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History of Switzerland

Switzerland is a small country located in the heart of Central Europe and shares a lot of its history and of its culture (four national languages spoken in Switzerland) with its neighbours Germany, France, Italy and Austria. The country even has four national languages, which show exactly how close it has become to its neighbours.

Switzerland dates back to about 4oo A.D. when the majority of Switzerland’s “native” population settle during the Germanic ‘Migration of Nations’ and this was about the time when the Roman Empire was ending in Western Europe. It wasn’t till August 1, 1291 that Switzerland was founded officially as a country under ‘The Old Swiss Confederacy’ and governed as a member state of the Holy Roman Empire.  During the 13th and early 14th centuries the Swiss beat the Habsburg army, which was one of the very few countries that were able to do that.  This enabled the confederacy to continue within the Holy Roman Empire. In 1353, the confederacy (cantons) was joined by Berne, Zurich and Lucerne and this formed the ‘Old Federation’ of eight states within the country.

In 1499, the Swiss won a war against the Swabian League, which created their independence from the Holy Roman Empire. However, it wasn’t till 1648 when Switzerland’s neighbours finally accepted them as an independent nation.  

During the French Revolutionary Wars, most of Europe was overrun by the French and Switzerland was no different. In 1798, it became the united Helvetic Republic under the control of the French and this temporary abolished the cantons. After the defeat of Napoleon in Europe, European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality and independence in the Congress of Vienna.

In 1847, a civil war broke out between the Catholic and Protestant cantons, but this war only lasted a month and this was the last armed conflict on Swiss territory. The result of the war, Switzerland adopted a federal constitution, which was later amended more in 1874. This gave the cantonal governments power over defence, trade and all legal matters.

During World War I, all the European powers respected Switzerland’s independence. However, during World War II, the Nazi’s had drawn up plans to invade Switzerland and the Swiss, mobilized its militia, but the Nazi’s never attacked. The Swiss strategy was of a defence to protect all national interests. During World War II, the Swiss Franc was the only currency that was used both by the Allies and the Nazi’s. The Swiss banks later some under pressure after the war, because the Nazi’s sold over 1 billion francs worth of gold in exchange for Swiss Francs, which was then used to buy war materials. This gold that was exchanged at Swiss banks was stolen from occupied countries and Holocaust victims. Holocaust survivors, which included mainly Jewish, made a class-action lawsuit against the Swiss government and this lawsuit lasted till the 1990s when it was finally sorted.

In 1963, Switzerland joined the Council of Europe and women were granted the right to vote in 1971. Because of the countries neutrality many international organisations have based themselves in the country, which includes the United Nations building in Geneva. In 2002, Switzerland became a member of the United Nations, but is still not a member of the EU and will probably never be. Switzerland’s only alliance is the Schengen treaty and Dublin Convention, which it decided to join in 2005.






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