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Switzerland  
 
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Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked country in Western Europe, bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. It has a population of approximately 7.5 million.

Switzerland is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons (i.e., states). Historically, each canton was a self-governed, sovereign state, with its own borders, army, and currency. In 1848, the country's federal structure was established, with each canton retaining some attributes of sovereignty, such as fiscal autonomy and the right to manage internal cantonal affairs.

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The canton of Berne is the seat of the federal government. Zurich, the country's largest city, is Switzerland's main commercial and cultural center.

Geneva, Switzerland's second most populous city, is home to numerous international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Headquarters of the United Nations, the second-largest of the UN's four major office sites (the largest being in New York City).

Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world. It consistently ranks high on quality of life indices, including highest per capita income, high health care rates, and one of the highest concentrations of computer and Internet usage per capita.

It is also a very cosmopolitan nation with a vibrant glbtq community. Zurich has the largest gay population, with a strong gay presence in its Old Town (Altstadt) area. Switzerland's other major cities, including Geneva, Basel, Berne, and Lausanne, all also have sizable gay and lesbian communities.

However, Switzerland has lagged behind much of Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, but also its neighbors France and Germany, when it comes to gay rights, especially registered domestic partnerships.

Although registered partnerships have existed on a regional level in Switzerland, beginning with the canton of Geneva in 2001, followed by the canton of Zurich in 2002 and the canton of Neuchâtel in 2004, it was not until June 2005 that Swiss voters approved nationwide registered partnerships, granting same-sex couples many of the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples, with the exception of adoption rights and access to fertility treatments. The Swiss Registered Partnership law went into effect on January 1, 2007.

Languages

Switzerland is a multilingual country with four national languages.

Swiss-German, a variation of the German language, is spoken by about 65 percent of the population. French is generally spoken in the canton of Geneva and the surrounding French border areas, while Italian is typically spoken in the southern part of the country.

The fourth national language, Romansh (also spelled Rumantsch, Romansch, or Romanche), a Latin-derived Rhaeto-Romanic language, is spoken almost exclusively in the eastern canton of Graubünden (Grisons). It is Switzerland's least-used national language in terms of number of speakers.

English is often described as the unofficial fifth language of the country.

History

Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule around 58 B.C.E. and remained a Roman province until the fourth century. Several major Swiss cities and towns, including Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, were founded by the Romans. They served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, the area was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west and was later conquered by the Franks. In 1032, following the weakening of the Frankish Empire, Switzerland became part of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the thirteenth century, the area was placed under the dominion of the Habsburg Dynasty. On August 1, 1291, the ruling families from the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden conspired against the Habsburgs. They formed an "eternal alliance" and founded the first Swiss Confederation. August 1 is consequently celebrated as Switzerland's National Day.

The Swiss Confederation slowly added new cantons and established de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499, attaining legal independence at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

French revolutionary troops occupied the country in 1798 and renamed it the Helvetic Republic, replacing the loose confederation of cantons with a centrally governed unitary state. Independence was restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which reconstituted the old confederation of sovereign states and recognized Switzerland's status of permanent armed neutrality in international law.

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Painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) is among the first significant glbtq cultural figures in Swiss history.
  
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