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social sciences

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In 1848, after a brief civil war lasting less than a month between liberal Protestant and conservative Catholic cantons, the majority of Swiss cantons adopted a federal constitution, which established a range of civic liberties and guaranteed cantonal autonomy.

The Constitution was amended extensively in 1874, establishing a strong central government for defense, trade, and legal matters, while conferring significant powers of control to each canton. It was also amended to permit direct democracy by popular referendum.

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Switzerland industrialized rapidly during the nineteenth century. It became the second most industrialized country in Europe, after Great Britain.

During World War I, significant tension developed between the German-, French-, and Italian-speaking areas of the country, and Switzerland came close to violating its neutrality but ultimately managed to stay out of hostilities.

During World War II, Switzerland came under heavy pressure from the fascist powers, which after the fall of France in 1940 completely surrounded the country. Detailed plans for invasion were developed by German forces, but the country was never attacked. A combination of tactical accommodation, economic concessions to Germany, and demonstrative readiness to defend the country helped Switzerland survive the war inviolate.

However, allegations in the 1990s concerning secret assets of Jewish Holocaust victims deposited in Swiss banks led to international criticism. In 1997, the Swiss government, in cooperation with Swiss companies and banks, established the Swiss Humanitarian Fund to distribute funds to survivors of the Holocaust regardless of the reason for their persecution.

The Swiss gay organization Pink Cross sat on the advisory board of the fund, and made efforts to reach out to gay and lesbian survivors of Nazi atrocities. Eleven survivors were identified, but only seven agreed to file applications to the Swiss fund. Each of them received the equivalent of U.S. $1,300.

Eight advocacy organizations in Europe, Israel, and the United States working on behalf of gay and lesbian victims of the Nazis formed the Pink Triangle Coalition in 1998 in order to disseminate additional funds and information.

Preferring to retain its neutrality, Switzerland did not elect to join the United Nations when it came into existence in 1945, even though Geneva became host to the organization's European headquarters. However, on September 10, 2002, Switzerland became the 190th member of the United Nations.

In 1963, Switzerland joined the Council of Europe but still remains outside the European Union.

Women were not granted the right to vote or to hold office in Switzerland until 1971. Its first female president, Ruth Dreifuss, was elected in 1999.

GLBTQ Rights

The first gay and lesbian organizations in Switzerland date from the 1930s. "Amicitia" ("Friendship"), a lesbian social organization, was established in Zurich in 1931; "Der Kreis" (The Circle), was founded as a male homosexual group in Zurich in 1932. From these groups grew a journal, Schweizerisches Freundschafts-Banner (Swiss Banner of Friendship), which began publishing in1932 to argue for the decriminalization of homosexuality. It would later be renamed Der Kreis.

Although the Swiss Federal Assembly had recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality in the early 1930s, the reform did not become official until 1942, making Switzerland among the first European countries to repeal laws prohibiting homosexual acts among adults. The impetus for reform was less a concern for justice and equality under the law than a desire on the part of legislators to remove what they considered a distasteful subject from political debate.

Despite the reform, homosexuality continued to be associated with crime, especially after the 1957 murders of two middle-class gay men by male prostitutes. Gay bars and other meeting places were routinely raided by the police and an official list of "registered homosexuals" was compiled.

In response, new homophile associations were founded to protest harassment and to argue for equal rights. Nonetheless, few advances were made in the area of glbtq rights for the next several decades.

In the 1990s, however, the so-called "Rainbow Culture," a regime of campaigns, activities, and marches by Swiss gay groups, resulted in increased rights.

The Swiss House of Representatives voted in favor of reforming the Penal Code on sexual offenses in December 1990. In a national referendum on May 17, 1992, 73 percent of voters ratified the reform, which eliminated all legal discrimination against homosexuals, including the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces and a discrepancy in the age of consent to engage in homosexual activities.

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