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Subject: soc.culture.swiss FAQ
This article was archived around: 1 Mar 2003 16:00:19 +0100
Author: Marc SCHAEFER <email@example.com>
Last-Change: Mar 3 2002
soc.culture.swiss MONTHLY POSTING version: 1.68
This work is placed under the protection of the Bern Convention,
except that it is hereby authorized to copy it as part of the normal
USENET article transmission process and to archive it with other
FAQs for anonymous FTP or WWW retrieval. All other copies are authorized
as long as no money whatsoever is made from this work and if it is copied
in full. Inclusion in CD-ROMs and selling it as part of another work
is explicitly not allowed, except if a gift is given to a recognized
charity organization or the FSF GNU Project, and I am asked first.
0. Table of contents
1 ......................................... Introduction
1.1 .................................... Original newsgroup charter
1.2 .................................... Changes since last posting
2 ......................................... Switzerland: the country
2.1 .................................... Introduction
2.2 .................................... History
2.3 .................................... Figures
2.4 .................................... Political system
2.5 .................................... Issues
2.6 .................................... Visiting Switzerland
2.7 .................................... Looking for a job
2.8 .................................... School system
2.9 .................................... Swiss citizenship
3 ......................................... Frequently Asked Questions
3.1 ................................... Internet in Switzerland
3.2 ................................... Military service / guns
3.3 ................................... Swiss navy
3.4 ................................... 5th Switzerland
3.5 ................................... Swiss German vs German
3.6 ................................... Universities in Ticino
3.7 ................................... Swiss laws
3.8 ................................... Swiss tax system
3.9 ................................... Rumantsch
3.10 ................................... Abortion
3.11 ................................... World War II (ambitious)
3.12 ................................... Health system
4 ......................................... Institutions/products abroad
4.1 .................................... In the US
4.2 .................................... In Australia
4.3 .................................... In other countries
4.4 .................................... Swiss products
5 ......................................... More information
6 ......................................... Credits
This newsgroup (in French, this is translated by ``forum'', or not
translated at all) soc.culture.swiss, was created in February
1994. Its aim is to be a forum where Swiss nationals and those
interested in Switzerland can exchange ideas and discuss politics,
economics, and everything that has a more or less distant link to the
word `swiss'. The newsgroup seems to focus itself on Swiss
culture-related items and political discussions.
However, as most of the readers of soc.culture.swiss are either non
Swiss or do not live in Switzerland, soc.culture.swiss should NOT in
general be used to contact Swiss people. The newly-reorganized Swiss
newsgroups are probably best suited for that purpose. Those newsgroups
are not distributed worldwide, but there are some sites willing to
offer NNTP feeds for those newsgroups in the US.
ch hierarchy newsgroups:
ch.general Misc. items of interest to Swiss newsgroups readers
ch.rec General info about recreational activity.
ch.talk Discussions in general.
ch.bulletin.avalanche Bulletins of the ISL Davos.
ch.comp Computer related topics.
ch.comp.networks Network technology and security.
ch.comp.os.linux Linux and Unix in general.
ch.comp.os.ms-windows The MS-Windows operating system.
ch.market Want to buy/sell.
ch.market.comp Want to buy/sell computers and peripherals.
ch.market.jobs Need/search a job.
ch.test A place for test postings.
Beware that those newsgroups are multi-lingual (especially German,
English and French, but also Italian).
Long distance companies or toll call companies and other commercial
postings are NOT appropriate, please use one of the biz hierarchy
newsgroups. Thank you. People interested by genealogy may want to use
the soc.genealogy hierarchy (French-speaking: fr.rec.genealogie). Also
note that Swiss genealogy is mostly discussed in the newsgroup
soc.genealogy.german (don't be afraid of the ``german'' :-))
As a general advice, please consult the newsgroup
news.announce.newusers and follow the discussion in soc.culture.swiss
for some time before your first posting. Articles cross-posted to
another newsgroup are normally NOT appropriate for soc.culture.swiss.
Recently there has been quite a lot of discussion in soc.culture.swiss
about recurrent topics: guns, Europe, service providers and so
on. There have also been a lot of inappropriate or irrelevant
postings; this FAQ may help reduce the noise in the newsgroup.
The question about what language this FAQ should use is difficult to
answer. My first language is French. Many languages are spoken in
Switzerland. However, people in this country do frequently know
English as a second or third language: the fact that most articles in
soc.culture.swiss are in English proves me right. Thus, this FAQ's
official language will be English. Feel free to translate the document
into another language if you like, or to submit new information in
your language (French, German, Italian) which I will be able to
translate. Submit changes to the e-mail address shown at the
beginning of this article.
WARNING: This document contains some views of the political situation
in Switzerland. If you do NOT agree with what I say, because you think
differently, please send me a _mail_: the idea is not to use the
newsgroup as a meta-discussion about the FAQ itself :-) In general, I
try to be as open-minded as possible.
WARNING-2: This document has been written in the hope it would be
useful. There is absolutely no warranty on the content. Feel however
free to spot errors and send corrections to me.
This FAQ is available by WWW
(soft-link to the master version)
http://www.er.uqam.ca/nobel/r14160/swiss/swiss.html (Christian ZIMMERMANN)
(this version is usually up to-date, and is faster for North America).
Note that this posting is automatically archived somewhere in
Note for French-speaking people: there is a FAQ about accentuation in
the USENET news system available in fr.usenet.8bits. To stay general,
ISO Latin-1 (8859-1) accentuation _is_ tolerated on the news system,
MIME base-64 or even quoted-printable is not.
1.1 Original newsgroup charter
PURPOSE AND MISSION
This newsgroup will serve as a common ground for the exchange of ideas
and information about Switzerland and the several cultures that
inspire the alchemy of this special land. Switzerland is one of the
world's smaller nations, but its impact on science, technology, art,
statesmanship, and education has been greater than its size would
suggest. It has been the seat of religious revolution, home to
political dissidents, bastion of neutrality, and cauldron for a
national character that is at once diverse and unified --
hard-working, independent, and resolute. The paradox of the modern
Switzerland is that its independence rests on its inter-nationalism.
The Swiss are all over the globe, and the world's architects of
commerce and state-craft are constant visitors to Switzerland.
Switzerland is a microcosm of Europe and an outpost for observing
change and development within the European Community. This newsgroup
should provide a place for those with an interest in Swiss culture,
politics, and national affairs to trade thoughts, and for those who
want to learn more about this unique land to do so. For the Swiss
Abroad -- known as the "Fifth Switzerland" (after the German, French,
Italian, and Rumantsch) -- this newsgroup should provide a way to keep
in touch and to discuss the frequent referenda that typify the direct
Swiss democracy and which are so important in maintaining a sense of
national unity and full participation in the life of the country. For
the Swiss in Switzerland the newsgroup should be an additional way for
the three language cultures to interact.
(a) Contributors may use any written language they would use in
Switzerland, as well as English. But if a sender chooses to use a
dialect, it will be an understood courtesy of the newsgroup to offer a
summary translation for others. Any message can be answered in the
same, or a different language. The newsgroup should not be a "club"
for any one language community.
(b) Within the general purpose of the newsgroup, there will be no
restrictions on topics or message content. However, contributors will
emphasize the decorum and respect that typify Switzerland, even when
there are disagreements. Thus, the newsgroup should try to become a
model of meaningful, but respectful communications, so sorely needed
in the world.
(c) Contributors should use best efforts to distinguish
messages of general interest from personal mail. It is perfectly
proper to seek specific help or information, but if the result is
a strictly personal exchange, contributors should consider direct
E-mail, instead of postings to soc.culture.swiss.
(d) This charter is provisional and subject to the wishes of the
community it serves. It is not "owned" by any person, language
community, or commercial interest. Users with ideas for amendments or
improvements should post them to soc.culture.swiss or to the present
1.2 Changes since last posting
- UNO membership
2. Switzerland: the country
Switzerland is a small country in the center of Western Europe,
next to Germany in the north, France in the west, Italy in the south,
Austria and the tiny principality of Liechtenstein in the east. Its
size is 41,290 km2 (15,942 sq mi), which is about one and a half times
the size of the US-state Massachusetts. Time zone is MET [ DST ] or
CET [ CED ]. Daylight saving time is one hour ahead, in the summer,
and is called Sommerzeit in German, and Heure d'ete in French. The
standard denomination for daylight saving times is in square brackets.
The country has a long tradition of federalism and direct
democracy, which helped sustain its multi-cultural and multi-lingual
character. The official languages in Switzerland are German, spoken by
2/3 of the population (in a variety of dialects collectively known as
Swiss German); French, spoken by about 20%; Italian, spoken by 8%; and
Rumantsch spoken by less than 1% of the population. Switzerland is
called in German: Die Schweiz, in French: La Suisse, in Italian: La
Svizzera, and in Rumantsch: La Svizra. The official name is in Latin:
Confoederatio Helvetica, which lead to its international (ISO)
acronym: CH. International telephone country code is 41.
The federal capital of Switzerland is the picturesque city of
Bern/Berne (Italian: Berna), located close to the center of
Switzerland. The largest city in the country is Zuerich, an
international financial center. Geneva, on the western tip of the
country (French: Suisse romande; German: Welschland) on the shores of
Lake Geneva (properly called Lac Leman in French), is the largest city
in the French-speaking area. It is home to the United Nations, the
World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the
International Committee of the Red Cross, CERN, and many other
Despite hosting many international organizations, Switzerland is not a
member of the European Union, and wasn't until recently (2002-03-03) a
member of the UNO neither. Switzerland is, however, member of the
European Council, of the EFTA and although it wasn't UNO member was
active for a number of years in many international organizations (such
as HCR, WHO, UIT, IMF and so on). Neutrality has been one of the
pillars of Swiss foreign policy and has not yet given way to
membership in supranational organizations (even if the reason for
refusing those might not have been so rhetorical, and UNO is probably
the precedent now.).
In 2000 the population of Switzerland reached 7'204'000, of which
19.8% are foreigners. This used to be the fastest growth in Europe,
mainly due to immigration: now Ireland apparently grows faster than
In 1994, life expectancy at birth is 78 years. There are 1.6 children
born per woman (Sensitive people may prefer 8 children for 5 women,
but as polygamy is illegal, they must be from different fathers :-))
Switzerland has many lakes and is situated between two mountain
ranges: Jura (> 1000 m/3000 ft) and the Alps ( > 3000 m/10,000 ft).
The country has no natural resources other than salt, water
(electricity) and stones. Main export products are machines, chemical
products (including pharmaceuticals), instruments and watches. Other
revenue is from services (banking, insurances) and tourism (skiing is
one of the national sports) as well as exporting some electricity. As
for tourism, it should be mentioned that Swiss tourists spend more
than 10 billion CHF abroad, compared to the 13 billion CHF visitors
spend in Switzerland.
The Swiss flag should be constructed as follows: A free floating white
cross on red square ground. The arms of the cross are of equal length
and of 1/6 longer than wide (established in 1815).
 In the geographical sense, not the European Union.
 Switzerland consists of 26 Cantons and half-Cantons. There are 6
half-Cantons. See section 2.4.2
2.2.1 Some dates
Founding date of the Swiss Confederation by the central
Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden: 1291
(traditionally 1st of August 1291, national day, but this was
set in the 19th century)
Battle of Morgarten: 1315
Battle of Sempach (Arnold Winkelried): 1386
Battle of Morat/Murten: 1476 (a defeat of Charles the Bold)
Battle of Marignano: 1515 (first mention of neutrality)
Savoy attacks Geneva: the Escalade: 1602
First official mention of the separation of the Swiss federation
from the Holy Roman Empire: 1648
Invasion by Napoleon (Helvetic Republic): 1798
Armed Neutrality internationally recognized (Vienna congress): 1815
Chocolaterie Cailler founded at Vevey: 1819
War of Sonderbund (Civil war): 1847
Jesuits expelled: 1847
Federal Constitution: 1848
Shoe manufacturer Bally founded: 1850
1st Geneva Convention establishes International Red Cross: 1864
1st Socialist International meets in Geneva: 1866
Nestle founded: 1866
Federal Constitution revised: 1874
General strike: 1918
Youngest Canton Jura: voted 1974, created 1978
Women allowed to vote on federal matters: 1971
Women allowed to vote on Canton matters in all Cantons: 1991
About the Women's suffrage: On the Federal level, it was introduced in
1971. The last Cantons to accept it at their level were AR and AI:
Appenzell-Ausserrhoden (at the 1989 Landsgemeinde) and
Appenzell-Innerrhoden in 1991 (by a Federal Court decision). It is
interesting to note that the Women's suffrage was voted by the male
population, not by a legislative entity (except for AI).
2.2.2 Well-known Swiss people (past and present)
NOTE: there is no point in submitting new items for this
section, we don't want it to grow.
Alain Tanner, film-maker
Alberto Giacometti, sculptor
Arthur Fraucci, aka Arthur Artousov, first chief of soviet
Auguste Piccard, scientist
C.F. Ramuz, novelist and essayist
Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist (1875-1961)
Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, architect
Domenico Tresini, architect (Peter and Paul cathedral in St. Petersburg)
Dr. Hofmann, LSD discoverer.
Ferdinand de Saussure, linguist
Frederic Sauser, known as Blaise Cendrars, writer
Friedrich Duerrenmatt, novelist and play writer
Henri Dunant, founder of International Red Cross
Horace-Benedicte de Saussure, naturalist
Huldrych Zwingli, priest/reformator
Isabelle de Charriere, writer
Jean Piaget, psychologist
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosopher, born in Geneva
Jean-Luc Godard, film-maker
Johann Sutter (owned much of California, initiator and victim of the
Karl Brunner, economist
Leonhard Euler, mathematician
Mario Botta, architect
Marthe Keller, actress
Max Frisch, novelist
Michel Simon, actor
Napoleon III, in Canton Thurgau (spoke German, French, Italian and English)
Niklaus Wirth, `father' of many programming languages (Pascal,
Paracelsus, physician (1400, Basel)
Pirmin Zurbriggen, skier
Tony Rominger, cyclist
Ursula Andress, actress
Vreni Schneider, skier
and more ...
Note that Albert Schweitzer is Alsatian and *not* Swiss, as the
name might wrongly imply (most SchweiTzer are Alsatian).
2.2.3 Well-known people who have lived (or live) in Switzerland
NOTE: there is no point in submitting new items for this
section, we don't want it to grow.
Albert Einstein, became Swiss
Charlie Chaplin, actor/comedian/movie director, 1889-1977
Elias Canetti, Nobel prize for literature.
Hermann Hesse, writer, Nobel Laureate for Literature (1946), 1877-1962,
became Swiss in 1923
John Calvin, priest/reformer, 1509-1564
Mussolini (studied at the Gymnase Cantonal de Neuchatel)
Rainer Maria Rilke, became Swiss
The Aga Khan
Thomas Mann, Nobel Laureate, in Kuesnacht (ZH), later in Kilchberg.
Vilfredo Pareto, social scientist, 1848-1923
Vladimir Ilitch Oulianov (Lenin)
and many, many more ...
2.2.4 Swiss Nobel Prize winners
1901 Henry Dunant, Peace (red cross)
1902 Elie Ducommun, Charles Albert Gobat (Peace)
1909 Emil Theodor Kocher (Medicine)
1913 Alfred Werner (Chemistry)
1919 Carl Spitteler (Literature) (from Liestal)
1920 Charles Eduard Guillaume (Physics)
1937 Paul Karrer (Chemistry)
1939 Leopold Ruzicka (Chemistry) (born in Croatia)
1946 Hermann Hesse (Literature) (born in Germany)
1948 Paul Hermann Mueller (Medicine) (DDT)
1949 Walter Rudolf Hess (Medicine)
1950 Tadeus Rechstein (Medicine) (born in Poland)
1975 Vladimir Prelog (Chemistry) (born Sarajevo)
1978 Werner Arber (Medicine)
1986 Heinrich Rohrer (Physics)
1987 K. Alexander Mueller (Physics)
1988 Jack Steinberger (Physics)
1991 Richard Robert Ernst (Chemistry)
1996 Rolf M. Zinkernagel (Medicine)
Sources: World Almanac 1991 (quite wrong)
"Der Neue Brockhaus", Encyclopedia, 1991
It should be noted that for many nobel laureates who changed
nationality in their life, most prominently Einstein, but possibly
also Canetti, Prelog, Ruzicka, Hesse, nationality is/was simply a
non-issue; thus a list as the one compiled above is only of
informative value, without any nationalism intended. A more
interesting list could be which nobel laureates received their prizes
for work done at swiss institutions.
The "Bureau International permanent de la Paix", Berne, founded by
Ducommun/Gobat, was awarded the prize for Peace in 1910.
The ICRC (Comite International de la Croix-Rouge), Geneve, was awarded
the prize for peace in 1917, 1944 and 1963.
These figures where found in "La Suisse - de la formation des Alpes a
la quete du futur", Ex Libris, 1975. This book is a very interesting
overview of Switzerland, even if it is a bit old now. Some were also
found in the CIA World Fact-book, even if not all information there
Swiss citizens living in Switzerland (1970)
German and Swiss-German (many dialects): 74%
All people living in Switzerland:
German and Swiss-German (many idioms): 65%
There are no dialects in the French speaking part: however, there are
some ``patoits'' which are not spoken by the new generations. There
also some swiss expressions and specific words: for example, 70 is
called ``septante'', 80 ``huitante'' (in Vaud) or ``quatre-vingts'',
90 is called ``nonante''.
For reference, consult the book
Glossaire des patois de la Suisse romande / elabore avec le
concours de nombreux auxiliaires et redige par L. Gauchat, J.
Jeanjaquet, E.Tappolet avec la collaboration de E. Muret.
Neuchatel : V. Attinger, 1924-. - 6 v + 8 unbound parts.
Library has v1-4, A-C and index; v5-6; v7, fasc. 85-86,
88-89, 91,93,95-96 f - fille; v.8, fasc. 94 g-gale. -
There is a ticinesi dialect, which is being slowly suppressed by the
use of the (official language) Italian.
2.3.2 Main cities
Zuerich, (`ue' replaces the German umlaut), business and industrial
center, one international airport, only 350,000 inhabitants.
Basel, Chemicals, and gateway to France and Germany, Rhine waterway,
chemical and pharmaceutical industries, International airport.
Geneva , many international organizations, International airport.
Bern, Federal Government.
Lausanne, International Olympic Committee, Federal Court, Cinematheque
Lucerne, with its brand new bridge, Federal Insurance Court (not _because_
of old covered bridge burned lately :-)).
Locarno, Cinema Festival.
Davos, the World Economic Forum (which is a very small city, indeed).
Neuchatel, where I live.
glacier: Aletschgletscher (VS), 117.6 km2 and 23.6 km long
lake (entirely in Switzerland): Lac de Neuchatel (NE/BE/FR/VD), 218.3 km2
lake (partially French): Lac Leman (VD/GE/France), 581.3 km2
Canton (size): Graubuenden (GR), 7108.9 km2
Canton (inhabitants): Zuerich (ZH), 1'211'600 (end 2000)
mountain: partly Swiss Dufourspitze/Pointe Dufour (Monte Rosa)
entirely Mischabelsdom 4545m
2.4 Political system
The political system is mainly composed of three levels: the communal
(city), the state (Cantonal) level and the federal level. At all
levels, the voters have the right of active participation through
elections, petition, initiative and referendum, and of course by
running for public office.
- voters: the people who can elect people. It should be noted that the
participation rate is usually very low (about 33%, except for
the canton SH, where the rate is usually about 65% because any
voter not voting pays a fee of 3 CHF per missed voting date,
if not excused.)
- eligible: the people who can be elected for public office
- petition: non-binding request for legislative action through signatures.
- initiative: proposition from a group of voters which becomes a law
if there are enough people signing it and it passes the
vote (majority of people FOR it. Note that at the
federal level, the double majority of citizens and Cantons is
necessary, because it only allows currently Constitutional
changes; in the now proposed reform, however, the initiative
for laws would be allowed at the federal level).
- referendum: popular vote on a bill that has been passed by a legislative
corpus (federal level: Federal Assembly).
A fixed number of signatures (at federal level: 50,000)
is required to request a (facultative (== non compulsory)
referendum on an ordinary law.
Constitutional changes, international treaties, or executive
emergency decrees are followed by a compulsory referendum
Some Cantons require a referendum vote for expenditures
exceeding a certain amount.
The law/constitutional change/treaty/budget item comes into
effect if a simple majority of voters approve it.
Note: There are no non-binding, informative referendums in
There is also an administrative entity called a district (county) and
the rough concept of a region.
Public officials face re-election every four years. There
are usually 4 to 6 ballots a year on multiple subjects (mainly
referendums) and elections, on all levels.
Women and men have equal rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Those 18 years of age or older are eligible to vote. In some cantons,
such as Neuchatel, non-Swiss long-time residents (C permit, 5 years)
may also vote. Eligible are usually the same as the voters (even
foreigners in some cantons, except for special offices). The main
apparatus is the Communal Council (executive) and the General Council
(legislative branch). The mayor is usually called a chairman;
sometimes he is called `maire' (Jura) or `syndic' (Vaud), and he is
called a Gemeindeamman or Stadtamman in AG. In BE, there is the
Gemeinde-(or Stadt-)praesident, and the Gemeinderatspraesident.. There
are usually initiative, petition and referendum possibilities.
Voters are women or men aged 18 (no foreigners). Eligible are same.
There is usually a `Grand Council' (legislative branch) and a `State
Council' (executive). The Cantons have a very high degree of
independence. See 2.5.1. Basically each canton has its own political
model and a generalization is only possible to a certain
extent. Foreigner's vote has been discussed in Neuchatel (voted and
refused), Geneva and AR, but has not been accepted yet.
Some Cantons (Swiss-German) have a very special democratic assembly
called a Landsgemeinde where all important decisions are made. This
public assembly is held on the central square of the Canton's capital.
These are the following Cantons and half-cantons, along with their
entry dates into the Swiss Confederation:
Aargau (AG; 1803), Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden (AR/half; 1501),
Basel-Landschaft (BL/half; 1501), Basel-Stadt (BS/half; 1501), Bern
(BE; 1353), Fribourg (FR; 1481), Geneve (GE; 1815), Glarus (GL; 1352),
Graubunden (GR; 1803), Appenzell Inner-Rhoden (AI/half; 1501), Jura
(JU; 1978), Luzern (LU; 1332), Neuchatel (NE; 1815), Nidwalden
(NW/half; 1291), Obwalden (OW/half; 1291), Sankt Gallen (SG; 1803),
Schaffhausen (SH; 1501), Schwyz (SZ; 1291), Solothurn (SO; 1481),
Thurgau (TG; 1803), Ticino (TI; 1803), Uri (UR; 1291), Valais (VS;
1815), Vaud (VD; 1803), Zug (ZG; 1352), Zuerich (ZH; 1351).
You can find a map of Switzerland with the Cantons and lakes at the
The Federal Constitution from 1848 has been largely influenced by the
constitution of the USA: a Parliament made up of the representatives
of the People and of the States. Voters are the same as in
Cantons. There is the `Federal Assembly', the legislative branch,
composed of two chambers (National Council, or People's chamber, and
the Council of States). Members of both chambers are elected by the
people; the election procedures are, nevertheless, different for the
two chambers: each state has a number of seats in the National Council
proportional to its population and the election modus is
proportional and handled at the federal level. On the contrary, the
Council of States is meant to represent the Cantons (there are 2
senators per Canton, 1 for half-cantons) and councillors are elected
with rules varying from Canton to Canton, usually
majoritarian. Originally, the role of this chamber was to prevent a
single Canton (e.g. Zuerich for Swiss-German, or Geneva for
French-speaking) to control the decisions. A bill becomes law if it
passes both chambers (assuming the law is not subject to compulsory
referendum, or referendum, where the people have the last
word). Differences in opinion between the two chambers are conciliated
in a joint conference committee.
There is no Constitutional Court: thus federal laws and acts sometimes
conflict with the Constitution. As a last resort, the Federal Court can
hear specific cases and emit a jurisprudence.
The executive power is vested in the Federal Council, composed of 7
Federal Councillors, each of whom is the head of a federal
department. The presidency and vice-presidency are held every year by a
different member of the Federal Council (by rotation). The Federal
Council is elected by the Federal Assembly after proposition by the
The 1999 Federal Councillors and their portfolios are:
Ruth METZLER, AI [ CVP ] Department of Justice and Police
Joseph DEISS, FR [ CVP ] Department of Foreign Affairs
Kaspar VILLIGER, LU [ FDP ] Department of the Treasury
Samuel SCHMID, BE [ SVP ] Department of the Defence
[ Formerly ``of the Military'', now
including again sports ]
Ruth DREIFUSS, GE/AG/BE [ SP ] Department of Internal Affairs
Pascal COUCHEPIN, VS [ FDP ] Department of Public Economy
Moritz LEUENBERGER, ZH [ SP ] Department of Energy, Transport,
[ naming has slightly changed, but
we don't care, really ]
President for 2001 is Kaspar VILLIGER (2001: Moritz LEUENBERGER; 2000:
Adolf OGI; 1999: Ruth DREIFUSS; 1998: Flavio COTTI; 1997: Arnold
KOLLER; 1996: Jean-Pascal DELAMURAZ; 1995: Kaspar VILLIGER).
The Federal Council differs from the executive branch in other
countries. While it resembles a Cabinet, there are distinct
differences: (1) There is no prime minister. All seven members of the
Council are of equal rank (Minister). (2) The Council is not subject
to a non-confidence vote in Parliament. Technically, Switzerland is
therefore not a parliamentary democracy. (3) The parliament appoints
the Councillors every four year. No repeal is practically possible
during the tenure (early retreat is possible, see e.g. Mrs. Kopp, or
recently Mr. Stich). (4) There is really little control on what the
government does since most of its activities are classified. There can
be Parliament Commissions mandated to audit on special cases.
Switzerland has been governed by a grand coalition since 1959. The
`magic formula' defines the composition of the grand coalition of the
executive. It permits almost all important Swiss Parties (both
right-wing and left-wing) to have a seat (or more than one). Another
`magic formula rule' states that there must be 4 Swiss-German,
2 Swiss-French, and, if possible 1 Swiss-Italian.
The rule in the Constitution forbidding more than one Councillor from
one Canton (the goal was to prevent a single Canton, e.g. Zuerich for
Swiss-German, or Geneva for French-speaking region, to get too much
power) was abrogated after a few clever circumventions (election of
Ruth DREIFUSS, see ).
The parties represented are:
Center Democratic Union (center-right) (1) [ SVP ]
(This can be translated also by Swiss People's Party or the
Radical Democratic Party (moderate right) (2) [ FDP ]
(This may be translated as Liberal Democratic Party, however,
there is another Liberal party mainly in the French-speaking part,
thus I took the French translation.)
Social-Democratic Party (moderate left/left) (2) [ SP ]
Christian Democratic Party (moderate right) (2) [ CVP ]
These four are the major parties in Switzerland, but there are many
more, on both sides of the spectrum. It should be noted that the same
party can have quite different points of view depending on the canton,
a well-known example is SVP Bern and SVP Zurich. CVP, FDP and SVP are
all considered on the right, with SVP usually being the most
conservative and sometimes linked to rural communities. FDP is the
big business's party, and CVP is predominant in Roman Catholic cantons. SP
is the only major party of the left, but often has alliances with the
Green Party (ecologists) and other groups with common interests.
Other Swiss Parties:
Liberal Party (LPS) (right)
Swiss democrats (SD) (extreme-right)
Communist Party (extreme-left)
Partei der Arbeit (PDA)
Parti du Travail (PdT)
Parti Ouvrier Populaire (POP)
Liberty Party (right to extreme-right)
Green Party (GPS) (moderate left)
Independent Party (LdU) (center-right)
Ticino League (right to extreme-right)
SolidariteS (moderate left)
While the representation of parties in the executive has been constant
for the last decades, their seats in the Parliament depends on the
vote shares. Here is the current representation (next elections
seats (200 total) FDP 44, SP 42, CVP 37, SVP 25, GPS 14, LPS 10,
AP 8, LdU 6, SD 5, EVP 3, PdA 2, Ticino League 2,
Council of States:
seats (46 total) FDP 18, CVP 16, SVP 4, SP 3, LPS 3, LdU 1,
Ticino League 1
There is a federal right for initiative and referendum. The procedure
for an initiative is as follows:
a) form a committee and compose the text of the proposed new law
b) try to find 100,000 signatures in less than 18 months
c) if you have them: deposit the initiative in the federal chancellery
d) the Federal Assembly either rejects or accepts the initiative (usually
based on a government proposal). In some cases the Assembly
introduces an alternative version.
e) on that basis, the federal chancellery sends a small information
booklet to each voter outlining the parliament's position on
the initiative and the arguments of the committee.
f) the people must vote on the initiative and on a possible
Usually, the people vote in conformity with the position taken on
the issue by the Federal Assembly and Council. In rare instances,
the people vote against the explicit suggestions of the government; then,
however, the people are right :-)
 In some Cantons, it is more right than center-right (e.g. Zuerich).
 In some rare and specific cases, some initiatives have been declared
invalid. Usually it is because the committee did not respect the unity
of content (i.e. do not mix up subjects demagogigally). One could argue
that the Parliament itself does usually not propose votes which
respect the unity of content.
 Referendum needs 50.000 in 3 months.
 In March 1993, the Federal Counciler Rene FELBER announced his
resignation. As he was SP, and because of the ``magic formula'', the
seat was implicitly reserved for SP, and possibly for a French-speaking
representative. Francis MATTHEY, a Neuchatel SP was elected (the
official candidate was Christiane BRUNNER, with almost no votes). The
President of the SP party, Peter BODENMANN and the feminists of the
SP Party declared that a woman was necessary and Francis MATTHEY was
forced to refuse its election, against the wishes of the Neuchatel
section's President (which was a woman, BTW). As it was clear that
Christiane BRUNNER would never be elected (not as a woman,
but as a person) and that SP could lose a seat, the SP party proposed
Ruth DREIFUSS, a lot more moderate. The problem was the
one-counciler-per-canton Constitutional rule. Ruth DREIFUSS promptly
officially established to Geneva to circumvent the rule. The
whole event has been presented by SP as being the great victory
for feminism. Strangely enough, feminist deputies from other
parties, and some from the SP Party, were not quite sure that this
dramatic ``mise-en-scene'' was necessary.
2.4.4 For more information
For a more extensive chapter on Swiss foreign policy you might want to
The Federal Constitution was revised and adopted in june 1999.
The Swiss Confederation has announced on 15/09/95 a WWW server at
it contains very interesting information about the federal sessions,
members and issues.
2.5.1 Federalism and multiculturalism
One of the riches of Switzerland is its multi-cultural fabric:
recently, the Parliament recognized Rumantsch as an official language
(before, it was only a national language, i.e. not used in the
administration). After the mandatory vote (March 96) for the change in
the Federal Constitution, Rumantsch is now a national and an official
language in Switzerland. Most people in Switzerland want to preserve
the national cohesion: however, there are differences between cultural
regions (and between town and rural areas) and sometimes it poses
problems (recent votes have shown the distance between, for example,
French-speaking regions and Swiss-German-speaking region, and between
small towns and rural areas and big cities).
About Rumantsch: The URL http://xmission.com/~pengar/non-profit/PUNTS
points to a newspaper in (Grischuns) Rumantsch. While there are 4 more
Rumantsch dialects, this one appears to be the most popular
one. Please note that Rumantsch uses umlauts so make sure your WWW
browser can handle that.
This multi-culturalism is possible because Switzerland is federalist. The
Confederation only takes care of some important charges (such as military,
social insurance, treaty with other countries, and so on). Everything
else, for example education, police or public assistance is of the domain
of the Cantons (or the cities).
Laws are usually the same between Cantons, with some local exceptions
(notably, polizeistunde (close-down for pubs) or legality of
abortion). Some Cantons do apply Federal law differently than
others: for example, the French-speaking region (Welschschweiz, Suisse
romande) is very restrictive regarding the consumption of drugs: some
cities (such as Zuerich) have been very permissive. With `conscience
objectors' (ie people not wanting to do the compulsory military
service), the situation is somewhat inverted.
There are also multiple religions in Switzerland. However, people are
usually not very active. Some Cantons include Church Tax (usually
catholic and/or reformist) in the taxes. People can circumvent those
by quitting church, whereas companies always have to pay. Most Cantons
are however separated from the Church, but recognize some churches as
Like the Old Confederation, the constitution of 1848 discriminated
against Jewish people (in fact, against all non Christian
religions). Parliament abolished the relevant paragraphs in 1864/65
under the threat of economic sanctions by the USA, the Netherlands and
France. Also, until recently, the establishment of monastical retreats
and bishoprics was also subject to the authorization of the
Confederation (this is/was in the Constitution).
Roman Catholic: 47.6%
Reformed Church (Protestant): 44.3%
If Switzerland wants to continue to be the gateway between the North
and South of Europe (and of course also between Western and Eastern
Europe), the transport infrastructure must be further developed. A
recent example of such investments is the NEAT project, a transalpine
railroad line. This project is projected to cost 15.000.000.000 Swiss
Francs. There has been a vote on it, and now there are financial
Following a vote for a constitutional amendment, no construction of
new roads for transit traffic is allowed and all transit traffic is
supposed to use railways rather than road trucks, at the latest from
2020 on. The goal is to force transportation of goods via the
railways, due to public concerns about the ever-increasing heavy truck
traffic passing through towns and ecologically-sensitive alpine
2.5.3 EU and participation in other international organizations
Currently these are hot topics in Switzerland. Switzerland is not a
member of EU. As of 2002-03-03, Switzerland is now a member of UNO
(initiative accepted by the people): in addition, Switzerland has
participated, in the past, in most UNO offices and projects and tries
to set up/has bilateral agreements with the EU. Switzerland *is* a
member of the European Council and holds full membership in other
pan-European and international organizations: the OSCE (formerly
CSCE), the ESA (European Space Agency) the OECD, the WTO, the World
Bank and the IMF to name only a few. Joining or not joining the EU is
really one of the hottest topics in Switzerland.
It is a pity that both the defenders and attackers of the
participation in the European Union are using demagogic arguments. A
key issue is the complete mobility rights enjoyed by EU citizens to
move within the EU. If Switzerland joined the EU, many citizens are
concerned that the traditional character of the Swiss people would be
swamped by an influx of foreigners no longer controllable by Swiss
law. (Remember that Switzerland already has one of the highest levels
of foreigners--more than one out of seven inhabitants--of any country
in the world. Some Cantons have rates above one third).
See question 3.2
2.5.5 Immigrants, Foreign Workers, and Refugees
Switzerland has a long tradition of being a country prone to accept
refugees. It has also a relatively high percentage of foreigners (19%,
1995), which is explained only partly by the real difficulties
foreigners may have to become swiss (12 years staying). A nice and
entertaining movie on that subject, even if a little outdated, is
"Schweizermacher" / "Swiss makers" with Walo Luoend and Emile. The
policy of the government, especially regarding refugees has become
Despite that, many new laws have been adopted to distinguish between
economic refugees (which do not have the right to be accepted) and
political refugees. There have also been votes on recurrent
anti-foreigner laws, but they have not been accepted by the
people. However, recently, the proposition to diminish the
restrictions on foreigner's flat and houses buyings has been
disapproved by the people (Lex Friedrich, June 95).
Also a simplification of the Swiss naturalization (which would have
made much easier for young foreigner living in CH to become swiss) has
been refused at the federal level. However, some Cantons (e.g. Neuchatel) have
however a lot more relaxed laws: the possibility for a foreigner to
vote and to be elected at the communal level; however, no extension
to the Cantonal level has been accepted. Recently, a new law
authorizing the immigration service to use more powerful means of
controlling immigration has been accepted (Constraints measures).
This however applies mainly to refugees.
Switzerland has made apologies (1995) to the Jewish people for the
attitude in World War II (Swiss official policy was not to accept
Jews; fortunately, however, many Swiss citizens have ignored the law,
fortunately. This is discussed in details in section 3.11).
The statute about foreigners who come to work for a season in Switzerland
(seasonal workers, A permit) is also being debated, being considered
unfair status by the EU as part of the bilateral agreements.
University students can work to some extent (REALLY?) but are not at
all allowed to bring their families to Switzerland (including wife and
children), like A licensees (see section 2.9.1 for details on the
Swiss permits and Swiss citizenship).
2.5.6 Working conditions
Unemployment rates are again lower in 2001 (tendance: rising, notably
because of the general slowdown and the Swissair crisis), at about
1.9%, down from 5% as of 1997.
Switzerland's competitiveness has fallen, mainly du to the value of
its money, and the high prices on goods. However, the conditions are
still very good, partly thanks to the Work Peace (an agreement between
unions and owners) and partly due to the political stability and to
the efficient infrastructure (plus still relatively low tax levels).
Note that there are differences between Cantons. For example Geneve
has more than 7% percent, and most Swiss-German Cantons are below
5%. However, Geneve is more than a specific case, since, e.g. Fribourg,
Neuchatel and Vaud are about 5% (July 1995). In most Cantons, the rate
2.6 Visiting Switzerland
Switzerland has excellent tourist offices in many places, see 4 for
details. They offer you lots of free information.
Don't forget that voltage and frequency are different. USA is 110 V
at 60 Hz and Switzerland is 230 V at 50 Hz (soon: 240 at 50 Hz). Most
plugs are also different even if they look the same.
Modems must be approved by the Swiss Federal Communication Office
(German: BAKOM; French: OFCOM). Foreign versions usually work, except
you may have problems with the tax impulsion at 12 KHz. Using non
approved modems is illegal and may lead to fines and of course
confiscation of the equipment. You must also pay attention to the fact
that telephone connectors are different. Not only for historical
reasons you will encounter in Switzerland three different type of
connectors (round, rectangular, seldom RJ), but standard RJ connectors
don't have exactly the same wire-layout as in the US and
Canada. Adapters are available in stores in the US and
Canada but are quite expensive.
You can find some previews of Switzerland here:
The official website of the Swiss Tourism Board is at:
NOTE: Those images have been posted to USENET newsgroup
soc.culture.swiss, and thus I assume that using them is not infringing
any copyright. Please inform me if it is.
2.7 Looking for a job in Switzerland
Switzerland is not an immigration country. You only have a chance to
get a work permit (see section 2.9.1) if your profession is in high
demand in Switzerland. To be successful you must first find a company
willing to hire you. If you work in "high-tech" it is definitely
possible to find such a job. Best companies to try are large
technological companies, universities, institutes and banks.
2.8 School system
Compulsory school (and also non compulsory school, Universities,
except the Federal Institute of Technology) is set up by the
Cantons. Thus, there are differences between Cantons. Most of the
Cantons have however a compulsory school system as follows:
5 (or 6) years of primary school (6,7 to 12)
4 (or 3) years of secondary school (12 to 15)
The secondary school is usually separated in different sections,
such as Scientific, Classic and Modern. Some cantons do implement
a pre-professional section. Among others, you learn at least
three languages (yours, one other Swiss language, and another).
Usually this is French/German/English for French-speaking people, or
French/German/Italian. Most (if not all) Swiss-German Cantons teach
Then, people may choose one of the following options:
a) do an apprenticeship (French: apprentissage/German: Lehrling)
while working, and obtain the Federal Certificate of Capacity.
b) go to technical school to become technician or engineer (this
is the same as an engineer in Germany or England). There are a lot
of technical schools / engineer schools. There is currently a
reform going on.
c) go to Gymnasium/Gymnase/Lycee (4 years) and get the Federal
Certificate of Maturity in Science, Letters or General matters
(the latter is not federally recognized, but there are agreements
between some Cantons). This is like a Baccalaureate in France.
d) go to Commercial School and get a Federal Certificate of Maturity.
e) go to private schools which deliver similar certificates. Most of
the Private schools are for dropouts, generally, who want to stay
in school, and these are not frequent cases. This does not include
the many Private schools for foreign people sending their children
in Switzerland, or Elitist (read: expensive) or Religious schools.
Option c and d allows to enter the Universities or ETH/EPF (Federal
Institute of Technology, two in Switzerland). There are some ways to
enter ETH/EPF with unrecognized certificates and gateways for ETS/HTL,
as long as you have solid math basis and you speak at least two swiss
languages (this is of course a big problem for ``Auslandschweizer'',
foreign Swiss citizens). There are many Universities, especially
in the French-speaking part, a lot less in the Swiss-German-speaking
region, and one in Tessin. They are in the process of merging
somewhat because of the costs involved.
The Universities are:
Geneve (http://www.unige.ch), Lausanne (http://www.unil.ch),
Fribourg (http://www.unifr.ch), Neuchatel (http://www.unine.ch),
Bern (http://www.unibe.ch), Zuerich (http://www.unizh.ch),
Basel (http://www.unibas.ch), Sankt-Gall (http://www.unisg.ch),
and Tessin (http://www.unisi.ch).
The Federal Institutes of Technology are:
ETHZ: Zuerich (http://www.ethz.ch)
EPFL: Lausanne (http://www.epfl.ch)
There are also a lot of technical schools (ETS/HTL), and some are
currently merging. To enter an HTL/ETS, you need a completed apprenticeship
Note that very few Swiss people go to University, since the practical
formation is very good and because, even if the direct costs for
studying is low (most universities and both EPF are under SFr 500.-
per semester) and the openness is high, the indirect costs (flat,
books, food) are quite high. For example, a shared flat in Lausanne
near the EPFL is more than 400.- SFr per month. An independent
``studio'' costs 500 to 600.-. Also note that the
women/men distribution is not equal (a lot less women), especially in
the technical and scientific world.
In Tessin, a study has shown that 35% of the people get a Certificate
of Maturity, and of them 90% go to Universities or Institute of
Technology. These numbers are fairly high for Switzerland.
Bildungsstatistik 1994 about the educational level of people age 20.
16 % has a Matura/Baccalaureate degree from a Gymnasium
(Automatic University Admission including Law and Med.)
3 % have a Education degree (elementary and high school teachers)
65 % have a professional degree (apprentice, vocational, technical schools)
(This includes people as skilled as branch director of banks or
16 % have just the mandatory 9 years of elementary and high school
Note that the first category has 16% male and female, and the last 11%
male and 21% female.
A ``matura-reform'' is currently being undertaken: the goal is to
diminish the number of compulsory courses (for example even removing
the compulsory German course for French-speaking people and
vice-versa) but to allow a lot more freedom in course selection (``a
la carte''). It is also to change the old professional degrees into
something more ``European'' (people having a CFC will then have a
Technical Matura instead, a little like the French baccalaureate). This
is not easy to do (because the school system is cantonal) and is not
always seen as a good thing if this augments the number of people
frequenting universities at a time of ``numerus clausus'' proposals.
The reform is supposed to take 8 years until all cantons will have
harmonized their legislations.
The principal changes are summarized as follows:
- creation of ``fundamental courses'' which must be followed;
- definition of ``specific courses'', which is the main orientation
a student chooses;
- definition of ``complementary courses'', which are options;
- introduction of a final presentation on a specific subject (written
and oral form).
2.9 Swiss citizenship
2.9.1 The swiss permits
Switzerland has a complicated permit system. The permits define how
long the owner is able to stay, what are his rights, and so on. Many
international organizations have criticized it for being
protectionnist (especially the EU) and discriminatory against families
and Human rights. There have been discussions about changing the
policies, but nothing has really changed yet.
There are four types of work-permits in Switzerland: the A permit
(seasonal, 9 months, no right to bring the family), the B permit
(yearly, partial right to bring the family), the C permit (unlimited,
like Swiss citizenship except for voting rights and military
service. It allows the owner to establish freely and work in
Switzerland), and of course Swiss citizenship.
A permits can be changed into B after 4 years; B to C after 5 to 10
years. Work permits are issued by Cantons, based on quotas from the
Confederation, and always on request by a company, not an individual.
The permit is granted for a particular position with a particular
employer; the request therefore has to be filed by the employer. As a
rule, you have to prove that you cannot find an appropriate candidate
in the Swiss job market (i.e. Swiss and legal immigrants, holders of a
permit) for that particular position.
The so-called ``three circles policy'' defining countries more-or-less
prioritized actually prevents people from some countries to get a
permit. Easier is for people from the 1st circle (EU, mainly), and
from the 2nd circle (USA, Australia). The ``three circles policy'' is
being dismantled into a binary system, basically restricting further
There are exceptions of course for diplomats and international
organizations, students, husbands and wives of Swiss nationals.
The policy is quite protectionist and will probably evolve towards
more openness for EU countries, USA and Australia. Others (non-EU) may
find it even more difficult.
The law can be found at
in French, German or Italian.
2.9.2 Obtaining the Swiss citizenship
Time spent as a student is definitely valid for residence when
applying for Swiss citizenship.
Also note that, if you apply for Swiss citizenship before 24, and
you are a male, you have great chances of doing the military
With some countries (Italy, Germany, France), it is possible
to keep the original nationality under some conditions.
22.214.171.124 When married to a Swiss person
When you get married to a Swiss man/woman (the new legislation does
not make any difference, the old one did allow automatic Swiss
citizenship when a woman was married to a Swiss man), you'll have to
spend 3 years in Switzerland with your wife/husband in order to
qualify for naturalization. You are entitled to a B-permit for the
five first years, then a C (or you might apply for Swiss citizenship,
nothing is automatic out here).
Note that those three years account for the _same_ marriage. If you
divorce and remarry to a Swiss person, the counting restarts at zero.
The other possibility, when married, is having lived at least 5 years
in Switzerland, no matter if as legally working, refugee seeking,
student and/or husband/spouse of a Swiss (even of a former
marriage. This residence persiod has to be legal. Living illegally in
Switzerland doesn't count (of course).
The real difference with standard non-Swiss-married B-permit owners is
that, as you have the right to live in Switzerland, it is renewed in
one week. For other people with a B permit, there is much more
hassle. You have the same chances to find a job as swiss nationals,
except if your activity requires a Swiss passport (quite rare) or if
you are a MD (there is a huge amount of protectionism in medicine).
Children born of unmarried parents may apply for ``facilitated Swiss
citizenship'', provided that the father is Swiss and the child has
been living is Switzerland or with his father for 1 year, and the
child is under 22.
126.96.36.199 When not :-)
Patience, and money should help :-) (really, is there
someone wanting to complete that section in a non
Schweizermacher way ? :-)
3. Frequently Asked Questions
3.1 Internet in Switzerland
3.1.1 Service Providers
See http://www.yoodle.ch for a list of access (service?) providers in
Switzerland. (temporarily unavailable, use http://www.asdi.ch/providers/
3.1.2 Internet Coffee Shops
Geneva: Sports Palace, rue Michel Servet (behind the Cantonal Hospital)
Global Cafe, rue des Rois 71bis (> 15 SFr/hour)
Cours Commerciaux de Geneve (rez-de-chausse/cafeteria)
Neuchatel: Le 21.
Lausanne (Ecublens): Club Internet, Tir federal 80, (021) 691 25 93, but
this is not quite a coffee.
Bern (only 2 workstations and it is around 10 CHF for
half an hour; Berner Zeitung)
Aarau (Herzogstrasse 26)
Bremgarten (Restaurant Krone, Obertorplatz 7)
Olten (Heutronic Shop: six workstations, 15 CHF per hour,
Zurzach (Promenadenstrasse 6; 10 workstations)
Zuerich (Rotwandstrasse 4, Uraniastrasse 4 and Bahnhof (by IBM it seems,
Stars American BAR & BISTRO, http://www.cybergate.ibm.ch))
Lugano (Hotel Colorado)
And it's not forbidden to drink virtual coffee here :-)
[ A list is available as: http://www.easynet.co.uk/pages/cafe/ccafe.htm
(this is not a mistyping, BTW, it is really .htm and not .html) ]
3.2 Military service / guns
3.2.1 Military service
Military service is compulsory for every male Swiss. There is no
civil service to substitute armed service (this was refused two times
in a vote). Every male Swiss citizen has to go to the army unless
physically or mentally handicapped or unless he can "prove" to a jury
of officers that he has sound religious reasons for refusing to do
service (Barras Law).
In rare cases, unarmed military service (e.g. medical or postal units)
is available for conscience reasons. Conscientious objectors are put
in prison. This fact has led to several citations of Switzerland by
the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, with little avail. For that
reason, objectors often try to circumvent military service citing
medical reasons. If declared unable for service, a citizen must serve
on the civil protection (similar to a fire brigade, however it is
separate from it and is only necessary in case of war, natural disaster
(floods, storms, avalanches) or industrial (chemical/nuclear)
incidents) and pay a military substitute tax (3% of total gross income).
Every soldier keeps his military outfit, his weapon, and war ammunition
at home at all times. The ammunition is sealed. The weapon can be used
for compulsory and voluntary shooting exercises, which are quite
popular (also drawing large female participation). The ammunition shall
only be opened in case of war.
After a basic (Academy) training of 100 days at about age 20, active
service requires 3 weeks long training courses approximately every
other year (or two weeks per year, depending on the affiliation) until
the soldier has served a total of 300 days. In addition, every
soldier must complete yearly shooting exercises, usually done in local
After completion of the basic training, a soldier can volunteer or can
be asked (and sometimes forced by law!) to become a non-commissioned
officer (corporal) and then officer. This costs a lot of time in
grade-``paying'' (one must do special schools and then redo a basic
training as corporal or officer). All military personnel (including
the Corps Commander, the highest ranking officer in peacetime) started
as private soldiers in Switzerland's militia army.
The Swiss army has approximately 400,000 soldiers (compared to 600,000
in Germany, a 15 times bigger country).
Women can join the military voluntarily. Their duties are often not
the same, but lately their chores can be almost everything except what
would be considered a direct exposure to the front in case of war.
A soldier (basically every male under 35) who leaves the country for a
period longer that 6 months, has to take leave from the army, must
deposit his military equipment and has to register with the embassy
abroad, and pay the military fee for three (or 5 ??) years.
In 1989 a left-wing/pacifist (not officially supported by the
social-democratic party, this party having officially stated for the
army in June 1989.) initiative led to a popular vote (this means a
vote by the people. Of course this vote WAS popular, too :-)) to
abolish the army. The initiative was rejected by 64.4% against 35.6%
of the votes. Other anti-military initiatives are in preparation
(e.g. for cutting the military budget in half, this one supported by
the social-democratic party). The 1989 vote made the Armee 95
military reform easier: this reform's goals were to reduce the
individual service period, diminish the number of active soldiers by
one third, and improve the technical equipment. Also this vote
probably changed the way Swiss people see the Military.
Note that the right-wing and center-right parties consider the
social-democratic party's attitude as duplicity (not supporting the
Army but being part of the government in the so-called ``Magic
Formula''), with more or less demagogy (because on other subjects,
like EC, those parties also experience internal ``divergences'').
There is a heated debate in Switzerland on the following topics:
o Role of the military (defense against whom, role in national union)
o Humanitarian missions of the military
o Use for UNO missions (this has been specifically rejected in
a vote in 1995)
o Professionalization of the military (i.e. no more compulsory service)
Some French-speaking Cantons (mainly Geneva) are critical of
the military; most others (including Tessin, most French-speaking and
all Swiss-German) are not against it but would like to see it
reformed. The way it should evolve is not quite clear. The
French-speaking Swiss would like the military to help the UNO and be
humanitarian. On the whole, the (majority of) Swiss-Germans dislike
the UNO but are not against the other proposition. The (majority of)
French-speaking Swiss are in support of a professional military; the
Swiss-Germans usually think that this would cost too much and that the
integrative role the military service plays would disappear.
The military tax (depending on your income) is to be paid for every
year that you are prevented from attending a course. It is refunded as
soon as you keep up with the number of courses you have to do,
PROVIDED YOU ASK FOR IT, of course :-)
You keep your weapons till your military service is _OVER_ which means
not only your annual/bisannual courses are over, but also you are
freed from military service (around 42 nowadays I think).
You can keep it further provided:
- you did all the annual shootings even the non-compulsory ones
- you did at least one two-days gun course in the last year.
Ammution HAS to be returned when military service is over. The
equipment (also the weapon) can be deposited free of charge in the
Zeughaus/arsenal as long as you do not have any more compulsory
courses OR if you live in a foreign country.
People leaving in foreign countries must deposit their material
at an Arsenal (Zeughaus) and must still pay the tax. They are
dispendedd after 3 years.
Military post is free up to 2 kilograms during service, and outside
service for official requests. Most courses are during the week
and week-end is free (except if something must be guarded).
3.2.2 Regulations on guns (most of this contributed by Emmanuel BAECHLER)
NOTE: A new law has been adopted by the Parliament in June 1997.
This new law should enter into effect by the end of the first
semester of 1998. Some points of application (Ordonnance) are
not yet clear. The English translation of that law is
It has been translated by Emmanuel BAECHLER. Please pay attention
to the disclaimer and copyright on that document.
The following information is still accurate until 1998.
First of all, firearms are regulated by a Federal law, but it has to
be applied by Cantons, thus there are 26 practices. Happily most of
them agree, in a sensible way, on how to apply that law.
Note that a new federal law is being prepared. Its content is not yet
In order to buy a handgun, you must get a purchase license from the
police. To get it, you must be over 18, you must be member of a
shooting society (at least for the first ones) and, if you live with
other people, they must somewhat agree with that (I really don't know
what can happen if they don't). You must also produce a good-morality
The first license takes a little bit of time, around one month. all
the other ones come in a few days (between a week and two weeks and a
half in my experience).
On each license, you must mention your motivation. The most current
one is ``shooting and collection''. In fact it is so frequent that it
has been proposed to directly print it on the sheets. Unhappily the
police did not like the idea.
As long as your motivation is ``shooting and collection'', the policy
is that a .22 is *STRONGLY* recommended as a first handgun. However
you will be able to buy a 9mm, a .357 or a .45.
The handguns that you won't be able to get for the first licenses are
pocket handguns (snubs) and monsters (>= .44 Magnum). Pocket handguns
remain difficult to get, unless you are a collector, or if you ask for
a purchase license, with ``defense'' as a motivation.
The practice about ``defense'' licenses varies over time. A few years
ago, the police was rather restrictive and you really needed ``good
reason'' to get them. They are more liberal, now. This makes more
sense as concealed carry is permitted in many cantons (for example Vaud).
Full auto rifles are submitted to licenses. In order to get one, you
must be considered as a collector. In some cantons, this is automatic
after the fifth firearm. People in that situation can get almost
whatever they want. However, people cannot use full auto rifles. There
are some exceptions, but they are quite rare and require quite a lot
of effort to get them. The only real one is that you can use your
privately owned full auto Stgw90/Fass90 in the OFFICIAL ranges under
the same conditions as military ordonnance Stgw90/Fass90,
or the old model 57. Note that the weapon kept at home by
soldiers is a fully working Stgw90/Fass90 (or 57), or a handgun for
Repeating and single action rifles are free of license.
Repeating and self loading shotguns require a purchase license, unless
you block their capacity at three shots and have a hunting permit. In
this case, they are considered as hunting firearms and do not require
In many German speaking Cantons, both self loading rifles, repeating
and self loading shotguns can be owned freely.
Finally, carrying is not regulated in some Cantons. So, when you get a
handgun license, you are totally free to carry it, if you want: this
is your responsibility. The practice is such that unless you are a
money carrier or something like that, you should carry your(s) weapon
concealed. Carrying a weapon openly cannot cause you real problems,
but you risk much more controls from the police (ID checks, ALWAYS
carry an ID in Switzerland -- and five francs, but that's another
- Geneva and Basel forbid full auto rifles.
- Geneva almost forbid semi-autos rifles (they make *very* difficult
to get them).
- Basel authorizes the purchase of at most 4 self loading rifles per year.
- Geneva and Zurich require a concealed carry permit which is very
difficult to get.
- Basel requires a concealed carry permit, which can be obtained without
In many cantons silencers are forbidden.
About ammunition: There is no restriction, in the sense that you can
buy whatever you find on the market without any quantity
limitation. If you buy ten tons of 9mm Para, I am however sure that
the police will become highly interested by your activities.
Private companies can import ammunition freely, but they must have a
pretty serious material and financial base.
Note that individuals can import privately batches of 500 rounds of
In Vaud, there is no limitation about the quantity of firearms that
you can own. However, if you buy 4 AK-74's a week, the police might
ask you some questions.
Finally, established foreigners have the same rights that Swiss
citizens about firearms, but I don't know the situation for people
with 1 year-renewable working permits.
3.2.3 Guns popularity
Guns are very popular in Switzerland: there are a lot of Shooting
Clubs and shootings are organized almost every week (not counting the
compulsory shooting for each citizen-soldier every year, and some
week-ends). Moreover, there are Shooting Festivals organized usually
once a year (e.g. in Neuchatel the ``Tir Cantonal''). There is also
the Federal Shooting.
A lot of young people (teenagers usually) are training voluntarily in
The fact that most weapon users are experienced may explain the
relatively low injury rate due to weapons in Switzerland.
3.2.4 Guns abuse
Compared to the amount of weapons kept at home because of the Military,
and because a lot of people like weapons in Switzerland (and the laws
are somewhat permissive), people wonder why there is so little
gun abuse in Switzerland.
It is very difficult to answer this question. Some readers suggested
the following reasons:
- every male who has an army gun at home is trained to use it. He
knows the effect an automatic rifle can have and therefore will
hesitate to use it in private matters. Moreover, spontaneous use
of guns in personal fights related to jealousy are less probable
because Swiss people don't usually blow their top or fly off the
- Swiss people learn to hate their gun so much during the army service,
that they're very happy to store it in the closet and never touch
it again until the next service. In fact, the gun is a pain: It's
heavy, you have to carry it everywhere, you have to clean it thousands
of times, there are frequent quality controls, etc. So you're nothing
but happy to leave it alone as long as possible. This does not apply
to the ones active in any shooting association, of course, who are
many. On the contrary, a gun you buy is usually kept near you, ready
to shoot, and this may lead to accidents or crimes. Military weapons
are kept unloaded, and most of the times ammunition is kept separately.
- Swiss people are used to living close each other, with no shortage
of police on the beat. Well, if you travel to other countries you
may not quite agree.
- Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living worldwide.
Violence and crime arevery low in general. So is gun related crime.
One way to put it is: "The swiss are rich enough - so there's no
need to steal anything from somebody else.". But, then how did we
get rich in the first place ? :-)
3.3 Swiss navy
Switzerland is land-locked. However, following the experiences in the
last World Wars, Switzerland has a merchant navy in order to
facilitate transportation in times of crisis. Sea port is Genova in
Italy and the navy counts some 18-odd ocean-going ships (1994,
``tendenz sinkend'' :-)). Not counting the many ships on the lakes and
on the rivers :-)
3.4 5th Switzerland
There are 4 cultures in Switzerland. However, there is a fifth: the
Swiss who have left the country. They keep their voting right (at the
federal level only) and they can keep contact with Switzerland. Every
year, a delegation of young foreign Swiss is received in Berne. It is
certain that a lot (if not most) of the readers of soc.culture.swiss
are indeed foreign Swiss.
The Swiss Abroad have a ``Secretariat'' in Berne:
Secretariat for the Swiss Abroad
3000 Berne 16
3.5 Swiss-German vs German
You have to know that Swiss-German is very different from German.
Also, there is not one Swiss-German, but on the contrary a lot of
dialects: The dialects spoken in Bern (one of the easiest to learn,
though native German may prefer anything closer to Germany (SH/TG/SG
or even ZH)) is different from the one which is spoken in Graubuenden
or Zuerich. Also, there is no real written form (they tend to also be
written nowadays, e.g. on advertising). Virtually all Swiss-Germans
know German from the compulsory school, with a strong ``Swiss''
accent. In the technical world, however, English is becoming very
It is better to know (or at least understand) Swiss-German if one
wants to be integrated: besides, a lot of Swiss-Germans know English
and French as well.
In almost all German speaking countries, such regional dialects are
used (Germany, Austria) and in the Romandie (French speaking part of
Switzerland), the regional dialects (patois) have disappeared only in the
last two centuries, leaving very small regions where only a few people
still know their patois. Ticinesi used to speak the Lombardic dialect
of Italian, very different from the Tuscan standard.
Tom BUTZ says about spoken Swiss German: If translated literally,
colloquial language may come across as a bit rude, so be careful when
attempting translations for the squeamish/politically correct.
`Da isch an Huraseich' -- that's a load of bull dust - literally
translates to: that's a prostitute's urine.
`Am Sunntig goent mr i'd Beiz go fraesse' -- on Sunday we'll go to the
pub and eat there.
`Fraesse' normally is what
animals do (humans `aesse').
And there are a few pitfalls, even if you thought you were fluent in
(ordinary) German: slippery roads are not `glatt' but `iisig'. If they
are `glatt' they are fun.
`Riechen' (to smell) is `schmoecke' (to taste): so `do you smell
something ?' becomes: `schmoecksch oeppis ?'.
Another reason a foreigner would want to understand/read/speak Swiss
German ? Apart from fitting in, this would be planning to go to the
Basel Carnival (Morgestraich) and being able to find out what it's all
about. All printed matter will be in Swiss German, just like
everything else on parade. If that one's a bit hard on you, try
Neuchatel's carnival: there it's `only' (ordinary) French.
3.6 Universities in Ticino
At the moment there is one Italian speaking University in Switzerland,
founded by Mario BOTTA (http://www.rtsi.ch/rete2 (RealAudio format)).
This university has three departments: Economics, Communications (both
in Lugano) and Architecture (in Mendrisio).
Italian-speaking people may go to Italy if they want to be taught in
Italian for all the matters which are not present in the Ticino
University. However, most of the time they go to Zuerich or other
Swiss-german towns, or in the Suisse romande (french-speaking,
e.g. EPFL, UNIGE, UNIL, ...), thus they usually learn German and
However, the time is currently a ``shrinking budgets'' one, thus the
creation of a bigger university or of a university in Svizra
Rumantscha is not to be expected in the near future.
3.7 Miscellaneous legal questions
Swiss laws may vary from Canton to Canton. However, some matters are
handled by federal laws. For example, the legal age for marriage (male
and female) is 18 (before that you need authorization from parents).
3.7.2 Rape or sexual prosecution or discrimination
There are laws, even against rape in marriage (e.g. a husband may not
force his wife to have sexual contacts with him). Also with the new
laws (since 1992 or 1993), the abuse of relation of dependency for
sexual purposes is punishable too: for example, an employee in a
company is protected against her boss or if a drug addicted person
needs money and the only way to get it is prostitution, a suitor could
be prosecuted for abusing the misery of the addicted person.
3.8 Swiss tax system
Switzerland due to its federal nature has a complex tax system, at the
three federal, cantonal and communal levels.
1. Federal income tax, also called ``Direct federal tax'', the same
2. Cantonal income tax (usually lower in industrial/non-rural Cantons)
8-20% of the income.
3. Communal income tax
There is also a value added tax (TVA) at 6.5% (before 1996 it was
called Wust/ICHA at 6.2%, with a different scheme).
Generally, residents of Switzerland have an unlimited tax liability,
viz. they are taxed on worldwide income and wealth. Excluded from
Swiss taxation is immobile property located abroad as long as it is
taxed in the foreign country. Some very wealthy people may ask to be
taxed on spendings rather than fortune or income, but this is rare.
The federal tax authority issues (every year?) a publication outlining
all the different taxes with detailed schedules of rates of the
federation and the cantons.
More information can be obtained at http://www.admin.ch
The fourth language of Switzerland, also called ``Rhaeto-Romanisch''
in German, and ``Romanche' ' in French is spoken by less than 50'000
people, in the Graubuenden Kanton. Efforts are being made to revive
it: it is being tought in schools in those areas now. It is rooted in
the ancient roman language.
Rumantsch consists of five different dialects (Sursilvan, Surmiran,
Sutsilvan, Vallader, and Putèr), and there's also a constructed
standard language, Rumantsch Grischun, which was created in 1982 to
serve as an ``Einheitssprache'' or common language, which can be
understood by the speakers of the five dialects quite well, with a
If you would like to read some Rumantsch, please check
http://www.luna.nl/~benne/rumantsch.html, where you can find links to
some Rumantsch Web resources, like the on-line magazine PUNTS
(http://www.grnet.ch/punts/), which is entirely written in Rumantsch
(as well as in Rumantsch Grischun as in the various local dialects).
3.10 Abortion (most of it from Yvan BOTTERON)
Abortion is defined in a federal law and is allowed only if the
mother's health is jeopardized. Some of the Cantons interpret that law
differently. Some, for example the most liberal ones, consider the
psychological health of the mother while the other ones don't give
that point much importance.
The Cantons which are in majority Catholic (Valais, Fribourg) and
some of the Founding (French: primitifs (non péjoratif); German: Ur-)
Cantons (OW, NW, UR, SZ) have a more restrictive interpretation of
the law whereas the Reformed (Protestant) Cantons are the more
tolerant ones (with Glarus having a very permissive tradition: it is
reported that any gynecologist who wants employment here has to
state that he/she is able and willing to perform abortions). Of
course, as we are in Switzerland, there are probably exceptions to
that schematic explanation.
3.11 World War II (ambitious, please submit)
There have been recently a lot of questions about the comportment of
Swiss people and Swiss government during WWII. There is also, in the
``real world'', a lot of discussions, attacks, and misinformation
about what really happened, especially towards the Nazi and Jewish
gold. This FAQ, and especially this section, will try to give you an
impartial view on the facts, and a Swiss (partial) viewpoint of their
meaning. Feel free to submit new material for inclusion here.
We try to separate the FACTS from the INTERPRETATION in all of the
subsequent subsection, in order to diminish the polemics around
this extremely sensitive subject.
3.11.2 Switzerland's general situation in WWII
FACTS: Switzerland, at least from 1941 onward, is completely encircled
by the ``Power of the Axis'', namely Germany (Hitler), Italy
(Mussolini), and France (Petain). Switzerland has no direct lead
to the sea, and is not self-sufficient for food, nor goods. Also,
in WWI, Switzerland had suffered from the lack of gold (there was
still parity for the Swiss frank). There are right-extremist and
left-extremist very active movements in Switzerland, especially
among the Italian working in Switzerland. Also, there are some
people at the head of the government sympathizing with Hitler's
The swiss government must find a way to maintain its ability to
do commerce and to avoid invasion. Also, it fears an invasion
from Germany and thus tries to accommodate with both the Allies
and the Axis, e.g. producing goods for Great Britain at the
same time as for Germany. At that time, there is no strong
information regarding massive Jewish extermination. The
Swiss government also fears massive immigration and anything
that could destabilize Switzerland. Also, there was a fear,
at the beginning of the war, more from the ``Red Danger''
(some communist parties had been previously outlawed,
e.g. La Chaux-de-Fonds 1938), than from the right
About Switzerland's neutrality during World War II:
( ^ yes, these are not typos ^).
3.11.3 Attitude towards Jews
FACTS: Switzerland did ask the German to put the 'J' on German Jews'
Passports. Switzerland did not accept many Jews and only when
they had someone to pay for their stay in Switzerland. Thus
the already-existing Jewish community had to pay for any new
arriving Jew, with absolutely no support from the government.
The head of the Foreigner Office (Police des Etrangers) was
anti-jew. Switzerland officials made official apologies for the
comportment of Swiss officials during the war in 1995
(Kaspar VILLIGER, President 1995).
Switzerland did not collaborate with the Nazis on that specific
point. Switzerland only made more difficult for Jews (and
others) to seek refuge in Switzerland. Nevertheless, most of
the Swiss *population* did support the refugees. It is
damageable to Swiss's reputation that these apologies were
made 50 years later; however the cold war is one of the
reasons. The Eizenstat report evaluates the number of Jews
having found refuge in Switzerland as 50'000 (of which
20'000 left Switzerland during the war) plus 100'000 other
refugees (this figure only counting after 1940).
3.11.4 The stolen gold / dormant accounts.
In summary, the following actions have already been taken by the
Swiss government, individuals and private banking institutes:
- Money deposited by Jews and non Jews before and during the War,
which was not reclaimed, or was reclaimed but without sufficient
proof will be refunded. Meanwhile, a special 300 MSFr fund has
been created (mainly privately funded) because it is expected
enquiries will take a long time.
- Two separate commissions have been launched, whose goals is to
create a clear viewpoint on this part of History.
- The Foundation for Solidarity, a project of the Swiss government
whose goal is, from a National Bank-funded capital of 7 GSFr, to
distributed 300 MSFr per year to persecuted and suffering
population in the world (no direct link to the Jewish gold affair).
There is a WWW server which contains the dormant account list and
also instructions how to file a query:
The current list includes all foreign owners, whether they were
victims of the German Holocaust or not, of Swiss bank accounts which
have remained dormant since May 9, 1945.
A separate list of Swiss owners of Swiss bank accounts which have
remained dormant since May 9, 1945, will be published later this year.
As you will see, it is essential to distinguish between the gold bought by
the National bank, and the money deposited freely by afterwards-dead
people with private Swiss banks.
FACTS: Switzerland (the National bank) did buy a lot of gold from
the Axis and from the Allies during the war.
The Eizenstat report says that ``It [Switzerland] conducted
trade with the Allied countries as well as with the Axis
powers. The Swiss National Bank kept gold accounts for and
received gold not only from Nazi Germany, but from the
United States, Canada, and Great Britain as well.
Switzerland served as a key base for U.S. intelligence-
Due to the fear of not having enough gold to maintain the Swiss
Franc, and to prevent any invasion from both the Axis and the
Allies, Switzerland did buy a lot of gold from both
belligerents. It is known that a lot of the gold sold to
Switzerland by the USA was indeed still on USA's territory and
thus much less valuable for Switzerland than gold from
Germany. However, some people pretend that without this
commerce of gold, WWII would have been shortened, at least in
Europe, by two years (new book from Jean ZIEGLER). One thing
can be said: as the gold was PAID by Switzerland, this
money will never be refunded completely, especially since there
is no proof that the Swiss government or the SNB governing board
were aware of the fact that the gold was not from Germany but
stolen from other countries (which anyway is ``authorized'' by
common war practices) nor that some of it came from the KZ
(Jewish gold from victim's teeth, etc.). Switzerland has paid to the
Allies for Europe reconstruction in the amount of 28 million SFr in
1952 (whether the settlement was ``right'' and definitive is a very
good question, but it has not been asked yet. Moreoever most of what
is known today was known at that time).
FACTS: A lot of people (not only Jews) had money in Swiss private bank
accounts. When they died during the War, often in Germany's KZ,
the proofs disappeared and the money was left dormant for
many, many years. In the late 60's, when Swiss private banks
started to computerize their accounts, a lot of those dormant
accounts (sometimes confidential numbered ones, known only by
a few persons at the bank, maybe dead at that time) were
probably discovered. It would have been nice to do something then.
A few years ago, some Jewish associations contacted the Swiss banks
and there have been, since then, very slow progress being made.
Recently, a few civil actions (usually wrongly targeted) have
been taken from the USA and publicized: this seems to at least
have triggered a little action from the Swiss private banks, but
also brought much confusion to the debate.
NB: The most vocal spokesman in the United States is Senator
Alphonse D'Amato who is Catholic of Italian descent, not Jewish.
There have been for many years a tendency to minimize the
amount of those dormant accounts; however, even if this is
probably true (less than 100 M SFr are the current
evaluation by the Swiss banks; approximatively 30 M SFr
found currently; at UBS 3.5 M out of 10 M have already been
given back), we could have avoided the current mixup
stolen gold / dormant accounts if steps had been taken
before. On the contrary, we waited too long and now false
or incomplete information is being propagated by the
mass-media (e.g. documents are now publicly available in
ex-URSS and GB, after the 50 years period, but those
documents are quoted incorrectly, mixing currencies, sometimes
by a factor of 4-5; mixing facts). Probably the only way to
get out is twofold: first, make the entire truth known, and secondly,
all the unknown money should be put into a fund, kept there
for some time (like the East Trust (die Treuhand) in Germany),
and then given to a charitable organization like ICRC or
FACTS: Switzerland has was very reluctant to give German gold to the
Allies at the end of the War. Switzerland (private banking
institutes) was very reluctant to give any information
or list of bank accounts.
One of the reasons is that: [Eizenstat report] ``Clearly,
Switzerland's delay was intended to keep German assets
under its control as a guarantee for settlement of
Swiss claims against the Nazi regime.''. The private
banking institutes still charge SFR 500 _each_
for an account research. Maybe this amount corresponds to
the actual costs, but this is not really a very good
public relation policy. Note that since July with the
publishing of the account list (a violation to the
Swiss banking secrecy habits), this is no longer true.
The Eizenstat Report says that ``Among the neutral countries,
Switzerland has taken the lead.'' [in, at last, resolving this
issue]. We can only regret that this issue has not been resolved
earlier and with a broader audience (not just a few officials): maybe we
could have prevented what happens recently, for the benefit of the
Nazis's victims and ours.
1995 Kaspar VILLIGER apologizes for the 'J'.
1994(?) First contacts from Jewish organizations to the Swiss banks,
Ombudsman (mediator) is created.
June 1996 Start of the USA media-blitz and civil actions.
January 1997 Creation of a 300 M SFr private fund. Beneficiaries not yet
known. Banks and private people are funding it.
March 1997 The Swiss Confederation announces the creation of
a generic 7 billion SFr with an estimated 500 M
yearly revenue whose beneficiaries will be
any persecuted or otherwise minorized group, half
of which going to Swiss people. The fund will be
created mainly by the revaluation of gold from
the Swiss National Bank gold reserves.
May 1997 Publication of the Eizenstat Report on gold transactions
between Nazi Germany and other states (with a stress
July 1997 Publication of the first part of the dormant account
list by the Swiss private banking institutes.
begin 1998 First payments to Jews in the Baltic Countries from the
300 M SFr private fund. It has taken so long because of
difficulties in finding the recipients (with little
cooperation from the Jewish Congress). Payments to
road people too (Bohemians).
August 1998 Swiss Banks agree to pay 1.9 G SFr to the Jewish Congress's
Representatives. What will happen to this money is
unclear. This only solves the dormant account issue with
US Jews. This does not solve the ``stolen gold'',
stolen insurance policies, nor issues with non-US Jews and
3.11.6 More information
An extensive collection of case studies, official documents and
assorted commentary concerning German gold transfers to the SNB and
abandoned bank accounts of victims of WWII can be found on
the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington D.C. site at
and on the Embassy of Switzerland in London site at
This is an approximate cost of the ``dormant account'' crisis.
300 MSFr as a goodwill for holocaust survivors in financial difficulties,
money giving has started this week (it took more than expected
because the non-Swiss Jewish organizations did not give the names
before). Chairman is Mr. BLOCH, from Zuerich, head of the
Swiss jewish association. Around 70 people have already been
given money, Baltic countries have been choosen first because the
Jews living there have not benefited from the help of the
Russians nor the Germans for political reasons.
70 MSFr found as dormant accounts, will be refunded. Note that there are
also ``non-Jews'' holding those accounts: for example Nazis
or ``simple'' (ie non nazi and non jew) German people or
from other countries who died during the war. And Swiss people
2 GSFr paid to the World Jewish Congress by Swiss Banks.
NB: this is independant from the ``recycling'' gold affair, which is
purely a national bank topic and has been settled after the war
(at least up to now there have not been any official claim to
rework this settlement in particular).
and, as a general humanitarian cost
7 GSFr as the capital of the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity, a
non-profit charity organization.
3.12 Health system
To draw a few sketches (more answers might come from soc.culture.swiss,
feel free to post there) specifically about the HEALTH care system:
- since 1997 the health insurance is compulsory, yet still in
private hands (corporations which must be ruled specially under
governmental control compete in the health insurance market).
- only the basic coverage is compulsory and standard. All the add-ons
can vary from insurance to insurance in content.
- the price of the basic coverage depends on the canton (state), and
on other parameters, within specific rules. Also, there is a
minimal amount which must be paid (``franchise''). This can be
set as wanted (minimal for 98 is 150 SFR I think). The bigger,
the smaller the insurance fees.
This system is rather new and has a lot of problems. Added to the fact
that Switzerland has very high medical costs (induced by a lot
(too much?) of hospital capacity and physicians) and that most of
the costs are state-induced (private insurers must make their clients
pay for those very costly public hospitals), it gives an expensive
system, which might get better --- currently it is getting worse,
especially for the non-rural cantons.
Hazard insurance (at work) is separat, as is welfare. Both are compulsory
The professional hazard insurance is compulsory, and paid by the
employer. The non-professional insurance is compulsory when you work
more than 12 hours per week, and your employer might or might not
pay it for you. This is around 1.1 and 2% of the income.
Welfare (AVS (retirement), AI (disability), APG (military insurance))
is around 10.1 of your income. Unemployment insurance is another
3%. Half is paid by the employer.
4. Swiss institutions and products abroad
4.1 Swiss institutions/products in the US
There are several Swiss tourist offices in the US even though it seems
that some have closed recently (e.g. in San Francisco (?)).
150 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60601
Tel (312) 630 5840 Fax 630 5848
222 No. Sepulveda Blvd, Suite 1570
El Segundo, Los Angeles, CA 90245
Tel (310) 335 5980 Fax 335 5982
Swiss National Tourist Office
Swiss Center, 608 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10020
Tel (212) 757 5944 Fax 262 6116
New York: Rolex Building, 665 5th Av (8th floor), (212) 758 2560
Chicago: 737 North Michigan Avenue, (312) 915 0061
Swissair: 800 221 4750
4.2 Swiss institutions/products in Australia
Embassy of Switzerland:
Canberra: 7, Melbourne Avenue, Forrest, ACT 2603, +61.6.2733977
Melbourne: Consulate General of Switzerland, PO Box 7026, Melbourne,
Vic 3004, +61.3.8672266
4.3 Other countries
Swiss National Tourist Office in Canada (the Swiss Consulate General is
154, University avenue, Suite 610
Toronto M5H 3Y9
Tel (416) 971 9734 Fax 971 6425
CS-Tower, 2nd floor
1-11-30 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tel (03) 35 89 55 88 Fax 32 24 08 00
Swiss Centre, Swiss Court, W1V8EE
Tel (171) 734 19 21
Fax (171) 437 45 77
35, North Wireless Road
BANGKOK Thailand - 10330
Tel. 02 - 253-0156
FAX 02 - 255-4481
4.4 Swiss products
The swiss products usually can be recognized with the ``arbalete''
(crossbow) weapon (but this is not nowadays a certain label).
There is a move towards protecting the ``Swiss Army Label'', reserving
it to Swiss companies making their production mainly in Switzerland.
It should not be necessary to state that Swiss soldier *do not* have
the luxury knives sold under that label :-)
5. More information
More information can be found on WWW from the Switzerland Home Page,
There are some books which may be interesting (more are listed through
"Das neue Profil der Schweiz", Hans Tschaeni, Werd Verlag, 1990, also
available in French.
"La Suisse - de la formation des
Alpes a la quete du futur", Ex Libris, 1975.
About Swiss culture and military (in English):
"La Place de la Concorde Suisse"
The "Annuaire statistique de la Suisse" is available in German
or in French in most bookshops (in CH). You can also find more
Swiss statistics at the following addresses:
http://www.zahlenspiegel.ch/ (German language)
http://www.statistique.ch/ (French version)
A real good source for Swiss and foreign maps is:
Kuemmerly & Frey
For all official Swiss maps, check for http://www.swisstopo.ch/
especially http://www.swisstopo.ch/en/maps/maps.htm (yes, it is
really .htm, not .html).
Touristical information can be asked there:
Swiss Hotel Association
Tel (031) 370 4111 Fax 370 4444
Tel (01) 288 1111 Fax 288 1205
Some of the following people contributed large parts of this document.
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$Id: ALPHAMonthly18,v 1.16 2002/03/03 17:57:55 admin Exp $