those of the big western European economies, United States and Japan, though on a PPP basis, it ranks tenth. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin. However, since the early 1990s it has suffered from slow growth and, in 2005, fell to fourth among European states with populations above one million in terms of nominal Gross Domestic Product per capita behind Ireland, Denmark and Norway and to the tenth position in terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita at purchasing power parity (also behind the European countries Austria and Iceland; (see list). Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association.

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 more 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 awaits ratification. 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 euro supportative investment in the poorer eastern European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. They 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. A full report on the potential advantages and inconveniences of full EU membership is expected to be published in June 2006 by the Department of Foreign affairs. EU membership supporters hope this report could help reopen the internal debate, which has been dormant 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 very close.

See also: List of Swiss companies, Swiss bank, and Merchant Marine of Switzerland


Main languages in Switzerland: ██� German (63.7%)  ██� French (20.4%)  ██� Italian (6.5%)  ██� Romansh (0.5%)
Main languages in Switzerland[11]: ██  German (63.7%) ██  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 four official languages: German (64%) in the north and centre; French (20.4%) to the west; Italian (6.5%) in the south; and Romansh (a Romance language), that is spoken locally by a small minority (< 1%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden. (Some dialects of Franco-Provençal have speakers in rural communities in the region where French is spoken. This language has no legal status). The federal government is obliged to communicate in the four official languages. In the federal parliament, German, French, Italian and Romansh are the official languages and simultaneous translation is provided. The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of dialects collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication and broadcasts typically use standard High German. Similarly, there are some dialects in the other speaking part of Switzerland, called Swiss French and Ticinese (a dialect of Italian). Also the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside of Switzerland, i.e. terms from other languages (German Billette [12] 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 smaller numbers from the rest of the world, including refugees from the former Yugoslavia (5%) and Turks (1%).

Further information: List of Swiss people

The country has seen growth in the population of Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese people, and also immigrants from Mexico and South America.



A church in Fischenthal, a village in the canton of Zürich
A church in Fischenthal, a village in the canton of Zürich

Switzerland has no country-wide state religion, though most of the cantons (except for Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognize official churches, in all cases including the Catholic Church and the Swiss Reformed Church, in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations.[13] These churches are financed by official taxation of adherents.

Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (44% of the population) and various Protestant denominations (38.5%). Immigration has brought Islam (4.3%) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8%) as sizeable minority religions.[14] The 2005 Eurobarometer poll[15] found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in "a spirit of life force", 9% atheist and 4% agnostic.

The country is historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a confusing patchwork of majorities over most of the country. Some cantons, such as Appenzell, are even officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections.[citation needed] The larger cities (Bern, Zürich and Basel) are predominately 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.



Folkloric dance demonstration in Lausanne
Folkloric dance demonstration in Lausanne

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. Swiss German speaking areas may perhaps be seen more orientated 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 very rare linguistic tradition. It is difficult to speak of a homogeneous Swiss culture and it is more complicated than mere language differences. Those living in the cities have a somewhat different culture than those in the mountains and small villages. So a French speaker from the mountains may be more culturally similar to a Schwiizertüütsch speaker from the mountains than to a fellow French speaker from a city. The fundamental ideals of the country tend to be what most strongly binds everyone culturally. As it is a small country this as well tends to hold people together even though their languages may be different. A one hour train ride is all it takes to get to a region speaking a different language, so there is naturally heavy interaction between the various language groups.

Many areas have a strong ski town culture in winter and many areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism. 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. There is a very strong pro-nature sentiment in Switzerland, as typically occurs in countries with such beautiful scenery, and this is supported by such Swiss institutions as Pro-Natura. There is also a broad modern international-youth-culture throughout Switzerland that would be applicable to many countries, and the general European-Western culture has a strong influence on Switzerland as well.

A predominant cultural tendency in Switzerland is responsibility, safety, and respect for the rule of law with people even hesitant to cross the street unless the walk sign is green. Switzerland has traditionally had a very low rate and reputation for crime, yet many Swiss are concerned the crime rates have been slightly increasing with the large influxes of immigrants. On occasion, as reported in the newspapers, there are instances of a mugging, robbery, or attack on the streets of a big city, yet this is still quite rare, and even young women or children will walk unaccompanied through the forests or cities.

A number of culturally active Swiss have chosen to move abroad, in the historical past, many times as of limited opportunities and a difficult economic situation in Switzerland. These days the opportunities and economic prospects within Switzerland are excellent for Swiss citizens, with plentiful work opportunities that give preference to a Swiss citizen, and one million job openings filled by foreigners(1/4 the work force), one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, and a solid safety net of social services and aid to the jobless, yet many Swiss still choose to live abroad. The reasons vary, yet the Swiss have a fascination with foreign lands and a history of international diplomacy and peaceful involvement. Also Switzerland is a small country, so many feel they need to live somewhere larger or that seems to them as more important or exciting. Many then come back or just make temporary excursions. At the same time, the neutrality of Switzerland and the low taxes have attracted many creative people from all over the world, and the population is very diverse with many cultures represented at least on a small scale. On the news stands in even moderate sized towns there are papers in dozens of languages, representing many countries even far from Switzerland. In war times the tradition of political asylum helped to attract artists, scientists, and political figures. Recently a reputation for safety, security, and cleanliness, good economic prospects with low taxes, a high level of infrastructure, and beautiful scenery encourage many companies and also individual immigrants (both legal and illegal). Recently Switzerland has experienced more traditionalism and a turning inwards from some quarters, with a reluctance and hesitation towards more foreigners coming to the small country, especially those coming illegally or that the Swiss fear have begun to abuse the asylum and immigration systems.

There are still the various traditional mountain dress styles worn on festive occasions with the traditional music styles and yodelling. However it tends to be the older generation more engaged in such activities, and it is easier to find the young generation listening to hip-hop, rock, and electronic ambient & rave music these days than to hear them yodelling. On wandering through the mountains though, the alphorn will frequently be heard playing, and this Swiss cultural institution still seems to be thriving. Also the Swiss card game Jass is still quite popular in some areas. The mountainous regions promote the most traditional Swiss culture and try to maintain some traditions in the face of the pressures of modern international cosmopolitan cultural homogenization. Many times this is partly geared toward tourism as well, and the William Tell performances held at Interlaken are primarily visited by tourists, and many of the attendees at the various Swiss festivals are tourists, creating a blend of culture that takes in the visitor. There is a wide array of festivals and celebrations sometimes even specific to particular villages, and these tend to be culturally specific to the Swiss and geared primarily for them and their children, yet usually are attended by some visitors as well. The cities maintain a handful of traditional celebrations such as the "zweibelimärit" in the capital Bern in November. The Swiss National Independence Day, centered on the Rütli meadow in the center of Switzerland on August 1, is very popular with the Swiss themselves, and this celebration is a festive day across Switzerland, with large and impressive fireworks displays in all the towns, on the lakes, and even remote locations scattered across the mountainsides.

See also: Music of Switzerland, Swiss cuisine, and SRG SSR idée suisse


  1. The motto is traditional; it is not officially defined by the Swiss constitution or Swiss law. See Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno for more information.
  2. http://www.oefre.unibe.ch/law/icl/sz00000_.html Switzerland Constitution], article 70, "Languages": (1) The official languages of the Federation are German, French, and Italian. Romansh is an official language for communicating with persons of Romansh language. (2) The Cantons designate their own official languages. In order to preserve harmony between linguistic communities, they respect the traditional territorial distribution of languages, and take into account the indigenous linguistic minorities.
  3. http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/fr/index/themen/bevoelkerung/sprachen__religionen/blank/medienmitteilungen.Document.24786.html
  4. Swiss Government, median household income, 2003. Retrieved on 2007-01-19.
  5. OECD report on PPP income. Retrieved on 2007-01-19.
  6. [1]
  7. Since 1999, an initiative can also be in the form of a general proposal to be elaborated by Parliament, but because it is considered less attractive for various reasons, this form of initiative has yet to find any use.
  8. I.e., a majority of 23 cantonal votes, because the result of the popular vote in the six traditional half-cantons each counts as half the vote of one of the other cantons.
  9. http://c2d.unige.ch/int/voteres.php?entit=10&vote=101&lang=
  10. A zoomable map of Switzerland is available at either www.swissinfo-geo.org or www.swissgeo.ch; a zoomable satellite picture is at map.search.ch.
  11. Swiss Federal Statistical Office, Federal Population Census 2000
  12. [2]
  13. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35487.htm
  14. CIA World Factbook section on Switzerland
  15. available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_225_report_en.pdf



See also


External links


Official Switzerland









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