Switzerland Essay, Research Paper
Switzerland is a small European country known for its beautiful,
snow-capped mountains and freedom-loving people. The Alps and the Jura
Mountains cover more than half of Switzerland. However, most of the Swiss
people live on a plateau that extends across the middle of the country
between the two mountain ranges. In this region are most of
Switzerland?s capital, Bern, and largest city, Zurich, are also there.
The Swiss have a long tradition of freedom. About 700 years ago,
people in what is now central Switzerland agreed to help each other stay
free from foreign rule. Gradually, people in nearby areas joined them
in what became to be known as the Swiss Confederation. Various Swiss
groups speak different languages. Switzerland has three official
languages?German, French, and Italian. The Latin name for Switzerland,
Helvetia, appears on Swiss coins and postage stamps.
The Swiss now show great pride in their long independence.
Switzerland has no regular army, but almost all the men receive military
training yearly. They keep their weapons and uniforms at home, and can be
called up quickly in an emergency. Local marksmanship contests are held
In the early 1500?s, Switzerland established a policy of not taking
sides in the many wars that raged in Europe. During World Wars I and
II, Switzerland remained an island of peace. Almost all the nations
around it took part in the bloody struggles. Switzerland provided safety
for thousands who fled from the fighting, or from political
persecution. The nation?s neutrality policy helped the Swiss develop valuable
banking services to people of countries throughout the world, where banks
are less safe. The League of Nations, the major world organization of
the 1920?s and 1930?s, had its headquarters in the Swiss City of
Geneva. Today, many international organizations, including various United
Nations agencies, have headquarters in Geneva.
Switzerland has limited natural resources, but it is a thriving
industrial nation. Using imported raw materials, the Swiss manufacture
high-quality goods including electrical equipment, machine tools, and
watches. They also produce chemicals, drugs, chocolate, and cheese and
other dairy products.
The government of Switzerland is based on the Swiss Constitution of
1848, which was changed greatly in 1874. The Constitution establishes a
federal republic in which political powers are divided between the
central government and cantonal (state) governments.
In some ways, the Swiss government is one of the most democratic in
the world. Swiss citizens enjoy close control over their laws through
the rights of the referendum and the initiative.
The referendum allows the people to demand a popular vote on laws
passed by the legislature. A vote must be held if 50,000 people request
it. The people can then accept or veto the law.
The initiative gives Swiss citizens the right to bring specific
issues before the people for a vote. Such a vote may force a change in
government policy or may amend the Constitution. An initiative requires a
petition by at least 100,000 citizens. All voters must be at least 20
Cantonal and local government. Swiss voters elect executive
councils and legislatures in the cantons, half-cantons, and cities. The
country?s six half-cantons were originally three undivided cantons. They
split into separate political units with as much power of self-government
as the full cantons. But each half-canton sends only one
representative to the national legislature?s Council of States, instead of two.
In one canton and in four of the half-cantons, the people vote by a
show of hands at open-air meeting called a Landsgemeinde. Similar
meetings of voters are held in the small towns and villages.
Politics. Switzerland has a wide range of political parties.
However, there are few differences among the large ones. Therefore, the
parties cooperate easily. The three largest political parties have about
an equal degree of strength. They are the Christian Democratic Party,
the Radical Democratic Party, and the Social Democratic Party.
Defense. Switzerland has a militia (citizens? army) instead of
regular armed forces. Swiss men are required to begin a series of
military-training periods at the age of 20. They can be called into service
until the age of 50. Men whose health or work makes them unable to serve
in the militia and men who live out of the country must pay a special
Even after the Swiss began to join forces about 700 years ago to
defend themselves, people from different areas kept their own ways of
life. They defended these ways of life in the same spirit of independence
that has made Switzerland famous. Therefore, the Swiss still differ
greatly among themselves in language, customs, and traditions. These
variations are apparent from region to region, and even among some small
In the past, the local patriotism of the Swiss was so strong that
most of them thought of themselves as part of their own local area more
than of their country. They considered the Swiss of other areas almost
foreign rivals, and feuds among various areas lasted for hundreds of
years. But at most when their country faced danger, the Swiss stood
together as one people. Today, local patriotism has largely been replaced
by national patriotism.
Population. Switzerland has about 7 million people. About 1
million of the people are foreign-born. Nearly a third of the country?s
foreign-born population came from Italy. Large groups of people from
France, West Germany, and Spain also reside in Switzerland. Switzerland has
a larger percentage of foreign-born residents than any other European
country. Foreign workers have been recruited to fill newly created
jobs, because Switzerland?s economy has grown faster than its domestic