Swiss people

"Romands" redirects here. For the linguistic topic, see Franco-Provençal language. For the Swiss region, see Romandy. For other uses, see Romand (disambiguation).
Schweizer / Suisses / Svizzeri
Total population
c. 7–8 million[lower-alpha 1]
Regions with significant populations
  Switzerland 4.36–6.07 million (2008)[1]
Swiss abroad
746,885 (2014)[2]
 European Union 446,412 (2014)[2]
Rest of Europe 15,637 (2014)[2]
Americas[lower-alpha 2] 62,725 (2014)[2]
Asia 50,592 (2014)[2]
Oceania 31,721 (2014)[2]
Africa 21,484 (2014)[2]
Swiss ancestry
c. 1 million
 United States 917,071[lower-alpha 3] (2013)[3]
 Canada 146,830[lower-alpha 4] (2011)[4]
Swiss German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian, Romansh
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (mainly Swiss Reformed)
Related ethnic groups
Other European ethnic groups,
primarily Liechtensteiners, Germans, Austrians, French and Italians

The Swiss (German: die Schweizer, French: les Suisses, Italian: gli Svizzeri, Romansh: ils Svizzers) are citizens or natives of Switzerland.[5] The demonym derives from the toponym of Schwyz and has been in widespread use to refer to the Old Swiss Confederacy since the 16th century.[6]

Although the Swiss Confederation, the modern state of Switzerland, originated in 1848, the period of romantic nationalism, it is not a nation-state, and the Swiss are not usually considered to form a single ethnic group, but a confederacy (Eidgenossenschaft) or Willensnation ("nation of will", "nation by choice", that is, a consociational state), a term coined in conscious contrast to "nation" in the conventionally linguistic or ethnic sense of the term.[7]

The number of Swiss nationals has grown from 1.7 million in 1815 to 6.76 million in 2009 with 90% of them living in Switzerland. About 60% of those living abroad reside in the European Union (446,412). The largest groups of Swiss descendants and nationals outside of Europe are found in the United States and Canada.

Ethno-linguistic composition

The traditional ethnic composition of the territories of modern Switzerland includes the following components:

With worldwide human migration, there are an increasing number of Swiss not descended or only partially descended from the core ethnic groups listed above. Most naturalized Swiss citizens will be linguistically oriented according to their canton of residence.

Similarly, differences between the various regions of Switzerland are increasingly being levelled as a consequence of increased mobility, so that the Swiss as a whole may be argued to be in the process of undergoing ethnogenesis.

Cultural history and national identity

Members of the Federal Council standing among the people in the crowded Federal Palace for the 2008 official photo

The Swiss populace historically derives from an amalgamation of Gaulish or Gallo-Roman, Alamannic and Rhaetic stock. Their cultural history is dominated by the Alps, and the alpine environment is often cited as an important factor in the formation of the Swiss national character.[8] The "Swiss illness", the condition of Swiss mercenaries pining for their mountainous native home, became prototypical of the medical condition of nostalgia ("homesickness") described in the 17th century,

Switzerland is atypical in its successful political integration of a multiethnic and multilingual populace, and is often cited as a model for new efforts at creating unification, as in the European Union's frequent invocation of the Swiss Confederate model.[9] Because the various populations of Switzerland share language, ethnicity, and religion not with each other but with the major European powers between whom Switzerland during the modern history of Europe found itself positioned, a policy of domestic plurality in conjunction with international neutrality became a matter of self-preservation.[10] Consequently, the Swiss elites during the period of the formation of nation states throughout Europe did not attempt to impose a national language or a nationalism based on ethnicity, instead pushing for the creation of a civic nation grounded in democratic ideology, common political institutions, and shared political ritual. Political allegiance and patriotism was directed towards the cantons, not the federal level, where a spirit of rivalry and competition rather than unity prevailed. C. G. Jung advanced the view that this system of social order was one of a "chronic state of mitigated civil war" which put Switzerland ahead of the world in a civilizatory process of "introverting" warlike aggression.[11]

Alphorn players in a folklore festival

From the 19th century there were conscious attempts to foster a federal "Pan-Swiss" national identity that would replace or alleviate the cantonal patriotisms. Among the traditions enlisted to this end were federal sharpshooting competitions or tirs, because they were one of the few recognized symbols of pan-Swiss identity prior to the creation of the 1815 Confederation and because they traditionally involved men from all levels of society, including the peasants, who in Romantic nationalism had become ideologically synonymous with liberty and nationhood.[12] An additional symbol of federal national identity at the federal level was introduced with the Swiss national holiday in 1889. The bonfires associated with the national holiday have become so customary since then that they have displaced the Funken traditions of greater antiquity. Identification with the national symbolism relating to the Old Swiss Confederacy was especially difficult for the cantons which had been joined to the Helvetic Republic in 1798 without any prior history of participation in the Swiss Confederacy, and which were given the status of Swiss cantons only after the end of the Napoleonic era. These specifically include Grisons, Valais, Ticino, Vaud and Geneva. St. Gallen is a special case in a different sense, being a conglomerate of various historical regions created in 1803; in this case, patriotism may attach itself even to sub-cantonal entities, such as the Toggenburg. Similarly, due to the historical imperialism of the canton of Berne, there is considerable irredentism within the Bernese lands, most visibly in the Bernese Jura but to a lesser extent also in parts of the Bernese Oberland such as Hasli.

According to Hartley-Moore (2007:213f.),

Localized equivalents of nationalist symbols were also essential to the creation of Swiss civil society. Rather than allowing a centralized federal government to force assimilation to a national ideal, Swiss policy nourished individual characteristics of different regional and language groups" throughout the country. In the Swiss model, pride in local identity is to some degree synonymous with loyalty to the larger state; national identity is nurtured through local "patriotism." As Gottfried Keller argued in the nineteenth century, "Without cantons and without their differences and competition, no Swiss federation could exist".


Swiss nationality law requires of candidates for regular naturalization a minimum of ten years of permanent, legal, notated residence (years spent in Switzerland between the 8th and 18th years of age count twice) and integration into the Swiss way of life as well as compliance with the Swiss rule of law.[13] Facilitated naturalization for foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens requires a total minimum residence of five years.[14]


With more than 20% of the population resident aliens, Switzerland has one of the highest ratios of non-naturalized inhabitants in Europe (comparable to the Netherlands; roughly twice the ratio of Germany). In 2003, 35,424 residents were naturalized, a number exceeding net population growth. Over the 25-year period of 1983 to 2007, 479,264 resident foreigners were naturalized, yearly numbers rising gradually from below 10,000 (0.1%) in the 1980s to above 40,000 (0.6%) in the 2000s.[15] Compare the figure of 0.2% (140,795) in the United Kingdom (2004).[16]


Naturalization procedures are subject to some controversy, with left-wing positions typically ascribing the high ratio of resident aliens to overly strict requirements, and right-wing positions opposing facilitation of naturalization as an attempt to hide the high percentage of foreigners by merely nominal naturalization.


Tennis player Roger Federer

The genetic composition of the Swiss population is similar to that of Central Europe in general. Switzerland is on one hand at the crossroads of several prehistoric migrations, while on the other hand the Alps acted as a refuge in some cases. Genetic studies found the following haplogroups to be prevalent:

See also

Notes and references

  1. An estimation based on the figures below.
  2. Excluding United States and Canada.
  3. Figure includes Swiss immigrants residing in the United States.
  4. Figure includes Swiss immigrants residing in Canada.
  1. "Permanent resident population aged 15 or over, by migration status,in 2008". Swiss Federal Statistical Office. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Auslandschweizerstatistik 2014 nach Wohnländern und Konsularkreisen" (pdf) (in Swiss German). Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  3. Results – Community Survey 2013   American Fact Finder (US Census Bureau).
  4. "Ethnic Origin (264), Single and Multiple Ethnic Origin Responses (3), Generation Status (4), Age Groups (10) and Sex (3) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2011 National Household Survey". Statistics Canada.
  5. The term is sometimes extended to include the descendants of Swiss emigrant, see e.g. "Swiss". New Oxford American Dictionary.. Conversely, being born in Switzerland does not give an individual Swiss citizenship automatically (there are three levels of alien citizens status in Switzerland), so that there are numerous second generation legal aliens who are technically "natives of Switzerland" without being considered Swiss.
  6. "Schwyz". New Oxford American Dictionary.
  7. Dissent to the effect that the state should be re-oriented along ethnic lines is constrained to far-right and völkisch circles such as the PNOS and remains a fringe position (held by far below 1% of Swiss citizens) in direct opposition to the letter and spirit of the Swiss Constitution.
  8. "Some landscapes were highlighted because they were considered essential in the building of the nation and the shaping of its culture. This was most obvious in Switzerland where the Swiss character was forged by the daily confrontation with the difficult mountainous environment of the Alps. Lunn (1963) suggests that the wonderful scenery gave those who inhabited it an opportunity to develop a sense of dignity and grandeur." Niamh Moore, Yvonne Whelan, Heritage, memory and the politics of identity: new perspectives on the cultural landscape, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7546-4008-0, p. 88.
  9. Hartley-Moore (2007)
  10. Kohn 1956:15–20
  11. Frank McLynn, Carl Gustav Jung (1997), ISBN 978-0-312-15491-2, chapter 1. "Jung advanced the paradox that the tolerable social order in Switzerland was a result of having `introverted' war; Switzerland was ahead of the rest of the world in that it was in a chronic state of mitigated civil war and did not direct its aggression outwards."
  12. Hartley-Moore (2007), citing Kohn 1956:78.
  13. Regular naturalisation
  14. Facilitated naturalisation
  15. Bundesamt für Migration
  16. Persons Granted British Citizenship, 2004 (pdf)
  17. Associated with the Paleolithic (Cro-Magnon); forming a small local maximum, Archived October 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. Associated with the Neolithic revolution
  19. Archived August 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  20., together with Northern Italy forming a local I1c minimum Archived May 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. Archived August 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  22. Exhibiting a gradient of decreasing frequency east to west, shared with Germany and Northern Italy, Archived October 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. Archived May 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. UPF.Edi Archived June 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.


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