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Switzerland is a small European country known for its beautiful, snow-capped mountains and freedom-loving people.  The Alps and the Jura Mountains cover more than half of Switzerland.  But most of the Swiss people live on a plateau that extends across the middle of the country between the two mountain ranges.  In this region are most of Switzerland's industries and its richest farmlands.  Switzerland's capital, Bern, and largest city, Zurich, are also there.


The Swiss have a long tradition of freedom.  About 700 years ago, people in what is now central Switzerland agreed to help each other stay free from foreign rule.  Gradually, people in nearby areas joined them in what came to be known as the Swiss Confederation.  Various Swiss groups speak different languages.  Switzerland has three official languages--German, French, and Italian.  The Latin name for Switzerland, Helvetia, appears on Swiss coins and postage stamps.

The Swiss show great pride in their long independence.  Switzerland has no regular army, but almost all the men receive military training yearly.  They keep their weapons and uniforms at home, and can be called up quickly in an emergency.  Local marksmanship contests are held frequently.

In the early 1500's, Switzerland established a policy of not taking sides in the many wars that raged in Europe.  During World Wars I and II, Switzerland remained an island of peace.  Almost all the nations around it took part in the bloody struggles.  Switzerland provided safety for thousands who fled from the fighting, or from political persecution.  The nation's neutrality policy helped the Swiss develop valuable banking services to people of countries throughout the world, where banks are less safe.  The League of Nations, the major world organization of the 1920's and 1930's, had its headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva.  Today, many international organizations, including various United Nations agencies, have headquarters in Geneva.

Switzerland has limited natural resources, but it is a thriving industrial nation.  Using imported raw materials, the Swiss manufacture high-quality goods including electrical equipment, machine tools, and watches.  They also produce chemicals, drugs, chocolate, and cheese and other dairy products.


The government of Switzerland is based on the Swiss Constitution of 1848, which was changed greatly in 1874.  The Constitution establishes a federal republic in which political powers are divided between the central government and cantonal (state) governments.

In some ways, the Swiss government is one of the most democratic in the world.  Swiss citizens enjoy close control over their laws through the rights of the referendum and the initiative.

The referendum allows the people to demand a popular vote on laws passed by the legislature.  A vote must be held if 50,000 people request it.  The people can accept or veto the law.

The initiative gives Swiss citizens the right to bring specific issues before the people for a vote.  Such a vote may force a change in government policy or may amend the Constitution.  An initiative requires a petition by at least 100,000 citizens.  All voters must be at least 18 years old.

Cantonal and local government.  Swiss voters elect executive councils and legislatures in the cantons, half-cantons, and cities.  The country's six half-cantons were originally three undivided cantons.  They split into separate political units with as much power of self-government as the full cantons.  But each half-canton sends only one representative to the national legislature's Council of States, instead of two.

In one canton and in four of the half-cantons, the people vote by a show of hands at an open-air meeting called a Landsgemeinde.  Similar meetings of voters are held in the small towns and villages.

Politics.  Switzerland has a wide range of political parties.  However, there are few differences among the large ones.  As a result, the parties cooperate easily.  The three largest political parties have about an equal degree of strength.  They are the Christian Democratic Party, the Radical Democratic Party, and the Social Democratic Party.

Defense.  Switzerland has a militia (citizens' army) instead of regular armed forces.  Swiss men are required to begin a series of military-training periods at the age of 20.  They can be called into service until the age of 50.  Men whose health or work makes them unable to serve in the militia and men who live out of the country must pay a special tax.


Even after the Swiss began to join forces about 700 years ago to defend themselves, people from different areas kept their own ways of life.  They defended these ways of life in the same spirit of independence that has made Switzerland famous.  As a result, the Swiss still differ greatly among themselves in language, customs, and traditions.  These various differences are apparent from region to region, and even among some small communities.

In the past, the local patriotism of the Swiss was so strong that most of them thought of themselves as part of their own local area more than of their country.  They considered the Swiss of other areas almost as foreign rivals, and feuds among various areas lasted for hundreds of years.  But at most times when their country faced danger, the Swiss stood together as one people.  Today, local patriotism has largely been replaced by national patriotism.

Population.  About one-fifth of the people of Switzerland are foreign-born.  The country has one of the hightest percentages of foreign-born residents of any country in Europe.  More than one-fourth of Switzerland's foreign-born population came from Italy.  Large groups of people from Germany, Portugal, Spain, and the former Yugoslovia also reside in Switzerland.  Foreign workers have been recruited to fill newly created jobs, because Switzerland's economy has grown faster than its domestic population.

The majority of Switzerland's people live in cities and towns.  Bern is the country's capital.  Zurich is Switzerland's largest city.  Other large Swiss cities include Basel, Geneva, and Lausanne.

Language.  The Swiss Constitution provides for three official languages and four national languages.  The official languages are German, French, and Italian.  As a result, Switzerland has three official names--Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (in German), Confederation Suisse (in French), and Confederazione Svizzera (in Italian).  All national laws are published in each of these three languages.  The Federal Tribunal, Switzerland's highest court, must include judges who represent each language group.

The four national languages are the three official ones plus Romansh (also spelled Romansch), which is closely related to Latin.  Romansh is spoken only in the mountain valleys of the canton of Graubunden, by about 50,000 people.

About 70 percent of the people speak a form of German that is called Schwyzerdutsch (Swiss German).  They live in the northern, eastern, and central parts of Switzerland.  Schwyzerdutsch is almost a separate language, and even people who speak German find it hard to understand.  The language and its name vary from place to place.  For example, it is called Baseldutsch in Basel and Zuridutsch in Zurich.  However, wherever Schwyzerdutsch is spoken, standard German is used in newspapers, books, television and radio programs, plays, and church sermons.

French, spoken in western Switzerland, is the language of almost 20 percent of the people.  Italian is used by nearly 10 percent of the people, in the south.  Both these languages, as spoken by the Swiss, are much like their standard forms in France or Italy.

One difficulty, especially for visitors, is that many place names in Switzerland vary by language.  The most complicated example--the city known as Geneva to English-speaking people--is called Genf in German, Geneve in French, and Ginevra in Italian.  English-speaking people know almost all other Swiss cities and towns by their French or German name.

Religion.  Switzerland has complete freedom of religion.  About half the people are Roman Catholics, and about 45 percent are Protestants.  Of the 26 cantons and half-cantons in Switzerland, 15 have a Roman Catholic majority, and 11 are chiefly Protestant.

The Protestant Reformation took a special form in Switzerland.  Calvinism developed there and spread to France and many other countries during the 1500's.  As a result, the Protestant movement split into two major camps, Calvinists and Lutherans.  See CALVIN, JOHN; REFORMATION (Zwingli and the Anabaptists); ZWINGLI, HULDREICH.

Education.  Swiss children are required by canton law to go to school, but the age limits vary.  In most cantons, children must attend school from 6 through 14.  Instruction is held in the local national language, and each child also has the opportunity to learn one of the other national languages.

Students who plan to attend a university may go to one of three kinds of high schools.  These schools specialize in (1) Greek and Latin, (2) modern languages, or (3) mathematics and science.  Other students go to trade or technical schools while serving an apprenticeship.  An increasing number of people take adult education courses in order to achieve their career goals.

Switzerland has seven universities and various other schools of higher learning.  The oldest, the University of Basel, was founded in 1460.  The University of Zurich, with about 16,000 students, is the largest.  All universities are public institutions.  Their students pay no tuition.

Arts.  Most Swiss literature has been written in German.  Famous books include two children's classics, Heidi by Johanna Spyri and The Swiss Family Robinson by the Wyss family.  Major Swiss authors of the 1800's were Jeremias Gotthelf, Gottfried Keller, and Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.  Carl Spitteler won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1919 for his epic poetry and other writings.  Later writers of the 1900's include Max Frisch and Friedrich Durrenmatt, whose plays have been performed in many countries.  Charles Ferdinand Ramuz wrote novels in French.

The art movement called Dadaism was founded in Zurich in 1916 (see DADAISM).  Outstanding Swiss artists of the 1900's include the painter Paul Klee and the sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Jean Tinguely.  Le Corbusier won fame in modern architecture.

Several Swiss cities have symphony orchestras.  The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande of Geneva became world famous under conductor Ernest Ansermet.  An annual music festival in Lucerne attracts thousands of music lovers.  Almost every town and village has a singing group that practices weekly for local festivals, and for regional and national competitions.  Band music and folk dancing in colorful costumes are also popular.  Some mountaineers enjoy yodeling or playing a musical instrument known as the alphorn (see ALPHORN).

Sports.  The mountains of Switzerland provide grand opportunities for a variety of sports.  About a third of the nation's people ski.  Many also enjoy bobsledding, camping, climbing, and hiking in the mountains.  Target shooting, stressed by the Swiss military system, is extremely popular.  Shooting matches are held frequently.  Other favorite sports of the Swiss include bicycling, boating, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, and wrestling.  Hornussen, a game somewhat like baseball, is played by two teams.  The batter hits a wooden disk with a wooden club 8 feet (2.4 meters) long.  Fielders catch the disk with wooden rackets.

The land

Switzerland has three main land regions: (1) the Jura Mountains, (2) the Swiss Plateau, and (3) the Swiss Alps.  The two mountain regions make up about 65 per cent of Switzerland's area.  But the plateau between them has about four-fifths of the country's population.

The Jura Mountains consist of a series of parallel ridges that are separated by narrow valleys.  These ridges extend along Switzerland's western border and into France.  Within Switzerland, the highest mountain of the range is 5,518-foot (1,682-meter) Mont Tendre.  The Jura Mountains are the home of Switzerland's important watchmaking industry.  Other industries in the region include dairy farming, lumbering, and the manufacture of electronics.

The Swiss Plateau is a hilly region with rolling plains.  It lies from 1,200 to 2,200 feet (366 to 671 meters) above sea level.  The movement of ancient glaciers formed many lakes, including Lake Constance and Lake Geneva.  Switzerland's richest farmland is in this region, as are most of the large cities and manufacturing industries.  See LAKE CONSTANCE; LAKE GENEVA.

The Swiss Alps are part of the mighty Alps, the largest mountain system in Europe.  This region covers about 60 per cent of Switzerland, but less than a fifth of the people live there.  There are glaciers as low as 3,500 feet (1,070 meters) above sea level, and snow blankets most of the region from three to five months a year.  Much of the region is forested.  The forests help prevent snow from sliding, but avalanches sometimes occur.

The upper valleys of the Rhine and Rhone rivers divide the Swiss Alps into a northern and a southern series of ranges.  These ranges include the Bernese, Lepontine, Pennine, and Rhaetian Alps.  Their sharp peaks, jagged ridges, and steep gorges create many scenic areas.  Many mountain streams form plunging waterfalls.  The highest waterfall is the 1,982-foot (604-meter) Giessbach Falls in the Bernese Alps.  The Pennine Alps include Switzerland's highest peak, the 15,203-foot (4,634-meter) Dufourspitze of Monte Rosa.  The beauty of the Swiss Alps attracts tourists from around the world.  See ALPS.

Rivers.  The Swiss Alps form part of Europe's main drainage divide.  They are the source of rivers that flow in all directions.  The Rhine and the Rhone rivers rise within 15 miles (24 kilometers) of each other in the Alps.  The Rhine flows into the North Sea, and the Rhone into the Mediterranean Sea.  The Inn River winds into the Danube River, which goes into the Black Sea.  The Ticino River is a tributary of the Po River, which flows into the Adriatic Sea.  See RHINE RIVER; RHONE RIVER.


The climate of Switzerland varies greatly from area to area because of the wide variety in altitude.  In general, temperatures decrease about 3 °F (2 °C) with each 1,000-foot (300-meter) increase in elevation, and higher areas of the country receive more rain and snow.  Atlantic air held up by the mountains often settles over lower areas, producing dampness and fog.  Fog sometimes covers the entire Swiss Plateau like a sea of clouds.  Some areas may be covered by fog for as many as 120 days a year.

January temperatures average from 29 to 33 °F (-2 to 1 °C) on the central plateau and in the Swiss mountain valleys.  During the winter, there is colder though drier and sunnier weather above the layer of fog than below it.

In summer, the Swiss Plateau is warm and sunny.  However, severe storms may occur there.  July temperatures on the plateau average from 65 to 70 °F (18 to 21 °C).  Sheltered valleys sometimes become uncomfortably hot.  In summer, the higher slopes of the mountains are cool or even cold.  The canton of Ticino, which extends southward to the Italian plains, has hot summers and mild winters.

The central plateau receives from 40 to 45 inches (100 to 114 centimeters) of precipitation (rain, snow, and other forms of moisture) a year.  Sheltered valleys usually have less.  In some high areas, the yearly precipitation totals more than 100 inches (250 centimeters).  Above 6,000 feet (1,800 meters), snow covers the ground at least six months a year.

A dry, warm southerly wind called the foehn sometimes blows down the valleys of the Swiss Alps.  It causes rapid changes in temperature and air pressure, which makes many people uncomfortable.  The foehn melts mountain snows earlier than such snows would otherwise melt.  The foehn can also cause avalanches.


Switzerland is a prosperous country with one of the world's highest standards of living.  The nation's highly specialized industries are extremely profitable.  Switzerland has more jobs than its own people can fill.  Workers from other countries make up about a fifth of Switzerland's labor force.

Switzerland trades with nations throughout the world, but chiefly with Western European countries and the United States.  The Swiss import more goods than they export.  They make up the difference with income from tourism and from banking, insurance, and transportation services to foreign people or firms.

Natural resources.  Switzerland lacks important deposits of coal, iron ore, petroleum, and other minerals on which heavy industry is based.  Most of the land is too high or too rugged to be good farmland.  In addition, the climate is generally better for producing hay and other livestock feeds rather than such crops as wheat and fruit.  Crops are raised on only about a tenth of Switzerland's total area, chiefly on the plateau.  About 40 percent of the country consists of meadows or grazing land, much of which can be used only in summer.  Forests cover about a fourth of Switzerland.  But air pollution has damaged many trees in the forests.  The government has established strict pollution controls for automobiles in an effort to slow up forest damage.

Switzerland's rushing mountain rivers are its greatest natural resource.  Much of the electric power produced in Switzerland is generated at hydroelectric power stations on the rivers.  However, five nuclear power plants supply an increasing amount of the country's energy.

Manufacturing.  Switzerland is one of the most industrialized countries in the world.  Its manufacturing industries are based on the processing of imported raw materials into high-quality products for export.  To keep the cost of materials and transportation as low as possible, these industries specialize in skilled, precision work on small, valuable items.  In Switzerland's watchmaking industry, for example, the cost of materials is only about one-twentieth the cost of labor.  More than 95 percent of the watches made in Switzerland are exported.

The Swiss make such engineering products as generators and other electrical equipment, industrial machinery, machine tools, precision instruments, and transportation equipment.  Other major products are chemicals, paper, processed foods including cheese and chocolate, and silk and other textiles.

Most Swiss factories are small- or medium-sized because of the stress on quality goods rather than mass production.  There are factories in small towns and even in villages.  The use of hydroelectricity to power the factories and railroads helps keep the busiest industrial centers almost free of smoke.

Agriculture in Switzerland supplies only about three-fifths of the people's needs.  The rest of the nation's food must be imported.  Livestock raising is the most important agricultural activity because of the limited cropland resources and the climate.  It provides about 75 percent of Switzerland's farm income, largely through dairy farming.  Most of the dairy cattle graze on the high mountain pastures in summer and are brought down to the valleys in winter.  Much of the milk is used to make cheeses for export.  These cheeses include Emmentaler, also known as Swiss cheese, and Gruyere.  Farmers also raise hogs, goats, sheep, and chickens.

Swiss farms are small, averaging only 8 acres (3 hectares).  Farmers work the land carefully to make it as productive as possible.  Crops include fruits, wheat and other grains, and potatoes.  Grapes are grown near Lakes Geneva, Lugano, and Neuchatel, and in other sunny areas.  Olive trees grow in the canton of Ticino.

Tourism.  Since the early 1800's, large numbers of tourists have come to Switzerland.  Today, more than 11 million tourists visit yearly.  Switzerland has thousands of hotels and inns for tourists.  Sports centers in the Alps, including Davos and St. Moritz, attract many vacationers.  Skiing is especially popular.  Most of the ski runs are free of trees because they are higher than the elevation at which trees stop growing.  In summer, guides take tourists mountain climbing.  Many visitors come for the healthful clear, dry, mountain air, as well as to enjoy the beauty of the Alps.  Water sports on Lake Geneva and other lakes are also popular vacation attractions.

Banking also ranks as one of Switzerland's major industries.  Swiss banks attract deposits from people in many countries.  The banks are probably the safest in the world, partly because of the nation's neutrality.  Depositors can choose to be identified by a number known only to themselves and a few bank officials.  In this way, a private fortune can be kept secret.  Under Swiss law, a bank employee who violates this secrecy may be fined and imprisoned.  But the secrecy may be broken in the investigation of criminal cases.

Transportation.  Switzerland has fine transportation systems in spite of the mountains, which make travel difficult.  The government owns and runs almost the entire railroad network.  Railroad tunnels cut through the Alps, including the Lotschberg, St. Gotthard, and Simplon tunnels.  The 12.3-mile (19.8-kilometer) Simplon Tunnel is one of the world's longest railroad tunnels.

Switzerland's paved roads and highways provide travel even to mountain areas.  But roads that wind through the higher mountain passes are open only a few months of the year.  Heavy snow makes them unusable except in summer.  The 31/2-mile (5.6-kilometer) Great St. Bernard Tunnel, opened in 1964, was the first automobile tunnel through the Alps.  It links Switzerland and Italy.  The 10.14-mile (16.32-kilometer) St. Gotthard Road Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in the world.

The Rhine River connects Basel, Switzerland's only port, with the North Sea.  Large barges can reach Basel, which handles about 8 million short tons (7.3 million metric tons) of cargo a year.

Geneva and Zurich have international airports.  The privately owned Swissair, Switzerland's only international airline, flies to about 40 countries.

Communication.  Switzerland has about 90 daily newspapers.  The largest newspapers include Der Blick, Tages Anzeiger Zurich, and Neue Zurcher Zeitung, all published in Zurich.  Most of the country's newspapers are published in German, and some are published in French and Italian.  A few of the nondaily newspapers are published in Romansh.

Government-controlled corporations operate a radio network and a television network in each of the three official languages.  A few programs are in Romansh.  In addition, several privately owned radio stations broadcast in Switzerland.  Almost all Swiss families own at least one radio and one television set.  The government operates the postal, telegraph, and telephone services.



Early days.  Before the time of Christ, a Celtic people called the Helvetians lived in what is now Switzerland.  They were conquered in 58 B.C. by Roman armies led by Julius Caesar.  The region, known as Helvetia, became a Roman province.  By the A.D. 400's, two Germanic tribes, the Alemannians and the Burgundians, settled there.  Another Germanic people, the Franks, defeated these tribes by the early 500's.  The Frankish kingdom later expanded and became powerful under Charlemagne, but it broke apart during the 800's.  See FRANKS.

Most of present-day Switzerland became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 962, when the empire began, and the rest was part of the kingdom of Burgundy.  That part came into the empire in 1033.  Switzerland consisted of many territories, towns, and villages ruled by local lords, and some communities directly under the emperor.  See HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE.

The struggle for freedom.  By the 1200's, the Habsburg family had gained control over much of Switzerland.  The free men of what are now the cantons (states) of Schwyz and Uri feared the growth of the Habsburgs' power.  In 1273, Rudolf I became the first Habsburg to rule the Holy Roman Empire.  He began to take control of the two regions.  In 1291, Schwyz and Uri decided to defend their freedom.  They invited the nearby region of Unterwalden to join them.

Leaders of the three regions met in August 1291, and signed the Perpetual Covenant, a defense agreement.  They declared their freedom and promised to aid each other against any foreign ruler.  The Perpetual Covenant was the start of the Swiss Confederation.  The confederation came to be known as Switzerland.  It took its name from the canton of Schwyz.

The Habsburgs ruled Austria, and the Swiss fought several wars of independence against Austrian forces.  In 1315, at Morgarten, Swiss peasants trapped and defeated an Austrian army 10 times their strength.  Between 1332 and 1353, five more cantons joined the Swiss Confederation.  The Swiss again defeated the Austrians at Sempach in 1386 and at Nafels in 1388.  See HABSBURG, HOUSE OF.

The wars with Austria were full of dramatic incidents, and many famous stories have been told about Swiss heroes.  For two exciting tales, see the articles on TELL, WILLIAM and WINKELRIED, ARNOLD VON.

Independence and expansion.  Switzerland became a strong military power during the 1400's.  The Swiss entered several wars to gain land, and won many territories.  In three battles in 1476 and 1477, the Swiss defeated Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.  In 1499, they crushed the forces of Maximilian I, the Habsburg ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.  Switzerland won complete independence, though the empire did not officially recognize it until 1648.  In 1512 and 1513, the Swiss drove French armies out of northern Italy.  Almost all the lands won in these wars of expansion remained under Swiss control for nearly 300 years, and then were admitted into the confederation as cantons.

In 1515, the French defeated the Swiss at Marignano in Italy.  The Swiss suffered great losses, and began to question their policy of expansion.  Switzerland soon adopted a policy of neutrality, and has stayed out of foreign wars ever since.

Five more cantons joined the Swiss Confederation between 1481 and 1513, making a total of 13.  Each canton governed itself as it chose, almost like a separate country.  Some cantons were peasant democracies, and others were governed by powerful families or by craftsmen's groups called Zunfte (guilds).  Many cantons owned nearby territories either by themselves or with other cantons.  The confederation had no central government.  Delegates from each canton occasionally met in an assembly called Tagsatzung to discuss various matters.  But this assembly had no real power.

Religious civil wars.  The Reformation spread quickly in Switzerland during the early 1500's.  Huldreich Zwingli, one of the great leaders of the Protestant movement, preached in Zurich.  John Calvin, another great Protestant leader, made Geneva an international center of Protestantism (see REFORMATION).  The Reformation split Switzerland into two armed camps, Protestant and Roman Catholic.  The two groups fought in 1529, 1531, 1656, and 1712, without either side gaining control.

French control.  In 1798, during the French Revolution, French armies swept into Switzerland and quickly occupied the country.  The French set up the Helvetic Republic and gave the new Swiss government strong central power.  The Swiss cantons became merely administrative districts of the government.

The great political change caused much confusion and dissatisfaction among the Swiss.  As a result, Napoleon of France reestablished the 13 Swiss cantons in 1803 and created 6 new ones from their territories.  He reduced the power of the central government and restored much of the cantons' self-government.

After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna gave Switzerland three more cantons that had been under French control (see VIENNA, CONGRESS OF).  The old confederation system was largely restored, with the central government having little power.  The Congress of Vienna also guaranteed Swiss neutrality.  The European powers at the congress recognized Swiss neutrality as being for the good of all Europe.  The neutrality of Switzerland has never since been broken.

The Constitution of 1848.  By 1830, many Swiss had begun to demand political reforms--including individual rights and freedom of the press--and greater national unity.  Governments were overthrown peaceably in some cantons, but rioting occurred in others.  The reform movement grew in strength.  Seven cantons banded together to oppose the changes, but were defeated in a three-week civil war in 1847.

Switzerland adopted a new Constitution in 1848.  This Constitution set up a federal democracy with a two-house legislature.  It established federal power over the confederation and guaranteed religious freedom and other individual rights.  The Constitution was changed in 1874 to increase the government's powers, especially in military and court matters.

In 1863, Jean Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and writer, founded the Red Cross in Geneva.  The Red Cross flag was copied from that of Switzerland, with the two colors reversed.  See RED CROSS.

Neutrality in the world wars.  World War I began in 1914, and Switzerland immediately declared its neutrality.  The fighting nations respected this policy because Switzerland acted in a strictly neutral manner throughout the war.  Food imports decreased during the four years of fighting, but farmers in Switzerland increased their grain production to feed the people.  In 1920, Geneva became the headquarters of the newly created League of Nations, an association of countries organized to prevent war.  Switzerland was one of the original members of the League.  See LEAGUE OF NATIONS.

After World War II began in 1939, Switzerland again declared its neutrality.  German forces did not invade Switzerland.  They feared the Swiss would blow up transportation tunnels in the Alps if they did.  Switzerland became a major supply link between Germany and its ally Italy.  It also represented the United States and other Allied nations in enemy countries.  During the war, Switzerland cared for more than 100,000 refugees from a number of countries.

Switzerland did not join the United Nations (UN), which was founded after World War II ended in 1945.  The Swiss felt that UN membership, which requires possible military action by member nations, would violate their neutrality policy.  But the UN made Geneva its European headquarters, and Switzerland joined most of the UN's specialized agencies.

After the wars, Switzerland continued to avoid membership in international organizations that might endanger its neutrality.  But it participated when there was no danger of losing its independence.  In 1960, the Swiss helped form the European Free Trade Association, an economic organization of European nations.  In 1963, Switzerland joined the Council of Europe, an organization of European countries that seeks closer unity among its members for economic and social progress.

In 1979, Switzerland increased its number of cantons from 22 to 23.  It created a new canton called Jura from territory that was part of the canton of Bern.  In most of Bern, most people are German-speaking Protestants.  But in the part of Bern that became Jura, most people are French-speaking Roman Catholics.  Jura was created to give the French-speaking Catholics their own canton.

Switzerland was the last major European country to grant women political equality.  In 1958, Basel became the first Swiss city to allow women to vote in local elections.  In 1971, women in Switzerland were given the right to vote in national elections.  The Swiss voters approved an equal rights amendment for women in 1981.

In 1984, Elisabeth Kopp became the first woman to be elected to Switzerland's Federal Council.  Kopp resigned from the council in 1988, after admitting that she had advised her husband to resign from a firm she knew the government was going to investigate.  In 1990, Kopp was acquitted of charges of revealing official secrets.

In 1992, voters approved Switzerland's membership in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Recent developments.  In 1993, Ruth Dreifuss became the second woman elected to the Federal Council.  In 1998, the legislature chose Dreifuss as Switzerland's first female president.  The president serves as head of state for a one-term term.