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Schweiz (German), Suisse (French), Svizzera (Italian), Svizzra (Romansh)
Location and Geography. Covering
15,950 square miles (41,290 square kilometers),
Demography. The population in 1998
was 7,118,000; it has increased more than threefold since 1815, when the
borders were established. The birthrate has been decreasing since the end of
the nineteenth century, but immigration plays a major role in increasing the
population. Since World War II and after a long tradition of emigration,
According to the 1990 census, 71.6 percent of the population lives in the German-speaking region,23.2 percent in the French-speaking region, over 4 percent in the Italian-speaking region, and just under one percent in the Romansh-speaking region.
Linguistic Affiliation. The use of
the German language goes back to the early Middle
Ages, when the Alamans invaded lands where Romance languages were developing.
The dominance of German in
In the French-speaking region, the original Franco-Provencal dialects have almost disappeared in favor of a standard French colored by regional accents and some lexical features.
The Italian-speaking region is bilingual, and people speak standard Italian
as well as different regional dialects, although the social status of the
dialects is low. More than half the Italian-speaking population living in
spoken in southeastern
Because the founding cantons were German-speaking, the question of
multilingualism appeared only in the nineteenth century, when French-speaking
cantons and the Italian-speaking
Symbolism. The national symbols mirror the attempt to achieve unity while maintaining diversity. The stained-glass windows of the House of Parliament's dome show the cantonal flags brought together around the national emblem of a white cross on a red background, surrounded by the motto Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno ('One for all, all for one'). The national flag, officially adopted in 1848, originated in the fourteenth century, as the first confederate cantons needed a common sign for recognition among their armies. The white cross on a red background comes from the flag of the canton of Schwyz, which has a red background symbolizing holy justice and a small representation of Christ on the cross at the upper left corner. Because of the ferocity of the Schwyz soldiers, their enemies used the name of this canton to designate all the confederated cantons.
After the formation of the federal state, efforts were made to promote national symbols that would strengthen a common national identity. However, the cantonal sense of identity never lost its significance and the national symbols often are considered artificial. The national day (1 August) did not become an official holiday until the end of the twentieth century. The celebration of the national day is often awkward, as very few people know the national anthem. One song served as the national anthem for a century but was criticized because of its warlike words and because its melody was identical to that of the British national anthem. This led the Federal Government to declare the 'Swiss Psalm,' another popular song, the official national anthem in 1961, although this did not become official until 1981.
William Tell is widely known as the national hero. He is presented as a
historical figure living in central
Emergence of the Nation. The
construction of the nation lasted six centuries, after the original oath in
1291, when the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwald concluded an alliance. The
different circumstances under which the cantons joined the confederation
account for differences in the degree of attachment to the 'nation,'
a term rarely used in
The model of a united nation was tested by the
Tension among the cantons took the form of conflict between liberals and
conservatives, between industrialized and rural cantons, and between Protestant
and Catholic cantons. The liberals struggled for popular political rights and
the creation of federal institutions that would allow
A reexamination of the national image has resulted from the country's banks' treatment of Jewish
Traditional-style buildings in the old
funds during World War II. In 1995, public revelations started to be made about 'sleeping' accounts in Swiss banks whose holders had disappeared during the Nazi genocide. Historians had already published critical analyses of the behavior of banks and the Swiss federal authorities during a period when thousands of refugees were accepted but thousands of others were sent back to probable death. The authors of these analyses were accused of denigrating their country. It took fifty years for internal maturation and the international accusations for a critical reexamination of the country's recent history to occur and it is too early to assess how this self-examination has affected the national identity. However, it probably represents the acme of a period of collective doubt that has marked the last decades of the twentieth century.
Ethnic Relations. The notion of
ethnic groups is rarely used in a nation where the concept of a linguistic or
cultural group is preferred. Reference to ethnicity is very rare in regard to
the four national linguistic groups. Ethnicity emphasizes a sense of a common
identity that is based on a shared history and shared roots transmitted from
generation to generation. In
Tensions between the linguistic, cultural, and religious groups have always
generated a fear that intergroup differences would endanger the national unity.
The most difficult relations are those between the German-speaking majority and
the French-speaking minority. Fortunately, in
A Swiss alpine village in the Jungfrau
the risk of focusing on the linguistic and cultural dimensions cannot be ignored.
The architectural styles of traditional regional houses have great diversity. A common neo-classical architectural style can be seen in national public and private institutions such as the railway company, the post office, and the banks.
Food in Daily Life. Regional and local culinary specialties generally are based on a traditional type of cooking, rich in calories and fat, that is more suited to outdoor activity than to a sedentary way of life. Dairy products such as butter, cream, and cheese are important parts of the diet, along with pork. More recent eating habits show a growing concern for healthy food and a growing taste for exotic food.
Basic Economy. A lack of raw materials and limited agricultural production (one-fourth of the territory is unproductive because of mountains, lakes, and rivers) caused Switzerland to develop an economy based on the transformation of imported raw materials into high-added-value finished products mainly destined for exportation. The economy is highly specialized and dependent on international trade (40 percent of the gross domestic product [GDP] in 1998). The per capita gross domestic product is the second highest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
Land Tenure and Property. Land can be acquired and used like any other goods, but a distinction is made between agricultural and nonagricultural land to prevent the disappearance of agricultural plots. Land speculation flourished in the 1980s. In reaction to that speculation, measures have been taken to limit the free use of privately owned land. Precise land planning was established to specify the possible uses of plots. Since 1983, nonresident foreigners have faced limitations in buying land or buildings.
Commercial Activities. In the last decades of the twentieth century, the Swiss economic structure was deeply transformed. Core economic sectors such as machine production declined considerably, while the tertiary sector experienced considerable growth and became the most important employer and contributor to the economy.
Trade. The most important exported
industrial products are machines and electronic instruments (28 percent of
exports in 1998), chemicals (27 percent), and watches, jewelry, and precision
instruments (15 percent). Due to the lack of natural resources, raw materials
are an important part of the imports and are vital to industry, but
Swiss cities, such as
Division of Labor. In 1991, over 63 percent of the GDP consisted of services (wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels, finance, insurance, real estate, and business services), over 33 percent was accounted for by industry, and 3 percent by agriculture. The historically very low unemployment rate rose to over 5 percent during the economic crisis of the 1990s with important differences between the regions and between nationals and foreigners. The economic recovery of the last years of the decade reduced the unemployment rate to 2.1 percent in the year 2000, but many workers in their fifties and workers with low qualifications have been excluded from the labor market. The level of qualification determines access to employment and thus to participation in a society that values work highly.
Classes and Castes. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the richest 20 percent of the population owns 80 percent of total private assets. Yet the class structure is not particularly visible. The middle class is large and for its members, upward or downward social mobility is rather easy.
Symbols of Social Stratification. The cultural norm is for wealth to remain discreet. Too manifest a demonstration of wealth is negatively valued, but poverty is perceived as shameful, and many people hide their economic situation.
The Federal Assembly elects the seven members of the executive branch, known as the Federal Council. They form a collective government with a rotating one-year presidency mainly for ceremonial tasks. Several criteria are taken into account in electing members of the Federal Council, including political party membership (since the late 1950s, the political composition follows the 'magic formula,' which gives two representatives to each of the three main parties and one representative to the fourth one), linguistic and cantonal origin, religious affiliation, and gender.
Leadership and Political Officials. Leadership positions can be achieved by being a militant (usually starting at the communal level) in one of the four governmental parties: FDP/PRD (Liberal-Radicals), CVP/PDC (Christian Democrats), SPS/PSS (Social Democrats), and SVP/UDC (a former farmers' party but since 1971 the Swiss People's Party in the German-speaking region and the Democratic Union of the Center in the French-speaking region). Contact with political officials can be relatively easy, but a cultural norm states that well-known persons should be left in peace. The numerous activities of a highly participatory society are considered more appropriate opportunities to meet political officials.
Social Problems and Control. Civil and criminal law are powers of the confederation, while legal procedure and the administration of justice are
cantonal responsibilities. Each canton has its own police system and the powers of the federal police are limited. Fighting modern crime such as money laundering revealed the inadequacy of those fragmented justice and police systems, and reforms are under way to develop coordination among the cantons and give more authority to the Confederation.
Military Activity. In a neutral country, the army is purely defensive. It is a militia based on obligatory service for all men between ages eighteen and forty-two and represents for many people a unique opportunity to relate to compatriots from other linguistic regions and social classes. Therefore, the army is often considered an important factor in national identity. Since 1990, a few Swiss soldiers have been active in international conflict sites in support activities such as logistics.
Social welfare is mainly a public system, organized at the federal level and partially financed by an insurance system involving direct contributions by residents. An exception is health coverage, which is obligatory but decentralized among hundreds of insurance companies. Federal regulation of health coverage is minimal and contributions are not proportional to one's salary. Parental leave depends on sector-based agreements between employees and unions. During the last twenty-five years, public spending for social welfare increased more rapidly than the GDP because of the economic recession and increasing unemployment, as well as the extension of the social welfare system. The aging of the population is expected to increase the pressure on social welfare in the future. Nongovernmental organizations often are subsidized and provide complementary services notably in supporting the poor.
Associative life ranges from the local level to the federal level. The rights of referendum and initiative foster active participation by citizens in numerous associations and movements, which are widely
A waiter pours drinks on the Glacier Express, a famous
mountain railway that makes a nearly eight-hour journey between
consulted by the political authorities. The authorities' search for a social consensus results in a kind of institutionalization of these movements, which are rapidly integrated into the social system. This gives them a chance to propagate their ideas and concerns but also results in a certain loss of pugnacity and originality.
Division of Labor by Gender. Although women's situation has improved since the 1970s, the constitutional article dealing with equality between the sexes has not been effective in many fields. The dominant model of sex roles is traditional, reserving the private sphere for women (in 1997, 90 percent of women in couples with young children were responsible for all housework) and the public sphere for men (79 percent of the men had a job, whereas the proportion was only 57 percent for women, whose jobs are often part-time). The vocational choices of women and men are still influenced by traditional conceptions of sex roles.
The Relative Status of Women and Men.
Marriage. Marriages are not arranged anymore, but there has been a persistence of endogamy in terms of social class. Binational marriages represent a growing trend. After a loss of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, the marriage rate increased in the 1990s. Marriage frequently is preceded by a period of cohabitation. Couples get married late in life, and divorce and remarriage are common. There are no longer any dowry obligations. The possibility of a legal partnership status for homosexual couples is being investigated.
Domestic Unit. Households made of one or two persons represented only one-quarter of households in the 1920s but accounted for two-thirds in the 1990s. The extended family of the beginning of the twentieth century, with three or more generations living together, has been replaced by the nuclear family. Both parents share family responsibility. Since the 1980s, other family models have become more common, such as single-parent families and blended families in which couples form a new family with the children from their former marriages.
Inheritance. The law restricts a testator's freedom to distribute property, since a proportion of it is reserved for the legal heirs, who are difficult to disinherit. The order of precedence among legal heirs is defined by the degree of proximity of kinship. The children and the surviving spouse have priority. Children inherit equal shares.
Kin Groups. Although kin groups no longer live under the same roof, they have not lost their social function. Mutual support among kin groups is still important, especially in critical situations such as unemployment and illness. With increased life expectancy recently retired persons may take care of their parents and grandchildren simultaneously.
Infant Care. Although the second half of the twentieth century saw the appearance of fathers who take an active part in their children's education, child care is still seen mainly as the mother's responsibility. Women often face this responsibility while being professionally active, and the demand for day care centers is far beyond their availability. Customary practices teach infants both autonomy and docility. Newborns are expected to learn rapidly to sleep alone in a separate room, submitting to a schedule of feeding and sleep that is set by adults.
Child Rearing and Education. Traditional conceptions of child rearing are still strong. This often is seen as a natural process that takes place primarily in the family, especially between a child and his or her mother. Day care centers often are seen as institutions for children whose mothers are forced to work. These conceptions are still prominent in the German-speaking region and led to the rejection in 1999 of an initiative to institutionalize a generalized social insurance system for maternity. Kindergarten is not mandatory, and attendance is particularly low in the German-speaking region. In kindergarten, in the German-speaking region, play and a family-like structure are favored, whereas in those in the French-speaking region, more attention is given to the development of cognitive abilities.
Higher Education. Education and training are highly valued in a country with few natural resources. The emphasis has traditionally been on vocational training through a system of apprenticeship. The most popular areas are the clerical professions (24 percent of the apprentices) and professions in the machine industry (23 percent). Apprenticeship is more popular in the German-speaking region than in the French and Italian-speaking regions. In 1998, only 9 percent of the population age twenty-seven had an academic diploma. Education is mostly state subsidized, even if unitersity fees have been significantly increased recently. Humanities and social sciences are by far the most popular fields for study (27 percent of the diplomas), especially for women, as 40 percent of the female student population chooses these fields. Only 6 percent of the female student population studies technical sciences. Regional differences exist, with more French-speaking students attending a university.
Respect for privacy and discretion are key values in social interaction. In public spaces such as trains, strangers normally do not speak to each other. Kindness and politeness in social interaction are expected; in smaller shops, clients and vendors thank each other several times. Cultural differences between the linguistic regions include the more frequent use of titles and professional functions in the German-speaking region, and the use of a kiss rather than a handshake in the French-speaking region.
Religious Beliefs. Catholicism and Protestantism are the major religions. For centuries, Catholics were a minority, but in 1990 there were more Catholics (46 percent) than Protestants (40 percent). The proportion of people belonging to other churches has risen since 1980. The Muslim community, representing over 2 percent of the population in 1990, is the largest religious minority. The Jewish community has always been very small and experienced discrimination; in 1866, Swiss Jews received the constitutional rights held by their Christian fellow citizens.
Church attendance is decreasing, but the practice of prayer has not disappeared.
Religious Practitioners. Although the Constitution calls for separation of church and state, churches are still dependent on the state. In many cantons, pastors and priests receive salaries as civil servants, and the state collects ecclesiastical church taxes. Theses taxes are mandatory for persons who are registered as members of publicly recognized religion unless they officially resign from a church. In some cantons, the churches have sought independence from the state and are now faced with important economic difficulties.
Death and the Afterlife. In the past death was part of the social life of a community and involved a precise set of rituals, but the modern tendency has been to minimize the social visibility of death. More people die in the hospital than at home, funeral homes organize funerals, and there are no more funeral processions or mourning clothing.
In the twentieth century, life expectancy increased, and health expenditures have been increasing. As a consequence, the health system is confronted by the ethical dilemma of rationalizing health services. The western biomedical model is dominant among the medical authorities and most of the population, and the use of natural or complementary medicines (new alternative therapies, exotic therapies, and indigenous traditional therapies) is limited.
Celebrations and official holidays differ from canton to canton. Common to the whole country are National Day (1 August) and New Year's Day (1 January); religious celebrations shared by Protestants and Catholics include Christmas (25 December), Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.
Support for the Arts. Several institutions support cultural
activities including cantons and communes, the confederation, foundations,
corporations, and private donors. At the national level, this is the task of
the Federal Office for Culture and Pro Helvetia, an autonomous foundation
financed by the confederation. To support artists, the Federal Office for
Culture is advised by experts who represent the linguistic regions and are
often artists themselves. Pro
Literature. Literature reflects the
national linguistic situation: very few authors reach a national audience
because of the language but also because of the cultural differences between
the linguistic regions. French-speaking Swiss literature is oriented towards
Graphic Arts. Switzerland possesses a rich tradition in graphic arts; several Swiss painters and graphists are internationally well-known for their work, principally for the creation of posters, banknotes, and fonts for printing (for example, Albrecht Dürer, hans Erni, Adrian Frutiger, Urs Graf, Ferdinand Hodler, and Roger Pfund).
Performance Arts. Besides the
subsidized theatres (subsidized most frequently by towns), numerous partially
subsidized theatres and amateur companies offer rich programs to their
audiences, with both local and international productions. The history of
The physical sciences receive a high level of funding because they are
considered crucial for maintaining and strengthening the country's
technological and economic position. Swiss research in physical sciences has an
excellent international reputation. A growing source of concern is that many
young researchers trained in
The situation of the social sciences is less positive as a result of low level of funding and a lack of status and public attention.
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