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Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures, which have heavily influenced the country's languages and cultural practices. Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch (based on Latin and spoken by a small minority in the Canton Graubunden). The German spoken is predominantly a Swiss dialect, but newspapers and some broadcasts use High German. Many Swiss speak more than one language. English is widely known, especially among professionals.
More than 75% of the population lives in the central plain, which stretches between the Alps and the Jura Mountains and from Geneva in the southwest to the Rhine River and Lake Constance in the northeast. Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 20% of the population.
Almost all Swiss are literate. Switzerland's 13 institutes of higher learning enrolled 99,600 students in the academic year of 2001-02. About 25% of the adult population holds a diploma of higher learning.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of worship. The different religious communities co-exist peacefully.
Switzerland consistently ranks high on quality of life indices, including highest per capita income, one of the highest concentrations of computer and Internet usage per capita, highest insurance coverage per individual, and high health care rates. For these and many other reasons, it tops the list of desirable places to immigrate to.
Switzerland Facts ? History
Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule during the Gallic wars in the 1st century BC and remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. It later passed under the dominion of the Holy Roman emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.
With the opening of a new important north-south trade route across the Alps in the early 13th century, the Empire's rulers began to attach more importance to the remote Swiss mountain valleys, which were granted some degree of autonomy under direct imperial rule. Fearful of the popular disturbances flaring up following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledged mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule. The anniversary of the charter's signature (August 1, 1291) today is celebrated as Switzerland's National Day.
Between 1315 and 1388 the Swiss Confederates inflicted three crushing defeats on the Habsburgs, whose aspiration to regional dominion clashed with Swiss self-determination. During that period, five other localities joined the original three in the Swiss Confederation. Buoyed by their feats, the Swiss Confederates continuously expanded their borders by military means and gained formal independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Routed by the French and Venetians near Milan in 1515, they renounced expansionist policies. By then the Swiss Confederation had become a union of 13 localities with a regularly convening diet administering the subject territories. Swiss mercenaries continued for centuries to serve in other armies. The Swiss Guard of the Pope is a vestige of this tradition.
The Reformation led to a division between the Protestant followers of Zwingli and Calvin in the German and French parts of the country respectively, and the Catholics. Despite two centuries of civil strife, the common interest in the joint subject territories kept the Swiss Confederation from falling apart. The traffic in mercenaries as well as the alienation between the predominantly Protestant Swiss and their Catholic neighbors kept the Swiss Confederation out of the wars of the European powers, which formally recognized Swiss neutrality in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Swiss remained neutral during the War of the First Coalition against revolutionary France, but Napoleon, nonetheless, invaded and annexed much of the country in 1797, replacing the loose confederation with a centrally governed unitary state.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 re-established the old confederation of sovereign states and enshrined Switzerland's status of permanent armed neutrality in international law. In 1848, after a brief civil war between Protestant liberals seeking a centralized national state and Catholic conservatives clinging on to the old order, the majority of Swiss Cantons opted for a Federal State modeled in part on the U.S. Constitution. The Swiss Constitution established a range of civic liberties and made far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal autonomy to placate the vanquished Catholic minority. The Swiss amended their Constitution extensively in 1874, establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters, as well as introducing direct democracy by popular referendum. To this day, cantonal autonomy and referendum democracy remain trademarks of the Swiss polity.
Switzerland industrialized rapidly during the 19th century and by 1850 had become the second most industrialized country in Europe after Great Britain. During World War I serious tension developed between the German, French, and Italian-speaking parts of the country, and Switzerland came close to violating its neutrality but managed to stay out of hostilities. Labor unrest culminating in a general strike in 1918 marked the interwar period, but in 1937 employers and the largest trade union concluded a formal agreement to settle disputes peacefully, which governs workplace relations to the present day. During World War II, Switzerland came under heavy pressure from the fascist powers, which after the fall of France in 1940 completely surrounded the country. Some political and economic leaders displayed a mood of appeasement, but a combination of tactical accommodation and demonstrative readiness to defend the country helped Switzerland survive unscathed.
The Cold War enhanced the role of neutral Switzerland and offered the country a way out of its diplomatic isolation after World War II. Economically, Switzerland integrated itself into the American-led Western postwar order, but it remained reluctant to enter supranational bodies. Switzerland did not join the United Nations, even though Geneva became host to the UN's European headquarters, and the country played an active role in many of the UN's specialized agencies. Switzerland also remained aloof in the face of European integration efforts, waiting until 1963 to join the Council of Europe. It still remains outside the European Union. Instead, Switzerland in 1960 helped form the European Free Trade Area, which did not strive for political union. Following the Cold War, Switzerland finally became a member of the United Nations in 2002.
Switzerland Facts - Economy
Despite a dearth of natural resources, the Swiss economy is among the worlds most advanced and prosperous. Per capita income is virtually the highest in the world, as are wages. Trade has been the key to prosperity in Switzerland. The country is dependent upon export markets to generate income while dependent upon imports for raw materials and to expand the range of goods and services available in the country. Switzerland has liberal trade and investment policies and a conservative fiscal policy. The Swiss legal system is highly developed, commercial law is well defined, and solid laws and policies protect investments. The Swiss franc is one of the world's soundest currencies, and the country is known for its high standard of banking and financial services.
Being so closely linked to the economies of Western Europe and the United States, Switzerland has not been able to escape recent slowdowns experienced in these countries. During most of the 1990s, the Swiss economy was Western Europe's weakest, with annual GDP growth averaging 0% between 1991 and 1997. Beginning in late 1997, the economy steadily gained momentum until peaking in 2000 with 3% growth in real terms. But in 2001 the rate of growth dropped to 0.9%, and in 2002 and 2003 the economy virtually stagnated with real GDP up by only 0.1%. Economic performance in 2004 was better than expected thanks to eastern and Asian export markets, and GDP increased by 1.7%.
The recent economic slowdown has had a noticeable impact on the labor market. Unemployment increased from 2.6% in 2002 to 4.1% in December 2003, but has since dropped to 3.7%.
Switzerland's machinery, metals, electronics, and chemicals sectors are world-renowned for precision and quality. Together they account for well over half of Swiss export revenues.
In agriculture, Switzerland is about 60% self-sufficient. Swiss farmers are one of the most highly protected and subsidized producer groups in the world. OECD estimates show that Switzerland is subsidizing more than 70% of its agriculture, compared to 35% in the EU.
Tourism, banking, engineering, and insurance are significant sectors of the economy and heavily influence the country's economic policies. Swiss trading companies have unique marketing expertise in many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, the Far East, Africa, and the Middle East. Not only does Switzerland have a highly developed tourism infrastructure, the Swiss also are intrepid travelers.
The Swiss federal government remains deeply divided over EU membership as its long-term goal, and in a March 2001 referendum more than 70% of the voters rejected rapid steps toward EU membership. The issue of EU membership is likely to be shelved for several years, if not a decade.
Switzerland Facts ? Hard Facts
The citizens of Switzerland go by the name "Swiss." The population totals about 7.3 million and grows less than one percent a year in size. Religiously, Swiss categorize themselves as Roman Catholic 42%, Protestant 33%, Muslim 4.3%, others 5.4%, no religion 11%. Linguistically, they speak the following languages: German 63.7%, French 20.4%, Italian 6.5%, Romansch 0.5%, other 9.4%. The literacy rate is claimed to be 100 percent and the average life expectancy is 76.5 years for men and 82.5 for women.
As these Switzerland facts reveal, the country is unique in Europe from neutrality to its canon government structure, no country has managed to do so much with so many hostile neighbors. If you are considering traveling to Europe, Switzerland should definitely be a place you visit.