The landscapes of the country have gone through considerable change throughout history, and with those changes came reform. The formation of a loose confederation in Switzerland aided the country by allowing for mutual support during warfare and economic development. However, the bonds of those relationships were stretched almost to a breaking point several centuries ago. In that moment, the outcome of Switzerland’s economic, political, and social status completely changed.
The territory of what is now Switzerland shared a similar evolution with the rest of Western Europe. The first couple of centuries or so was a time of migration, moving in the general direction of east to west. Peoples were displaced as waves of new tribes arrived from Asia (F. D. Affairs). In my experiences, when migration of several varied populations coexists within one boundary certain customs including language, religion, and cultural traditions have a direct impact on the surrounding region. Although, to the current landholders and citizens at the time, this may in fact have been more of an annoyance than a positive step toward interrelations.
Around the 13th century, Switzerland was fearful of the conflict following the death of the Holy Roman Empire. Directly following, the formation of a Swiss Confederation took place, which resulted in an alliance of three rural communities. According to the US Department of State, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledging mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule (B. o. Affairs). Surprisingly, the charter was completed and drawn up in Latin with immense positivity. In my opinion, it was interesting to hear that landholders,who in the past had partaken in petty skirmishes, signed a document that protected all who signed it. In that document it stated:
Therefore, know all men, that the people of the valley of Uri, the democracy of the valley of Schwyz, and the community of the Lower Valley of Unterwalden, seeing the malice of the age, in order that they may better defend themselves, and their own, and better preserve them in proper condition, have promised in good faith to assist each other with aid, with every counsel and every favor, with person and goods, within the valley and without, with might and main, against one and all, who may inflict upon any one of them any violence, molestation or injury, or may plot any evil against their persons or goods. And in every case each community has promised to succor the other when necessary, at its own expense, as far as needed in order to withstand the attacks of evil-doers, and to avenge injuries; to this end they have sworn a solemn oath to keep this without guile, and to renew by these presents the ancient form of the league, also confirmed by an oath (Uri).
During the 14 and 15th century, expansion of the federation took place. Members joined the Confederation as equals; other communities or territories came by purchase or conquest including Glarus and Zug and the Lucerne, Zürich and Bern. These city states came together to form the “Old Confederacy”, which existed until the end of the 15th century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the federation (F. D. Affairs). Of course, with the increasing geographical expansion and growing wealth and power, it wasn’t at all a surprise when the confederation suffered a setback in 1515 with the defeat in the Battle of Marignano.
During the Reformation, when the Roman Catholic Church split into two opposing camps, Switzerland was in an upheaval. Supporters of the reform destroyed churches, statues, art, and monasteries. In Geneva, Switzerland, an authoritarian stance was adopted; imprisoning, expelling or even burning those Protestants who disagreed with the official line, while Basel became a centre of intellectual freedom (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs). The separation of Protestant Swiss and their Catholic neighbors kept the Confederation out of the wars of the European powers, which formally recognized Swiss neutrality in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Despite Switzerland’s neutrality, the region was far from stabilizing. In fact, religious and social tensions sparked conflict within the country in the second half of 17th century.
During the 18th century, scientific advancements and industrialization was making an enormous impact on the society as a whole. In addition, philosophical ideas and national awareness were learned from patriotic societies springing up all over the country. The ruling elites were now under the impression that challenging neighboring ruling circles would result in the successful acquisition of more power; however this was not the case. At the end of the 18th century, French troops invaded Switzerland and broke the power of the ruling élites and temporarily destroyed the confederation by creating the centralized Helvetic Republic (B. o. Affairs). This was the first time in history that the Swiss had to abandon their neutrality and provided troops to France.
In 1815, Switzerland started to experience rapid economic development. The expansion of liberal entrepreneurship was seriously hampered by cantonal fragmentation including customs tariffs, different weights, measures and currencies (F. D. Affairs). Additionally, after a brief civil war between Protestant liberals seeking a centralized national state and Catholic conservatives clinging on to the old order, the majority of Swiss Cantons opted for a Federal State, modeled in part on the U.S. Constitution.
By 1850, Switzerland had become the second most industrialized country in Europe after Great Britain. However, during World War I tensions between the German, French, and Italian-speaking parts of the country caused Switzerland to consider violating its neutrality. They were able to deter from any hostilities during that time. During World War II, Switzerland came under heavy pressure from the fascist powers, which after the fall of France in 1940, completely surrounded the country. Some political and economic leaders displayed a mood of appeasement, but a combination of tactical accommodation and demonstrative readiness to defend the country helped Switzerland survive unscathed (B. o. Affairs).
For years, Switzerland has succumbed to heavy scrutiny for their actions, or lack thereof, during World War II. In all actuality, it was their nature to stay separated from a war that had no direct bearing on their country, however in my opinion I didn’t think their involvement made any sense and I respect, I don’t agree, about their decision to stay neutral. During the first half of the 20th century, the Cold War enhanced the role of neutral Switzerland and offered the country a way out of its diplomatic isolation after World War II. Economically, Switzerland integrated itself into the American-led Western postwar order, but it remained reluctant to enter supranational bodies (B. o. Affairs). Even while Geneva was hosting the UN’s European headquarters and several additional European affairs that stressed integration, Switzerland chose to stay isolated. It wasn’t until after the Cold War that Switzerland finally became a member of the United Nations.
Economically, Switzerland is one of the world’s most advanced and prosperous nations. According to the textbook Human Geography-People, Places, and Culture, per capita income is among the highest in the world, life expectancies are not all surprising, reflecting the men at 79 and women at 84, and the corruption index remains at a staggering 9.1 (A-12). Trade has been an enormous key to success in Switzerland. The country is reliant upon export markets, as well as imports for raw materials, which is enabling them to expand the range of goods and services available in the country.
According to the Us Department of State, Switzerland was ranked as the second most competitive economy in the World Economic Forum’s 2008 Global Competitiveness Report, reflecting the country’s sound institutional environment, excellent infrastructure, efficient markets, competent macroeconomic management, world-class educational attainment, and high levels of technological innovation, which boost Switzerland’s competitiveness in the global economy. The country has a well-developed infrastructure for scientific research.
Personally, as a great supporter of green travel and eco-friendly habitation, I find that Switzerland surpasses every country in the world with their conservation acts throughout the region. Travelers are urged to stay in hotels and resorts that promote the well-being of the environment, as well as their travelers. In addition to green travel, Switzerland also charges fees for their water and waste management services as well as environmental taxes which promote personal responsibility. Citizens are urged to take an active role in their countries conservation, and by my standards, this should be the case in every country. It’s understandable that each country around the world has its own economic and environmental standards; however it’s imperative to take into account that if those standards are failing, they must me changed. In the 21st century, Switzerland is setting the standard for an economically sound and geographically rich society.