German Swiss - Sociopolitical Organization

Switzerland is a federal, constitutional democracy termed the Swiss Confederation ( Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft ). Its head is a president chosen for one year from the Federal Council (Bundesrat) of seven members who serve four-year terms. These are elected by the 200-seat Federal Assembly ( Bundesversammlung ) composed of representatives of the twenty-six cantons and half-cantons.

Social Organization. The German Swiss, by virtue of sheer numbers, have more influence than the non-German Swiss within the Swiss Confederation. All Swiss citizens, German or otherwise, consider themselves equal. No social classes exist within German Swiss society. Status is achieved rather than ascribed. If there is a tiering of German Swiss Society, it is not recognized as such, although the farmer or peasant is unofficially recognized as the lower rung of the Economic ladder. By extension, then, the industrialist, being more economically successful, holds a higher position. Few Swiss, German or otherwise, would publicly validate this Hierarchy. The foreign worker or Auslander is the true lower class—isolated and often shunned.

Stereotypes exist, with the German Swiss temperament characterized as orderly, practical, little given to abstractions, capable of intense commitment to work, scrupulously honest, blunt and plain-spoken, solid, unswerving, and implacable in the application of rules. Among the German Swiss, the most extreme form of this stereotype is applied to the residents of the alpine cantons. These hillfolk turn the negative aspects of the stereotype into virtues by emphasizing hard work, communal spirit, and religious conviction over what they perceive to be the lesser virtues of the city dwellers. Social mobility is based mainly on education and acquired wealth.

Political Organization. The smallest and most important administrative structure is the commune or Gemeinde. There are more than 3,000 of these independent bodies that raise taxes and maintain municipal councils. The German Swiss's first loyalty is to the Gemeinde. The next highest order is the canton, and then the Swiss Confederation. Under the 1874 constitution, no Swiss can be denied residence anywhere within the confederation unless he becomes an "undesirable" because of criminal activity. German Swiss have voting rights in the canton of residence. Bern is the federal capital of the Swiss government. The structure of Swiss federalism is predicated on initiative and referendum. To call a referendum, 30,000 signatures are required. For an initiative (proposed legislation), 100,000 signatures are needed. Any Swiss, age 20 or older, can initiate the process. Female suffrage came last to German Switzerland, with Appenzell being the last canton to grant it, although women were given the right to vote in federal elections in 1971.

Social Control. A shared value system exerts the greatest social control in German Switzerland. This value system has been erected on foundations of the values of the past. Order and continuity are prized in social life. Still, control is not overt but discrete. Peer presence as much as overt pressure operates throughout German Swiss society. The German Swiss is rarely outside the community of his or her peers Because of the small size of the country itself. Self-control is taught early by the family and reinforced throughout all stages of the German Swiss's life.

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