A brief “history” of….SchwitzerlandTravel
First thing, the present:
Today Switzerland has 4 official languages: german, french, italian and rhaeto-romanic, 8.08 million inhabitants (which is less than New York City), around 1.5 million cows (definitely more than New York), 350000 millionaires, 48 mountains over 4000m of which the highest one is Dufourspitze (to be honest, I didn’t even know this mountain) with 4634m and more than 1500 lakes.
Generation of electricity is 60% out of water power, they produce around 170000 tons of Chocolate every year and smoke unbelievable 100 tons of marihuana which is 12,4g per person!
They have one of 2 square state flags in the world (the other one is the Vatikan) and it’s illegal to keep guinea pigs as singles! They have to be two at least…
2005 Switzerland was the leading country concerning freedom of the press (Reporters without boarders), 2015 it is only No. 20!
In the List for Human Development Index (an indicator for prosperity) 1980 Switzerland was No.1, today it’s still No.3.
In the Corruption Index it has been in the Top 5 for years and 2015 it has been No.2 on the list of gross domestic product per capita (simplified, money per person) behind Luxemburg.
So far some facts.
But now, the past…
Who started the whole Helvetia thing??
Mighty Julius Caesar!
He decided 58 BC to install the celtic tribe called the Helvetii as guards in the area between the Alps and Jura, to keep the teutonic tribes north of the Rhine out of his Roman Empire.
After 400 BC the Teutons/Alemannians drove the Romans out of this region and settled in the east (what would become german-speaking Switzerland), some tribes from Burgundy in the west (this will be the french-speaking part). After years of back and forth being ruled by different sovereigns the territory ended up under control of powerful Habsburg dynasty.
Habsburg tried to squeeze out everything of the helvetic cantons, which of course didn’t please them.
The legend is that in 1291 (or like many historians think 1307) after the death of Rudolph I. of Habsburg the Forest Cantons Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden/Obwalden united and met on the Rütli meadow at the edge of Lake Lucerne to make a pact, that no foreign power should be acknowledge as a ruler in the future.
The story of Wilhelm Tell and his shooting an apple of his sons head is another legend, sometimes linked to the Rütli-Oath…but we do no want to complicate things even more…
Back to Rütli…if 1291 or 1307 doesn’t matter, it was the foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy, synonymous to Confederatio Helvetica = CH, which today still is the official abbreviation for Switzerland.
After having defeated the Habsburg dynasty in the 14th century more and more cantons join the Confederation: Luzern, Zürich, Glarus, Zug, Bern, Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel, Schaffhausen and Appenzell.
1499 after lots of battles and victories finally the Swiss Confederation gained independence from the Holy Roman Empire and got a little cocky, trying to become a world power of it’s own, expanding it’s boarders direction south till 1515 they suffered a painful defeat near Milano.
As a result they buried the dream of a helvetic empire and declared neutrality for the very first time.
An important step on the way to what defines Switzerland today.
And than there comes religion! The legend has it that it all started with sausages!
1522 some anti-catholic people gathered and against the law of catholic fasting had sausages…a revolution of a special kind! This led to the Protestant reformation led by Zwingli and Calvin.
That’s important because from now on part of the cantons were catholic, part protestant. And because like that the cantons couldn’t reach agreement they kept their neutrality in the devastating Thirty Years’ War in which the Holy Roman Empire tried to impose religious uniformity and which left parts of Europe ruined and depopulated by hunger and plague.
Switzerland instead kept their hands clean, a wise decision. 1648 they finally gained complete independence of the Holy Roman Empire.
But after years of peace the French army invaded Switzerland during the French Revolution.
The Swiss sat it out and after Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo to the British and Prussian the cantons of Aargau, St. Gallen, Graubünden, Tessin, Thurgau and Vaud joined. The Congress of Vienna 1815 fully reestablished swiss independence and the european powers agreed to recognize permanent swiss neutrality.
Did anyone count? How many cantons do we have till now? …20…
Wallis, Neuchâtel and Geneva also joined Switzerland as new cantons, thereby extending Swiss territory to its current boundaries…23 cantons!??
Hmmm, aren’t there 26 cantons today?
Tricky thing cause Basel and Appenzell count double (Basel-Stadt and Basel-Land, Appenzell-Ausserrhoden and Innerrhoden).
Puuuh, only 25…google, google.…Ahhh, the solution is that only in 1979 a part of the canton Bern became Jura…Now we got 26!
Apart from a short and only slightly bloody civil war in the 1840s, which led to the first federal constitution and Bern being elected as capital, from now on there was peace and Switzerland practiced a neutral foreign policy.
No participation in World War I.
Neutrality in World War II although there where attempts by Switzerland’s small Nazi party to cause an Anschluss with Germany which failed miserably, largely due to Switzerland’s multicultural heritage, strong sense of national identity and long tradition of direct democracy and civil liberties.
On the other hand Switzerland after having invented the banking secret in 1934 had huge profits from Nazi bank accounts. Only in the 1990s after several scandals there were reparation payments to the survivors of Holocaust.
During the Cold War Switzerland considered the construction of a nuclear bomb, but never built one.
But even if this all sounds very progressive one field was not that exemplary.
After a century of agitation, women were finally granted the right to vote in 1971. An equal rights amendment was ratified in 1981.
And Neutrality has been a main mark of swiss politics during modern times. They are neither a member of the European Union nor of the NATO. Switzerland has avoided alliances that might entail military, political or direct economic action. They joined the UN in 2002 and the Schengen Agreement in 2005.
After lots of years with a stable 4-party-coallition government (CVP, FDP, SPS, SVP) there has been a gradual shift in direction to the right-wing SVP (Schweizer Volks Partei/Swiss People’s Party).
Let’s see what happens in the future, will they keep their neutrality forever? And will they stay an island of wealth and and bliss in the midst of maybe collapsing Europe?
We will see!
But in the end Switzerland is an enormously beautiful country in which we are gonna stay for longer after we’ve won one of europe’s lotteries!