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Swiss people

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Title: Swiss people  
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Subject: Switzerland, Ethnic groups in Europe, Swiss Brazilian, Philippe A. Guye, Swiss emigration to Russia
Collection: Ethnic Groups in Europe, Ethnic Groups in Switzerland, Swiss People, Swiss Society
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Swiss people

Schweizer / Suisses / Svizzeri
Notable Swiss of different periods and origins[1]
Nicholas of Flüe • Paracelsus • Borromini • Euler
Rousseau • Alfred Escher • Henry Dunant • Carl Jung
Le Corbusier • Giacometti • Ursula Andress • Roger Federer
Total population
7 million[2]
Regions with significant populations
  Switzerland 4.36-6.07 million[3]
Rest of Europe 423,300
 France (194,500)[4]
 Germany (76,600)
 Italy (48,600)
 United Kingdom (28,900)
Americas 318,900
 Canada (146,830)[5]
 Chile (95,000)
 United States (75,000)
 Brazil (50,000)
 Mexico (3,300)[6]
 Colombia (2,000)
Asia 39,700
Oceania 29,600
Africa 19,600
Swiss German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian, Romansh
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (mainly Swiss Reformed)

The Swiss (German: die Schweizer, French: les Suisses, Italian: gli Svizzeri, Romansh: ils Svizzers) are citizens or natives of Switzerland.[7] The demonym derives from the toponym of Schwyz and has been in widespread use to refer to the Old Swiss Confederacy since the 16th century.[8]

Although the Swiss Confederation, the modern state of Switzerland, originated in 1848, the period of romantic nationalism, it is not a nation-state, and the Swiss are not usually considered to form a single ethnic group, but a confederacy (Eidgenossenschaft) or Willensnation ("nation of will", "nation by choice", that is, a consociational state), a term coined in conscious contrast to "nation" in the conventionally linguistic or ethnic sense of the term.[9]

The number of Swiss nationals has grown from 1.7 million in 1815 to 6.76 million in 2009, 90% of them living in Switzerland. About 60% of those living abroad reside in the European Union (423,300); the largest group of Swiss descendants outside of Europe is in Canada (146,830).


  • Ethno-linguistic composition 1
  • Cultural history and national identity 2
  • Naturalization 3
    • Statistics 3.1
    • Controversies 3.2
  • Genetics 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes and references 6
  • Bibliography 7

Ethno-linguistic composition

The traditional ethnic composition of the territories of modern Switzerland includes the following components:

With worldwide human migration, there are an increasing number of Swiss not descended or only partially descended from the core ethnic groups listed above. Most naturalized Swiss citizens will be linguistically oriented according to their canton of residence.

Similarly, differences between the various regions of Switzerland are increasingly being levelled as a consequence of increased mobility, so that the Swiss as a whole may be argued to be in the process of undergoing ethnogenesis.

Cultural history and national identity

Members of the Federal Council standing among the people in the crowded Federal Palace for the 2008 official photo

The Swiss populace historically derives from an amalgamation of Gaulish or Gallo-Roman, Alamannic and Rhaetic stock. Their cultural history is dominated by the Alps, and the alpine environment is often cited as an important factor in the formation of the Swiss national character.[10] The "Swiss illness", the condition of Swiss mercenaries pining for their mountainous native home, became prototypical of the medical condition of nostalgia ("homesickness") described in the 17th century,

Switzerland is atypical in its successful political integration of a multiethnic and multilingual populace, and is often cited as a model for new efforts at creating unification, as in the European Union's frequent invocation of the Swiss Confederate model.[11] Because the various populations of Switzerland share language, ethnicity, and religion not with each other but with the major European powers between whom Switzerland during the modern history of Europe found itself positioned, a policy of domestic plurality in conjunction with international neutrality became a matter of self-preservation.[12] Consequently, the Swiss elites during the period of the formation of nation states throughout Europe did not attempt to impose a national language or a nationalism based on ethnicity, instead pushing for the creation of a civic nation grounded in democratic ideology, common political institutions, and shared political ritual. Political allegiance and patriotism was directed towards the cantons, not the federal level, where a spirit of rivalry and competition rather than unity prevailed. C. G. Jung advanced the view that this system of social order was one of a "chronic state of mitigated civil war" which put Switzerland ahead of the world in a civilizatory process of "introverting" warlike aggression.[13]

Alphorn players in a folklore festival

From the 19th century there were conscious attempts to foster a federal "Pan-Swiss" national identity that would replace or alleviate the cantonal patriotisms. Among the traditions enlisted to this end were federal sharpshooting competitions or tirs, because they were one of the few recognized symbols of pan-Swiss identity prior to the creation of the 1815 Confederation and because they traditionally involved men from all levels of society, including the peasants, who in Romantic nationalism had become ideologically synonymous with liberty and nationhood.[14] An additional symbol of federal national identity at the federal level was introduced with the Swiss national holiday in 1889. The bonfires associated with the national holiday have become so customary since then that they have displaced the Funken traditions of greater antiquity. Identification with the national symbolism relating to the Old Swiss Confederacy was especially difficult for the cantons which had been joined to the Helvetic Republic in 1798 without any prior history of participation in the Swiss Confederacy, and which were given the status of Swiss cantons only after the end of the Napoleonic era. These specifically include Grisons, Valais, Ticino, Vaud and Geneva. St. Gallen is a special case in a different sense, being a conglomerate of various historical regions created in 1803; in this case, patriotism may attach itself even to sub-cantonal entities, such as the Toggenburg. Similarly, due to the historical imperialism of the canton of Berne, there is considerable irredentism within the Bernese lands, most visibly in the Bernese Jura but to a lesser extent also in parts of the Bernese Oberland such as Hasli.

According to Hartley-Moore (2007:213f.),

Localized equivalents of nationalist symbols were also essential to the creation of Swiss civil society. Rather than allowing a centralized federal government to force assimilation to a national ideal, Swiss policy nourished individual characteristics of different regional and language groups" throughout the country. In the Swiss model, pride in local identity is to some degree synonymous with loyalty to the larger state; national identity is nurtured through local "patriotism." As Gottfried Keller argued in the nineteenth century, "Without cantons and without their differences and competition, no Swiss federation could exist".


Swiss nationality law requires of candidates for regular naturalization a minimum of ten years of permanent, legal, notated residence (years spent in Switzerland between the 8th and 18th years of age count twice) and integration into the Swiss way of life as well as compliance with the Swiss rule of law.[15] Facilitated naturalization for foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens requires a total minimum residence of five years.[16]


With more than 20% of the population resident aliens, Switzerland has one of the highest ratios of non-naturalized inhabitants in Europe (comparable to the Netherlands; roughly twice the ratio of Germany). In 2003, 35,424 residents were naturalized, a number exceeding net population growth. Over the 25-year period of 1983 to 2007, 479,264 resident foreigners were naturalized, yearly numbers rising gradually from below 10,000 (0.1%) in the 1980s to above 40,000 (0.6%) in the 2000s.[17] Compare the figure of 0.2% (140,795) in the United Kingdom (2004).[18]


Naturalization procedures are subject to some controversy, with left-wing positions typically ascribing the high ratio of resident aliens to overly strict requirements, and right-wing positions opposing facilitation of naturalization as an attempt to hide the high percentage of foreigners by merely nominal naturalization.


The genetic composition of the Swiss population is similar to that of Central Europe in general. Switzerland is on one hand at the crossroads of several prehistoric migrations, while on the other hand the Alps acted as a refuge in some cases. Genetic studies found the following haplogroups to be prevalent:

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Nicholas of Flüe, Paracelsus, Francesco Borromini, Leonhard Euler, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alfred Escher, Henry Dunant, Carl Jung, Le Corbusier, Alberto Giacometti, Ursula Andress and Roger Federer are considered among the 100 most notable Swiss by the weekly SonntagsZeitung (Markus Schär and Joachim Laukenmann, 4 January 2009, "Top-Schweizer aller Klassen", SonntagsZeitung).
  2. ^ official figures for swiss people living abroad 2009 (Federal Office of Statistics)
  3. ^ "Permanent resident population aged 15 or over, by migration status,in 2008". Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Ethnic Origin (264), Single and Multiple Ethnic Origin Responses (3), Generation Status (4), Age Groups (10) and Sex (3) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2011 National Household Survey". Statistics Canada. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ The term is sometimes extended to include the descendants of Swiss emigrant, see e.g. "Swiss".  . Conversely, being born in Switzerland does not give an individual Swiss citizenship automatically (there are three levels of alien citizens status in Switzerland), so that there are numerous second generation legal aliens who are technically "natives of Switzerland" without being considered Swiss.
  8. ^ "Schwyz".  
  9. ^ Dissent to the effect that the state should be re-oriented along ethnic lines is constrained to far-right and völkisch circles such as the PNOS and remains a fringe position (held by far below 1% of Swiss citizens) in direct opposition to the letter and spirit of the Swiss Constitution.
  10. ^ "Some landscapes were highlighted because they were considered essential in the building of the nation and the shaping of its culture. This was most obvious in Switzerland where the Swiss character was forged by the daily confrontation with the difficult mountainous environment of the Alps. Lunn (1963) suggests that the wonderful scenery gave those who inhabited it an opportunity to develop a sense of dignity and grandeur." Niamh Moore, Yvonne Whelan, Heritage, memory and the politics of identity: new perspectives on the cultural landscape, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7546-4008-0, p. 88.
  11. ^ Hartley-Moore (2007)
  12. ^ Kohn 1956:15–20
  13. ^ Frank McLynn, Carl Gustav Jung (1997), ISBN 978-0-312-15491-2, chapter 1. "Jung advanced the paradox that the tolerable social order in Switzerland was a result of having `introverted' war; Switzerland was ahead of the rest of the world in that it was in a chronic state of mitigated civil war and did not direct its aggression outwards."
  14. ^ Hartley-Moore (2007), citing Kohn 1956:78.
  15. ^ Regular naturalisation
  16. ^ Facilitated naturalisation
  17. ^ Bundesamt für Migration
  18. ^ Persons Granted British Citizenship, 2004 (pdf)
  19. ^ Associated with the Paleolithic (Cro-Magnon); forming a small local maximum,
  20. ^ Associated with the Neolithic revolution
  21. ^
  22. ^, together with Northern Italy forming a local I1c minimum
  23. ^
  24. ^ Exhibiting a gradient of decreasing frequency east to west, shared with Germany and Northern Italy,
  25. ^
  26. ^ UPF.Edi


  • Walter Sorell, The Swiss: a cultural panorama of Switzerland Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.
  • Heinrich Zschokke, Des Schweizerlands Geschichten für das Schweizervolk, J. J. Mäcken, 1823. Google Books, trans. as The History of Switzerland, for the Swiss People by Francis George Shaw, 1855. Google Books
  • Frank Webb, Switzerland of the Swiss, Scribners, 1910.
  • Paul Bilton, The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss, Oval Projects Ltd, 1999. Google Books
  • Leo Schelbert, Swiss migration to America: the Swiss Mennonites, Ayer Publishing, 1980.
  • John Paul Von Grueningen, The Swiss In The United States: A Compilation Prepared for the Swiss-American Historical Society as the Second Volume of Its Publications, Swiss-American Historical Society, 1940, reprinted for Clearfield Co. by Genealogical Pub. Co., 2005, ISBN 978-0-8063-5265-7.
  • Henry Demarest Lloyd, John Atkinson Hobson, The Swiss democracy: the study of a sovereign people, T. F. Unwin, 1908.
  • J. Christopher Herold, The Swiss without halos, Greenwood Press, 1979.
  • Julie Hartley-Moore, The Song of Gryon: Political Ritual, Local Identity, and the Consolidation of Nationalism in Multiethnic Switzerland, Journal of American Folklore 120.476 (2007) 204–229.
  • Arnold Henry Moore Lunn, The Swiss and their mountains: a study of the influence of mountains on man, Rand McNally, 1963.
  • Hans Kohn, Nationalism and Liberty: The Swiss Example. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956.
  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “Transplanting multiculturalism: Swiss musical traditions reconfigured in multicultural Victoria”, in Joel Crotti and Kay Dreyfus (Guest Editors), Victorian Historical Journal, LXXVIII(2007), no. 2, pp. 187–205; later appeared in Bulletin - Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Musikethnologie und Gesellschaft für die Volksmusik in der Schweiz, October 2008, pp. 53–63.
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