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Swiss (people)

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Swiss (people)

Schweizer / Suisses / Svizzeri
Roger Federer
Total population
6.76 million[2]
Regions with significant populations
  Switzerland 4.36-6.07 million[3]
Rest of Europe 423,300
 France (179,100)
 Germany (76,600)
 Italy (48,600)
 Spain (23,800)
Americas 318,900
 Argentina (140,000)
 Chile (120,000)
 United States (75,000)
 Brazil (50,000)
 Canada (38,900)
 Colombia (2,000)
Asia 39,700
Oceania 29,600
Africa 19,600
Swiss German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian, Romansh
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism

The Swiss (German: die Schweizer, French: les Suisses, Italian: gli Svizzeri, Romansh: ils Svizzers) are citizens or natives of Switzerland.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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 overseas expatriate community is in Argentina (150,000).

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

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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 diaspora

The Swiss diaspora (German: Auslandschweizer), also referred to as "fifth Switzerland" (German: Fünfte Schweiz,[12] Italian: Quinta Svizzera, French: Cinquième Suisse, Romansh: Tschintgavla Svizra), alluding to the fourfold linguistic division within Switzerland), Swiss people living abroad, accounts for some 9% of Swiss citizens.

In 2006 (on 31 December), Switzerland had 645,010 citizens registered as residing abroad. 71% of these had dual citizenships. Of these, 389,732 (60%) resided in the European Union. About 498,395 of Swiss residing abroad were adults, 146,615 were minors 18 years old. Of the adult population, 58.2% were female, 41.8% were male. Distributed by continent, 415,000 live in Europe, 169,000 in the Americas, 35,000 in Asia, 28,000 in Oceania and 19,000 in Africa.


Main article: Swiss Argentine

By 1940 some 44,000 Swiss had emigrated to Argentina, settling mainly in the provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe, and to a lesser extent, in Buenos Aires. In 1856 the colony farm of Esperanza was founded in Santa Fe becoming the mother of agricultural colonies in Argentina, and thus beginning a long process of European colonization and immigration on Argentine soil. Current estimates state 150,000 Swiss descendants residing in Argentina.[13]


Main article: Swiss Australian

Over 20,000 people of Swiss origin live in Australia.


Main article: Swiss Brazilian

The history of Swiss immigration to Brazil began with the foundation of the colony of Nova Friburgo[14] in 1819. Nova Friburgo was the first colonial company contracted by the Portuguese government. The immigrant colonists wrote letters for publication in Swiss newspapers of the period, and these documents reveal the migrants' perceptions, information and expectations.

On 4 July 1819 1,088 Swiss, including 830 from the Canton of Fribourg, departed from Estavayer-le-Lac on Lake Neuchâtel. They included Jean-Claude Marchon, his wife Marie Prostasie Chavannaz Marchon, his brother Antoine Marchon and fiancée Marieanne Elizabeth Clerc. They travelled first to Basle, the meeting point of the Swiss Transmigration for Brasil. And then 2.000 Swiss, by the Rhein River, go to Holland and after a lot of peripetia they depart from St. Gravendeel, near Dordrecht, in the Daphne, for the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, on September 11. Their arrival in Rio de Janeiro was on November 4, spending 55 days, a very good time for the epoch. And, finally, they arrive in Morro-Queimado (Burnt Mount) on November 15, 1819 – about 12000 kilometers in 105 days, approximately 114 kilometers a day.


Suzanne Rahaman Aeby (b. 1954 Freibourg), a former nurse, is the mother of Pengiran Anak Sarah, the wife of Brunei's Crown Prince, Al-Muhtadee Billah.


Dr. Beat Richner (b. 1947) is a Swiss pediatrician, cellist, and founder of several children's hospitals in Cambodia. Richner worked at the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital in Phnom Penh in 1974 and 1975. When the Khmer Rouge overran Cambodia, he was forced to return to Switzerland. In 1991, Richner returned to Cambodia and re-opened the children's hospital after a request by the King. He has opened four children's hospitals in Cambodia, Kantha Bopha I and II in Phnom Penh and Jayavarman VII in Siem Reap. Kantha Bopha IV was opened in Phnom Penh in 2005. A 5th hospital is currently being constructed (also in Phnom Penh). He performs free concerts at the Jayavarman VII hospital in Siem Reap on Friday and Saturday nights. During the events, he asks the younger audience members for their blood, the older ones for money, and the ones in between for both. The Kantha Bopha hospitals treat half a million children per year free of charge. Approx 100,000 seriously ill children are admitted. Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever and typhoid are common, often exacerbated by the presence of TB. Dr Richner's hospitals are primarily funded by donations from individuals in Switzerland. Richner was named "Swiss of the Year" in 2003.


Main article: Swiss Chilean

The percentage of Swiss in Chile is small, despite having a relatively large number of members. This is because their linguistic and cultural characteristics are commonly confused with Germans, Italians and French. Swiss migration to Chile took place at the end of the nineteenth century, between 1883 and 1900, particularly in the area of Araucanía, especially in Victoria and Traiguén. It is estimated that more than 8,000 families received grants of land.[15]

Between April 1876 and May 1877 a contingent of Swiss immigrants comprising 119 families came to the area of Magellanes (Punta Arenas and Fresh Water), mostly peasants from the canton of Fribourg.[16]

Later, during the period from 1915 to 1950, was the last recorded mass exodus of Swiss to Chile. 30,000 people settled in the central area of the country, primarily in Santiago and Valparaíso.[17] There are currently 5,000 Swiss citizens residing in Chile and 90,000 Swiss descendants.[18]


The largest number of Swiss immigrants arrived in France between the 1850s and the 1930s. Many of these Swiss settled in Alsace and in the cities of Paris, Marseille and Lyon.[19] There are currently 170,000 Swiss citizens residing in France.[20]

Swiss immigration to France, from 1851 to 1936
Source: Quid 2003, p. 624, b.
Nationality 1851 1891 1901 1921 1926 1931 1936
Swiss 25,485 83,117 72,047 90,000 123,119 98,000 79,000


Significant emigration of Swiss people to the Russian Empire occurred from the late 17th to the late 19th century. The late 18th and early 19th century saw a flow of Swiss farmers forming colonies such as Şaba (Bessarabia, at the Dniester Liman, now part of Ukraine). The Russian-Swiss generally prospered, partly merging with German diaspora populations.


A number of Swiss people live in Singapore. The Swiss Club in Singapore was established in 1871. The first shooting festival of the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club of Singapore was held during 1871. By 1902 the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club built a simple clubhouse with a palm roof and shooting range on the slopes of Bukit Tinggi. In 1925, the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club became the Swiss Club. In 1927, a new clubhouse was inaugurated. It was built by H R Arbenz and the Club's main restaurant is named after him. It is only Swiss club with its own clubhouse and swimming pool outside Switzerland. It is located at the end of Swiss Club Road just off Bukit Timah Road. There is a Swiss School for elementary students on the same grounds. The Swiss Embassy in Singapore is also nearby. There are a number of Swiss banks and businesses with offices in Singapore. One of the oldest was Diethelm, today DKSH also known as DiethelmKellerSiberHegner headquartered in Zurich. The company today offers sourcing, marketing, sales, distribution and after-sales-services. It has its origin in the activities of three Swiss entrepreneurs who sailed in the 1860s east to East Asia. Independently and within a few years of each other, Wilhelm Heinrich Diethelm set off for Singapore, Eduard Anton Keller for the Philippines and Hermann Siber for Yokohama. In 1871 Wilhelm Heinrich Diethelm joined Hooglandt & Co., Singapore, established in 1860, acquired the company in 1887 and founded Diethelm & Co. Ltd. in Singapore. Other Swiss organizations in Singapore include the Swiss Association of Singapore and the Swiss Business Association Singapore.

Sri Lanka

“Schweizerischer Hülfsverein in Ceylon” was founded on 15 September 1933. In the beginning, the main purpose was to provide assistance to needy Swiss citizens. In 1956, the Swiss Circle Colombo was established to promote social activities among Swiss nationals in Ceylon. It is now known as Swiss Circle Sri Lanka.

United States

Main article: Swiss American

The first Swiss person in what is now the territory of the United States was Theobald von Erlach (1541–1565).[21] Before the year 1820 some estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Swiss entered British North America. Most of them settled in regions of today's Pennsylvania as well as North and South Carolina.

Most Swiss preferred rural villages of the Midwest and the Pacific Coast, where especially the Italian Swiss took part in California's winegrowing culture.[22] Swiss immigration diminished after 1930 because of the Great Depression and World War II.

In 1999 New Glarus, Wisconsin was chosen as the future home of the Swiss Center of North America, a cultural center dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Swiss culture. New Glarus was chosen because of its central location and the large concentration of Swiss Americans in the vicinity. Funds for the centre came from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, State of Wisconsin, Canton of Glarus, and corporations, including General Casualty Insurance, Nestle USA, Novartis, Phillip Morris Europe, and Victorinox.


Main article: Swiss Venezuelan

Joaquin Ritz and Melchor Grubel arrived in Venezuela in 1529 and 1535 respectively - the first Swiss who came to South America. By 1940 some 1,900 Swiss had settled in Venezuela.[23]


There is a Swiss business organization in Vietnam. It espouses economic, business, cultural activities and other interests that are in common with the Association's and Vietnamese authorities.


Swiss nationality law requires of candidates for regular naturalization a minimum of twelve years of permanent, legal, notated residence (years spent in Switzerland between the 10th and 20th years of age count twice) and integration into the Swiss way of life as well as compliance with the Swiss rule of law.[24] Facilitated naturalization for foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens requires a total minimum residence of five years.[25]


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.[26] Compare the figure of 0.2% (140,795) in the United Kingdom (2004).[27]


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


  • 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
  • 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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