Federalism, Subnational Constitutions, and Minority Rights

By G. Alan Tarr; Robert F. Williams et al. | Go to book overview

12
Federalism, Subnational
Constitutional
Arrangements, and the
Protection of Minorities
in Switzerland

Giovanni Biaggini


THE HISTORICAL AND
GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT

For many people Switzerland is just a small, beautiful, rich, and expensive country in the heart of Europe, a land of chocolate, cheese, watches, and numbered bank accounts. But Switzerland is also multicultural, multilingual, and multiconfessional, a political nation shaped by the will of its people. The cliché used in Switzerland is “Willensnation”— “nation by will.” Switzerland can also be seen as an historically built— in some way even archaic—entity that happened to have escaped from the process of centralization in the modern era.

The Swiss Confederation1 is composed of 26 cantons. It became a federal state in 1848 after a short civil war, the so-called Sonderbundskrieg, in November 1847. Seven conservative Catholic cantons, which formed the Sonderbund, fought against the rest of the Confederation.2 Before 1848 the cantons had founded a confederation of more or less sovereign states (Staatenbund) that was based on a treaty (Bundesvertrag). The first Federal Constitution entered into force in 1848. It was completely revised in 1874. On 18 April 1999, the Swiss people and

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