One of the world’s richest countries, Switzerland is known for many things, including banking, chocolate, watches, and more. The country is renowned for its neutrality, yet maintains an impressive state of military preparedness. Join Active Minds as we journey to the Alps to understand the Swiss, their history, and the current challenges facing Switzerland.

Key Lecture Points

  • Switzerland is a small country with a long and fascinating history. Despite the fact that it is surrounded by far larger and more powerful nations, it has managed to maintain neutrality for the majority of its history. Swiss neutrality policy grew from both internal and external factors. The Swiss have fought fiercely (or threatened to) to maintain their status. Additionally, outside forces have often found it preferable to allow Swiss neutrality to avoid conflict in the remote Alpine regions of Switzerland.
  • Switzerland is a diverse land consisting of 26 separate cantons bound together in a Republic. The languages of Switzerland reflect its surroundings, with German, French and Italian all recognized as official languages (along with Romansch, a derivative of ancient Roman occupation).
  • Switzerland’s geography and neutrality have allowed it to be a haven for diverse economic, religious, political and cultural activity in Europe. In the 16th Century, it harbored Protestant Reformers Zwingli and Calvin. In the 19th Century, it inspired the formation of the International Red Cross. In the 20th Century, Zurich, Switzerland simultaneously provided a safe haven for both Vladimir Lenin and the founders of the Dadaist Movement in art.
  • In recent years, Switzerland has come under pressure for its banking secrecy laws which, critics say, have permitted international scofflaws to hide their assets without fear that their deposits be found.

Exploration Questions

  • How did Switzerland become a neutral country? How do you explain a strong militia system with an international neutrality policy?
  • In what way do Swiss Banking laws benefit society and/or hurt society?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever been to Switzerland? What impressed you? What surprised you?
  • In what way does the William Tell Overture reflect an independent spirit?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Schapiro, Jane. Inside a Class Action: The Holocaust and the Swiss Banks. University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. 304 pages. This book tells the story of the lawsuit that resulted in the $1.25 billion settlement fund.
    Click here to order
  • Guildimann, Beat. Inside Swiss Banking. Lulu.com, 2010. 238 pages. This book explains how Swiss banks work, what the bank secrecy laws mean and the current challenges to the Swiss banking system in the aftermath of the current economic crisis.
    Click here to order
  • McPhee, John. La Place de la Concorde Suisse. (paperback) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994. 160 pages. Journalistic study of the Swiss Army and its role in Swiss society.
    Click here to order
  • Sayer, Brian, John Botting. Nazi Gold: The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery—And the Greatest Criminal Coverup. Mainstream Publishing, 2003. 383 pages.
    Click here to order
  • Bewes, Diccon. Swiss Watching: Inside Europe’s Landlocked Island. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2010. 310 pages. History and culture of Switzerland.
    Click here to order