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Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper 22: Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance in the Public Sector in Switzerland

21 Mar 2006



Over the past 150 years Switzerland has found political ways of achieving multicultural understanding. First, Switzerland renounced the idea of creating a culturally homogeneous nation-state. Instead, from the very beginning of its modern existence, it has been an “artificial” multicultural nation, depending on the political will of its inhabitants with different cultures. Second, Switzerland was able to create a type of democracy that favours and enforces political power sharing between the different cultural groups. This led to social and political integration, peaceful conflict resolution by negotiation, and national consensus among a once-fragmented and heterogeneous population.

The paper begins with a description of the ethnic structures and cleavages in Switzerland and their development. It then provides an overview of the Swiss political system and its institutional elements of political integration. Finally, the scope and limits of these arrangements are discussed through an analysis of their effects on minority representation and equality. The paper is based on both qualitative and quantitative work.

Wolf Linder and Isabelle Steffen are affiliated with the Institute of Political Science, University of Bern, Switzerland.

Order DGHR PP 22 from UNRISD, 28 pages, 2006; US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.