Uncategorized

Thakuri

Thakuri

Thakuri
ठकुरी
Regions with significant populations
   Nepal 425,623 (1.6% of Nepal’s population)
Languages
Nepali language,

Thakuris (Nepaliठकुरी) are a caste in Nepal.

Thakuris have traditionally constituted the ruling and warrior classes, resulting in high social status. Traditionally, the Thakuris’ main occupations involve government, agriculture and military.

Known Thakuri surnames

In alphabetical order, the commonly known Thakuri surnames are:

Uncategorized

Kukri

Kukri

Khukuri
Polished kukri.jpg
A polished khukuri.
Type Knife
Place of origin Indian subcontinent
Service history
Used by Gurkha
Wars
Production history
Manufacturer Gurkhas
Unit cost $50–150
Produced 1810
Specifications
Mass 450–900 g (1–2 lb)
Length 40–45 cm (16–18 in)

The kukri or khukuri (Nepaliखुकुरी khukuri) is a knife, originating from the Indian subcontinent, associated with the Nepali speaking Gurkhas of Nepal and India. The knife has a distinct recurve in the blade. It is used as both a tool and as a weapon in the Indian subcontinent. Traditionally, it was, and in many cases still is, the basic utility knife of the Gurkha. It is a characteristic weapon of the Nepalese Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army, the Assam Rifles, the Assam Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles, the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army, and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, so much so that some English-speakers refer to the weapon as a “Gurkha blade” or “Gurkha knife”. The kukri often appears in Nepalese and Indian Gorkha heraldry and is used in many traditional rites such as wedding ceremonies.

The kukrikhukri, and kukkri spellings are of Indian origin,[1] the original Nepali term being khukuri.

History[edit]

Colonel Gambhir Singh Rayamajhi Kshetri, a Gorkhali Commander armed with a Khukuri in his left hand and Talwar on his right.

Gorkhali Chief Minister (Kaji) and Army Head Kalu Pande wearing a Khukuri on his chest.

Researchers trace the origins of the blade back to the domestic sickle and the prehistoric bent stick used for hunting and later in hand-to-hand combat.[2] Similar implements have existed in several forms throughout the Indian subcontinent and were used both as weapons and as tools, such as for sacrificial rituals.[citation needed] Burton (1884) writes that the British Museum housed a large kukri-like falchion inscribed with writing in Pali. Among the oldest existing kukri are those belonging to Drabya Shah (c. 1559), housed in the National Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu.

The kukri came to be known to the Western world when the East India Company came into conflict with the growing Gorkha Kingdom, culminating in the Gurkha War of 1814–1816.[citation needed] It gained literary attention in the 1897 novel Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker. Despite the popular image of Dracula having a stake driven through his heart at the conclusion of a climactic battle between Dracula’s bodyguards and the heroes, Mina’s narrative describes his throat being sliced through by Jonathan Harker’s kukri and his heart pierced by Quincey Morris’s Bowie knife.[3]

All Gurkha troops are issued with two kukris, a Service No.1 (ceremonial) and a Service No.2 (exercise); in modern times members of the Brigade of Gurkhas receive training in its use. The weapon gained fame in the Gurkha War and its continued use through both World War I and World War II enhanced its reputation among both Allied troops and enemy forces. Its acclaim was demonstrated in North Africa by one unit’s situation report. It reads: “Enemy losses: ten killed, our nil. Ammunition expenditure nil.”[4] Elsewhere during the Second World War, the kukri was purchased and used by other British, Commonwealth and US troops training in India, including the Chindits and Merrill’s Marauders.[citation needed] The notion of the Gurkha with his kukri carried on through to the Falklands War.

On 2 September 2010, Bishnu Shrestha, a retired Indian Army Gurkha soldier, alone and armed only with a khukri, defeated thirty bandits who attacked a passenger train he was on in India. He was reported to have killed three of the bandits, wounded eight more and forced the rest of the band to flee.[5] A contemporaneous report in the Times of India, that includes an interview with Shrestha, indicates he was less successful.[6]

Design[edit]

A Kukri (Top) with the traditional Karda (middle) and Chakmak (bottom). The Karda and Chakmak are used as a utility knife and a sharpening tool respectively

The kukri is designed primarily for chopping. The shape varies a great deal from being quite straight to highly curved with angled or smooth spines. There are substantial variations in dimensions and blade thickness depending on intended tasks as well as the region of origin and the smith that produced it. As a general guide the spines vary from 5–10 mm (31638 in) at the handle, and can taper to 2 mm (116 in) by the point while the blade lengths can vary from 26–38 cm (10–15 in) for general use.[citation needed]

A kukri designed for general purpose is commonly 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in overall length and weighs approximately 450–900 g (1–2 lb). Larger examples are impractical for everyday use and are rarely found except in collections or as ceremonial weapons. Smaller ones are of more limited utility, but very easy to carry.

Another factor that affects its weight and balance is the construction of the blade. To reduce weight while keeping strength, the blade might be hollow forged, or a fuller is created. Kukris are made with several different types of fuller including tin Chira (triple fuller), Dui Chira (double fuller), Ang Khola (single fuller), or basic non-tapered spines with a large bevelled edge.

Kukri blades usually have a notch (kardakaudaGaudiKaura, or Cho) at the base of the blade. Various reasons are given for this, both practical and ceremonial: that it makes blood and sap drop off the blade rather than running onto the handle and thereby prevent the handle from becoming slippery;[7] that it delineates the end of the blade whilst sharpening; that it is a symbol representing a cows’ foot, or Shiva; that it can catch another blade or kukri in combat. The notch may also represent the teats of a cow, a reminder that the kukri should not be used to kill a cow, an animal revered and worshipped by Hindus.[citation needed] The notch may also be used as a catch, to hold tight against a belt, or to bite onto twine to be suspended.[original research?]

The handles are most often made of hardwood or water buffalo horn, but ivory, bone, and metal handles have also been produced. The handle quite often has a flared butt that allows better retention in draw cuts and chopping. Most handles have metal bolsters and butt plates which are generally made of brass or steel.

The traditional handle attachment in Nepal is the partial tang, although the more modern versions have the stick tang which has become popular.[citation needed] The full tang is mainly used on some military models but has not become widespread in Nepal itself.[citation needed]

The kukri typically comes in either a decorated wooden scabbard or one which is wrapped in leather. Traditionally, the scabbard also holds two smaller blades: an unsharpened checkmark to burnish the blade, and another accessory blade called a karda. Some older style scabbards include a pouch for carrying flint or dry tinder.[citation needed]

Manufacture[edit]

A Gurkha officer of the Gurkha ContingentSingapore Police Force patrols around Raffles City during the 117th IOC Session. He wears the distinctively tilted Hat Terrai Gurkha, the kukri can be seen attached to the back of his belt

The Biswakarma Kami (caste) are the traditional inheritors of the art of kukri-making.[8] Modern kukri blades are often forged from spring steel, sometimes collected from recycled truck suspension units.[8] The tang of the blade usually extends all the way through to the end of the handle;[citation needed] the small portion of the tang that projects through the end of the handle are hammered flat to secure the blade. Kukri blades have a hard, tempered edge and a softer spine. This enables them to maintain a sharp edge, yet tolerate impacts.

Kukri handles, usually made from hardwood or buffalo horn, are often fastened with a kind of tree sap called laha (also known as “Himalayan epoxy”). With a wood or horn handle, the tang may be heated and burned into the handle to ensure a tight fit, since only the section of handle which touches the blade is burned away. In more modern kukri, handles of cast aluminium or brass are press-fitted to the tang; as the hot metal cools it shrinks, locking onto the blade. Some kukri (such as the ones made by contractors for the modern Indian Army), have a very wide tang with handle slabs fastened on by two or more rivets, commonly called a full tang (panawal) configuration.

Traditional profiling of the blade edge is performed by a two-man team; one spins a grinding wheel forwards and backwards by means of a rope wound several times around an axle while the sharpener applies the blade. The wheel is made by hand from fine river sand bound by laha, the same adhesive used to affix the handle to the blade. Routine sharpening is traditionally accomplished by passing a chakmak over the edge in a manner similar to that used by chefs to steel their knives.

Kukri scabbards are usually made of wood or metal with an animal skin or metal or wood covering. The leather work is often done by a Sarki.

Uses[edit]

Gurkhas at kit inspection showing kukri in France during World War I

Kukri knife and scabbard on display at the Imperial War Museum North

Weaponry[edit]

The kukri is effective as a chopping weapon, due to its weight, and slashing weapon, because the curved shape creates a “wedge” effect which causes the blade to cut effectively and deeper. Because the blade bends towards the opponent, the user need not angle the wrist while executing a chopping motion.[citation needed] Unlike a straight-edged sword, the center of mass combined with the angle of the blade allow the kukri to slice as it chops.[citation needed] The edge slides across the target’s surface while the center of mass maintains momentum as the blade moves through the target’s cross-section. This gives the kukri a penetrative force disproportional to its length. The design enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to penetrate bone.[citation needed]

Utility[edit]

While most famed from use in the military, the kukri is the most commonly used multipurpose tool in the fields and homes in Nepal. Its use has varied from building, clearing, chopping firewood, digging, slaughtering animals for food, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning animals, and opening cans. Its use as a general farm and household tool disproves the often stated “taboo” that the weapon cannot be sheathed “until it has drawn blood”.[citation needed]

The kukri is versatile. It can function as a smaller knife by using the narrower part of the blade, closest to the handle. The heavier and wider end of the blade, towards the tip, functions as an axe or a small shovel.

Anatomy[edit]

Blade[edit]

  • Keeper (Hira Jornu): Spade/Diamond shaped metal/brass plate used to seal the butt cap.
  • Butt Cap (Chapri): Thick metal/brass plate used to secure the handle to the tang.
  • Tang (Paro): Rear piece of the blade that goes through the handle.
  • Bolster (Kanjo): Thick metal/brass round shaped plate between blade and handle made to support and reinforce the fixture.
  • Spine (Beet): Thickest blunt edge of the blade.
  • Fuller/Groove (Khol): Straight groove or deep line that runs along part of the upper spine.
  • Peak (Juro): Highest point of the blade.
  • Main body (Ang): Main surface or panel of the blade.
  • Fuller (Chirra): Curvature/Hump in the blade made to absorb impact and to reduce unnecessary weight.
  • Tip (Toppa): the Starting point of the blade.
  • Edge (Dhaar): Sharp edge of the blade.
  • Belly (Bhundi): Widest part/area of the blade.
  • Bevel (Patti): Slope from the main body until the sharp edge.
  • Notch (Cho): A distinctive cut (numeric ‘3 ‘-like shape) in the edge. Used as a stopper when sharpening with the chakmak.
  • Ricasso (Ghari): Blunt area between the notch and bolster.
  • Rings (Harhari): Round circles in the handle.
  • Rivet (Khil): Steel or metal bolt to fasten or secure tang to the handle.
  • Tang Tail (Puchchar): Last point of the kukri blade.

Scabbard[edit]

  • Frog (Faras): Belt holder specially made of thick leather (2  mm to 4  mm) encircling the scabbard close towards the throat.
  • Upper Edge (Mathillo Bhaag): Spine of the scabbard where holding should be done when handling a kukri.
  • Lace (Tuna): A leather cord used to sew or attach two ends of the frog. Especially used in army types.
  • Main Body (Sharir): The main body or surface of the scabbard. Generally made in semi oval shape.
  • Chape (Khothi): Pointed metallic tip of the scabbard. Used to protect the naked tip of a scabbard.
  • Loop (Golie): Round leather room/space where a belt goes through attached/fixed to the keeper with steel rivets.
  • Throat (Mauri): Entrance towards the interior of the scabbard for the blade.
  • Strap/Ridge (Bhunti): Thick raw leather encircling the scabbard made to create a hump to secure the frog from moving or wobbling (not available in this pic).
  • Lower Edge (Tallo Bhag): Belly/curvature of the scabbard.

Classification[edit]

Kukris can be broadly classified into two types: Eastern and Western. The Eastern blades are originated and named according to the towns and villages of Eastern Nepal.[9] The Eastern Khukuris are Angkhola Khukuri, Bhojpure Khukuri, Chainpure Khukuri, Cheetlange (Chitlange) Khukuri, Chirwa (Chiruwa) Khukuri, Dhankute Khukuri, Ganjawla Khukuri, Panawala Khukuri, Sirupate Khukuri translates as Siru grass leaf like.[10] Khukuris made in locations like ChainpurBhojpur, and Dhankuta in Eastern Nepal are excellent and ornate knives.[11] Western blades are generally broader. Occasionally the Western style is called Budhuna, (referring to a fish with a large head), or baspate (bamboo leaf) which refers to blades just outside the proportions of the normal Sirupate blade. Despite the classification of Eastern and Western, both styles of kukri appear to be used in all areas of Nepal.

There is Khukuri named after Gorkhali General Amar Singh Thapa called Amar Singh Thapa Khukuri. This Khukuri is modelled on the real Khukuri used by the Gorkhali General.[12] The real Khukuri used by Amar Singh Thapa is archived at National Museum of Nepal and is more curvy in nature than other traditions.[13]

Legacy[edit]

There is a popular proverb in Nepali as follows:

Sirupate Khukuri ma Laha chha ki chhaina?
Translation: Does your Sirupate Khukuri have enough iron?

See also

Uncategorized

Sikkim

Sikkim

Sikkim
Kangch-Goechala.jpg
Cherry Resort inside Temi Tea Garden, Namchi, Sikkim.jpg
Gurudongmar.Lake.jpg
Vikramjit-Kakati-Rumtek.jpg
Motto(s):
Kham sum wangdu
(Conqueror of the three worlds)
Location of Sikkim
Coordinates (Gangtok): 27.33°N 88.62°ECoordinates27.33°N 88.62°E
Country  India
Admission to Union  16 May 1975
Capital Gangtok
Largest city Gangtok
Districts 4
Government
 • Governor Ganga Prasad
 • Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang (SKM)
 • Legislature Unicameral (32 seats)
 • Parliamentary constituency Rajya Sabha 1
Lok Sabha 1
 • High Court Sikkim High Court
Area
 • Total 7,096 km2 (2,740 sq mi)
Area rank 28th
Population
 (2011)[1]
 • Total 610,577
 • Rank 29th
 • Density 86/km2 (220/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Sikkimese
Languages[2][3]
 • Official
 • Additional official
Time zone UTC+05:30 (IST)
ISO 3166 code IN-SK
HDI Increase 0.716 (High)
HDI rank 10th (2017)
Literacy 82.6% (13th)
Website www.sikkim.gov.in
 Assembly of Sikkim abolished monarchy and resolved to be a constituent unit of India. A referendum was held on these issues and majority of the voters voted yes. On 15 May 1975 the President of India ratified a constitutional amendment that made Sikkim the 22nd state of India.
Symbols
Emblem
Seal of Sikkim color.png

Emblem of Sikkim

Mammal
RedPandaFullBody.JPG

Red Panda

Bird
Blood Pheasant.jpg

Blood Pheasant[4]

Flower
Dendrobium nobile - Larssen.jpg

Noble dendrobium (Dendrobium nobile)[5][6]

Tree
Alpenroos.jpg

Rhododendron

Sikkim (/ˈsɪkɪm/) is a state in northeastern India. It borders Tibet in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west, and West Bengal in the south. Sikkim is also located close to India’s Siliguri Corridor near Bangladesh. Sikkim is the least populous and second smallest among the Indian states. A part of the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to Kangchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim’s capital and largest city is Gangtok. Almost 35% of the state is covered by the Khangchendzonga National Park.[7]

The Kingdom of Sikkim was founded by the Namgyal dynasty in the 17th century. It was ruled by a Buddhist priest-king known as the Chogyal. It became a princely state of British India in 1890. After 1947, Sikkim continued its protectorate status with the Republic of India. It enjoyed the highest literacy rate and per capita income among Himalayan states. In 1973, anti-royalist riots took place in front of the Chogyal’s palace. In 1975, the monarchy was deposed by the people. A referendum in 1975 led to Sikkim joining India as its 22nd state.[8]

Modern Sikkim is a multiethnic and multilingual Indian state. The official languages of the state are EnglishNepaliSikkimese and Lepcha.[2] Additional official languages include GurungLimbuMagarMukhiaNewariRaiSherpa and Tamang for the purpose of preservation of culture and tradition in the state.[3] English is taught in schools and used in government documents. The predominant religions are Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Sikkim’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture and tourism, and as of 2014 the state had the third-smallest GDP among Indian states,[9] although it is also among the fastest-growing.[9][10]

Sikkim accounts for the largest share of cardamom production in India, and is the world’s second largest producer of the spice after Guatemala. Sikkim achieved its ambition to convert its agriculture to fully organic over the interval 2003 to 2016, the first state in India to achieve this distinction.[11][12][13][14] It is also among India’s most environmentally conscious states, having banned plastic water bottles “in any government functions and meetings” and polystyrene products (throughout the state).[15][16]

Toponymy[edit]

The origin theory of the name Sikkim is that it is a combination of two Limbu words: su, which means “new”, and khyim, which means “palace” or “house”.[17] The Tibetan name for Sikkim is Drenjong (Wylie-transliteration: ‘bras ljongs), which means “valley of rice“,[18] while the Bhutias call it Beyul Demazong, which means ‘”the hidden valley of rice”.[19] According to folklore, after establishing Rabdentse as his new capital, Bhutia king Tensung Namgyal built a palace and asked his Limbu Queen to name it. The Lepcha people, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, called it Nye-mae-el, meaning “paradise”.[19] In historical Indian literature, Sikkim is known as Indrakil, the garden of the war god Indra.[20]

History[edit]

The Lepchas are considered to be the earliest inhabitants of Sikkim.[21] However the Limbus and the Magars also lived in the inaccessible parts of West and South districts as early as the Lepchas perhaps lived in the East and North districts.[22] The Buddhist saint Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, is said to have passed through the land in the 8th century.[23] The Guru is reported to have blessed the land, introduced Buddhism, and foretold the era of monarchy that would arrive in Sikkim centuries later.

Foundation of the monarchy[edit]

Guru Rinpoche, patron saint of Sikkim

According to legend, Khye Bumsa, a 14th-century prince from the Minyak House in Kham in eastern Tibet, received a divine revelation instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. A fifth-generation descendant of Khye Bumsa, Phuntsog Namgyal, became the founder of Sikkim’s monarchy in 1642, when he was consecrated as the first Chogyal, or priest-king, of Sikkim by the three venerated lamas at Yuksom.[24] Phuntsog Namgyal was succeeded in 1670 by his son, Tensung Namgyal, who moved the capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse (near modern Pelling). In 1700, Sikkim was invaded by the Bhutanese with the help of the half-sister of the Chogyal, who had been denied the throne. The Bhutanese were driven away by the Tibetans, who restored the throne to the Chogyal ten years later. Between 1717 and 1733, the kingdom faced many raids by the Nepalese in the west and Bhutanese in the east, culminating with the destruction of the capital Rabdentse by the Nepalese.[25] In 1791, China sent troops to support Sikkim and defend Tibet against the Gorkha Kingdom. Following the subsequent defeat of Gorkha, the Chinese Qing dynasty established control over Sikkim.[26]

During the British Raj[edit]

Following the beginning of British rule in neighbouring India, Sikkim allied with Britain against their common adversary, Nepal. The Nepalese attacked Sikkim, overrunning most of the region including the Terai. This prompted the British East India Company to attack Nepal, resulting in the Gurkha War of 1814.[28] Treaties signed between Sikkim and Nepal resulted in the return of the territory annexed by the Nepalese in 1817. However, ties between Sikkim and the British weakened when the latter began taxation of the Morang region. In 1849, two British physicians, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker and Dr. Archibald Campbell, the latter being in charge of relations between the British and Sikkimese governments, ventured into the mountains of Sikkim unannounced and unauthorised.[29] The doctors were detained by the Sikkimese government, leading to a punitive British expedition against the kingdom, after which the Darjeeling district and Morang were annexed to British India in 1853. The invasion led to the Chogyal of Sikkim becoming a titular ruler under the directive of the British governor.[30]

Sikkim became a British protectorate in the later decades of the 19th century, formalised by a convention signed with China in 1890.[31][32][33] Sikkim was gradually granted more sovereignty over the next three decades,[34] and became a member of the Chamber of Princes, the assembly representing the rulers of the Indian princely states, in 1922.[33]

Indian protectorate and statehood[edit]

Prior to Indian independenceJawaharlal Nehru, as the Vice President of the Executive Council, pushed through a resolution in the Indian Constituent Assembly to the effect that Sikkim and Bhutan, as Himalayan states, were not ‘Indian states’ and their future should be negotiated separately.[35] A standstill agreement was signed in February 1948.[36]

Meanwhile, Indian independence and its move to democracy spurred a fledgling political movement in Sikkim, giving rise to the formation of Sikkim State Congress (SSC). The party sent a plate of demands to the palace, including a demand for accession to India. The palace attempted to defuse the movement by appointing three secretaries from the SSC to the government and sponsoring a counter-movement in the name of Sikkim National Party, which opposed accession to India.[37]

The demand for responsible government continued and the SSC launched a civil disobedience movement. The Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal asked India for help in quelling the movement, which was offered in the form of a small military police force and an Indian Dewan. In 1950, a treaty was agreed between India and Sikkim which gave Sikkim the status of an Indian protectorate. Sikkim came under the suzerainty of India, which controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications.[38] In other respects, Sikkim retained administrative autonomy.[citation needed]

A state council was established in 1953 to allow for constitutional government under the Chogyal. Despite pressures from an India “bent on annexation”, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal was able to preserve autonomy and shape a “model Asian state” where the literacy rate and per capita income were twice as high as neighbouring NepalBhutan and India.[39][unreliable source?] Meanwhile, the Sikkim National Congress demanded fresh elections and greater representation for Nepalis in Sikkim. People marched on the palace against the monarchy.[39] In 1973, anti-royalist riots took place in front of the Chogyal’s palace.

In 1975, the Prime Minister of Sikkim appealed to the Indian Parliament for Sikkim to become a state of India. In April of that year, the Indian Army took over the city of Gangtok and disarmed the Chogyal’s palace guards. Thereafter, a referendum was held in which 97.5 per cent of voters supported abolishing the monarchy, effectively approving union with IndiaIndia is said to have stationed 20,000–40,000 troops in a country of only 200,000 during the referendum.[40] On 16 May 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and the monarchy was abolished.[41] To enable the incorporation of the new state, the Indian Parliament amended the Indian Constitution. First, the 35th Amendment laid down a set of conditions that made Sikkim an “Associate State”, a special designation not used by any other state. A month later, the 36th Amendment repealed the 35th Amendment, and made Sikkim a full state, adding its name to the First Schedule of the Constitution.[42]

Recent history[edit]

In 2000, the seventeenth KarmapaUrgyen Trinley Dorje, who had been confirmed by the Dalai Lama and accepted as a tulku by the Chinese government, escaped from Tibet, seeking to return to the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Chinese officials were in a quandary on this issue, as any protests to India would mean an explicit endorsement of India’s governance of Sikkim, which China still recognised as an independent state occupied by India. The Chinese government eventually recognised Sikkim as an Indian state in 2003, on the condition that India officially recognise Tibet as a part of China;[43] New Delhi had originally accepted Tibet as a part of China in 1953 during the government of Jawaharlal Nehru.[44] The 2003 agreement led to a thaw in Sino-Indian relations,[45] and on 6 July 2006, the Sikkimese Himalayan pass of Nathu La was opened to cross-border trade, becoming the first open border between India and China.[46] The pass, which had previously been closed since the 1962 Sino-Indian War, was an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road.[46]

On 18 September 2011, a magnitude 6.9Mw earthquake struck Sikkim, killing at least 116 people in the state and in NepalBhutan, Bangladesh and Tibet.[47] More than 60 people died in Sikkim alone, and the city of Gangtok suffered significant damage.[48]

Geography[edit]

Nestling in the Himalayan mountains, the state of Sikkim is characterised by mountainous terrain. Almost the entire state is hilly, with an elevation ranging from 280 metres (920 ft) in south at border with West Bengal to 8,586 metres (28,169 ft) in northern peaks near Nepal and Tibet. The summit of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak, is the state’s highest point, situated on the border between Sikkim and Nepal.[49] For the most part, the land is unfit for agriculture because of the rocky, precipitous slopes. However, some hill slopes have been converted into terrace farms.

Sikkim is in lower center of image of the Tibetan Plateau– (NASA Satellite photo).

Numerous snow-fed streams have carved out river valleys in the west and south of the state. These streams combine into the major Teesta River and its tributary, the Rangeet, which flow through the state from north to south.[50] About a third of the state is heavily forested. The Himalayan mountains surround the northern, eastern and western borders of Sikkim. The Lower Himalayas, lying in the southern reaches of the state, are the most densely populated.

The state has 28 mountain peaks, more than 80 glaciers,[51] 227 high-altitude lakes (including the TsongmoGurudongmar and Khecheopalri Lakes), five major hot springs, and more than 100 rivers and streams. Eight mountain passes connect the state to Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.[52]

Sikkim’s hot springs are renowned for their medicinal and therapeutic values. Among the state’s most notable hot springs are those at Phurchachu, Yumthang, Borang, Ralang, Taram-chu and Yumey Samdong. The springs, which have a high sulphur content, are located near river banks; some are known to emit hydrogen.[53] The average temperature of the water in these hot springs is 50 °C (122 °F).[54]

Geology[edit]

A waterfall in Sikkim

The hills of Sikkim mainly consist of gneiss and schist[55] which weather to produce generally poor and shallow brown clay soils. The soil is coarse, with large concentrations of iron oxide; it ranges from neutral to acidic and is lacking in organic and mineral nutrients. This type of soil tends to support evergreen and deciduous forests.[56]

The rock consists of phyllites and schists, and is highly susceptible to weathering and erosion. This, combined with the state’s heavy rainfall, causes extensive soil erosion and the loss of soil nutrients through leaching. As a result, landslides are frequent, often isolating rural towns and villages from the major urban centres.[57]

Climate[edit]

The state has five seasons: winter, summer, spring, autumn, and a monsoon season between June and September. Sikkim’s climate ranges from sub-tropical in the south to tundra in the north. Most of the inhabited regions of Sikkim experience a temperate climate, with temperatures seldom exceeding 28 °C (82 °F) in summer. The average annual temperature for most of Sikkim is around 18 °C (64 °F).

Sikkim is one of the few states in India to receive regular snowfall. The snow line ranges from 6,100 metres (20,000 ft) in the south of the state to 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) in the north.[58] The tundra-type region in the north is snowbound for four months every year, and the temperature drops below 0 °C (32 °F) almost every night.[53] In north-western Sikkim, the peaks are frozen year-round;[59] because of the high altitude, temperatures in the mountains can drop to as low as −40 °C (−40 °F) in winter.

During the monsoon, heavy rains increase the risk of landslides. The record for the longest period of continuous rain in Sikkim is 11 days. Fog affects many parts of the state during winter and the monsoons, making transportation perilous.[60]

Government and politics[edit]

According to the Constitution of India, Sikkim has a parliamentary system of representative democracy for its governance; universal suffrage is granted to state residents. The government structure is organised into three branches:

  • Executive: As with all states of India, a governor stands at the head of the executive power of state, just as the president is the head of the executive power in the Union, and is appointed by the President of India. The governor’s appointment is largely ceremonial, and his or her main role is to oversee the swearing-in of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister, who holds the real executive powers, is the head of the party or coalition garnering the largest majority in the state elections. The governor also appoints cabinet ministers on the advice of the Chief Minister.
  • Legislature: Sikkim has a unicameral legislature, the Sikkim Legislative Assembly, like most other Indian states. Its state assembly has 32 seats, including one reserved for the Sangha. Sikkim is allocated one seat in each of the two chambers of India’s national bicameral legislature, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
  • Judiciary: The judiciary consists of the Sikkim High Court and a system of lower courts. The High Court, located at Gangtok, has a Chief Justice along with two permanent justices. The Sikkim High Court is the smallest state high court in the country.[61]

In 1975, after the abrogation of Sikkim’s monarchy, the Indian National Congress gained a majority in the 1977 elections. In 1979, after a period of instability, a popular ministry headed by Nar Bahadur Bhandari, leader of the Sikkim Sangram Parishad Party, was sworn in. Bhandari held on to power in the 1984 and 1989 elections. In the 1994 elections, Pawan Kumar Chamling of the Sikkim Democratic Front became the Chief Minister of the state. Chamling and his party have since held on to power by winning the 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections.[30][62][63] Currently, the Governor of Sikkim is Ganga Prasad.[64]

Subdivisions[edit]

East Sikkim North Sikkim South Sikkim West Sikkim

A clickable map of Sikkim exhibiting its four districts

1. East Sikkim

2. North Sikkim

3. South Sikkim

4. West Sikkim

Sikkim has four districts – East SikkimNorth SikkimSouth Sikkim and West Sikkim. The district capitals are GangtokManganNamchi and Gyalshing respectively.[65] These four districts are further divided into 16 subdivisions; Pakyong, Rongli, Rangpo and Gangtok are the subdivisions of the East district. Soreng, Yuksom, Gyalshing and Dentam are the subdivisions of the West district. Chungthang, Dzongu, Kabi and Mangan are the subdivisions of the North district. Ravongla, Jorethang, Namchi and Yangyang are the subdivisions of the South district.[66]

Each of Sikkim’s districts is overseen by a state government appointee, the district collector, who is in charge of the administration of the civilian areas of the district. The Indian Army has control over a large part of the state, as Sikkim forms part of a sensitive border area with China. Many areas are restricted to foreigners, and official permits are needed to visit them.[67]

Flora and fauna[edit]

Noble orchid (top) is Sikkim’s state flower. Rhododendron is its state tree; about 40 species of Rhododendron bloom late April – mid May across the state.[68]

Sikkim is situated in an ecological hotspot of the lower Himalayas, one of only three among the ecoregions of India.[69] [70] The forested regions of the state exhibit a diverse range of fauna and flora. Owing to its altitudinal gradation, the state has a wide variety of plants, from tropical species to temperate, alpine and tundra ones, and is perhaps one of the few regions to exhibit such a diversity within such a small area. Nearly 81 per cent of the area of Sikkim comes under the administration of its forest department.[71]

Sikkim is home to around 5,000 species of flowering plants, 515 rare orchids, 60 primula species, 36 rhododendron species, 11 oak varieties, 23 bamboo varieties, 16 conifer species, 362 types of ferns and ferns allies, 8 tree ferns, and over 900 medicinal plants.[69] A variant of the Poinsettia, locally known as “Christmas Flower”, can be found in abundance in the mountainous state. The Noble Dendrobium is the official flower of Sikkim, while the rhododendron is the state tree.[72]

Orchids, figslaurelbananassal trees and bamboo grow in the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests of the lower altitudes of Sikkim. In the temperate elevations above 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) there are Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests, where oaks, chestnutsmaplesbirchesalders, and magnolias grow in large numbers, as well as Himalayan subtropical pine forests, dominated by Chir pineAlpine-type vegetation is typically found between an altitude of 3,500 to 5,000 metres (11,500 to 16,400 ft). In lower elevations are found juniper, pine, firscypresses and rhododendrons from the Eastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests. Higher up are Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows and high-altitude wetlands, which are home to a wide variety of rhododendrons and wildflowers. [70]

The red panda is the state animal of Sikkim.

The fauna of Sikkim include the snow leopard,[73] musk deerHimalayan tahrred pandaHimalayan marmotHimalayan serowHimalayan goralmuntjaccommon langurAsian black bearclouded leopard,[74] marbled catleopard cat,[75] dholeTibetan wolfhog badgerbinturong, and Himalayan jungle cat. Among the animals more commonly found in the alpine zone are yaks, mainly reared for their milk, meat, and as a beast of burden.

The avifauna of Sikkim include the impeyan pheasantcrimson horned pheasantsnow partridgeTibetan snowcockbearded vulture and griffon vulture, as well as golden eaglesquailsploverswoodcockssandpiperspigeonsOld World flycatchersbabblers and robins. Sikkim has more than 550 species of birds, some of which have been declared endangered.[70]

Sikkim also has a rich diversity of arthropods, many of which remain unstudied. [70] Some of the most understudied species are Sikkimese arthropods, specifically butterflies. Of the approximately 1,438 butterfly species found in the Indian subcontinent, 695 have been recorded in Sikkim.[76] These include the endangered Kaiser-i-hind, the Yellow Gorgon and the Bhutan Glory.[77]

Economy[edit]

Elaichi, or cardamom, is the chief cash crop of Sikkim.

Sikkim’s nominal state gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at US$1.57 billion in 2014 constituting the third-smallest GDP among India’s 28 states.[9] The state’s economy is largely agrarian based on the terraced farming of rice and the cultivation of crops such as maizemilletwheatbarleyorangestea, and cardamom.[78][79] Sikkim produces more cardamom than any other Indian state and is home to the largest cultivated area of cardamom.[80]

Because of its hilly terrain and poor transport infrastructure, Sikkim lacks a large-scale industrial base. Brewing, distilling, tanning and watchmaking are the main industries and are mainly located in the southern regions of the state, primarily in the towns of Melli and Jorethang. In addition, a small mining industry exists in Sikkim extracting minerals such as copperdolomitetalcgraphitequartzitecoalzinc, and lead.[81] Despite the state’s minimal industrial infrastructure, Sikkim’s economy has been among the fastest-growing in India since 2000; the state’s GDP expanded by 89.93 percent in 2010 alone.[82] In 2003, Sikkim decided to fully convert to organic farming and achieved this goal in 2015 becoming India’s first “organic state”.[12][13][14][11]

In recent years, the government of Sikkim has extensively promoted tourism. As a result, state revenue has increased 14 times since the mid-1990s.[83] Sikkim has furthermore invested in a fledgling gambling industry promoting both casinos and online gambling. The state’s first casino, the Casino Sikkim, opened in March 2009, and the government subsequently issued a number of additional casino licences and online sports betting licenses.[84][85] The Playwin lottery has been a notable success in the state.[86][87]

The opening of the Nathu La pass on 6 July 2006, connecting LhasaTibet, to India, was billed as a boon for Sikkim’s economy. Trade through the pass remains hampered by Sikkim’s limited infrastructure and government restrictions in both India and China, though the volume of traded goods has been steadily increasing.[88][89]

Transport[edit]

Air[edit]

Runway at Pakyong Airport, is the first greenfield airport to be constructed in the Northeast India.[90]

Teesta River is considered the state’s key waterway.

Sikkim did not have any operational airport for a long time because of its rough terrain. However, in October 2018, Pakyong Airport, the state’s first airport, located at a distance of 30 km (19 mi) from Gangtok, became operational after a four-year delay.[91][92] It has been constructed by the Airports Authority of India on 200 acres of land. At an altitude of 4,700 feet (1,400 m) above sea level, it is one of the five highest airports in India.[93][94] The airport is capable of operating ATR aircraft.[95]

Before October 2018, the closest operational airport to Sikkim was Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri in northern West Bengal. The airport is located about 124 km (77 mi) from Gangtok, and frequent buses connect the two.[96] A daily helicopter service run by the Sikkim Helicopter Service connects Gangtok to Bagdogra; the flight is thirty minutes long, operates only once a day, and can carry four people.[62] The Gangtok helipad is the only civilian helipad in the state.

Roads[edit]

Temi Tea Garden, Namchi, Sikkim

National Highway 10 (NH 10; formerly NH 31A) links Siliguri to Gangtok. Sikkim Nationalised Transport runs bus and truck services. Privately run bus, tourist taxi, and jeep services operate throughout Sikkim and also connect it to Siliguri. A branch of the highway from Melli connects western Sikkim. Towns in southern and western Sikkim are connected to the hill stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling in northern West Bengal.[97] The state is furthermore connected to Tibet by the mountain pass of Nathu La.

Rail[edit]

Sikkim lacks significant railway infrastructure. The closest major railway stations are Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri in neighbouring West Bengal.[98] However, the New Sikkim Railway Project has been launched to connect the town of Rangpo in Sikkim with Sevoke on the West Bengal border.[99] The five-station line is intended to support both economic development and Indian Army operations and was initially planned to be completed by 2015,[100][101] though as of 2013 its construction has met with delays.[102] In addition, the Ministry of Railways proposed plans in 2010 for railway lines linking Mirik to Ranipool.[103]

Infrastructure[edit]

Nathu La Pass – Indo-China Border

Sikkim’s roads are maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an offshoot of the Indian Army. The roads in southern Sikkim are in relatively good condition, landslides being less frequent in this region. The state government maintains 1,857 kilometres (1,154 mi) of roadways that do not fall under the BRO’s jurisdiction.[104]

Sikkim receives most of its electricity from 19 hydroelectric power stations.[83] Power is also obtained from the National Thermal Power Corporation and Power Grid Corporation of India.[105] By 2006, the state had achieved 100 per cent rural electrification.[106] However, the voltage remains unstable and voltage stabilisers are needed. Per capita consumption of electricity in Sikkim was approximately 182 kWh in 2006. The state government has promoted biogas and solar power for cooking, but these have received a poor response and are used mostly for lighting purposes.[107] In 2005, 73.2 per cent of Sikkim’s households were reported to have access to safe drinking water,[104] and the state’s large number of mountain streams assures a sufficient water supply.

On 8 December 2008, it was announced that Sikkim had become the first state in India to achieve 100 per cent sanitation coverage, becoming completely free of public defecation, thus attaining the status of “Nirmal State”.[108][109]

Demographics[edit]

A little girl from Kaluk Bazaar

Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
1901 59,014
1911 87,920 +4.07%
1921 81,721 −0.73%
1931 109,808 +3.00%
1941 121,520 +1.02%
1951 137,725 +1.26%
1961 162,189 +1.65%
1971 209,843 +2.61%
1981 316,385 +4.19%
1991 406,457 +2.54%
2001 540,851 +2.90%
2011 610,577 +1.22%
source:[110]

Sikkim is India’s least populous state, with 610,577 inhabitants according to the 2011 census.[1] Sikkim is also one of the least densely populated Indian states, with only 86 persons per square kilometre. However, it has a high population growth rate, averaging 12.36% per cent between 2001 and 2011. The sex ratio is 889 females per 1,000 males, with a total of 321,661 males and 286,027 females recorded in 2011. With around 98,000 inhabitants as of 2011, the capital Gangtok is the most significant urban area in the mostly rural state; in 2005, the urban population in Sikkim constituted around 11.06 per cent of the total.[104] In 2011, the average per capita income in Sikkim stood at ₹ 81,159 (US$1,305).[111]

Languages[edit]

Languages of Sikkim (2001)[112][113][114]
Language Percent
Nepali
62.6%
Sikkimese (Bhutia)
7.6%
Hindi
6.6%
Lepcha
6.5%
Limbu
6.3%
Sherpa
2.4%
Tamang
1.8%
Other
6.2%

The official languages of the state are EnglishNepaliSikkimese (Bhutia) and Lepcha. Additional official languages include GurungLimbuMagarMukhiaNewariRaiSherpa and Tamang for the purpose of preservation of culture and tradition in the state.

Nepali is the lingua franca of Sikkim, while Sikkimese (Bhutia) and Lepcha are spoken in certain areas. English is also spoken and understood in most of Sikkim. Other languages include DzongkhaGromaHindiMajhiMajhwarThulungTibetan, and Yakha.[115]

The major languages spoken as per census 2001 are Nepali (62.61%), Sikkimese (Bhutia) (7.73%), Hindi (6.67%), Lepcha (6.61%), Limbu (6.34%), Sherpa (2.57%), Tamang (1.87%) and Rai (1.64%).[3]

Ethnicity[edit]

The majority of Sikkim’s residents are of Nepali ethnic origin.[116] The native Sikkimese consist of the Bhutias, who migrated from the Kham district of Tibet in the 14th century, and the Lepchas, who are believed to have migrated from the Far East. Tibetans reside mostly in the northern and eastern reaches of the state. Migrant resident communities include BengalisBiharis and Marwaris, who are prominent in commerce in South Sikkim and Gangtok.[117]

Religion[edit]

Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple in Legship is dedicated to Hindu God Shiva.

The Rumtek monastery is among Sikkim’s most famous religious monuments.
Religion in Sikkim (2011)[118]
Religion Percent
Hinduism
57.8%
Buddhism
27.3%
Christianity
9.9%
Islam
1.4%
Other
3.7%

According to 2011 census, 57.8% follow Hinduism making it the state’s majority religion. Buddhism is followed by 27.4% of the population while Christainity by 9.9%.[119] There are many Hindu temples throughout the state.[120]

Vajrayana Buddhism, which accounts for 27.3 percent of the population, is Sikkim’s second-largest, yet most prominent religion. Prior to Sikkim’s becoming a part of the Indian Union, Vajrayana Buddhism was the state religion under the Chogyal. Sikkim has 75 Buddhist monasteries, the oldest dating back to the 1700s.[121] The public and visual aesthetics of Sikkim are executed in shades of Vajrayana Buddhism and Buddhism plays a significant role in public life, even among Sikkim’s majority Nepali Hindu population.

Christians in Sikkim are mostly descendants of Lepcha people who were converted by British missionaries in the late 19th century, and constitute around 10 percent of the population. As of 2014, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Sikkim is the largest Christian denomination in Sikkim.[122] Other religious minorities include Muslims of Bihari ethnicity and Jains, who each account for roughly one percent of the population.[123] The traditional religions of the native Sikkimese account for much of the remainder of the population.

Although tensions between the Lepchas and the Nepalese escalated during the merger of Sikkim with India in the 1970s, there has never been any major degree of communal religious violence, unlike in other Indian states.[124][125] The traditional religion of the Lepcha people is Mun, an animist practice which coexists with Buddhism and Christianity.[126]

Culture[edit]

Festivals and holidays[edit]

The traditional Gumpa dance being performed in Lachung during the Buddhist festival of Losar.

Sikkim’s Nepalese majority celebrate all major Hindu festivals, including Tihar (Diwali) and Dashain (Dashera). Traditional local festivals, such as Maghe Sankranti and Bhimsen Puja, are popular.[127] LosarSaga DawaLhabab DuechenDrupka Teshi and Bhumchu are among the Buddhist festivals celebrated in Sikkim. During the Losar (Tibetan New Year), most offices and educational institutions are closed for a week.[128]

Sikkimese Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr and Muharram.[129] Christmas has been promoted in Gangtok to attract tourists during the off-season.[130]

Western rock music and Indian pop have gained a wide following in Sikkim. Indigenous Nepali rock and Lepcha music are also popular.[131] Sikkim’s most popular sports are football and cricket, although hang gliding and river rafting have grown popular as part of the tourism industry.[132]

Cuisine[edit]

Noodle-based dishes such as thukpachow meinthenthuk, fakthu, gyathuk and wonton are common in Sikkim. Momos – steamed dumplings filled with vegetables, beef or pork and served with soup – are a popular snack.[133]

Beerwhiskeyrum and brandy are widely consumed in Sikkim,[134] as is tongba, a millet-based alcoholic beverage that is popular in Nepal and Darjeeling. Sikkim has the third-highest per capita alcoholism rate amongst all Indian states, behind Punjab and Haryana.[135]

Media[edit]

The Dro-dul Chorten Stupa in Gangtok.

The southern urban areas of Sikkim have English, Nepali and Hindi daily newspapers. Nepali-language newspapers, as well as some English newspapers, are locally printed, whereas Hindi and English newspapers are printed in Siliguri. Important local dailies and weeklies include Hamro Prajashakti (Nepali daily), Himalayan Mirror (English daily), the Samay DainikSikkim Express (English), Kanchanjunga Times (Nepali weekly), Pragya Khabar (Nepali weekly) and Himali Bela.[136] Furthermore, the state receives regional editions of national English newspapers such as The StatesmanThe TelegraphThe Hindu and The Times of IndiaHimalaya Darpan, a Nepali daily published in Siliguri, is one of the leading Nepali daily newspapers in the region. The Sikkim Herald is an official weekly publication of the government. Online media covering Sikkim include the Nepali newspaper Himgiri, the English news portal Haalkhabar and the literary magazine TistarangitAvyaktaBilokan, the Journal of Hill ResearchKhaber KhagajPanda, and the Sikkim Science Society Newsletter are among other registered publications.[137]

Internet cafés are well established in the district capitals, but broadband connectivity is not widely available. Satellite television channels through dish antennae are available in most homes in the state. Channels served are largely the same as those available in the rest of India, although Nepali-language channels are also available. The main service providers include Dish TVDoordarshan and Nayuma.

Education[edit]

Sikkim Manipal University Campus, Gangtok

In 2011, Sikkim’s adult literacy rate was 82.2 per cent: 87.29 per cent for males and 76.43 per cent for females.[138] There are a total of 1,157 schools in the state, including 765 schools run by the state government, seven central government schools and 385 private schools.[139] There is one Institute of National Importance,[140] one central university[141] and four private universities[142] in Sikkim offering higher education.

Sikkim has a National Institute of Technology, currently operating from a temporary campus in Ravangla, South Sikkim,[143] which is one among the ten newly sanctioned NITs by the Government of India under the 11th Five year Plan, 2009.[144] The NIT Sikkim also has state of art super computing facility named PARAM Kanchenjunga which is said to be fastest among all 31 NITs.[145] Sikkim University is the only central university in Sikkim. The public-private funded institution is the Sikkim Manipal University of Technological Sciences, which offers higher education in engineering, medicine and management. It also runs a host of distance education programs in diverse fields.[146]

There are two state-run polytechnic schools – the Advanced Technical Training Centre (ATTC) and the Centre for Computers and Communication Technology (CCCT) – which offer diploma courses in various branches of engineering. ATTC is situated at Bardang, Singtam, and CCCT at Chisopani, Namchi.

Sikkim University began operating in 2008 at Yangang, which is situated about 28 kilometres (17 mi) from Singtam.[147] Many students, however, migrate to SiliguriKolkataBangalore and other Indian cities for their higher education.

The campus of the National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology (NIELIT), under the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology of the Government of India, is at Pakyong in East Sikkim, and offers formal and informal education in the IT/ITES sector.

See also

Uncategorized

Himalayas

Himalayas

“Himalaya” and “Imaus” redirect here. For the genus of moth, see Imaus (moth). For other uses, see Himalaya (disambiguation).
Himalayas
Mount Everest as seen from Drukair2 PLW edit.jpg
Aerial view of Mount Everest and surrounding landscape
Highest point
Peak Mount Everest (Nepal and China)
Elevation 8,848 m (29,029 ft)
Coordinates 27°59′N 86°55′ECoordinates27°59′N 86°55′E
Dimensions
Length 2,400 km (1,500 mi)
Naming
Native name Sagarmatha
Geography

Himalayas Map.png

The general location of the Himalayas mountain range (this map has the Hindu Kush in the Himalaya, not normally regarded as part of the core Himalayas).
Countries
Continent Asia

The Himalayas, or Himalaya (/ˌhɪməˈlə, hɪˈmɑːləjə/), is a mountain range in Asia separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. The range has many of Earth‘s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest (Nepal/China). The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 m (23,600 ft) in elevation, including ten of the fourteen 8,000-metre peaks. By contrast, the highest peak outside Asia (Aconcagua, in the Andes) is 6,961 m (22,838 ft) tall.[1]

Lifted by the subduction of the Indian tectonic plate under the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayan mountain range runs west-northwest to east-southeast in an arc 2,400 km (1,500 mi) long.[2] Its western anchor, Nanga Parbat, lies just south of the northernmost bend of Indus river. Its eastern anchor, Namcha Barwa, is just west of the great bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo River (upper stream of the Brahmaputra River). The Himalayan range is bordered on the northwest by the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush ranges. To the north, the chain is separated from the Tibetan Plateau by a 50–60 km (31–37 mi) wide tectonic valley called the Indus-Tsangpo Suture.[3] Towards the south the arc of the Himalaya is ringed by the very low Indo-Gangetic Plain.[4] The range varies in width from 350 km (220 mi) in the west (Pakistan) to 150 km (93 mi) in the east (Arunachal Pradesh).[5] The Himalayas are distinct from the other great ranges of central Asia, although sometimes the term ‘Himalaya’ (or ‘Greater Himalayas’) is loosely used to include the Karakoram and some of the other ranges.

The Himalayas are inhabited by 52.7 million people,[5] and are spread across five countriesBhutanChinaIndiaNepal and Pakistan. The Hindu Kush range in Afghanistan[6] and Hkakabo Razi in Myanmar are normally not included, but they are both (with the addition of Bangladesh) part of the greater Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) river system;[7] some of the world’s major rivers – the Indus, the Ganges and the TsangpoBrahmaputra – rise in the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basin is home to roughly 600 million people. The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the region, helping to keep the monsoon rains on the Indian plain and limiting rainfall on the Tibetan plateau. The Himalayas have profoundly shaped the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, with many Himalayan peaks considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Name[edit]

The name of the range derives from the Sanskrit Himālaya (हिमालय, “Abode of Snow”), from himá (हिम, “snow”) and ā-laya (आलय, “receptacle, dwelling”).[8] They are now known as the “Himalaya Mountains“, usually shortened to the “Himalayas”. Formerly, they were described in the singular as the Himalaya. This was also previously transcribed Himmaleh, as in Emily Dickinson‘s poetry[9] and Henry David Thoreau‘s essays.[10]

The mountains are known as the Himālaya in Nepali and Hindi (both written हिमालय), the Himalaya (ཧི་མ་ལ་ཡ་) or ‘The Land of Snow’ (གངས་ཅན་ལྗོངས་) in Tibetan, the Himāliyah Mountain Range (Urduسلسلہ کوہ ہمالیہ‎) in Urdu and the Ximalaya Mountain Range (Chinese喜马拉雅山脉pinyinXǐmǎlāyǎ Shānmài) in Chinese.

Geography and key features[edit]

A satellite image showing the arc of the Himalayas
Marsyangdi valley with Annapurna II

Uncategorized

Presidencies and provinces of British India

Presidencies and provinces of British India

Colonial India
British Indian Empire

Imperial entities of India


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(1505–1961)
Casa da Índia 1434–1833
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British India
(1612–1947)
East India Company 1612–1757
Company rule in India 1757–1858
British Raj 1858–1947
British rule in Burma 1824–1948
Princely states 1721–1949
Partition of India
1947

mezzotint engraving of Fort William, Calcutta, the capital of the Bengal Presidency in British India 1735.

The Provinces of India, earlier Presidencies of British India and still earlier, “Presidency towns”, were the administrative divisions of British governance in India. Collectively, they were called “British India”. In one form or another, they existed between 1612 and 1947, conventionally divided into three historical periods:

  • Between 1612 and 1757 the East India Company set up “factories” (trading posts) in several locations, mostly in coastal India, with the consent of the Mughal emperors or local rulers. Its rivals were the merchant trading companies of Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands and France. By the mid-18th century three Presidency townsMadrasBombay and Calcutta, had grown in size.
  • During the period of Company rule in India, 1757–1858, the Company gradually acquired sovereignty over large parts of India, now called “Presidencies”. However, it also increasingly came under British government oversight, in effect sharing sovereignty with the Crown. At the same time it gradually lost its mercantile privileges.
  • Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 the Company’s remaining powers were transferred to the Crown. Under the British Raj (1858–1947), administrative boundaries were extended to include a few other British-administered regions, such as Upper Burma. Increasingly, however, unwieldy presidencies were broken up into “Provinces”.[1]

British India (1793–1947)[edit]

Location of the Indian Empire (British India and the princely states) in the world

In 1608, Mughal authorities allowed the English East India Company to establish a small trading settlement at Surat (now in the state of Gujarat), and this became the company’s first headquarters town. It was followed in 1611 by a permanent factory at Machilipatnam on the Coromandel Coast, and in 1612 the company joined other already established European trading companies in Bengal in trade.[2] However, the power of the Mughal Empire declined from 1707, first at the hands of the Marathas and later due to invasion from Persia (1739) and Afghanistan (1761); after the East India Company’s victories at the Battle of Plassey (1757) and Battle of Buxar (1764)—both within the Bengal Presidency established in 1765—and the abolition of local rule (Nizamat) in Bengal in 1793, the Company gradually began to formally expand its territories across India.[3] By the mid-19th century, and after the three Anglo-Maratha Wars the East India Company had become the paramount political and military power in south Asia, its territory held in trust for the British Crown.[4]

Company rule in Bengal (after 1793) was terminated by the Government of India Act 1858, following the events of the Bengal Rebellion of 1857.[4] Henceforth known as British India, it was thereafter directly ruled as a colonial possession of the United Kingdom, and India was officially known after 1876 as the Indian Empire.[5] India was divided into British India, regions that were directly administered by the British, with Acts established and passed in British Parliament,[6] and the Princely States,[7] ruled by local rulers of different ethnic backgrounds. These rulers were allowed a measure of internal autonomy in exchange for recognition of British suzerainty. British India constituted a significant portion of India both in area and population; in 1910, for example, it covered approximately 54% of the area and included over 77% of the population.[8] In addition, there were Portuguese and French exclaves in India. Independence from British rule was achieved in 1947 with the formation of two nations, the Dominions of India and Pakistan, the latter including East Bengal, present-day Bangladesh.

The term British India also applied to Burma for a shorter time period: beginning in 1824, a small part of Burma, and by 1886, almost two thirds of Burma had been made part of British India.[6] This arrangement lasted until 1937, when Burma was reorganized as a separate British colony. British India did not apply to other countries in the region, such as Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), which was a British Crown colony, or the Maldive Islands, which were a British protectorate. At its greatest extent, in the early 20th century, the territory of British India extended as far as the frontiers of Persia in the west; Afghanistan in the northwest; Nepal in the north, Tibet in the northeast; and China, French Indo-China and Siam in the east. It also included the Aden Province in the Arabian Peninsula.[9]

Administration under the Company (1793–1858)[edit]

The East India Company, which was incorporated on 31 December 1600, established trade relations with Indian rulers in Masulipatam on the east coast in 1611 and Surat on the west coast in 1612.[10] The company rented a small trading outpost in Madras in 1639.[10][10] Bombay, which was ceded to the British Crown by Portugal as part of the wedding dowry of Catherine of Braganza in 1661, was in turn granted to the East India Company to be held in trust for the Crown.[10]

Meanwhile, in eastern India, after obtaining permission from the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to trade with Bengal, the Company established its first factory at Hoogly in 1640.[10] Almost a half-century later, after Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb forced the Company out of Hooghly for its tax evasion, Job Charnock purchased three small villages, later renamed Calcutta, in 1686, making it the Company’s new headquarters.[10] By the mid-18th century, the three principal trading settlements including factories and forts, were then called the Madras Presidency (or the Presidency of Fort St. George), the Bombay Presidency, and the Bengal Presidency (or the Presidency of Fort William) — each administered by a Governor.[11]

The Presidencies[edit]

 

 

After Robert Clive‘s victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the puppet government of a new Nawab of Bengal, was maintained by the East India Company.[12] However, after the invasion of Bengal by the Nawab of Oudh in 1764 and his subsequent defeat in the Battle of Buxar, the Company obtained the Diwani of Bengal, which included the right to administer and collect land-revenue (land tax) in Bengal, the region of present-day Bangladesh, West Bengal and Bihar beginning from 1772 as per the treaty signed in 1765.[12] By 1773, the Company obtained the Nizāmat of Bengal (the “exercise of criminal jurisdiction”) and thereby full sovereignty of the expanded Bengal Presidency.[12] During the period, 1773 to 1785, very little changed; the only exceptions were the addition of the dominions of the Raja of Banares to the western boundary of the Bengal Presidency, and the addition of Salsette Island to the Bombay Presidency.[13]

Portions of the Kingdom of Mysore were annexed to the Madras Presidency after the Third Anglo-Mysore War ended in 1792. Next, in 1799, after the defeat of Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War more of his territory was annexed to the Madras Presidency.[13] In 1801, Carnatic, which had been under the suzerainty of the Company, began to be directly administered by it as a part of the Madras Presidency.[14]

 

 

The new provinces[edit]

By 1851, the East India Company’s vast and growing holdings across the sub-continent were still grouped into just four main territories:

By the time of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and the end of Company rule, the developments could be summarised as follows:

 

 

Administration under the Crown (1858–1947)[edit]

Historical background[edit]

The British Raj began with the idea of the Presidencies as the centres of government. Until 1834, when a General Legislative Council was formed, each Presidency under its Governor and Council was empowered to enact a code of so-called ‘Regulations’ for its government. Therefore, any territory or province that was added by conquest or treaty to a presidency came under the existing regulations of the corresponding presidency. However, in the case of provinces that were acquired but were not annexed to any of the three Presidencies, their official staff could be provided as the Governor-General pleased, and was not governed by the existing regulations of the Bengal, Madras, or Bombay Presidencies. Such provinces became known as “Non-Regulation Provinces” and up to 1833 no provision for a legislative power existed in such places.[16] The same two kinds of management applied for districts. Thus Ganjam and Vizagapatam were non-regulation districts.[17] Non-Regulation Provinces included:

 

 

Regulation provinces[edit]

 

 

 

  • North-West Frontier Province: created in 1901 from the north-western districts of Punjab Province.
  • Eastern Bengal and Assam: created in 1905 upon partition of Bengal, together with the former province of Assam. Re-merged with Bengal in 1912, with north-eastern part re-established as the province of Assam.
  • Bihar and Orissa: separated from Bengal in 1912. Renamed Bihar in 1936 when Orissa became a separate province.
  • Delhi: Separated from Punjab in 1912, when it became the capital of British India.
  • Orissa: Separate province by carving out certain portions from the Bihar-Orissa Province and the Madras Province in 1936.
  • Sind: Separated from Bombay in 1936.
  • Panth-Piploda: made a province in 1942, from territories ceded by a native ruler.

Major provinces[edit]

A map of the British Indian Empire in 1909 during the partition of Bengal (1905–1911), showing British India in two shades of pink (coral and pale) and the princely states in yellow.

At the turn of the 20th century, British India consisted of eight provinces that were administered either by a Governor or a Lieutenant-Governor. The following table lists their areas and populations (but does not include those of the dependent Native States):[18] During the partition of Bengal (1905–1912), a new Lieutenant-Governor’s province of Eastern Bengal and Assam existed. In 1912, the partition was partially reversed, with the eastern and western halves of Bengal re-united and the province of Assam re-established; a new Lieutenant-Governor’s province of Bihar and Orissa was also created.

Province of British India[18] Area (in thousands of square miles) Population (in millions of inhabitants) Chief Administrative Officer
Burma 170 9 Lieutenant-Governor
Bengal 151 75 Lieutenant-Governor
Madras 142 38 Governor-in-Council
Bombay 123 19 Governor-in-Council
United Provinces 107 48 Lieutenant-Governor
Central Provinces and Berar 104 13 Chief Commissioner
Punjab 97 20 Lieutenant-Governor
Assam 49 6 Chief Commissioner

Minor provinces[edit]

In addition, there were a few provinces that were administered by a Chief Commissioner:[19]

Minor Province[19] Area (in thousands of square miles) Population (in thousands of inhabitants) Chief Administrative Officer
North-West Frontier Province 16 2,125 Chief Commissioner
British Baluchistan 46 308 British Political Agent in Baluchistan served as ex officio Chief Commissioner
Coorg 1.6 181 British Resident in Mysore served as ex officio Chief Commissioner
Ajmer-Merwara 2.7 477 British Political Agent in Rajputana served as ex officio Chief Commissioner
Andaman and Nicobar Islands 3 25 Chief Commissioner

Aden[edit]

  • As the Settlement of Aden, a dependency of Bombay Presidency from 1839 to 1932; becomes a Chief Commissioner’s province in 1932; separated from India and made the Crown Colony of Aden in 1937.

Partition and Independence (1947)[edit]

At the time of independence in 1947, British India had 17 provinces:

Upon the Partition of British India into the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan, 11 provinces (Ajmer-Merwara-Kekri, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bihar, Bombay, Central Provinces and Berar, Coorg, Delhi, Madras, Panth-Piploda, Orissa, and the United Provinces) joined India, 3 (Baluchistan, North-West Frontier and Sindh) joined Pakistan, and 3 (PunjabBengal and Assam) were partitioned between India and Pakistan.

In 1950, after the new Indian Constitution was adopted, the provinces in India were replaced by redrawn states and union territories. Pakistan, however, retained its five provinces, one of which, East Bengal, was renamed East Pakistan in 1956 and became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971.

See also

Uncategorized

Huawei

Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. (/ˈhwɑːˌw/Chinese华为pinyinAbout this soundHuáwéi) is a Chinese multinational technology company that provides telecommunications equipment and sells consumer electronics, including smartphones[3] and is headquartered in ShenzhenGuangdong province.

The company was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei. Initially focused on manufacturing phone switches, Huawei has expanded its business to include building telecommunications networks, providing operational and consulting services and equipment to enterprises inside and outside of China, and manufacturing communications devices for the consumer market.[4][5] Huawei had over 188,000 employees as of September 2018, around 76,000 of them engaged in Research & Development (R&D).[6][7] It has 21 R&D institutes around the world,[8][9] and in April 2019, opened the dedicated Ox Horn Campus in Dongguan.[10] As of 2017, the company invested US$13.8 billion in R&D.[11][12]

Huawei has deployed its products and services in more than 170 countries, and as of 2011 it served 45 of the 50 largest telecom operators.[13][need quotation to verify] Its networks, numbering over 1,500, reach one third of the world’s population.[14] Huawei overtook Ericsson in 2012 as the largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturer in the world,[15] and overtook Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world, behind Samsung Electronics.[16] It ranks 72nd on the Fortune Global 500 list.[17] In December 2018, Huawei reported that its annual revenue had risen to US$108.5 billion in 2018 (a 21% increase over 2017).[18]

Although successful internationally, Huawei has faced difficulties in some markets, due to cybersecurity allegations—primarily from the United States government—that Huawei’s infrastructure equipment may enable surveillance by the Chinese government. Especially with the development of 5G wireless networks (which China has aggressively promoted), there have been calls from the U.S. to prevent the use of products by Huawei or fellow Chinese telecom ZTE by the U.S. or its allies. Huawei has argued that its products posed “no greater cybersecurity risk” than those of any other vendor and that there is no evidence of the U.S. espionage claims.[19] Nonetheless, Huawei pulled out of the U.S. consumer market in 2018, after these concerns affected the ability to market their consumer products there.

U.S. measures intensified in May 2019; in the midst of an ongoing trade war between China and the United States, Huawei was restricted from doing commerce with U.S. companies due to alleged previous willful violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. On 29 June 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump reached an agreement to resume trade talks with China and announced that he would ease the aforementioned sanctions on Huawei.

Name[edit]

Huawei
Huawei (Chinese characters).svg
“Huawei” in Simplified (top) and Traditional (bottom) Chinese characters
Simplified Chinese 华为
Traditional Chinese 華為
Literal meaning Zhonghua or Huaxia does
Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.
Simplified Chinese 华为技术有限公司
Traditional Chinese 華為技術有限公司

According to the company founder Ren Zhengfei, the name Huawei comes from a slogan he saw on a wall, Zhonghua youwei meaning “China has promise” (中华有为, Zhōnghuá yǒuwéi), when he was starting the company and needed a name.[20] Zhonghua or Hua means China,[21] while youwei means “promising/to show promise”.[22][23] In Chinese pinyin, the name is Huáwéi,[24] and pronounced [xwǎwéi] in Mandarin Chinese; in Cantonese, the name is transliterated with Jyutping as Waa4-wai4 and pronounced [wȁːwɐ̏i]. However, pronunciation of Huawei by non-Chinese varies in other countries, for example “Hoe-ah-wei” in the Netherlands.[25] The company had considered changing the name in English as it was concerned that non-Chinese may find the name hard to pronounce,[26] but decided to keep the name, and launched a name recognition campaign instead to encourage a pronunciation closer to “Wah-Way” using the words “Wow Way”.[27][28]

History[edit]

Early years[edit]

During the 1980s, the Chinese government tried to modernize the country’s underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure. A core component of the telecommunications network was telephone exchange switches, and in the late 1980s, several Chinese research groups endeavored to acquire and develop the technology, usually through joint ventures with foreign companies.

Ren Zhengfei, a former deputy director of the People’s Liberation Army engineering corps, founded Huawei in 1987 in Shenzhen. The company reports that it had RMB 21,000 in registered capital at the time of its founding.

Ren sought to reverse engineer foreign technologies with local researchers. At a time when all of China’s telecommunications technology was imported from abroad, Ren hoped to build a domestic Chinese telecommunication company that could compete with, and ultimately replace, foreign competitors.[29]

During its first several years the company’s business model consisted mainly of reselling private branch exchange (PBX) switches imported from Hong Kong. Meanwhile, it was reverse-engineering imported switches and investing heavily in research and development to manufacture its own technologies.[4] By 1990 the company had approximately 600 R&D staff and began its own independent commercialization of PBX switches targeting hotels and small enterprises.[30]

The company’s first major breakthrough came in 1993 when it launched its C&C08 program controlled telephone switch. It was by far the most powerful switch available in China at the time. By initially deploying in small cities and rural areas and placing emphasis on service and customizability, the company gained market share and made its way into the mainstream market.[31]

Huawei also won a key contract to build the first national telecommunications network for the People’s Liberation Army, a deal one employee described as “small in terms of our overall business, but large in terms of our relationships”.[32] In 1994, founder Ren Zhengfei had a meeting with Party general secretary Jiang Zemin, telling him that “switching equipment technology was related to national security, and that a nation that did not have its own switching equipment was like one that lacked its own military.” Jiang reportedly agreed with this assessment.[4]

In the 1990s Canadian telecom giant Nortel outsourced production of their entire product line to Huawei.[33] They subsequently outsourced much of their product engineering to Huawei as well.[34]

Another major turning point for the company came in 1996 when the government in Beijing adopted an explicit policy of supporting domestic telecommunications manufacturers and restricting access to foreign competitors. Huawei was promoted by both the government and the military as a national champion, and established new research and development offices.[4]

Foreign expansion[edit]

Huawei Offices
In Voorburg, Netherlands
In Markham, Ontario, Canada

In 1997, Huawei won a contract to provide fixed-line network products to Hong Kong company Hutchison Whampoa.[31] Later that year, Huawei launched its wireless GSM-based products and eventually expanded to offer CDMA and UMTS. In 1999, the company opened a research and development (R&D) center in Bangalore, India to develop a wide range of telecom software.[30]

In May 2003, Huawei partnered with 3Com on a joint venture known as H3C, which was focused on enterprise networking equipment. It marked 3Com’s re-entrance into the high-end core routers and switch market, after having abandoned it in 2000 to focus on other businesses. 3Com bought out Huawei’s share of the venture in 2006 for US$882 million.[35][36]

In 2005, Huawei’s foreign contract orders exceeded its domestic sales for the first time. Huawei signed a Global Framework Agreement with Vodafone. This agreement marked the first time a telecommunications equipment supplier from China had received Approved Supplier status from Vodafone Global Supply Chain.[37][non-primary source needed] Huawei also signed a contract with British Telecom (BT) for the deployment of its multi-service access network (MSAN) and Transmission equipment for BT’s 21st Century Network (21CN).[citation needed]

In 2007, Huawei began a joint venture with U.S. security software vendor Symantec Corporation, known as Huawei Symantec, which aimed to provide end-to-end solutions for network data storage and security. Huawei bought out Symantec’s share in the venture in 2012, with The New York Times noting that Symantec had fears that the partnership “would prevent it from obtaining United States government classified information about cyberthreats”.[38]

In May 2008, Australian carrier Optus announced that it would establish a technology research facility with Huawei in Sydney.[39] In October 2008, Huawei reached an agreement to contribute to a new GSM-based HSPA+ network being deployed jointly by Canadian carriers Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility, joined by Nokia Siemens Networks.[40] Huawei delivered one of the world’s first LTE/EPC commercial networks for TeliaSonera in Oslo, Norway in 2009.[30]

In July 2010, Huawei was included in the Global Fortune 500 2010 list published by the U.S. magazine Fortune for the first time, on the strength of annual sales of US$21.8 billion and net profit of US$2.67 billion.[41][42]

In October 2012, it was announced that Huawei would move its UK headquarters to Green ParkReading, Berkshire.[43]

In September 2017, Huawei created a NarrowBand IOT city-aware network using a “one network, one platform, N applications” construction model utilising IoTcloud computingbig data, and other next-generation information and communications technology, it also aims to be one of the world’s five largest cloud players in the near future.[44][45]

In April 2019, Huawei established Huawei Malaysia Global Training Centre (MGTC) at CyberjayaMalaysia,[46] which is Huawei’s first training centre outside of China.

Recent performance[edit]

Huawei expo at IFA 2018 in Berlin

As of the end of 2018, Huawei sold 200 million smartphones.[47] They reported that strong consumer demand for premium range smart phones helped the company reach consumer sales in excess of $52 billion in 2018.[48]

Huawei announced worldwide revenues of $105.1 billion for 2018, with a net profit of $8.7 billion.[49] Huawei’s Q1 2019 revenues were up 39% year-over-year, at US$26.76 billion.[50]

Political controversies[edit]

Huawei has been at the center of espionage allegations over Chinese 5G network equipment. In 2018, the United States passed a defense funding bill that contained a passage barring the federal government from doing business with Huawei, ZTE, and several Chinese vendors of surveillance products, due to security concerns.[51][52][53]

On 1 December 2018, Huawei vice-chairwoman and CFO Meng Wanzhou,[54] daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. She faced extradition to the United States on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.[55] On 22 August 2018 an arrest warrant was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.[56] Meng was charged with “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions”, according to the prosecutor.[57] The warrant was based on allegations of a conspiracy to defraud banks which were clearing money that was claimed to be for Huawei, but was actually for Skycom, an entity claimed to be entirely controlled by Huawei, which was said to be dealing in Iran, contrary to sanctions. None of the allegations have been proven in court.[58] On 11 December 2018, Meng was released on bail.[59]

On 28 January 2019, U.S. federal prosecutors formally indicted Meng and Huawei with 13 counts of bank and wire fraud (in order to mask sale of U.S. technology in Iran that is illegal under sanctions), obstruction of justice, and misappropriating trade secrets.[60][61] The Department also filed a formal extradition request for Meng with Canadian authorities that same day. Huawei responded to the charges and said that it “denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations”, as well as asserted Meng was similarly innocent. The China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology believed the charges brought on by the United States were “unfair”.[62] In November 2019, Huawei announced that it will pay RMB2 billion (US$286 million) in bonuses to its staff, and double their October salaries, as a reward for their efforts to counter the effect of recent U.S. trade sanctions on their supply chain.[63]

U.S. business restrictions[edit]

In August 2018, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA 2019) was signed into law, containing a provision that banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from being used by the U.S. federal government, citing security concerns.[64] Huawei filed a lawsuit over the act in March 2019,[65] alleging it to be unconstitutional because it specifically targeted Huawei without granting it a chance to provide a rebuttal or due process.[66]

On 15 May 2019, the Department of Commerce added Huawei and 70 foreign subsidiaries and “affiliates” to its entity list under the Export Administration Regulations, citing the company having been indicted for “knowingly and willfully causing the export, re-export, sale and supply, directly and indirectly, of goods, technology and services (banking and other financial services) from the United States to Iran and the government of Iran without obtaining a license from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)”.[67] This restricts U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei without a government license.[68][69][70][71]

Various U.S.-based companies immediately froze their business with Huawei to comply with the regulation,[72] including Google—which removes its ability to certify future devices and updates for the Android operating system with licensed Google Mobile Services (GMS) such as Google Play Store,[73][74] as well as BroadcomIntelQualcommMicrosoftXilinx[75] and Western Digital. The German chipmaker Infineon Technologies also voluntarily suspended its business with Huawei, pending “assessments”.[74][76][77] It was reported that Huawei did have a limited “stockpile” of U.S.-sourced parts, obtained prior to the sanctions.[78]

On 17 May 2019, Huawei voluntarily suspended its membership to JEDEC, as a temporary measure, “until the restrictions imposed by the U.S. government are removed”.[79] Speaking to Chinese media, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei accused U.S. politicians of underestimating the company’s strength, and explained that “in terms of 5G technologies, others won’t be able to catch up with Huawei in two or three years. We have sacrificed ourselves and our families for our ideal, to stand on top of the world. To reach this ideal, sooner or later there will be conflict with the US.”[80][81][82]

Kevin Wolf, an international trade lawyer and former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration during the Obama administration, argued that Huawei could not even use the open source Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code, as it could fall under U.S. trade regulations as technology of U.S. origin because Google is the majority developer.[83] In China, it is normal for Android phones (including those of Huawei) to not include Google Play Store or GMS, as Google does not do business in the region. Phones are typically bundled with an AOSP-based distribution built around an OEM’s own software suite, including either a first-party app store run by the OEM (such as Huawei’s own AppGallery) or a third-party service.[84][85][86]

Google issued a statement assuring that user access to Google Play on existing Huawei devices would not be disrupted. Huawei made a similar pledge of continued support for existing devices, including security patches, but did not make any statements regarding the availability of future Android versions (such as the upcoming Android 10, previously called Android Q).[87][88] On 19 May 2019, the Department of Commerce granted Huawei a temporary, three-month license to continue doing business with U.S. companies for the purposes of maintaining its existing smartphone and telecom products without interruption, whilst long-term solutions are determined.[89][90][91][92]

On 22 May 2019, Arm Holdings also suspended its business with Huawei, including all “active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements”. Although it is a Japanese-owned company based in the UK, Arm cited that its intellectual property contained technologies of U.S. origin that it believed were covered under the Department of Commerce order. This prevents Huawei from manufacturing chips that use the ARM architecture.[93] It was also reported that several Asian wireless carriers, including Japan’s SoftBank and KDDI, and Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom and Taiwan Mobile, had suspended the sale of upcoming Huawei devices such as the P30 Lite, citing uncertainties over the effects of the U.S. sanctions on the availability of the Android platform. NTT docomo similarly suspended pre-orders of new Huawei phones, without citing any reasoning.[94]

On 23 May 2019, it was reported that the SD Association had removed Huawei from its list of members—implicating a revocation of its membership to the association.[95] The same day, Toshiba briefly suspended all shipments to Huawei, as a temporary measure while determining whether or not they were selling U.S. made components or technologies to Huawei.[96] Panasonic also stated that it had determined its business relationship to be in compliance with U.S. law, and would not suspend it.[97] The next day, the Wi-Fi Alliance also “temporarily restricted” Huawei’s membership.[79][98]

On 24 May 2019, Huawei told Reuters that FedEx attempted to divert two packages sent from Japan and addressed to Huawei in China to the United States, and tried to divert two more packages sent from Vietnam to Huawei offices elsewhere in Asia, all without their authorization. At first, FedEx China claimed that “media reports are not true”. On May 28, however, they apologized on their Chinese social media account for the fact that “a small number of Huawei shipments were misrouted”, and claimed that “there are no external parties that require FedEx to ship these shipments” .[99][100][101]

On 29 May 2019, it was reported that Huawei was once again listed as member of JEDEC, the SD Association, and Wi-Fi Alliance.[102] In addition, while the science organization IEEE had initially banned Huawei employees from peer-reviewing papers or handling papers as editors on May 30, 2019, citing legal concerns, that ban was also revoked on June 3, 2019.[103]

On 29 June 2019 at the G20 summit, Trump and Chinese president and general secretary Xi Jinping agreed to resume trade negotiations. Trump made statements implicating plans to ease the restrictions on U.S. companies doing business with Huawei, explaining that they had sold a “tremendous amount of products” to the company, that they “were not exactly happy that they couldn’t sell”, and that he was referring to “equipment where there’s no great national security problem with it.” BBC News considered this move to be a “significant concession”.[104][105][106]

On October 25, 2019, ARM announced that it has decided to keep supplying Huawei with its chip designs after its legal team concluded that its v8 and v9 architectures are of non-U.S. origin. That means supplying these technologies to the Chinese firm won’t violate existing U.S. restrictions, ARM says.[107]

On November 5, 2019, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg that they are on phase one of a trade deal between the US and China. After this, US companies will be allowed to work with Huawei.[108]

Replacement operating systems[edit]

During the sanctions, it was noted that Huawei had been working on its own in-house operating system codenamed “HongMeng OS“: in an interview with Die Welt, executive Richard Yu stated that an in-house OS could be used as a “plan B” if it were prevented from using Android or Windows as the result of U.S. action, but that he would “prefer to work with the ecosystems of Google and Microsoft”. Efforts to develop an in-house OS at Huawei date back as far as 2012.[109][110][111] Huawei filed trademarks for the names “Ark”, “Ark OS”, and “Harmony” in Europe, which were speculated to be connected to this OS.[112][113]

In June 2019, Huawei communications VP Andrew Williamson told Reuters that the company was testing HongMeng in China, and that it could be ready “in months”. However, in July 2019, chairman Liang Hua and senior vice president Catherine Chen stated that Hongmeng OS was not actually intended as a mobile operating system for smartphones, and was actually an embedded operating system designed for Internet of things (IoT) hardware.[114][115][116]

In September 2019, Huawei began offering the Chinese Linux distribution Deepin as an optional pre-loaded operating system on selected Matebook models in China, as an alternative to Windows.[117]

Corporate affairs[edit]

Huawei classifies itself as a “collective” entity and prior to 2019 did not refer to itself as a private company. Richard McGregor, author of The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, said that this is “a definitional distinction that has been essential to the company’s receipt of state support at crucial points in its development”.[118] McGregor argued that “Huawei’s status as a genuine collective is doubtful.”[118] Huawei’s position has shifted in 2019 when, Dr. Song Liuping, Huawei’s chief legal officer, commented on the US government ban, said: “Politicians in the US are using the strength of an entire nation to come after a private company.” (emphasis added).[119]

Leadership[edit]

Ren Zhengfei is the founder and CEO of Huawei and has the power to veto any decisions made by the board of directors.[120][121]

Board of Directors[edit]

Huawei disclosed its list of board of directors for the first time in 2010.[122] Liang Hua is the current chair of the board. As of 2019, the members of the board are Liang Hua, Guo Ping, Xu Zhijun, Hu Houkun, Meng Wanzhou (CFO and deputy chairwoman, currently out on bail in Vancouver,[123] after being arrested there on December 1, 2018, after an extradition request of US authorities on suspicion of Iran sanctions evasion[124]), Ding Yun, Yu Chengdong, Wang Tao, Xu Wenwei, Chen Lifang, Peng Zhongyang, He Tingbo, Li Yingtao, Ren Zhengfei, Yao Fuhai, Tao Jingwen, and Yan Lida.[125]

Executives[edit]

Guo Ping is the Chairman of Huawei Device, Huawei’s mobile phone division.[126] Huawei’s Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer is Zhou Daiqi[127] who is also Huawei’s communist party committee secretary.[128] Their Chief legal officer is Song Liuping.[119]

Ownership[edit]

Huawei maintains it is an employee-owned company. Ren Zhengfei retains approximately 1 percent of the shares of Huawei’s holding company, Huawei Investment & Holding,[129] with the remainder of the shares held by a trade union committee (not a trade union per se, and the internal governance procedures of this committee, its members, its leaders or how they are selected all remain unknown)[120] that is claimed to be representative of Huawei’s employee shareholders.[130] The company’s trade union committee is registered with and pay dues to the Shenzhen federation of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.[131] This is also due to a limitation in Chinese law preventing limited liability companies from having more than 50 shareholders.[132] About half of Huawei staff participate in this scheme (foreign employees are not eligible), and hold what the company calls “virtual restricted shares”. These shares are nontradable and are allocated to reward performance.[133] When employees leave Huawei, their shares revert to the company, which compensates them for their holding.[134] Although employee shareholders receive dividends,[130] their shares do not entitle them to any direct influence in management decisions, but enables them to vote for members of the 115-person Representatives’ Commission from a preselected list of candidates.[130] The Representatives’ Commission selects Huawei Holding’s Board of Directors and Board of Supervisors.[135] Scholars have found that, after a few stages of historical morphing, employees do not own a part of Huawei through their “shares”. Instead, the “virtual stock is a contract right, not a property right; it gives the holder no voting power in either Huawei Tech or Huawei Holding, cannot be transferred, and is cancelled when the employee leaves the firm, subject to a redemption payment from Huawei Holding TUC at a low fixed price”.[136]

Partners and customers[edit]

As of the beginning of 2010, approximately 80% of the world’s top 50 telecoms companies had worked with Huawei.[137]

Prominent partners include:

Since 2016, German camera company Leica has established a partnership with Huawei, and Leica cameras will be co-engineered into Huawei smartphones, including the P and Mate Series. The first smartphone to be co-engineered with a Leica camera was the Huawei P9.[147]

In 2019, the Korean optical glasses brand Gentle Monster has collaborated with Huawei and released smartglasses.[148]

Products and services[edit]

Huawei is organized around three core business segments:

  1. Telecom Carrier Networks, building telecommunications networks and services
  2. Enterprise Business, providing equipment, software and services to enterprise customers, e.g. Government Solutions – see Huawei 4G eLTE[149]
  3. Devices, manufacturing electronic communications devices[5]

Huawei announced its Enterprise business in January 2011 to provide network infrastructure, fixed and wireless communication, data center, and cloud computing solutions[buzzword] for global telecommunications customers.[150]

Telecom networks[edit]

Huawei’s core network solutions[buzzword] offer mobile and fixed softswitches, plus next-generation home location register and Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystems (IMS). Huawei sells xDSLpassive optical network (PON) and next-generation PON (NG PON) on a single platform. The company also offers mobile infrastructure, broadband access and service provider routers and switches (SPRS). Huawei’s software products include service delivery platforms (SDPs), BSSs, Rich Communication Suite and digital home and mobile office solutions[buzzword].[151]

Global services[edit]

Huawei Global Services provides telecommunications operators with equipment to build and operate networks as well as consulting and engineering services to improve operational efficiencies.[152] These include network integration services such as those for mobile and fixed networks; assurance services such as network safety; and learning services, such as competency consulting.[151]

Devices[edit]

Huawei’s Devices division provides white-label products to content-service providers, including USB modemswireless modems and wireless routers for mobile Wi-Fi,[153][154] embedded modulesfixed wireless terminals, wireless gatewaysset-top boxesmobile handsets and video products.[155] Huawei also produces and sells a variety of devices under its own name, such as the IDEOS smartphonestablet PCs and Huawei Smartwatch.[156][157]

History of Huawei phones[edit]

The Huawei P30 with (back) triple-lens Leica optics camera

In July 2003, Huawei established their handset department and by 2004, Huawei shipped their first phone, the C300. The U626 was Huawei’s first 3G phone in June 2005 and in 2006, Huawei launched the first Vodafone-branded 3G handset, the V710. The U8220 was Huawei’s first Android smartphone and was unveiled in MWC 2009. At CES 2012, Huawei introduced the Ascend range starting with the Ascend P1 S. At MWC 2012, Huawei launched the Ascend D1. In September 2012, Huawei launched their first 4G ready phone, the Ascend P1 LTE. At CES 2013, Huawei launched the Ascend D2 and the Ascend Mate. At MWC 2013, the Ascend P2 was launched as the world’s first LTE Cat4 smartphone. In June 2013, Huawei launched the Ascend P6 and in December 2013, Huawei introduced Honor as a subsidiary independent brand in China. At CES 2014, Huawei launched the Ascend Mate2 4G in 2014 and at MWC 2014, Huawei launched the MediaPad X1 tablet and Ascend G6 4G smartphone. Other launched in 2014 included the Ascend P7 in May 2014, the Ascend Mate7, the Ascend G7 and the Ascend P7 Sapphire Edition as China’s first 4G smartphone with a sapphire screen.[158]

In January 2015, Huawei discontinued the “Ascend” brand for its flagship phones, and launched the new P series with the Huawei P8.[159][160] Huawei also partnered with Google to build the Nexus 6P in 2015.

The current models in the P and Mate lines, the Mate 30, Mate 30 Pro, Mate 30 5G, Mate 30 Pro 5G P30, P30 ProMate 20Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20 X were released in 2018 and 2019.[161][162][163][164][165][166]

EMUI (Emotion User Interface)[edit]

Emotion UI (EMUI) is a ROM/OS developed by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and based on Google’s Android Open Source Project (AOSP). EMUI is pre-installed on most Huawei Smartphone devices and its subsidiaries the Honor series. The latest version of EMUI is EMUI 10.

Competitive position[edit]

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is the world’s largest telecom equipment maker[15][167] and China’s largest telephone-network equipment maker.[168] With 3,442 patents, Huawei became the world’s No. 1 applicant for international patents in 2014.[169][170]

R&D centers[edit]

It has 21 R&D institutes in countries including China, the United States,[171] Canada,[172] the United Kingdom,[173] Pakistan, Finland, France, Belgium, Germany, Colombia, Sweden, Ireland, India,[174] Russia, Israel, and Turkey.[8][9]

Huawei is considering opening a new research and development (R&D) center in Russia (2019/2020), which would be the third in the country after the Moscow and St. Petersburg R&D centers. Huawei also announced plans (November 2018) to open an R&D center in the French city of Grenoble, which would be mainly focused on smartphone sensors and parallel computing software development. The new R&D team in Grenoble was expected to grow to 30 researchers by 2020, said the company. The company said that this new addition brought to five the number of its R&D teams in the country: two were located in Sophia Antipolis and Paris, researching image processing and design, while the other two existing teams were based at Huawei’s facilities in Boulogne-Billancourt, working on algorithms and mobile and 5G standards. The technology giant also intended to open two new research centers in Zürich and Lausanne, Switzerland. Huawei at the time employed around 350 people in Switzerland.[175][176]

Controversies[edit]

Huawei has faced criticism for various aspects of its operations, with its most prominent controversies having involved U.S. allegations of its products containing backdoors for Chinese government espionage—consistent with domestic laws requiring Chinese citizens and companies to cooperate with state intelligence when warranted. Huawei executives have consistently denied these allegations, having stated that the company has never received any requests by the Chinese government to introduce backdoors in its equipment, would refuse to do so, and that Chinese law did not compel them to do so.[177][177][178][179][180]

Huawei has also been accused of various instances of intellectual property theft against parties such as Nortel,[181] Cisco Systems, and T-Mobile US (where a Huawei employee had photographed a robotic arm used to stress-test smartphones and taken a fingertip from the robot).[182][183][184]

See also

Uncategorized

Iceland

Iceland

Iceland
Ísland

Anthem: Lofsöngur

MENU
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Location of Iceland
Location of Iceland
Capital
and largest city
Reykjavík
64°08′N 21°56′W
Official language
and national language
Icelandic
Ethnic groups
(2018)[a][1]
Religion
see Religion in Iceland
Demonym(s) Icelander
Icelandic
Government Unitary parliamentary republic
Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Steingrímur J. Sigfússon
Þorgeir Örlygsson
Legislature Althing
Formation
9th century
• Commonwealth
Founding of the Althing
930–1262
• Union with Norway
Signing of the Old Covenant
1262–1397
1397–1523
1523–1814
• Treaty of Kiel
Ceded to Denmark
14 January 1814
• Constitution and limited home rule
Minister for Iceland appointed
5 January 1874
• Extended home rule
1 February 1904
1 December 1918
17 June 1944
3 May 1960
Area
• Total
102,775[2] km2 (39,682 sq mi) (106th)
• Water (%)
2.7
Population
• 2019 estimate
360,390[3] (172nd)
• Density
3.4/km2 (8.8/sq mi) (233rd)
GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
• Total
$19 billion[4] (142nd)
• Per capita
$54,753[4] (16th)
GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
• Total
$27 billion[4]
• Per capita
$75,700[4] (5th)
Gini (2016) Positive decrease 24.1[5]
low · 2nd
HDI (2017) Increase 0.935[6]
very high · 6th
Currency Icelandic króna (ISK)
Time zone UTC+0[b] (GMT/WET)
Date format dd/mm/yyyy
Driving side right
Calling code +354
ISO 3166 code IS
Internet TLD .is

Iceland (IcelandicÍsland[ˈistlant] (About this soundlisten))[c] is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 360,390[3] and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.[d][9] The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country being home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fieldsmountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude almost entirely outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

According to the ancient manuscript Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island.[10] In the following centuries, Norwegians, and to a lesser extent other Scandinavians, emigrated to Iceland, bringing with them thralls (i.e., slaves or serfs) of Gaelic origin.

The island was governed as an independent commonwealth under the Althing, one of the world’s oldest functioning legislative assemblies. Following a period of civil strife, Iceland acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th century. The establishment of the Kalmar Union in 1397 united the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Iceland thus followed Norway’s integration into that union, coming under Danish rule after Sweden’s secession from the union in 1523. Although the Danish kingdom introduced Lutheranism forcefully in 1550, Iceland remained a distant semi-colonial territory in which Danish institutions and infrastructures were conspicuous by their absence.

In the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Iceland’s struggle for independence took form and culminated in independence in 1918 and the founding of a republic in 1944. Although its parliament (Althing) was suspended from 1799 to 1845, the island republic has been credited with sustaining the world’s oldest and longest-running parliament.

Until the 20th century, Iceland relied largely on subsistence fishing and agriculture. Industrialisation of the fisheries and Marshall Plan aid following World War II brought prosperity and Iceland became one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 1994, it became a part of the European Economic Area, which further diversified the economy into sectors such as finance, biotechnology, and manufacturing.

Iceland has a market economy with relatively low taxes, compared to other OECD countries,[11] as well as the highest trade union membership in the world.[12] It maintains a Nordic social welfare system that provides universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens.[13] Iceland ranks high in economic, democratic, social stability, and equality, currently ranking first in the world by median wealth per adult. In 2018, it was ranked as the sixth most developed country in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index, and it ranks first on the Global Peace Index.[6] Iceland runs almost completely on renewable energy.

Hit hard by the worldwide financial crisis, the nation’s entire banking system systemically failed in October 2008, leading to a severe depression, substantial political unrest, the Icesave dispute, and the institution of capital controls. Some bankers were jailed.[14] Since then, the economy has made a significant recovery, in large part due to a surge in tourism.[15][16][17]

Icelandic culture is founded upon the nation’s Scandinavian heritage. Most Icelanders are descendants of Norse and Gaelic settlers. Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is descended from Old West Norse and is closely related to Faroese. The country’s cultural heritage includes traditional Icelandic cuisineIcelandic literature, and medieval sagas. Iceland has the smallest population of any NATO member and is the only one with no standing army, with a lightly armed coast guard.[18]

Etymology

Norsemen landing in Iceland – a 19th-century depiction by Oscar Wergeland.

The Sagas of Icelanders say that a Norwegian named Naddodd (or Naddador) was the first Norseman to reach Iceland, and in the 9th century he named it Snæland or “snow land” because it was snowing. Following Naddodd, the Swede Garðar Svavarsson arrived, and so the island was then called Garðarshólmur which means “Garðar’s Isle”.

Then came a Viking named Flóki Vilgerðarson; his daughter drowned en route, then his livestock starved to death. The sagas say that the rather despondent Flóki climbed a mountain and saw a fjord (Arnarfjörður) full of icebergs, which led him to give the island its new and present name.[19] The notion that Iceland’s Viking settlers chose that name to discourage oversettlement of their verdant isle is a myth.[19]

History

874–1262: Settlement and Commonwealth

Ingólfr Arnarson (modern Icelandic: Ingólfur Arnarson), the first permanent Scandinavian settler

According to both Landnámabók and Íslendingabók, monks known as the Papar lived in Iceland before Scandinavian settlers arrived, possibly members of a Hiberno-Scottish mission. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed the ruins of a cabin in Hafnir on the Reykjanes peninsulaCarbon dating indicates that it was abandoned sometime between 770 and 880.[20] In 2016, archeologists uncovered a longhouse in Stöðvarfjörður that has been dated to as early as 800.[21]

Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and establish that it was an island.[22] He stayed over winter and built a house in Húsavík. Garðar departed the following summer but one of his men, Náttfari, decided to stay behind with two slaves. Náttfari settled in what is now known as Náttfaravík and he and his slaves became the first permanent residents of Iceland.[23][24]

The Norwegian-Norse chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson built his homestead in present-day Reykjavík in 874. Ingólfr was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Scandinavians and their thralls, many of whom were Irish or Scottish.[25] By 930, most arable land on the island had been claimed; the Althing, a legislative and judicial assembly, was initiated to regulate the Icelandic Commonwealth. Lack of arable land also served as an impetus to the settlement of Greenland starting in 986.[26] The period of these early settlements coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures were similar to those of the early 20th century.[27] At this time, about 25% of Iceland was covered with forest, compared to 1% in the present day.[28] Christianity was adopted by consensus around 999–1000, although Norse paganism persisted among segments of the population for some years afterwards.[29]

The Middle Ages

Ósvör, a replica of an old fishing outpost outside Bolungarvík

The Icelandic Commonwealth lasted until the 13th century, when the political system devised by the original settlers proved unable to cope with the increasing power of Icelandic chieftains.[30] The internal struggles and civil strife of the Age of the Sturlungs led to the signing of the Old Covenant in 1262, which ended the Commonwealth and brought Iceland under the Norwegian crown. Possession of Iceland passed from the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397) to the Kalmar Union in 1415, when the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united. After the break-up of the union in 1523, it remained a Norwegian dependency, as a part of Denmark–Norway.

Infertile soil, volcanic eruptions, deforestation and an unforgiving climate made for harsh life in a society where subsistence depended almost entirely on agriculture. The Black Death swept Iceland twice, first in 1402–1404 and again in 1494–1495.[31] The former outbreak killed 50% to 60% of the population, and the latter 30% to 50%.[32]

Reformation and the Early Modern period

Around the middle of the 16th century, as part of the Protestant Reformation, King Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on all his subjects. Jón Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Hólar, was beheaded in 1550 along with two of his sons. The country subsequently became officially Lutheran and Lutheranism has since remained the dominant religion.

A map of Iceland published in the early 17th century

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Denmark imposed harsh trade restrictions on Iceland. Natural disasters, including volcanic eruption and disease, contributed to a decreasing population. Pirates from several countries, including the Barbary Coast, raided Iceland’s coastal settlements and abducted people into slavery.[33][34] A great smallpox epidemic in the 18th century killed around a third of the population.[35][36] In 1783 the Laki volcano erupted, with devastating effects.[37] In the years following the eruption, known as the Mist Hardships (Icelandic: Móðuharðindin), over half of all livestock in the country died. Around a quarter of the population starved to death in the ensuing famine.[38]

1814–1918: Independence movement

In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel but Iceland remained a Danish dependency. Throughout the 19th century, the country’s climate continued to grow colder, resulting in mass emigration to the New World, particularly to the region of GimliManitoba in Canada, which was sometimes referred to as New Iceland. About 15,000 people emigrated, out of a total population of 70,000.[39]

A national consciousness arose in the first half of the 19th century, inspired by romantic and nationalist ideas from mainland Europe. An Icelandic independence movement took shape in the 1850s under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, based on the burgeoning Icelandic nationalism inspired by the Fjölnismenn and other Danish-educated Icelandic intellectuals. In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland a constitution and limited home rule. This was expanded in 1904, and Hannes Hafstein served as the first Minister for Iceland in the Danish cabinet.

1918–1944: Independence and the Kingdom of Iceland

HMS Berwick led the British invasion of Iceland

The Danish–Icelandic Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on 1 December 1918 and valid for 25 years, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign and independent state in a personal union with Denmark. The Government of Iceland established an embassy in Copenhagen and requested that Denmark carry out on its behalf certain defence and foreign affairs matters, subject to consultation with the Althing. Danish embassies around the world displayed two coats of arms and two flags: those of the Kingdom of Denmark and those of the Kingdom of Iceland. Iceland’s legal position became comparable to those of countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations such as Canada whose sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II.

During World War II, Iceland joined Denmark in asserting neutrality. After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, the Althing replaced the King with a regent and declared that the Icelandic government would take control of its own defence and foreign affairs.[40] A month later, British armed forces conducted Operation Fork, the invasion and occupation of the country, violating Icelandic neutrality.[41] In 1941, the Government of Iceland invited the United States to take over its defence so that Britain could use its troops elsewhere.[40][clarification needed]

1944–present: Republic of Iceland

British and Icelandic vessels collide in the Atlantic Ocean during the Cod Wars (Icelandic vessel is shown on the left; the British vessel is on the right)

On 31 December 1943, the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the personal union with Denmark, abolish the monarchy, and establish a republic. The vote was 97% to end the union, and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution.[42] Iceland formally became a republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as its first president.

In 1946, the US Defence Force Allied left Iceland. The nation formally became a member of NATO on 30 March 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots. On 5 May 1951, a defence agreement was signed with the United States. American troops returned to Iceland as the Iceland Defence Force, and remained throughout the Cold War. The US withdrew the last of its forces on 30 September 2006.

Iceland prospered during the Second World War. The immediate post-war period was followed by substantial economic growth, driven by industrialisation of the fishing industry and the US Marshall Plan programme, through which Icelanders received the most aid per capita of any European country (at US$209, with the war-ravaged Netherlands a distant second at US$109).[43][44]

The 1970s were marked by the Cod Wars—several disputes with the United Kingdom over Iceland’s extension of its fishing limits to 200 nmi (370 km) offshore. Iceland hosted a summit in Reykjavík in 1986 between United States President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, during which they took significant steps toward nuclear disarmament. A few years later, Iceland became the first country to recognise the independence of EstoniaLatvia, and Lithuania as they broke away from the USSR. Throughout the 1990s, the country expanded its international role and developed a foreign policy oriented toward humanitarian and peacekeeping causes. To that end, Iceland provided aid and expertise to various NATO-led interventions in BosniaKosovo, and Iraq.[45]

Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1994, after which the economy was greatly diversified and liberalised. International economic relations increased further after 2001, when Iceland’s newly deregulated banks began to raise massive amounts of external debt, contributing to a 32% increase in Iceland’s gross national income between 2002 and 2007.[46][47]

Economic boom and crisis

In 2003–2007, following the privatisation of the banking sector under the government of Davíð Oddsson, Iceland moved toward having an economy based on international investment banking and financial services.[48] It was quickly becoming one of the most prosperous countries in the world but was hit hard by a major financial crisis.[48] The crisis resulted in the greatest migration from Iceland since 1887, with a net emigration of 5,000 people in 2009.[49] Iceland’s economy stabilised under the government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, and grew by 1.6% in 2012.[50] The centre-right Independence Party was returned to power in coalition with the Progressive Party in the 2013 elections.[51] In the following years, Iceland saw a surge in tourism as the country became a popular holiday destination. In 2016, Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after being implicated in the Panama Papers scandal.[52] Early elections in 2016 resulted in a right-wing coalition government of the Independence Party, the Reform Party and Bright Future[53] This government fell when Bright Future quit the coalition due to a scandal involving then-Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson‘s father’s letter of support for a convicted paedophile.[54] Snap elections in October 2017 brought to power a new coalition consisting of the Independence Party, the Progressive Party and the Left-Green Movement, headed by Katrín Jakobsdóttir.[55]

Geography

General topographic map

Iceland is at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The main island is entirely south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small Icelandic island of Grímsey off the main island’s northern coast. The country lies between latitudes 63 and 68°N, and longitudes 25 and 13°W.

Iceland is closer to continental Europe than to mainland North America, although it is closest to Greenland (290 km, 180 mi), an island of North America. Iceland is generally included in Europe for geographical, historical, political, cultural, linguistic and practical reasons.[56][57][58][59] Geologically, the island includes parts of both continental plates. The closest bodies of land in Europe are the Faroe Islands (420 km, 260 mi); Jan Mayen Island (570 km, 350 mi); Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, both about 740 km (460 mi); and the Scottish mainland and Orkney, both about 750 km (470 mi). The nearest part of Continental Europe is mainland Norway, about 970 km (600 mi) away, while mainland North America is 2,070 km (1,290 mi) away, at the northern tip of Labrador.

Three typical Icelandic landscapes

Iceland is the world’s 18th largest island, and Europe’s second-largest island after Great Britain. (The island of Ireland is third.) The main island is 101,826 km2 (39,315 sq mi), but the entire country is 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi) in size, of which 62.7% is tundra. About 30 minor islands are in Iceland, including the lightly populated Grímsey and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Lakes and glaciers cover 14.3% of its surface; only 23% is vegetated.[60] The largest lakes are Þórisvatn reservoir: 83–88 km2 (32–34 sq mi) and Þingvallavatn: 82 km2 (32 sq mi); other important lakes include Lagarfljót and MývatnJökulsárlón is the deepest lake, at 248 m (814 ft).[61]

Geologically, Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a ridge along which the oceanic crust spreads and forms new oceanic crust. This part of the mid-ocean ridge is located above a mantle plume, causing Iceland to be subaerial (above the surface of the sea). The ridge marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plates, and Iceland was created by rifting and accretion through volcanism along the ridge.[62]

Many fjords punctuate Iceland’s 4,970-km-long (3,088-mi) coastline, which is also where most settlements are situated. The island’s interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand, mountains, and lava fields. The major towns are the capital city of Reykjavík, along with its outlying towns of KópavogurHafnarfjörður, and Garðabær, nearby Reykjanesbær where the international airport is located, and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland, whereas Kolbeinsey contains the northernmost point of Iceland.[63] Iceland has three national parksVatnajökull National ParkSnæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park.[64] The country is considered a “strong performer” in environmental protection, having been ranked 13th in Yale University‘s Environmental Performance Index of 2012.[65]

Geology

The erupting Geysir in Haukadalur valley, the oldest known geyser in the world

Gullfoss, an iconic waterfall of Iceland

Black sand beach with view towards Dyrhólaey

A geologically young land, Iceland is the surface expression of the Iceland Plateau, a large igneous province forming as a result of volcanism from the Iceland hotspot and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the latter of which runs right through it.[66] This means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes including HeklaEldgjáHerðubreið, and Eldfell.[67] The volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783–1784 caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the island’s population.[68] In addition, the eruption caused dust clouds and haze to appear over most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa for several months afterward, and affected climates in other areas.[69]

Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived, and the famous Strokkur, which erupts every 8–10 minutes. After a phase of inactivity, Geysir started erupting again after a series of earthquakes in 2000. Geysir has since grown quieter and does not erupt often.[70]

With the widespread availability of geothermal power, and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating, and electricity. The island is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism as has occurred also in Hawaii. Iceland, however, has a variety of volcanic types (composite and fissure), many producing more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite. Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes with about 30 active volcanic systems.[71]

Surtsey, one of the youngest islands in the world, is part of Iceland. Named after Surtr, it rose above the ocean in a series of volcanic eruptions between 8 November 1963 and 5 June 1968.[63] Only scientists researching the growth of new life are allowed to visit the island.[72]

On 21 March 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted for the first time since 1821, forcing 600 people to flee their homes.[73] Additional eruptions on 14 April forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes.[74] The resultant cloud of volcanic ash brought major disruption to air travel across Europe.[75]

High-field overview of area around Reykir

Another large eruption occurred on 21 May 2011. This time it was the Grímsvötn volcano, located under the thick ice of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Grímsvötn is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, and this eruption was much more powerful than the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull activity, with ash and lava hurled 20 km (12 mi) into the atmosphere, creating a large cloud.[76]

The highest elevation for Iceland is listed as 2,110 m (6,923 ft) at Hvannadalshnúkur (64°00′N 16°39′W).

Climate

Eyjafjallajökull glacier, one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland

The climate of Iceland’s coast is subarctic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Regions in the world with similar climates include the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and Tierra del Fuego, although these regions are closer to the equator. Despite its proximity to the Arctic, the island’s coasts remain ice-free through the winter. Ice incursions are rare, the last having occurred on the north coast in 1969.[77]

The climate varies between different parts of the island. Generally speaking, the south coast is warmer, wetter, and windier than the north. The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. Low-lying inland areas in the north are the most arid. Snowfall in winter is more common in the north than the south.

The highest air temperature recorded was 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) on 22 June 1939 at Teigarhorn on the southeastern coast. The lowest was −38 °C (−36.4 °F) on 22 January 1918 at Grímsstaðir and Möðrudalur in the northeastern hinterland. The temperature records for Reykjavík are 26.2 °C (79.2 °F) on 30 July 2008, and −24.5 °C (−12.1 °F) on 21 January 1918.

hideClimate data for Reykjavík, Iceland (1961–1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 1.9
(35.4)
2.8
(37.0)
3.2
(37.8)
5.7
(42.3)
9.4
(48.9)
11.7
(53.1)
13.3
(55.9)
13.0
(55.4)
10.1
(50.2)
6.8
(44.2)
3.4
(38.1)
2.2
(36.0)
7.0
(44.6)
Average low °C (°F) −3.0
(26.6)
−2.1
(28.2)
−2.0
(28.4)
0.4
(32.7)
3.6
(38.5)
6.7
(44.1)
8.3
(46.9)
7.9
(46.2)
5.0
(41.0)
2.2
(36.0)
−1.3
(29.7)
−2.8
(27.0)
1.9
(35.4)
Source #1: Icelandic Meteorological Office[78]
Source #2: All Icelandic weather station climatic monthly means[79]
hideClimate data for Akureyri, Iceland (1961–1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 0.9
(33.6)
1.7
(35.1)
2.1
(35.8)
5.4
(41.7)
9.5
(49.1)
13.2
(55.8)
14.5
(58.1)
13.9
(57.0)
9.9
(49.8)
5.9
(42.6)
2.6
(36.7)
1.3
(34.3)
6.7
(44.1)
Average low °C (°F) −5.5
(22.1)
−4.7
(23.5)
−4.2
(24.4)
−1.5
(29.3)
2.3
(36.1)
6.0
(42.8)
7.5
(45.5)
7.1
(44.8)
3.5
(38.3)
0.4
(32.7)
−3.5
(25.7)
−5.1
(22.8)
0.2
(32.4)
Source #1: Icelandic Meteorological Office[78]
Source #2: All Icelandic weather station climatic monthly means[79]

Plants

Phytogeographically, Iceland belongs to the Arctic province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. Around three-quarters of the island is barren of vegetation; plant life consists mainly of grassland, which is regularly grazed by livestock. The most common tree native to Iceland is the northern birch (Betula pubescens), which formerly formed forests over much of Iceland, along with aspens (Populus tremula), rowans (Sorbus aucuparia), common junipers (Juniperus communis), and other smaller trees, mainly willows.

When the island was first settled, it was extensively forested, with 30% of the land covered in trees. In the late 12th century, Ari the Wise described it in the Íslendingabók as “forested from mountain to sea shore”.[80] Permanent human settlement greatly disturbed the isolated ecosystem of thin, volcanic soils and limited species diversity. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber.[81] Deforestation, climatic deterioration during the Little Ice Age, and overgrazing by sheep imported by settlers caused a loss of critical topsoil due to erosion. Today, many farms have been abandoned. Three-quarters of Iceland’s 100,000 square kilometres is affected by soil erosion, 18,000 km2 (6,900 sq mi) serious enough to make the land useless.[80] Only a few small birch stands now exist in isolated reserves. The planting of new forests has increased the number of trees, but the result does not compare to the original forests. Some of the planted forests include introduced species.[81] The tallest tree in Iceland is a sitka spruce planted in 1949 in Kirkjubæjarklaustur; it was measured at 25.2 m (83 ft) in 2013.[82]

Animals

The Arctic fox is the only indigenous land mammal in Iceland and was the only land mammal prior to the arrival of humans

The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the Arctic fox,[81] which came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. On rare occasions, bats have been carried to the island with the winds, but they are not able to breed there. Polar bears occasionally come over from Greenland, but they are just visitors, and no Icelandic populations exist.[83] No native or free-living reptiles or amphibians are on the island.[84]

The animals of Iceland include the Icelandic sheepcattlechickensgoats, the sturdy Icelandic horse, and the Icelandic Sheepdog, all descendants of animals imported by Europeans. Wild mammals include the Arctic fox, mink, mice, rats, rabbits, and reindeer. Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling on icebergs from Greenland. In June 2008, two polar bears arrived in the same month.[85] Marine mammals include the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and harbor seal (Phoca vitulina).

Many species of fish live in the ocean waters surrounding Iceland, and the fishing industry is a major part of Iceland’s economy, accounting for roughly half of the country’s total exports. Birds, especially seabirds, are an important part of Iceland’s animal life. Puffinsskuas, and kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs.[86]

Commercial whaling is practised intermittently[87][88] along with scientific whale hunts.[89] Whale watching has become an important part of Iceland’s economy since 1997.[90]

Around 1,300 species of insects are known in Iceland. This is low compared with other countries (over one million species have been described worldwide). Iceland is essentially free of mosquitoes.[91]

Politics

The political system of Iceland

Iceland has a left–right multi-party system. Following the 2017 parliamentary election, the biggest parties are the centre-right Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn), the Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) and the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn). These three parties form the current ruling coalition in the cabinet led by leftist Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Other political parties with seats in the Althing (Parliament) are the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), the Centre Party (Miðflokkurinn), Iceland’s Pirates, the People’s Party (Flokkur fólksins), and the Reform Party (Viðreisn).

Iceland was the first country in the world to have a political party formed and led entirely by women.[92] Known as the Women’s List or Women’s Alliance (Kvennalistinn), it was founded in 1983 to advance the political, economic, and social needs of women. After participating in its first parliamentary elections, the Women’s List helped increase the proportion of female parliamentarians by 15%.[93] It disbanded in 1999, formally merging the next year with the Social Democratic Alliance, although about half of its members joined the Left-Green Movement instead. It did leave a lasting influence on Iceland’s politics: every major party has a 40% quota for women, and in 2009 nearly a third of members of parliament were female, compared to the global average of 16%.[94] Following the 2016 elections, 48% of members of parliament are female.[95]

In 2016 Iceland was ranked 2nd in the strength of its democratic institutions[96] and 13th in government transparency.[97] The country has a high level of civic participation, with 81.4% voter turnout during the most recent elections,[98] compared to an OECD average of 72%. However, only 50% of Icelanders say they trust their political institutions, slightly less than the OECD average of 56% (and most probably a consequence of the political scandals in the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis).[99]

Government

A 19th-century depiction of the Alþingi of the Commonwealth in session at Þingvellir

Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. The modern parliament, Alþingi (English: Althing), was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish monarch. It was widely seen as a re-establishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and yet temporarily suspended from 1799 to 1845. Consequently, “it is arguably the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy.”[100] It currently has 63 members, elected for a maximum period of four years.[101]

The head of government is the prime minister who, together with the cabinet, is responsible for executive government.

The president, in contrast, is elected by popular vote for a term of four years with no term limit. The elections for president, the Althing, and local municipal councils are all held separately every four years.[102] The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial head of state and serves as a diplomat, but may veto laws voted by the parliament and put them to a national referendum.[103] The current president is Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.

The cabinet is appointed by the president after a general election to the Althing; however, the appointment is usually negotiated by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how to distribute its seats, under the condition that it has a majority support in the Althing. Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves within a reasonable time span does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet personally. This has not happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 regent Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941, appointed a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn would later become the country’s first president in 1944.

The governments of Iceland have always been coalition governments, with two or more parties involved, as no single political party has ever received a majority of seats in the Althing throughout the republican period. The extent of the political power possessed by the office of the president is disputed by legal scholars[which?], in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers, but other provisions and traditions suggest differently.[citation needed] In 1980, Icelanders elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as president, the world’s first directly elected female head of state. She retired from office in 1996. In 2009, Iceland became the first country with an openly gay head of government when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became prime minister.[104]

Administrative divisions

Iceland is divided into regions, constituencies and municipalities. The eight regions are primarily used for statistical purposes. District court jurisdictions also use an older version of this division.[63] Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliamentary elections were the same as the regions, but by an amendment to the constitution, they were changed to the current six constituencies:

The redistricting change was made to balance the weight of different districts of the country, since previously a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the Reykjavík city area. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system, but still exists.[63]

74 municipalities in Iceland govern local matters like schools, transport, and zoning.[105] These are the actual second-level subdivisions of Iceland, as the constituencies have no relevance except in elections and for statistical purposes. Reykjavík is by far the most populous municipality, about four times more populous than Kópavogur, the second one.[63]

Foreign relations

Nordic prime ministers and the president of Finland visiting the White House in 2016, with Iceland’s Sigurður second from the left.

Iceland, which is a member of the UNNATOEFTACouncil of Europe and OECD, maintains diplomatic and commercial relations with practically all nations, but its ties with the Nordic countries, Germany, the United States, Canada and the other NATO nations are particularly close. Historically, due to cultural, economic and linguistic similarities, Iceland is a Nordic country, and it participates in intergovernmental cooperation through the Nordic Council.

Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows the country access to the single market of the European Union (EU). It was not a member of the EU, but in July 2009 the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, voted in favour of application for EU membership[106] and officially applied on 17 July 2009.[107] However, in 2013, opinion polls showed that many Icelanders were now against joining the EU; following 2013 elections the two parties that formed the island’s new government—the centrist Progressive Party and the right-wing Independence Party—announced they would hold a referendum on EU membership.[108][109]

Military

Iceland has no standing army, but the Icelandic Coast Guard which also maintains the Iceland Air Defence System, and an Iceland Crisis Response Unit to support peacekeeping missions and perform paramilitary functions.

The Iceland Defense Force (IDF) was a military command of the United States Armed Forces from 1951 to 2006. The IDF, created at the request of NATO, came into existence when the United States signed an agreement to provide for the defense of Iceland. The IDF also consisted of civilian Icelanders and military members of other NATO nations. The IDF was downsized after the end of the Cold War and the U.S. Air Force maintained four to six interceptor aircraft at the Naval Air Station Keflavik, until they were withdrawn on 30 September 2006. Since May 2008, NATO nations have periodically deployed fighters to patrol Icelandic airspace under the Icelandic Air Policing mission.[110][111] Iceland supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite much domestic controversy, deploying a Coast Guard EOD team to Iraq,[112] which was replaced later by members of the Iceland Crisis Response Unit. Iceland has also participated in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Despite the ongoing financial crisis the first new patrol ship in decades was launched on 29 April 2009.[113]

Iceland was the neutral host of the historic 1986 Reagan–Gorbachev summit in Reykjavík, which set the stage for the end of the Cold War. Iceland’s principal historical international disputes involved disagreements over fishing rights.[citation needed] Conflict with the United Kingdom led to a series of so-called Cod Wars, which included confrontations between the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Royal Navy over British fishermen, in 1952–1956 due to the extension of Iceland’s fishing zone from 3 to 4 nmi (5.6 to 7.4 km; 3.5 to 4.6 mi), 1958–1961 following a further extension to 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi), 1972–1973 with another extension to 50 nmi (92.6 km; 57.5 mi); and in 1975–1976 another extension to 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi).[citation needed]

According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world, due to its lack of armed forces, low crime rate, and high level of socio-political stability.[114] Iceland is listed in the Guinness World Records book as the “country ranked most at peace” and the “lowest military spending per capita”.[115]

Economy

Akureyri is the largest town in Iceland outside the Capital Region. Most rural towns are based on the fishing industry, which provides 40% of Iceland’s exports

In 2007, Iceland was the seventh most productive country in the world per capita (US$54,858), and the fifth most productive by GDP at purchasing power parity ($40,112). About 85 percent of total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources.[116] Use of abundant hydroelectric and geothermal power has made Iceland the world’s largest electricity producer per capita.[117] As a result of its commitment to renewable energy, the 2016 Global Green Economy Index ranked Iceland among the top 10 greenest economies in the world.[118] Historically, Iceland’s economy depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings and employs 7% of the work force.[63] The economy is vulnerable to declining fish stocks and drops in world prices for its main material exports: fish and fish products, aluminium, and ferrosiliconWhaling in Iceland has been historically significant. Iceland still relies heavily on fishing, but its importance is diminishing from an export share of 90% in the 1960s to 40% in 2006.[119]

Until the 20th century, Iceland was a fairly poor country. Currently, it remains one of the most developed countries in the world. Strong economic growth had led Iceland to be ranked first in the United Nations‘ Human Development Index report for 2007/2008,[6] although in 2011 its HDI rating had fallen to 14th place as a result of the economic crisis. Nevertheless, according to the Economist Intelligence Index of 2011, Iceland has the 2nd highest quality of life in the world.[120] Based on the Gini coefficient, Iceland also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality in the world,[121] and when adjusted for inequality, its HDI ranking is 6th.[122] Iceland’s unemployment rate has declined consistently since the crisis, with 4.8% of the labour force being unemployed as of June 2012, compared to 6% in 2011 and 8.1% in 2010.[63][123][124]

Many political parties remain opposed to EU membership, primarily due to Icelanders’ concern about losing control over their natural resources (particularly fisheries).[125] The national currency of Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Iceland is the only country in the world to have a population under two million yet still have a floating exchange rate and an independent monetary policy.[126]

A poll released on 5 March 2010 by Capacent Gallup showed that 31% of respondents were in favour of adopting the euro and 69% opposed.[127] Another Capacent Gallup poll conducted in February 2012 found that 67.4% of Icelanders would reject EU membership in a referendum.[128]

Graphical depiction of Iceland’s product exports in 28 colour-coded categories

Iceland’s economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, including software production, biotechnology, and finance; industry accounts for around a quarter of economic activity, while services comprise close to 70%.[129] The tourism sector is expanding, especially in ecotourism and whale-watching. On average, Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually, which is more than three times the native population.[99] 1.7 million people visited Iceland in 2016, 3 times more than the number that came in 2010.[130] Iceland’s agriculture industry, accounting for 5.4% of GDP,[63] consists mainly of potatoes, green vegetables (in greenhouses), mutton and dairy products.[63] The financial centre is Borgartún in Reykjavík, which hosts a large number of companies and three investment banks. Iceland’s stock market, the Iceland Stock Exchange (ISE), was established in 1985.[131]

Iceland is ranked 27th in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, lower than in prior years but still among the freest in the world.[132] As of 2016, it ranks 29th in the World Economic Forum‘s Global Competitive Index, one place lower than in 2015.[133] According to INSEAD‘s Global Innovation Index, Iceland is the 11th most innovative country in the world.[134] Unlike most Western European countries, Iceland has a flat tax system: the main personal income tax rate is a flat 22.75%, and combined with municipal taxes, the total tax rate equals no more than 35.7%, not including the many deductions that are available.[135] The corporate tax rate is a flat 18%, one of the lowest in the world.[135] There is also a value added tax, whereas a net wealth tax was eliminated in 2006. Employment regulations are relatively flexible and the labour market is one of the freest in the world. Property rights are strong and Iceland is one of the few countries where they are applied to fishery management.[135] Like other welfare states, taxpayers pay various subsidies to each other, but with spending being less than in most European countries.

Despite low tax rates, agricultural assistance is the highest among OECD countries and a potential impediment to structural change. Also, health care and education spending have relatively poor returns by OECD measures, though improvements have been made in both areas. The OECD Economic Survey of Iceland 2008 had highlighted Iceland’s challenges in currency and macroeconomic policy.[136] There was a currency crisis that started in the spring of 2008, and on 6 October trading in Iceland’s banks was suspended as the government battled to save the economy.[137] An assessment by the OECD 2011[138] determined that Iceland has made progress in many areas, particularly in creating a sustainable fiscal policy and restoring the health of the financial sector; however, challenges remain in making the fishing industry more efficient and sustainable, as well as in improving monetary policy to address inflation.[139] Iceland’s public debt has decreased since the economic crisis, and as of 2015 is the 31st highest in the world by proportion of national GDP.[140]

Economic contraction

Iceland had been hit especially hard by the Great Recession that began in December 2007, because of the failure of its banking system and a subsequent economic crisis. Before the crash of the country’s three largest banks, GlitnirLandsbanki and Kaupthing, their combined debt exceeded approximately six times the nation’s gross domestic product of €14 billion ($19 billion).[141][142] In October 2008, the Icelandic parliament passed emergency legislation to minimise the impact of the financial crisis. The Financial Supervisory Authority of Iceland used permission granted by the emergency legislation to take over the domestic operations of the three largest banks.[143] Icelandic officials, including central bank governor Davíð Oddsson, stated that the state did not intend to take over any of the banks’ foreign debts or assets. Instead, new banks were established to take on the domestic operations of the banks, and the old banks will be run into bankruptcy.

On 28 October 2008, the Icelandic government raised interest rates to 18% (as of August 2019, it was 3.5%), a move forced in part by the terms of acquiring a loan from International Monetary Fund (IMF). After the rate hike, trading on the Icelandic króna finally resumed on the open market, with valuation at around 250 ISK per euro, less than one-third the value of the 1:70 exchange rate during most of 2008, and a significant drop from the 1:150 exchange ratio of the week before. On 20 November 2008, the Nordic countries agreed to lend Iceland $2.5 billion.[144]

On 26 January 2009, the coalition government collapsed due to the public dissent over the handling of the financial crisis. A new left-wing government was formed a week later and immediately set about removing Central Bank governor Davíð Oddsson and his aides from the bank through changes in law. Davíð was removed on 26 February 2009 in the wake of protests outside the Central Bank.[145]

Thousands of Icelanders have moved from the country after the collapse, and many of those moved to Norway. In 2005, 293 people moved from Iceland to Norway; in 2009, the figure was 1,625.[146] In April 2010, the Icelandic Parliament’s Special Investigation Commission published the findings of its investigation,[147] revealing the extent of control fraud in this crisis.[148] By June 2012, Landsbanki managed to repay about half of the Icesave debt.[149]

According to Bloomberg, Iceland is on the trajectory of 2% unemployment as a result of crisis-management decisions made back in 2008, including allowing the banks to fail.[150]

Transport

The Ring Road of Iceland and some towns it passes through: 1. Reykjavík, 2. Borgarnes, 3. Blönduós, 4. Akureyri, 5. Egilsstaðir, 6. Höfn, 7. Selfoss

Iceland has a high level of car ownership per capita; with a car for every 1.5 inhabitants; it is the main form of transport.[151] Iceland has 13,034 km (8,099 mi) of administered roads, of which 4,617 km (2,869 mi) are paved and 8,338 km (5,181 mi) are not. A great number of roads remain unpaved, mostly little-used rural roads. The road speed limits are 30 km/h (19 mph) and 50 km/h (31 mph) in towns, 80 km/h (50 mph) on gravel country roads and 90 km/h (56 mph) on hard-surfaced roads.[152]

Route 1, or the Ring Road (Icelandic: Þjóðvegur 1 or Hringvegur), was completed in 1974, and is a main road that runs around Iceland and connects all the inhabited parts of the island, with the interior of the island being uninhabited. This paved road is 1,332 km (828 mi)[153] long with one lane in each direction, except near larger towns and cities and in the Hvalfjörður Tunnel where it has more lanes. Many bridges on it, especially in the north and east, are single lane and made of timber and/or steel.

Keflavík International Airport (KEF)[154] is the largest airport and the main aviation hub for international passenger transport. It serves several international and domestic airline companies.[155] KEF is in the vicinity of the larger metropolitan capital areas, 49 km (30 mi)[156] to the WSW of Reykjavík center, and public bus services are available.[157]

Iceland has no passenger railways.

Reykjavík Airport (RKV)[158] is the second largest airport located just 1,5 km from the capital centre. RKV serves general aviation traffic and has daily- or regular domestic flights to 12 local townships within Iceland.[159] RKV also serves international flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, business and private airplanes along with aviation training.

Akureyri Airport (AEY)[160] and Egilsstaðir Airport (EGS)[161] are two other domestic airports with limited international service capacity. There are a total of 103 registered airports and airfields in Iceland; most of them are unpaved and located in rural areas. The second longest runway is at Geitamelur, a four-runway glider field around 100 km (62 mi) east of Reykjavík.

Six main ferry services provide regular access to various outpost communities or shorten travel distances.[162][circular reference]

Energy

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station services the Capital Region‘s hot water and electricity needs. Virtually all of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable resources.[163]

Renewable sourcesgeothermal and hydropower—provide effectively all of Iceland’s electricity[163] and around 85% of the nation’s total primary energy consumption,[164] with most of the remainder consisting of imported oil products used in transportation and in the fishing fleet.[165][166] Iceland expects to be energy-independent by 2050. Iceland’s largest geothermal power plants are Hellisheiði and Nesjavellir,[167][168] while Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant is the country’s largest hydroelectric power station.[169] When the Kárahnjúkavirkjun started operating, Iceland became the world’s largest electricity producer per capita.[170] Iceland is one of the few countries that have filling stations dispensing hydrogen fuel for cars powered by fuel cells. It is also one of a few countries currently capable of producing hydrogen in adequate quantities at a reasonable cost, because of Iceland’s plentiful renewable sources of energy.

Despite this, Icelanders emitted 16.9 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2016, the highest in the EU and EFTA, mainly resulting from transport and aluminium smelting.[171] Nevertheless, in 2010, Iceland was noted by Guinness World Records as “the Greenest Country”, reaching the highest score by the Environmental Sustainability Index, which measures a country’s water use, biodiversity and adoption of clean energies, with a score of 93.5/100.[172]

On 22 January 2009, Iceland announced its first round of offshore licences for companies wanting to conduct hydrocarbon exploration and production in a region northeast of Iceland, known as the Dreki area.[173] Three exploration licenses were awarded but all were subsequently relinquished.[174]

As of 2012, the government of Iceland was in talks with the government of the United Kingdom about the possibility of constructing Icelink, a high-voltage direct-current connector for transmission of electricity between the two countries.[175] Such a cable would give Iceland access to a market where electricity prices have generally been much higher than those in Iceland.[176] Iceland has considerable renewable energy resources, especially geothermal energy and hydropower resources,[177] and most of the potential has not been developed, partly because there is not enough demand for additional electricity generation capacity from the residents and industry of Iceland; the United Kingdom is interested in importing inexpensive electricity from renewable sources of energy, and this could lead to further development of the energy resources.

Education and science

Reykjavík Junior College (Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík), located in downtown Reykjavík, is the oldest gymnasium in Iceland

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for the policies and methods that schools must use, and they issue the National Curriculum Guidelines. However, playschools, primary schools, and lower secondary schools are funded and administered by the municipalities. The government does allow citizens to home educate their children, however under a very strict set of demands.[178] Students must adhere closely to the government mandated curriculum, and the parent teaching must acquire a government approved teaching certificate.

Nursery school, or leikskóli, is non-compulsory education for children younger than six years, and is the first step in the education system. The current legislation concerning playschools was passed in 1994. They are also responsible for ensuring that the curriculum is suitable so as to make the transition into compulsory education as easy as possible.

Compulsory education, or grunnskóli, comprises primary and lower secondary education, which often is conducted at the same institution. Education is mandatory by law for children aged from 6 to 16 years. The school year lasts nine months, beginning between 21 August and 1 September, ending between 31 May and 10 June. The minimum number of school days was once 170, but after a new teachers’ wage contract, it increased to 180. Lessons take place five days a week. All public schools have mandatory education in Christianity, although an exemption may be considered by the Minister of Education.[179]

Upper secondary education, or framhaldsskóli, follows lower secondary education. These schools are also known as gymnasia in English. Though not compulsory, everyone who has had a compulsory education has the right to upper secondary education. This stage of education is governed by the Upper Secondary School Act of 1996. All schools in Iceland are mixed sex schools. The largest seat of higher education is the University of Iceland, which has its main campus in central Reykjavík. Other schools offering university-level instruction include Reykjavík UniversityUniversity of AkureyriAgricultural University of Iceland and Bifröst University.

An OECD assessment found 64% of Icelanders aged 25–64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, which is lower than the OECD average of 73%. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, only 69% have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, significantly lower than the OECD average of 80%.[99] Nevertheless, Iceland’s education system is considered excellent: the Programme for International Student Assessment currently ranks it as the 16th best performing, above the OECD average.[180] Students were particularly proficient in reading and mathematics.

According to a 2013 Eurostat report by the European Commission, Iceland spends around 3.11% of its GDP on scientific research and development (R&D), over 1 percentage point higher than the EU average of 2.03%, and has set a target of 4% to reach by 2020.[181] A 2010 UNESCO report found that out of 72 countries that spend the most on R&D (100 million US dollars or more), Iceland ranked 9th by proportion of GDP, tied with Taiwan, Switzerland, and Germany and ahead of France, the UK, and Canada.[182]

Demographics

Reykjavík, Iceland’s largest metropolitan area and the centre of the Capital Region which, with a population of 212,385, makes for 63% of Iceland’s population. (numbers from 2016)

The original population of Iceland was of Nordic and Gaelic origin. This is evident from literary evidence dating from the settlement period as well as from later scientific studies such as blood type and genetic analyses. One such genetic study indicated that the majority of the male settlers were of Nordic origin while the majority of the women were of Gaelic origin, meaning many settlers of Iceland were Norsemen who brought Gaelic slaves with them.[183]

Iceland has extensive genealogical records dating back to the late 17th century and fragmentary records extending back to the Age of Settlement. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics has funded the creation of a genealogy database that is intended to cover all of Iceland’s known inhabitants. It views the database, called Íslendingabók, as a valuable tool for conducting research on genetic diseases, given the relative isolation of Iceland’s population.

The population of the island is believed to have varied from 40,000 to 60,000 in the period ranging from initial settlement until the mid-19th century. During that time, cold winters, ash fall from volcanic eruptions, and bubonic plagues adversely affected the population several times.[10] There were 37 famine years in Iceland between 1500 and 1804.[184] The first census was carried out in 1703 and revealed that the population was then 50,358. After the destructive volcanic eruptions of the Laki volcano during 1783–1784, the population reached a low of about 40,000.[185] Improving living conditions have triggered a rapid increase in population since the mid-19th century—from about 60,000 in 1850 to 320,000 in 2008. Iceland has a relatively young population for a developed country, with one out of five people being 14 years old or younger. With a fertility rate of 2.1, Iceland is one of only a few European countries with a birth rate sufficient for long-term population growth (see table below).[186][187]

Population projection
(1 January)[188]
Year Low Medium High
2014 325,671
2015 332,529
2020 340,418 342,716 346,279
2025 352,280 357,894 365,893
2030 361,853 371,796 385,405
2035 369,888 384,397 404,053
2040 376,580 395,866 422,047
2045 381,846 406,271 439,756
2050 385,536 415,627 457,317
2055 387,489 423,790 474,561
2060 387,597 430,545 490,976

In December 2007, 33,678 people (13.5% of the total population) living in Iceland had been born abroad, including children of Icelandic parents living abroad. Around 19,000 people (6% of the population) held foreign citizenship. Polish people make up the largest minority group by a considerable margin, and still form the bulk of the foreign workforce. About 8,000 Poles now live in Iceland, 1,500 of them in Fjarðabyggð where they make up 75% of the workforce who are constructing the Fjarðarál aluminium plant.[189] Large-scale construction projects in the east of Iceland (see Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant) have also brought in many people whose stay is expected to be temporary. Many Polish immigrants were also considering leaving in 2008 as a result of the Icelandic financial crisis.[190]

The southwest corner of Iceland is the most densely populated region. It is also the location of the capital Reykjavík, the northernmost national capital in the world. The largest towns outside the Greater Reykjavík area are Akureyri and Reykjanesbær, although the latter is relatively close to the capital.

Some 500 Icelanders under the leadership of Erik the Red settled Greenland in the late 10th century.[191] The total population reached a high point of perhaps 5,000 and developed independent institutions before disappearing by 1500.[192] People from Greenland attempted to set up a settlement at Vinland in North America, but abandoned it in the face of hostility from the indigenous residents.[193]

Emigration of Icelanders to the United States and Canada began in the 1870s. As of 2006, Canada had over 88,000 people of Icelandic descent,[194] while there are more than 40,000 Americans of Icelandic descent, according to the 2000 US census.[195]

Urbanisation

Iceland’s 10 most populous urban areas:

Largest cities or towns in Iceland

Rank Name Region Pop.
Reykjavík
Reykjavík
Kópavogur
Kópavogur
1 Reykjavík Capital Region 128,793 Hafnarfjörður
Hafnarfjörður
Reykjanesbær
Reykjanesbær
2 Kópavogur Capital Region 36,975
3 Hafnarfjörður Capital Region 29,799
4 Reykjanesbær Southern Peninsula 18,920
5 Akureyri Northeastern Region 18,925
6 Garðabær Capital Region 16,299
7 Mosfellsbær Capital Region 11,463
8 Árborg Southern Region 9,485
9 Akranes Western Region 7,411
10 Fjarðabyggð Eastern Region 5,070

Language

Iceland’s official written and spoken language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. In grammar and vocabulary, it has changed less from Old Norse than the other Nordic languages; Icelandic has preserved more verb and noun inflection, and has to a considerable extent developed new vocabulary based on native roots rather than borrowings from other languages. The puristic tendency in the development of Icelandic vocabulary is to a large degree a result of conscious language planning, in addition to centuries of isolation. Icelandic is the only living language to retain the use of the runic letter Þ in Latin script. The closest living relative of the Icelandic language is Faroese.

Icelandic Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2011. In education, its use for Iceland’s deaf community is regulated by the National Curriculum Guide.

English and Danish are compulsory subjects in the school curriculum. English is widely understood and spoken, while basic to moderate knowledge of Danish is common mainly among the older generations.[196] Polish is mostly spoken by the local Polish community (the largest minority of Iceland), and Danish is mostly spoken in a way largely comprehensible to Swedes and Norwegians—it is often referred to as skandinavíska (i. e. Scandinavian) in Iceland.[197]

Rather than using family names, as is the usual custom in most Western nations, Icelanders carry patronymic or matronymic surnames, patronyms being far more commonly practiced. Patronymic last names are based on the first name of the father, while matronymic names are based on the first name of the mother. These follow the person’s given name, e.g. Elísabet Jónsdóttir (“Elísabet, Jón’s daughter” (Jón, being the father)) or Ólafur Katrínarson (“Ólafur, Katrín’s son” (Katrín being the mother)).[198] Consequently, Icelanders refer to one another by their given name, and the Icelandic telephone directory is listed alphabetically by first name rather than by surname.[199] All new names must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.

Health

Iceland has a universal health care system that is administered by its Ministry of Welfare (IcelandicVelferðarráðuneytið)[200] and paid for mostly by taxes (85%) and to a lesser extent by service fees (15%). Unlike most countries, there are no private hospitals, and private insurance is practically nonexistent.[201]

A considerable portion of the government budget is assigned to health care,[201] and Iceland ranks 11th in health care expenditures as a percentage of GDP[202] and 14th in spending per capita.[203] Overall, the country’s health care system is one of the best performing in the world, ranked 15th by the World Health Organization.[204] According to an OECD report, Iceland devotes far more resources to healthcare than most industrialised nations. As of 2009, Iceland had 3.7 doctors per 1,000 people (compared with an average of 3.1 in OECD countries) and 15.3 nurses per 1,000 people (compared with an OECD average of 8.4).[205]

Icelanders are among the world’s healthiest people, with 81% reporting they are in good health, according to an OECD survey.[99] Although it is a growing problem, obesity is not as prevalent as in other developed countries.[205] Iceland has many campaigns for health and wellbeing, including the famous television show Lazytown, starring and created by former gymnastics champion Magnus SchevingInfant mortality is one of the lowest in the world,[206] and the proportion of the population that smokes is lower than the OECD average.[205] Almost all women choose to terminate pregnancies of children with Down syndrome in Iceland.[207] The average life expectancy is 81.8 (compared to an OECD average of 79.5), the 4th highest in the world.[208]

Iceland has a very low level of pollution, thanks to an overwhelming reliance on cleaner geothermal energy, a low population density, and a high level of environmental consciousness among citizens.[209] According to an OECD assessment, the amount of toxic materials in the atmosphere is far lower than in any other industrialised country measured.[210]

Religion

Affiliation by religious movement (1 January 2018)[211]
Affiliation % of population
Christianity 78.78
Church of Iceland 67.22
Other Lutheran churches 5.70
Roman Catholic Church 3.85
Eastern Orthodox Church 0.29
Other Christian denominations 1.72
Other religion or association 14.52
Germanic Heathenism 1.19
Humanist association 0.67
Zuism 0.55
Buddhism 0.42
Islam 0.30
Bahá’í Faith 0.10
Other and not specified 11.29
Unaffiliated 6.69

A church in the northwest of Iceland

Icelanders have freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution, although the Church of Iceland, a Lutheran body, is the state church:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.

— Article 62, Section IV of Constitution of Iceland[212]

The Registers Iceland keeps account of the religious affiliation of every Icelandic citizen. In 2017, Icelanders were divided into religious groups as follows:

Iceland is a very secular country; as with other Nordic nations, church attendance is relatively low.[213][214] The above statistics represent administrative membership of religious organisations, which does not necessarily reflect the belief demographics of the population. According to a study published in 2001, 23% of the inhabitants were either atheist or agnostic.[215] A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Icelanders considered themselves “religious”, 31% considered themselves “non-religious”, while 10% defined themselves as “convinced atheists”, placing Iceland among the ten countries with the highest proportions of atheists in the world.[216] Icelanders registered in the state church, the Church of Iceland, is declining at a rate of more than 1% per year.

Culture

Icelandic culture has its roots in North Germanic traditions. Icelandic literature is popular, in particular the sagas and eddas that were written during the High and Late Middle Ages. Centuries of isolation have helped to insulate the country’s Nordic culture from external influence; a prominent example is the preservation of the Icelandic language, which remains the closest to Old Norse of all modern Nordic languages.[217]

In contrast to other Nordic countries, Icelanders place relatively great importance on independence and self-sufficiency; in a public opinion analysis conducted by the European Commission, over 85% of Icelanders believe independence is “very important,” compared to 47% of Norwegians, 49% of Danes, and an average of 53% for the EU25.[218] Icelanders also have a very strong work ethic, working some of the longest hours of any industrialised nation.[219]

According to a poll conducted by the OECD, 66% of Icelanders were satisfied with their lives, while 70% believed that their lives will be satisfying in the future. Similarly, 83% reported having more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones, compared to an OECD average of 72%, which makes Iceland one of the happiest countries in the OECD.[99] A more recent 2012 survey found that around three-quarters of respondents stated they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a global average of about 53%.[220]

Iceland is liberal with regard to LGBT rights issues. In 1996, the Icelandic parliament passed legislation to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples, conferring nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, parliament voted unanimously to grant same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in adoption, parenting and assisted insemination treatment. On 11 June 2010, the Icelandic parliament amended the marriage law, making it gender neutral and defining marriage as between two individuals, making Iceland one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriages. The law took effect on 27 June 2010.[221] The amendment to the law also means registered partnerships for same-sex couples are now no longer possible, and marriage is their only option—identical to the existing situation for opposite-sex couples.[221]

Icelanders are known for their deep sense of community: An OECD survey found that 98% believe they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, higher than in any other industrialised country. Similarly, only 6% reported “rarely” or “never” socialising with others.[99] This high level of social cohesion is attributed to the small size and homogeneity of the population, as well as to a long history of harsh survival in an isolated environment, which reinforced the importance of unity and cooperation.[222]

Egalitarianism is highly valued among the people of Iceland, with income inequality being among the lowest in the world.[121] The constitution explicitly prohibits the enactment of noble privileges, titles, and ranks.[223] Everyone is addressed by their first name. As in other Nordic countries, equality between the sexes is very high; Iceland is consistently ranked among the top three countries in the world for women to live in.[224][225][226]

Literature

In 2011, Reykjavík was designated a UNESCO City of Literature.[227]

A page of Njáls saga from Möðruvallabók. The sagas are a significant part of the Icelandic heritage

Iceland’s best-known classical works of literature are the Icelanders’ sagas, prose epics set in Iceland’s age of settlement. The most famous of these include Njáls saga, about an epic blood feud, and Grænlendinga saga and Eiríks saga, describing the discovery and settlement of Greenland and Vinland (modern Newfoundland). Egils sagaLaxdæla sagaGrettis sagaGísla saga and Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu are also notable and popular Icelanders’ sagas.

A translation of the Bible was published in the 16th century. Important compositions since the 15th to the 19th century include sacred verse, most famously the Passion Hymns of Hallgrímur Pétursson, and rímur, rhyming epic poems. Originating in the 14th century, rímur were popular into the 19th century, when the development of new literary forms was provoked by the influential, National-Romantic writer Jónas Hallgrímsson. In recent times, Iceland has produced many great writers, the best-known of whom is arguably Halldór Laxness, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955 (the only Icelander to win a Nobel Prize thus far). Steinn Steinarr was an influential modernist poet during the early 20th century who remains popular.

Icelanders are avid consumers of literature, with the highest number of bookstores per capita in the world. For its size, Iceland imports and translates more international literature than any other nation.[223] Iceland also has the highest per capita publication of books and magazines,[228] and around 10% of the population will publish a book in their lifetimes.[229]

Most books in Iceland are sold between late September to early November. This time period is known as Jolabokaflod, the Christmas Book Flood.[227] The Flood begins with the Iceland Publisher’s Association distributing Bokatidindi, a catalog of all new publications, free to each Icelandic home.[227]

Art

The distinctive rendition of the Icelandic landscape by its painters can be linked to nationalism and the movement for home rule and independence, which was very active in the mid-19th century.

Contemporary Icelandic painting is typically traced to the work of Þórarinn Þorláksson, who, following formal training in art in the 1890s in Copenhagen, returned to Iceland to paint and exhibit works from 1900 to his death in 1924, almost exclusively portraying the Icelandic landscape. Several other Icelandic men and women artists studied at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at that time, including Ásgrímur Jónsson, who together with Þórarinn created a distinctive portrayal of Iceland’s landscape in a romantic naturalistic style. Other landscape artists quickly followed in the footsteps of Þórarinn and Ásgrímur. These included Jóhannes Kjarval and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir. Kjarval in particular is noted for the distinct techniques in the application of paint that he developed in a concerted effort to render the characteristic volcanic rock that dominates the Icelandic environment. Einar Hákonarson is an expressionistic and figurative painter who by some is considered to have brought the figure back into Icelandic painting. In the 1980s, many Icelandic artists worked with the subject of the new painting in their work.

In the recent years artistic practice has multiplied, and the Icelandic art scene has become a setting for many large scale projects and exhibitions. The artist run gallery space Kling og Bang, members of which later ran the studio complex and exhibition venue Klink og Bank, has been a significant part of the trend of self-organised spaces, exhibitions and projects.[230] The Living Art Museum, Reykjavík Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavík Art Museum and the National Gallery of Iceland are the larger, more established institutions, curating shows and festivals.

Music

Björk, the best-known Icelandic musician

Much Icelandic music is related to Nordic music, and includes folk and pop traditions. Notable Icelandic music acts include medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative and indie rock acts such as The SugarcubesSóley and Of Monsters and Men, jazz fusion band Mezzoforte, pop singers such as Hafdís HuldEmilíana Torrini and Björk, solo ballad singers like Bubbi Morthens, and post-rock bands such as Amiina and Sigur RósIndependent music is strong in Iceland, with bands such as múm and solo artists.

Traditional Icelandic music is strongly religious. Hymns, both religious and secular, are a particularly well-developed form of music, due to the scarcity of musical instruments throughout much of Iceland’s history. Hallgrímur Pétursson wrote many Protestant hymns in the 17th century. Icelandic music was modernised in the 19th century, when Magnús Stephensen brought pipe organs, which were followed by harmoniums. Other vital traditions of Icelandic music are epic alliterative and rhyming ballads called rímur. Rímur are epic tales, usually a cappella, which can be traced back to skaldic poetry, using complex metaphors and elaborate rhyme schemes.[231] The best known rímur poet of the 19th century was Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798–1846). A modern revitalisation of the tradition began in 1929 with the formation of Iðunn.[clarification needed]

Among Iceland’s best-known classical composers are Daníel Bjarnason and Anna S. Þorvaldsdóttir (Anna Thorvaldsdottir), who in 2012 received the Nordic Council Music Prize and in 2015 was chosen as the New York Philharmonic‘s Kravis Emerging Composer, an honor that includes a $50,000 cash prize and a commission to write a composition for the orchestra; she is the second recipient.[232]

The national anthem of Iceland is Lofsöngur, written by Matthías Jochumsson, with music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson.[233]

Media

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, best known for the films 101 ReykjavíkJar City and Contraband, and television series Trapped

Iceland’s largest television stations are the state-run Sjónvarpið and the privately owned Stöð 2 and SkjárEinn. Smaller stations exist, many of them local. Radio is broadcast throughout the country, including some parts of the interior. The main radio stations are Rás 1Rás 2X-ið 977Bylgjan and FM957. The daily newspapers are Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið. The most popular websites are the news sites Vísir and Mbl.is.[234]

Iceland is home to LazyTown (Icelandic: Latibær), a children’s educational musical comedy program created by Magnús Scheving. It has become a very popular programme for children and adults and is shown in over 100 countries, including the Americas, the UK and Sweden.[235] The LazyTown studios are located in Garðabær. The 2015 television crime series Trapped aired in the UK on BBC4 in February and March 2016, to critical acclaim and according to the Guardian “the unlikeliest TV hit of the year”.[236]

In 1992, the Icelandic film industry achieved its greatest recognition hitherto, when Friðrik Þór Friðriksson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his Children of Nature.[237] It features the story of an old man who is unable to continue running his farm. After being unwelcomed in his daughter’s and father-in-law’s house in town, he is put in a home for the elderly. There, he meets an old girlfriend of his youth and they both begin a journey through the wilds of Iceland to die together. This is the only Icelandic movie to have ever been nominated for an Academy Award.[238]

Singer-songwriter Björk received international acclaim for her starring role in the Danish musical drama Dancer in the Dark, directed by Lars von Trier, in which she plays Selma Ježková, a factory worker who struggles to pay for her son’s eye operation. The film premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, where she won the Best Actress Award. The movie also led Björk to nominations for Best Original Song at the 73rd Academy Awards, with the song I’ve Seen It All and for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.[239]

Guðrún S. Gísladóttir, who is Icelandic, played one of the major roles in Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky‘s 1986 film, The SacrificeAnita Briem, known for her performance in Showtime‘s The Tudors, is also Icelandic. Briem starred in the 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth, which shot scenes in Iceland. The 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day is set for a large-part in Iceland. Christopher Nolan‘s 2014 film, Interstellar was also filmed in Iceland for some of its scenes, as was Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus.[240]

On 17 June 2010, the parliament passed the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, proposing greater protection of free speech rights and the identity of journalists and whistle-blowers—the strongest journalist protection law in the world.[241] According to a 2011 report by Freedom House, Iceland is one of the highest ranked countries in press freedom.[242]

CCP Games, developers of the critically acclaimed EVE Online and Dust 514, is headquartered in Reykjavík. CCP Games hosts the third most populated MMO in the world, which also has the largest total game area for an online game.[citation needed]

Iceland has a highly developed internet culture, with around 95% of the population having internet access, the highest proportion in the world.[243] Iceland ranked 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2009–2010 Network Readiness Index, which measures a country’s ability to competitively exploit communications technology.[244] The United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranks the country 3rd in its development of information and communications technology, having moved up four places between 2008 and 2010.[245] In February 2013 the country (ministry of the interior) was researching possible methods to protect children in regards to Internet pornography, claiming that pornography online is a threat to children as it supports child slavery and abuse. Strong voices within the community expressed concerns with this, stating that it is impossible to block access to pornography without compromising freedom of speech.[246][247][248]

Cuisine

A typical Þorramatur assortment

Much of Iceland’s cuisine is based on fish, lamb, and dairy products, with little to no use of herbs or spices. Due to the island’s climate, fruits and vegetables are not generally a component of traditional dishes, although the use of greenhouses has made them more common in contemporary food. Þorramatur is a selection of traditional cuisine consisting of many dishes, and is usually consumed around the month of Þorri, which begins on the first Friday after 19 January. Traditional dishes also include skyr (a yoghurt-like cheese), hákarl (cured shark), cured ram, singed sheep heads, and black pudding, Flatkaka (flat bread), dried fish and dark rye bread traditionally baked in the ground in geothermal areas.[249] Puffin is considered a local delicacy that is often prepared through broiling.

Breakfast usually consists of pancakes, cereal, fruit, and coffee, while lunch may take the form of a smörgåsbord. The main meal of the day for most Icelanders is dinner, which usually involves fish or lamb as the main course. Seafood is central to most Icelandic cooking, particularly cod and haddock but also salmonherring, and halibut. It is often prepared in a wide variety of ways, either smoked, pickled, boiled, or dried. Lamb is by far the most common meat, and it tends to be either smoke-cured (known as hangikjöt) or salt-preserved (saltkjöt). Many older dishes make use of every part of the sheep, such as slátur, which consists of offal (internal organs and entrails) minced together with blood and served in sheep stomach. Additionally, boiled or mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, green beans, and rye bread are prevalent side dishes.

Coffee is a popular beverage in Iceland, with the country being third placed by per capita consumption worldwide in 2016,[250] and is drunk at breakfast, after meals, and with a light snack in mid-afternoon. Coca-Cola is also widely consumed, to the extent that the country is said to have one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world.[251]

Iceland’s signature alcoholic beverage is brennivín (literally “burnt [i.e., distilled] wine”), which is similar in flavouring to the akvavit variant of Scandinavian brännvin. It is a type of schnapps made from distilled potatoes and flavoured with either caraway seeds or angelica. Its potency has earned it the nickname svarti dauði (“Black Death”). Modern distilleries on Iceland produce vodka (Reyka), gin (Ísafold), moss schnapps (Fjallagrasa), and a birch-flavoured schnapps and liqueur (Foss Distillery’s Birkir and Björk). Martin Miller blends Icelandic water with its England-distilled gin on the island. Strong beer was banned until 1989, so bjórlíki, a mixture of legal, low-alcohol pilsner beer and vodka, became popular. Several strong beers are now made by Icelandic breweries.

Sport

The Iceland national handball team (pictured) won the silver medal at the 2008 Summer OlympicsHandball is considered Iceland’s national sport.[252]

Sport is an important part of Icelandic culture, as the population is generally quite active.[253] The main traditional sport in Iceland is Glíma, a form of wrestling thought to have originated in medieval times.

Iceland fans at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

Popular sports include footballtrack and fieldhandball and basketball. Handball is often referred to as the national sport.[252] The Icelandic national football team qualified for the 2016 UEFA European football championship for the first time. They recorded a draw against later winners Portugal in the group stage, and defeated England 2–1 in the round of 16, with goals from Ragnar Sigurðsson and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson. They then lost to hosts and later finalists France in the quarter finals.[254] Following up on this, Iceland made its debut at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. For both the European and the world championship, Iceland is to date the smallest nation in terms of population to qualify.

Iceland is also the smallest country to ever qualify for Eurobasket. They did it in both 2015 and 2017. Although Iceland has had great success qualifying for Eurobasket, they have not managed to win a single game in the European Basketball final stages.

Iceland has excellent conditions for skiingfishingsnowboardingice climbing and rock climbing, although mountain climbing and hiking are preferred by the general public. Iceland is also a world-class destination for alpine ski touring and Telemark skiing, with the Troll Peninsula in Northern Iceland being the main centre of activity. Although the country’s environment is generally ill-suited for golf, there are nevertheless lots of golf courses throughout the island, and Iceland has a greater percentage of the population playing golf than Scotland with over 17,000 registered golfers out of a population of approximately 300,000.[255] Iceland hosts an annual international golf tournament known as the Arctic Open played through the night during the summer solstice at Akureyri Golf Club.[256][257] Iceland has also won the second most World’s Strongest Man competitions of any country with nine titles, including four by both Magnús Ver Magnússon and Jón Páll Sigmarsson and most recently Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in 2018.

Iceland is also one of the leading countries in ocean rowing, Icelandic rower Fiann Paul became the fastest and the most record-breaking ocean rower. He has claimed overall speed Guinness World Records for the fastest rowing of all four oceans (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Arctic) in a man-powered row boat, as well as the Guinness title of the first rower to ever hold the record for all four oceans simultaneously, claiming 24 Guinness World Records in total for Iceland by 2017.[258][259][260][261]

Swimming is popular in Iceland. Geothermally heated outdoor pools are widespread, and swimming courses are a mandatory part of the national curriculum.[257] Horseback riding, which was historically the most prevalent form of transportation on the island, remains a common pursuit for many Icelanders.

The oldest sport association in Iceland is the Reykjavík Shooting Association, founded in 1867. Rifle shooting became very popular in the 19th century with the encouragement of politicians and nationalists who were pushing for Icelandic independence. To this day, it remains a significant pastime.[262]

Iceland has also produced many chess masters and hosted the historic World Chess Championship 1972 in Reykjavík during the height of the Cold War. As of 2008, there have been nine Icelandic chess grandmasters, a considerable number given the small size of the population.[263] Bridge is also popular, with Iceland participating in a number of international tournaments. Iceland won the world bridge championship (the Bermuda Bowl) in Yokohama, Japan, in 1991 and took second place (with Sweden) in Hamilton, Bermuda, in 1950.

See also

Uncategorized

Switzerland

Switzerland

Swiss Confederation
  • Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft  (German)
  • Confédération suisse  (French)
  • Confederazione Svizzera  (Italian)
  • Confederaziun svizra  (Romansh)
  • Confoederatio Helvetica  (Latin)
Motto: (traditional)
Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (Latin)
“One for all, all for one”

Anthem: Swiss Psalm

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Location of .mw-parser-output .nobold{font-weight:normal}Switzerland (green) in Europe (green & dark grey)

Location of Switzerland (green)in Europe (green & dark grey)

Capital None (de jure)
Bern (de facto)[note 1][1][2]
46°57′N 7°27′E
Largest city Zürich
Official languages German
French
Italian
Romansh
Demonym(s) English: Swiss,
GermanSchweizer(in),
FrenchSuisse(sse),
Italiansvizzero/svizzera, or elvetico/elvetica,
RomanshSvizzer/Svizra
Government Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party parliamentary directorial republic
Walter Thurnherr
Legislature Federal Assembly
Council of States
National Council
History
c. 1300[note 2] (traditionally 1 August 1291)
24 October 1648
7 August 1815
12 September 1848[note 3][3]
Area
• Total
41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi) (132nd)
• Water (%)
4.2
Population
• 2019 estimate
Increase 8,570,146[4] (99th)
• 2015 census
8,327,126[5]
• Density
207/km2 (536.1/sq mi) (48th)
GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
• Total
$548 billion[6] (38th)
• Per capita
$64,649[6] (9th)
GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
• Total
$704 billion[6] (20th)
• Per capita
$82,950[6] (2nd)
Gini (2018) Positive decrease 29.7[7]
low · 19th
HDI (2017) Increase 0.944[8]
very high · 2nd
Currency Swiss franc (CHF)
Time zone UTC+1 (CET)
• Summer (DST)
UTC+2 (CEST)
Date format dd.mm.yyyy (AD)
Driving side right
Calling code +41
ISO 3166 code CH
Internet TLD .ch.swiss

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a sovereign state situated in the confluence of westerncentral, and southern Europe.[9][note 4] It is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities seated in Bern.[1][2][note 1] Switzerland is a landlocked country bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning a total area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi), and land area of 39,997 km2 (15,443 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8.5 million is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities are located, among them the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva.

The establishment of the Old Swiss Confederacy dates to the late medieval period, resulting from a series of military successes against Austria and Burgundy. Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was formally recognized in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Since the Reformation of the 16th century, Switzerland has maintained a strong policy of armed neutrality; it has not fought an international war since 1815 and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless, it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world.[10] Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world’s oldest and best known humanitarian organisations, and is home to numerous international organisations, including the second largest UN office. It is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably not part of the European Union, the European Economic Area or the Eurozone. However, it participates in the Schengen Area and the European Single Market through bilateral treaties.

Switzerland occupies the crossroads of Germanic and Romance Europe, as reflected in its four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although the majority of the population are German-speaking, Swiss national identity is rooted in a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy,[11] and Alpine symbolism.[12][13] Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by a variety of native names: Schweiz [ˈʃvaɪts] (German);[note 5] Suisse [sɥis(ə)] (French); Svizzera [ˈzvittsera] (Italian); and Svizra [ˈʒviːtsrɐ, ˈʒviːtsʁɐ] (Romansh).[note 6] On coins and stamps, the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica – frequently shortened to “Helvetia” – is used instead of the four national languages.

Switzerland is one of the most developed countries in the world, with the highest nominal wealth per adult[14] and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product.[15][16] It ranks at or near the top in several international metrics, including economic competitiveness and human development. Zürich, Geneva and Basel have been ranked among the top ten cities in the world in terms of quality of life, with Zürich ranked second globally.[17] In 2019, IMD place Switzerland first in the world in attracting skilled workers.[18] World Economic Forum ranks it the 5th most competitive country globally.

Etymology

The English name Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries.[19] The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century. The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätten cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The Swiss began to adopt the name for themselves after the Swabian War of 1499, used alongside the term for “Confederates”, Eidgenossen (literally: comrades by oath), used since the 14th century. The data code for Switzerland, CH, is derived from Latin Confoederatio Helvetica (English: Helvetic Confederation).

The toponym Schwyz itself was first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, ultimately perhaps related to swedan ‘to burn’ (cf. Old Norse svíða ‘to singe, burn’), referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build.[20] The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used for the entire Confederation.[21][22] The Swiss German name of the country, Schwiiz, is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d’Schwiiz for the Confederation,[23] but simply Schwyz for the canton and the town).[24]

The Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was neologized and introduced gradually after the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic, appearing on coins from 1879, inscribed on the Federal Palace in 1902 and after 1948 used in the official seal.[25] (for example, the ISO banking code “CHF” for the Swiss franc, and the country top-level domain “.ch”, are both taken from the state’s Latin name). Helvetica is derived from the Helvetii, a Gaulish tribe living on the Swiss plateau before the Roman era.

Helvetia appears as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century with a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.[26]

History

Switzerland has existed as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. The precursors of Switzerland established a protective alliance at the end of the 13th century (1291), forming a loose confederation of states which persisted for centuries.

Early history

The oldest traces of hominid existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years.[27] The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, have been dated to around 5300 BC.[27]

Founded in 44 BC by Lucius Munatius PlancusAugusta Raurica (near Basel) was the first Roman settlement on the Rhine and is now among the most important archaeological sites in Switzerland.[28]

The earliest known cultural tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel. La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450 BC,[27] possibly under some influence from the Greek and Etruscan civilisations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. Steadily harassed by the Germanic tribes, in 58 BC the Helvetii decided to abandon the Swiss plateau and migrate to western Gallia, but Julius Caesar‘s armies pursued and defeated them at the Battle of Bibracte, in today’s eastern France, forcing the tribe to move back to its original homeland.[27] In 15 BC, Tiberius, who would one day become the second Roman emperor, and his brother Drusus, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii—the namesakes of the later Confoederatio Helvetica—first became part of Rome’s Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province, while the eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia. Sometime around the start of the Common Era, the Romans maintained a large legionary camp called Vindonissa, now a ruin at the confluence of the Aare and Reuss rivers, near the town of Windisch, an outskirt of Brugg.

The first and second century AD was an age of prosperity for the population living on the Swiss plateau. Several towns, like AventicumIulia Equestris and Augusta Raurica, reached a remarkable size, while hundreds of agricultural estates (Villae rusticae) were founded in the countryside.

Around 260 AD, the fall of the Agri Decumates territory north of the Rhine transformed today’s Switzerland into a frontier land of the Empire. Repeated raids by the Alamanni tribes provoked the ruin of the Roman towns and economy, forcing the population to find shelter near Roman fortresses, like the Castrum Rauracense near Augusta Raurica. The Empire built another line of defence at the north border (the so-called Donau-Iller-Rhine-Limes), but at the end of the fourth century the increased Germanic pressure forced the Romans to abandon the linear defence concept, and the Swiss plateau was finally open to the settlement of Germanic tribes.

In the Early Middle Ages, from the end of the 4th century, the western extent of modern-day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the 5th century and the valleys of the Alps in the 8th century, forming Alemannia. Modern-day Switzerland was therefore then divided between the kingdoms of Alemannia and Burgundy.[27] The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I‘s victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.[29][30]

Throughout the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties). But after its extension under Charlemagne, the Frankish Empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843.[27] The territories of present-day Switzerland became divided into Middle Francia and East Francia until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.[27]

By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of SavoyZähringerHabsburg, and Kyburg.[27] Some regions (UriSchwyzUnterwalden, later known as Waldstätten) were accorded the Imperial immediacy to grant the empire direct control over the mountain passes. With the extinction of its male line in 1263 the Kyburg dynasty fell in AD 1264; then the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) laid claim to the Kyburg lands and annexed them extending their territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.[29]

Old Swiss Confederacy

The Old Swiss Confederacy from 1291 (dark green) to the sixteenth century (light green) and its associates (blue). In the other colours are shown the subject territories.

The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The Confederacy, governed by nobles and patricians of various cantons, facilitated management of common interests and ensured peace on the important mountain trade routes. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the rural communes of UriSchwyz, and Unterwalden is considered the confederacy’s founding document, even though similar alliances are likely to have existed decades earlier.[31][32]

By 1353, the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the LucerneZürich and Bern city states to form the “Old Confederacy” of eight states that existed until the end of the 15th century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the confederation.[32] By 1460, the confederates controlled most of the territory south and west of the Rhine to the Alps and the Jura mountains, particularly after victories against the Habsburgs (Battle of SempachBattle of Näfels), over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The Swiss victory in the Swabian War against the Swabian League of Emperor Maximilian I in 1499 amounted to de facto independence within the Holy Roman Empire.[32]

The 1291 Bundesbrief (Federal charter)

The Old Swiss Confederacy had acquired a reputation of invincibility during these earlier wars, but expansion of the confederation suffered a setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano. This ended the so-called “heroic” epoch of Swiss history.[32] The success of Zwingli‘s Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal religious conflicts in 1529 and 1531 (Wars of Kappel). It was not until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Peace of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality.[29][30]

During the Early Modern period of Swiss history, the growing authoritarianism of the patriciate families combined with a financial crisis in the wake of the Thirty Years’ War led to the Swiss peasant war of 1653. In the background to this struggle, the conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the First War of Villmergen, in 1656, and the Toggenburg War (or Second War of Villmergen), in 1712.[32]

Napoleonic era

The Act of Mediation was Napoleon’s attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic.

In 1798, the revolutionary French government conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution.[32] This centralised the government of the country, effectively abolishing the cantons: moreover, Mülhausen joined France and the Valtellina valley became part of the Cisalpine Republic, separating from Switzerland. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September 1798 was an example of the oppressive presence of the French Army and the local population’s resistance to the occupation.

When war broke out between France and its rivals, Russian and Austrian forces invaded Switzerland. The Swiss refused to fight alongside the French in the name of the Helvetic Republic. In 1803 Napoleon organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides in Paris. The result was the Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons.[32] Henceforth, much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons’ tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.

In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality.[29][30][32] Swiss troops still served foreign governments until 1860 when they fought in the Siege of Gaeta. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of ValaisNeuchâtel and Geneva. Switzerland’s borders have not changed since, except for some minor adjustments.[33]

Federal state

The first Federal Palace in Bern (1857). One of the three cantons presiding over the Tagsatzung (former legislative and executive council), Bern was chosen as the permanent seat of federal legislative and executive institutions in 1848, in part because of its closeness to the French-speaking area.[1]

The restoration of power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes, such as the Züriputsch of 1839, civil war (the Sonderbundskrieg) broke out in 1847 when some Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbund).[32] The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties, most of which were through friendly fire. Yet however minor the Sonderbundskrieg appears compared with other European riots and wars in the 19th century, it nevertheless had a major impact on both the psychology and the society of the Swiss and of Switzerland.

The war convinced most Swiss of the need for unity and strength towards its European neighbours. Swiss people from all strata of society, whether Catholic or Protestant, from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more if their economic and religious interests were merged.

Thus, while the rest of Europe saw revolutionary uprisings, the Swiss drew up a constitution which provided for a federal layout, much of it inspired by the American example. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. Giving credit to those who favoured the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided between an upper house (the Council of States, two representatives per canton) and a lower house (the National Council, with representatives elected from across the country). Referendums were made mandatory for any amendment of this constitution.[30] This new constitution also brought a legal end to nobility in Switzerland.[34]

Inauguration in 1882 of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel connecting the southern canton of Ticino, the longest in the world at the time

A system of single weights and measures was introduced and in 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency. Article 11 of the constitution forbade sending troops to serve abroad, with the exception of serving the Holy See, though the Swiss were still obliged to serve Francis II of the Two Sicilies with Swiss Guards present at the Siege of Gaeta in 1860, marking the end of foreign service.

An important clause of the constitution was that it could be re-written completely if this was deemed necessary, thus enabling it to evolve as a whole rather than being modified one amendment at a time.[35]

This need soon proved itself when the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution that followed led to calls to modify the constitution accordingly. An early draft was rejected by the population in 1872 but modifications led to its acceptance in 1874.[32] It introduced the facultative referendum for laws at the federal level. It also established federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters.

In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remain unique even today.[32]

Modern history

General Ulrich Wille, appointed commander-in-chief of the Swiss Army for the duration of World War I

Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) and he remained there until 1917.[36] Swiss neutrality was seriously questioned by the Grimm–Hoffmann Affair in 1917, but it was short-lived. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, which was based in Geneva, on condition that it was exempt from any military requirements.

During World War IIdetailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans,[37] but Switzerland was never attacked.[32] Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion.[30][38] Under General Henri Guisan, appointed the commander-in-chief for the duration of the war, a general mobilisation of the armed forces was ordered. The Swiss military strategy was changed from one of static defence at the borders to protect the economic heartland, to one of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Reduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.[38]

Switzerland’s trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the Third Reich varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion and the availability of other trading partners. Concessions reached a peak after a crucial rail link through Vichy France was severed in 1942, leaving Switzerland (together with Liechtenstein) entirely isolated from the wider world by Axis controlled territory. Over the course of the war, Switzerland interned over 300,000 refugees[39] and the International Red Cross, based in Geneva, played an important part during the conflict. Strict immigration and asylum policies as well as the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy, but not until the end of the 20th century.[40]

During the war, the Swiss Air Force engaged aircraft of both sides, shooting down 11 intruding Luftwaffe planes in May and June 1940, then forcing down other intruders after a change of policy following threats from Germany. Over 100 Allied bombers and their crews were interned during the war. Between 1940 and 1945, Switzerland was bombed by the Allies causing fatalities and property damage.[38] Among the cities and towns bombed were BaselBrusioChiassoCornolGenevaKoblenzNiederweningenRafzRenensSamedanSchaffhausenStein am RheinTägerwilenThayngenVals, and Zürich. Allied forces explained the bombings, which violated the 96th Article of War, resulted from navigation errors, equipment failure, weather conditions, and errors made by bomber pilots. The Swiss expressed fear and concern that the bombings were intended to put pressure on Switzerland to end economic cooperation and neutrality with Nazi Germany.[41] Court-martial proceedings took place in England and the U.S. Government paid 62,176,433.06 in Swiss francs for reparations of the bombings.

After the war, the Swiss government exported credits through the charitable fund known as the Schweizerspende and also donated to the Marshall Plan to help Europe’s recovery, efforts that ultimately benefited the Swiss economy.[42]

During the Cold War, Swiss authorities considered the construction of a Swiss nuclear bomb.[43] Leading nuclear physicists at the Federal Institute of Technology Zürich such as Paul Scherrer made this a realistic possibility. In 1988, the Paul Scherrer Institute was founded in his name to explore the therapeutic uses of neutron scattering technologies. Financial problems with the defence budget and ethical considerations prevented the substantial funds from being allocated, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was seen as a valid alternative. All remaining plans for building nuclear weapons were dropped by 1988.[44]

Switzerland was the last Western republic to grant women the right to vote. Some Swiss cantons approved this in 1959, while at the federal level it was achieved in 1971[32][45] and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden (one of only two remaining Landsgemeinde, along with Glarus) in 1990. After obtaining suffrage at the federal level, women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member Federal Council executive being Elisabeth Kopp, who served from 1984 to 1989,[32] and the first female president being Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.

In 2003, by granting the Swiss People’s Party a second seat in the governing cabinet, the Parliament altered the coalition which had dominated Swiss politics since 1959.

Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963.[30] In 1979 areas from the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On 18 April 1999 the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favour of a completely revised federal constitution.[32]

In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican City as the last widely recognised state without full UN membership. Switzerland is a founding member of the EFTA, but is not a member of the European Economic Area. An application for membership in the European Union was sent in May 1992, but not advanced since the EEA was rejected in December 1992[32] when Switzerland was the only country to launch a referendum on the EEA. There have since been several referendums on the EU issue; due to opposition from the citizens, the membership application has been withdrawn. Nonetheless, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to conform with that of the EU, and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland, together with Liechtenstein, has been completely surrounded by the EU since Austria’s entry in 1995. On 5 June 2005, Swiss voters agreed by a 55% majority to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was regarded by EU commentators as a sign of support by Switzerland, a country that is traditionally perceived as independent and reluctant to enter supranational bodies.[30]

Geography

Physical map of Switzerland (in German)

Extending across the north and south side of the Alps in westcentral Europe, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi).[46] The population is about 8 million, resulting in an average population density of around 195 people per square kilometre (500/sq mi).[46][47] The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half.[46] In the largest Canton of Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 27 /km² (70 /sq mi).[48]

Switzerland lies between latitudes 45° and 48° N, and longitudes  and 11° E. It contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps to the south, the Swiss Plateau or Central Plateau, and the Jura mountains on the west. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, constituting about 60% of the country’s total area. The majority of the Swiss population live in the Swiss Plateau. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totalling an area of 1,063 square kilometres (410 sq mi). From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the RhineInnTicino and Rhône, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of freshwater in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva (also called le Lac Léman in French), Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German) and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes, and contains 6% of Europe’s stock of fresh water. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory. The largest lake is Lake Geneva, in western Switzerland shared with France. The Rhône is both the main source and outflow of Lake Geneva. Lake Constance is the second largest Swiss lake and, like the Lake Geneva, an intermediate step by the Rhine at the border to Austria and Germany. While the Rhône flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the French Camargue region and the Rhine flows into the North Sea at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) apart, both springs are only about 22 kilometres (14 miles) apart from each other in the Swiss Alps.[46][49]

Contrasted landscapes between the regions of the Matterhorn and Lake Lucerne

48 of Switzerland’s mountains are 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above sea in altitude or higher.[46] At 4,634 m (15,203 ft), Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m or 14,692 ft) is often regarded as the most famous. Both are located within the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais, on the border with Italy. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley, containing 72 waterfalls, is well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m or 13,642 ft) Eiger and Mönch, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in canton of Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m or 13,284 ft).[46]

The more populous northern part of the country, constituting about 30% of the country’s total area, is called the Swiss Plateau. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country.[46]

Within Switzerland there are two small enclavesBüsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d’Italia belongs to Italy.[50] Switzerland has no exclaves in other countries.

Climate

The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities,[51] from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant near Mediterranean climate at Switzerland’s southern tip. There are some valley areas in the southern part of Switzerland where some cold-hardy palm trees are found. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The less humid winters in the mountains may see long intervals of stable conditions for weeks, while the lower lands tend to suffer from inversion, during these periods, thus seeing no sun for weeks.

A weather phenomenon known as the föhn (with an identical effect to the chinook wind) can occur at all times of the year and is characterised by an unexpectedly warm wind, bringing air of very low relative humidity to the north of the Alps during rainfall periods on the southern face of the Alps. This works both ways across the alps but is more efficient if blowing from the south due to the steeper step for oncoming wind from the south. Valleys running south to north trigger the best effect. The driest conditions persist in all inner alpine valleys that receive less rain because arriving clouds lose a lot of their content while crossing the mountains before reaching these areas. Large alpine areas such as Graubünden remain drier than pre-alpine areas and as in the main valley of the Valais wine grapes are grown there.[52]

The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time.[52] Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year with a peak in summer. Autumn is the driest season, winter receives less precipitation than summer, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland are not in a stable climate system and can be variable from year to year with no strict and predictable periods.

Contrasted climates between the most glaciated area in western Eurasia (Aletsch Glacier),[53] the cold temperate Jura (Vallée de Joux), the southern canton of Ticino (Lake Lugano), and the western canton of Vaud and its vine terraces (Lake Geneva)

Environment

Switzerland’s ecosystems can be particularly fragile, because the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains often form unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a very fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive to climate change.[51][54] Nevertheless, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index, Switzerland ranks first among 132 nations in safeguarding the environment, due to its high scores on environmental public health, its heavy reliance on renewable sources of energy (hydropower and geothermal energy), and its control of greenhouse gas emissions.[55]

However, access to biocapacity in Switzerland is far lower than world average. In 2016, Switzerland had 1.0 global hectares[56] of biocapacity per person within its territory, 40 percent less than world average of 1.6 global hectares per person. In contrast, in 2016, they used 4.6 global hectares of biocapacity – their ecological footprint of consumption. This means they used about 4.6 times as much biocapacity as Switzerland contains. The remainder comes from imports and overusing the global commons (such as the atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions). As a result, Switzerland is running a biocapacity deficit.[56]

Politics

The Swiss Federal Council in 2016 with President Johann Schneider-Ammann (front, centre)[note 7]

The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state.[57] A new Swiss Constitution was adopted in 1999, but did not introduce notable changes to the federal structure. It outlines basic and political rights of individuals and citizen participation in public affairs, divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdiction and authority. There are three main governing bodies on the federal level:[58] the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).

The Federal Palace, seat of the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council

The Swiss Parliament consists of two houses: the Council of States which has 46 representatives (two from each canton and one from each half-canton) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council, which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation, depending on the population of each canton. Members of both houses serve for 4 years and only serve as members of parliament part-time (so-called Milizsystem or citizen legislature).[59] When both houses are in joint session, they are known collectively as the Federal Assembly. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, thus making Switzerland a direct democracy.[57]

The Federal Council constitutes the federal government, directs the federal administration and serves as collective Head of State. It is a collegial body of seven members, elected for a four-year mandate by the Federal Assembly which also exercises oversight over the Council. The President of the Confederation is elected by the Assembly from among the seven members, traditionally in rotation and for a one-year term; the President chairs the government and assumes representative functions. However, the president is a primus inter pares with no additional powers, and remains the head of a department within the administration.[57]

The Swiss government has been a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the “magic formula“. Following the 2015 Federal Council elections, the seven seats in the Federal Council were distributed as follows:

1 seat for the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP/PDC),
2 seats for the Free Democratic Party (FDP/PRD),
2 seats for the Social Democratic Party (SPS/PSS),
2 seats for the Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC).

The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals against rulings of cantonal or federal courts. The judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.[60]

Direct democracy

The Landsgemeinde is an old form of direct democracy, still in practice in two cantons.

Direct democracy and federalism are hallmarks of the Swiss political system.[61] Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the municipality, canton and federal levels. The 1848 and 1999 Swiss Constitutions define a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct or representative direct democracy because it is aided by the more commonplace institutions of a representative democracy). The instruments of this system at the federal level, known as popular rights (GermanVolksrechteFrenchdroits populairesItaliandiritti popolari),[62] include the right to submit a federal initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.[57][63]

By calling a federal referendum, a group of citizens may challenge a law passed by parliament, if they gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Any 8 cantons together can also call a constitutional referendum on a federal law.[57]

Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if 100,000 voters sign the proposed amendment within 18 months.[note 8] The Federal Council and the Federal Assembly can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, and then voters must indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of the national popular vote and the cantonal popular votes.[note 9][61]

Cantons

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:[57][64]

Swiss cantons
Canton ID Capital Canton ID Capital
Wappen Aargau matt.svg Aargau 19 Aarau Wappen Nidwalden matt.svg *Nidwalden 7 Stans
Wappen Appenzell Ausserrhoden matt.svg *Appenzell Ausserrhoden 15 Herisau Wappen Obwalden matt.svg *Obwalden 6 Sarnen
Wappen Appenzell Innerrhoden matt.svg *Appenzell Innerrhoden 16 Appenzell Wappen Schaffhausen matt.svg Schaffhausen 14 Schaffhausen
Coat of arms of Kanton Basel-Landschaft.svg *Basel-Landschaft 13 Liestal Wappen des Kantons Schwyz.svg Schwyz 5 Schwyz
Wappen Basel-Stadt matt.svg *Basel-Stadt 12 Basel Wappen Solothurn matt.svg Solothurn 11 Solothurn
Wappen Bern matt.svg Bern 2 Bern Coat of arms of canton of St. Gallen.svg St. Gallen 17 St. Gallen
Wappen Freiburg matt.svg Fribourg 10 Fribourg Wappen Thurgau matt.svg Thurgau 20 Frauenfeld
Wappen Genf matt.svg Geneva 25 Geneva Wappen Tessin matt.svg Ticino 21 Bellinzona
Wappen Glarus matt.svg Glarus 8 Glarus Wappen Uri matt.svg Uri 4 Altdorf
Wappen Graubünden matt.svg Grisons 18 Chur Wappen Wallis matt.svg Valais 23 Sion
Wappen Jura matt.svg Jura 26 Delémont Wappen Waadt matt.svg Vaud 22 Lausanne
Wappen Luzern matt.svg Lucerne 3 Lucerne Wappen Zug matt.svg Zug 9 Zug
Wappen Neuenburg matt.svg Neuchâtel 24 Neuchâtel Wappen Zürich matt.svg Zürich 1 Zürich

*These cantons are known as half-cantons.

The cantons are federated states, have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status, except that 6 (referred to often as the half-cantons) are represented by only one councillor (instead of two) in the Council of States and have only half a cantonal vote with respect to the required cantonal majority in referendums on constitutional amendments. Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government, police and courts.[64] However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population and geographical area. Their populations vary between 16,003 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,487,969 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km2 (14 sq mi) (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km2 (2,743 sq mi) (Grisons).

Municipalities

The cantons comprise a total of 2,222 municipalities as of 2018.

Foreign relations and international institutions

Traditionally, Switzerland avoids alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action and has been neutral since the end of its expansion in 1515. Its policy of neutrality was internationally recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.[65][66] Only in 2002 did Switzerland become a full member of the United Nations[65] and it was the first state to join it by referendum. Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as an intermediary between other states.[65] Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people have consistently rejected membership since the early 1990s.[65] However, Switzerland does participate in the Schengen Area.[67]

The monochromatically reversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement,[45] founded in 1863 by Henry Dunant.[68]

A large number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part because of its policy of neutrality. Geneva is the birthplace of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Geneva Conventions and, since 2006, hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Even though Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, the Palace of Nations in Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member and home to the League of Nations.

Apart from the United Nations headquarters, the Swiss Confederation is host to many UN agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and about 200 other international organisations, including the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.[65] The annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos bring together top international business and political leaders from Switzerland and foreign countries to discuss important issues facing the world, including health and the environment. Additionally the headquarters of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) are located in Basel since 1930.

Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Basketball Federation in Geneva, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in Nyon, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the International Ice Hockey Federation both in Zürich, the International Cycling Union in Aigle, and the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne.[69]

Military

A Swiss Air Force F/A-18 Hornet at Axalp Air Show

The Swiss Armed Forces, including the Land Forces and the Air Force, are composed mostly of conscripts, male citizens aged from 20 to 34 (in special cases up to 50) years. Being a landlocked country, Switzerland has no navy; however, on lakes bordering neighbouring countries, armed military patrol boats are used. Swiss citizens are prohibited from serving in foreign armies, except for the Swiss Guards of the Vatican, or if they are dual citizens of a foreign country and reside there.

The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their Army issued equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Some organisations and political parties find this practice controversial.[70] Women can serve voluntarily. Men usually receive military conscription orders for training at the age of 18.[71] About two thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, various forms of alternative service exist.[72] Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in recruit centres for a duration from 18 to 21 weeks. The reform “Army XXI” was adopted by popular vote in 2003, it replaced the previous model “Army 95”, reducing the effectives from 400,000 to about 200,000. Of those, 120,000 are active in periodic Army training and 80,000 are non-training reserves.[73]

Swiss-built Mowag Eagles of the Land Forces

Overall, three general mobilisations have been declared to ensure the integrity and neutrality of Switzerland. The first one was held on the occasion of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The second was in response to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The third mobilisation of the army took place in September 1939 in response to the German attack on PolandHenri Guisan was elected as the General-in-Chief.

Because of its neutrality policy, the Swiss army does not currently take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world. Since 2000 the armed force department has also maintained the Onyx intelligence gathering system to monitor satellite communications.[74] Switzerland decided not to sign the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.[75]

Following the end of the Cold War there have been a number of attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether. A notable referendum on the subject, launched by an anti-militarist group, was held on 26 November 1989. It was defeated with about two thirds of the voters against the proposal.[76][77] A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after the 11 September attacks in the US, was defeated by over 78% of voters.[78]

Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe in that 29% of citizens are legally armed. The large majority of firearms kept at home are issued by the Swiss army, but ammunition is no longer issued.[79][80]

The capital or Federal City issue

Until 1848 the rather loosely coupled Confederation did not know a central political organisation, but representatives, mayors, and Landammänner met several times a year at the capital of the Lieu presiding the Confederal Diet for one year.

Old City of Bern

Until 1500 the legates met most of the time in Lucerne, but also in Zürich, Baden, Bern, Schwyz etc., but sometimes also at places outside of the confederation, such as Constance. From the Swabian War in 1499 onwards until Reformation, most conferences met in Zurich. Afterwards the town hall at Baden, where the annual accounts of the common people had been held regularly since 1426, became the most frequent, but not the sole place of assembly. After 1712 Frauenfeld gradually dissolved Baden. From 1526, the Catholic conferences were held mostly in Lucerne, the Protestant conferences from 1528 mostly in Aarau, the one for the legitimation of the French Ambassador in Solothurn. At the same time the syndicate for the Ennetbirgischen Vogteien located in the present Ticino met from 1513 in Lugano and Locarno.[81]

After the Helvetic Republic and during the Mediation from 1803 until 1815 the Confederal Diet of the 19 Lieus met at the capitals of the directoral cantons Fribourg, Berne, Basel, Zurich, Lucerne and Solothurn.[81]

After the Long Diet from 6 April 1814 to 31 August 1815 took place in Zurich to replace the constitution and the enhancement of the Confederation to 22 cantons by the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva to full members, the directoral cantons of Lucerne, Zurich and Berne took over the diet in two-year turns.[81]

In 1848, the federal constitution provided that details concerning the federal institutions, such as their locations, should be taken care of by the Federal Assembly (BV 1848 Art. 108). Thus on 28 November 1848, the Federal Assembly voted in majority to locate the seat of government in Berne. And, as a prototypical federal compromise, to assign other federal institutions, such as the Federal Polytechnical School (1854, the later ETH) to Zurich, and other institutions to Lucerne, such as the later SUVA (1912) and the Federal Insurance Court (1917). In 1875, a law (RS 112) fixed the compensations owed by the city of Bern for the federal seat.[1] According to these living fundamental federalistic feelings further federal institutions were subsequently attributed to Lausanne (Federal Supreme Court in 1872, and EPFL in 1969), Bellinzona (Federal Criminal Court, 2004), and St. Gallen (Federal Administrative Court and Federal Patent Court, 2012).

The 1999 new constitution, however, does not contain anything concerning any Federal City. In 2002 a tripartite committee has been asked by the Swiss Federal Council to prepare the “creation of a federal law on the status of Bern as a Federal City”, and to evaluate the positive and negative aspects for the city and the canton of Bern if this status were awarded. After a first report the work of this committee was suspended in 2004 by the Swiss Federal Council, and work on this subject has not resumed since.[82]

Thus as of today, no city in Switzerland has the official status either of capital or of Federal City, nevertheless Berne is commonly referred to as “Federal City” (GermanBundesstadtFrenchville fédéraleItaliancittà federale).

Economy and labour law

The Omega Speedmaster worn on the moon during the Apollo missions. In terms of value, Switzerland is responsible for half of the world production of watches.[45][83]

Switzerland has a stable, prosperous and high-tech economy and enjoys great wealth, being ranked as the wealthiest country in the world per capita in multiple rankings. In 2011 it was ranked as the wealthiest country in the world in per capita terms (with “wealth” being defined to include both financial and non-financial assets), while the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report showed that Switzerland was the country with the highest average wealth per adult in 2013.[84][85][86] It has the world’s nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter, despite its small size. Switzerland has the highest European rating in the Index of Economic Freedom 2010, while also providing large coverage through public services.[87] The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger Western and Central European economies and Japan.[88] If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, according to the World Bank and IMF (ranked 15th according to the CIA Worldfactbook[88]).

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland’s economy as the most competitive in the world,[89] while ranked by the European Union as Europe’s most innovative country.[90][91] For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin (by GDP – per capita).[92] In 2017, average gross household income in Switzerland was 9,946 francs per month (equivalent to US$10,720 per month), though 61% of the population made less than the average income.[93] Switzerland also has one of the world’s largest account balances as a percentage of GDP.

The Greater Zürich Area, home to 1.5 million inhabitants and 150,000 companies, is one of the most important economic centres in the world.[94]

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are GlencoreGunvorNestléNovartisHoffmann-La RocheABBMercuria Energy Group and Adecco.[95] Also, notable are UBS AGZurich Financial ServicesCredit SuisseBarry CallebautSwiss ReTetra PakThe Swatch Group and Swiss International Air Lines. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.[92]

Switzerland’s most important economic sector is manufacturing. Manufacturing consists largely of the production of specialist chemicalshealth and pharmaceutical goods, scientific and precision measuring instruments and musical instruments. The largest exported goods are chemicals (34% of exported goods), machines/electronics (20.9%), and precision instruments/watches (16.9%).[96] Exported services amount to a third of exports.[96] The service sector – especially banking and insurancetourism, and international organisations – is another important industry for Switzerland.

Slightly more than 5 million people work in Switzerland;[97] about 25% of employees belonged to a trade union in 2004.[98] Switzerland has a more flexible job market than neighbouring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. The unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 4.4% in December 2009.[99] The unemployment rate decreased to 3.2% in 2014 without further decrease in 2015 and 2016.[100][101] Population growth from net immigration is quite high, at 0.52% of population in 2004.[96] The foreign citizen population was 21.8% in 2004,[96] about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the world’s 16th highest, at 49.46 international dollars in 2012.[102]

The high valley of Engadine. Tourism constitutes an important revenue for the less industrialised alpine regions.

Switzerland has an overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by Western World standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland is a relatively easy place to do business, currently ranking 20th of 189 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index. The slow growth Switzerland experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s has brought greater support for economic reforms and harmonisation with the European Union.[103][104] According to Credit Suisse, only about 37% of residents own their own homes, one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe. Housing and food price levels were 171% and 145% of the EU-25 index in 2007, compared to 113% and 104% in Germany.[96]

The Swiss Federal budget had a size of 62.8 billion Swiss francs in 2010, which is an equivalent 11.35% of the country’s GDP in that year; however, the regional (canton) budgets and the budgets of the municipalities are not counted as part of the federal budget and the total rate of government spending is closer to 33.8% of GDP. The main sources of income for the federal government are the value-added tax (33%) and the direct federal tax (29%) and the main expenditure is located in the areas of social welfare and finance & tax. The expenditures of the Swiss Confederation have been growing from 7% of GDP in 1960 to 9.7% in 1990 and to 10.7% in 2010. While the sectors social welfare and finance & tax have been growing from 35% in 1990 to 48.2% in 2010, a significant reduction of expenditures has been occurring in the sectors of agriculture and national defence; from 26.5% in to 12.4% (estimation for the year 2015).[105][106]

Agricultural protectionism—a rare exception to Switzerland’s free trade policies—has contributed to high food prices. Product market liberalisation is lagging behind many EU countries according to the OECD.[103] Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is one of the best in the world.[107][108][109] Apart from agriculture, economic and trade barriers between the European Union and Switzerland are minimal and Switzerland has free trade agreements worldwide. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Education and science

Some Swiss scientists who played a key role in their discipline (clockwise):
Leonhard Euler (mathematics)
Louis Agassiz (glaciology)
Auguste Piccard (aeronautics)
Albert Einstein (physics)

Education in Switzerland is very diverse because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system to the cantons.[110] There are both public and private schools, including many private international schools. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons, but most cantons provide a free “children’s school” starting at four or five years old.[110] Primary school continues until grade four, five or six, depending on the school. Traditionally, the first foreign language in school was always one of the other national languages, although recently (2000) English was introduced first in a few cantons.[110]

At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities in several (often three) sections. The fastest learners are taught advanced classes to be prepared for further studies and the matura,[110] while students who assimilate a little more slowly receive an education more adapted to their needs.

There are 12 universities in Switzerland, ten of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel (with a faculty of medicine) and has a tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. The largest university in Switzerland is the University of Zurich with nearly 25,000 students.[citation needed]The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) and the University of Zurich are listed 20th and 54th respectively, on the 2015 Academic Ranking of World Universities.[111][112][113]

The two institutes sponsored by the federal government are the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) in Zürich, founded 1855 and the EPFL in Lausanne, founded 1969 as such, which was formerly an institute associated with the University of Lausanne.[note 10][114][115]

In addition, there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, the University of St. Gallen, (HSG) is ranked 329th in the world according to QS World University Rankings[116] and the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), was ranked first in open programmes worldwide by the Financial Times.[117] Switzerland has the second highest rate (almost 18% in 2003) of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia (slightly over 18%).[118][119]

As might befit a country that plays home to innumerable international organisations, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, located in Geneva, is not only continental Europe’s oldest graduate school of international and development studies, but also widely believed to be one of its most prestigious.[120][121]

Many Nobel Prize laureates have been Swiss scientists. They include the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein[122] in the field of physics, who developed his special relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir PrelogHeinrich RohrerRichard ErnstEdmond FischerRolf ZinkernagelKurt Wüthrich and Jacques Dubochet received Nobel Prizes in the sciences. In total, 114 Nobel Prize winners in all fields stand in relation to Switzerland[123][note 11] and the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded nine times to organisations residing in Switzerland.[124]

The LHC tunnel. CERN is the world’s largest laboratory and also the birthplace of the World Wide Web.[125]

Geneva and the nearby French department of Ain co-host the world’s largest laboratoryCERN,[126] dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research centre is the Paul Scherrer Institute. Notable inventions include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), diazepam (Valium), the scanning tunnelling microscope (Nobel prize) and Velcro. Some technologies enabled the exploration of new worlds such as the pressurised balloon of Auguste Piccard and the Bathyscaphe which permitted Jacques Piccard to reach the deepest point of the world’s oceans.

Switzerland Space Agency, the Swiss Space Office, has been involved in various space technologies and programmes. In addition it was one of the 10 founders of the European Space Agency in 1975 and is the seventh largest contributor to the ESA budget. In the private sector, several companies are implicated in the space industry such as Oerlikon Space[127] or Maxon Motors[128] who provide spacecraft structures.

Switzerland and the European Union

Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in a referendum in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union (EU) and European countries through bilateral agreements. In March 2001, the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU.[129] In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the EU in many ways, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness. The economy grew at 3% in 2010, 1.9% in 2011, and 1% in 2012.[130] EU membership was a long-term objective of the Swiss government, but there was and remains considerable popular sentiment against membership, which is opposed by the conservative SVP party, the largest party in the National Council, and not currently supported or proposed by several other political parties. The application for membership of the EU was formally withdrawn in 2016, having long been frozen. The western French-speaking areas and the urban regions of the rest of the country tend to be more pro-EU, nonetheless with far from a significant share of the population.[131][132]

Members of the European Free Trade Association (green) participate in the European Single Market and are part of the Schengen Area.

The government has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Economic Affairs. To minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland’s isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven bilateral agreements to further liberalise trade ties. These agreements were signed in 1999 and took effect in 2001. This first series of bilateral agreements included the free movement of persons. A second series covering nine areas was signed in 2004 and has since been ratified, which includes the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Convention besides others.[133] They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation.[134]

In 2006, Switzerland approved 1 billion francs of supportive investment in the poorer Southern and Central European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. A further referendum will be needed to approve 300 million francs to support Romania and Bulgaria and their recent admission. The Swiss have also been under EU and sometimes international pressure to reduce banking secrecy and to raise tax rates to parity with the EU. Preparatory discussions are being opened in four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GNSS project Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products.[135]

On 27 November 2008, the interior and justice ministers of European Union in Brussels announced Switzerland’s accession to the Schengen passport-free zone from 12 December 2008. The land border checkpoints will remain in place only for goods movements, but should not run controls on people, though people entering the country had their passports checked until 29 March 2009 if they originated from a Schengen nation.[136]

On 9 February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly approved by 50.3% a ballot initiative launched by the national conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) to restrict immigration, and thus reintroducing a quota system on the influx of foreigners. This initiative was mostly backed by rural (57.6% approvals) and suburban agglomerations (51.2% approvals), and isolated towns (51.3% approvals) of Switzerland as well as by a strong majority (69.2% approval) in the canton of Ticino, while metropolitan centres (58.5% rejection) and the French-speaking part (58.5% rejection) of Switzerland rather rejected it.[137] Some news commentators claim that this proposal de facto contradicts the bilateral agreements on the free movement of persons from these respective countries.[138][139]

In December 2016, a compromise with the European Union was attained effectively canceling quotas on EU citizens but still allowing for favourable treatment of Swiss-based job applicants.[140]

Energy, infrastructure and environment

Switzerland has the tallest dams in Europe, among which the Mauvoisin Dam, in the Alps. Hydroelectricity is the most important domestic source of energy in the country.

Electricity generated in Switzerland is 56% from hydroelectricity and 39% from nuclear power, resulting in a nearly CO2-free electricity-generating network. On 18 May 2003, two anti-nuclear initiatives were turned down: Moratorium Plus, aimed at forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants (41.6% supported and 58.4% opposed),[141] and Electricity Without Nuclear (33.7% supported and 66.3% opposed) after a previous moratorium expired in 2000.[142] However, as a reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Swiss government announced in 2011 that it plans to end its use of nuclear energy in the next 2 or 3 decades.[143] In November 2016, Swiss voters rejected a proposal by the Green Party to accelerate the phaseout of nuclear power (45.8% supported and 54.2% opposed).[144] The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is the office responsible for all questions relating to energy supply and energy use within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). The agency is supporting the 2000-watt society initiative to cut the nation’s energy use by more than half by the year 2050.[145]

Entrance of the new Lötschberg Base Tunnel, the third-longest railway tunnel in the world, under the old Lötschberg railway line. It was the first completed tunnel of the greater project NRLA.

The most dense rail network in Europe[45] of 5,250 kilometres (3,260 mi) carries over 596 million passengers annually (as of 2015).[146] In 2015, each Swiss resident travelled on average 2,550 kilometres (1,580 mi) by rail, which makes them the keenest rail users.[146] Virtually 100% of the network is electrified. The vast majority (60%) of the network is operated by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS). Besides the second largest standard gauge railway company BLS AG two railways companies operating on narrow gauge networks are the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, which includes some World Heritage lines,[147] and the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB), which co-operates together with RhB the Glacier Express between Zermatt and St. Moritz/Davos. On 31 May 2016 the world’s longest and deepest railway tunnel and the first flat, low-level route through the Alps, the 57.1-kilometre long (35.5 mi) Gotthard Base Tunnel, opened as the largest part of the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA) project after 17 years of realization. It started its daily business for passenger transport on 11 December 2016 replacing the old, mountainous, scenic route over and through the St Gotthard Massif.

Switzerland has a publicly managed road network without road tolls that is financed by highway permits as well as vehicle and gasoline taxes. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute system requires the purchase of a vignette (toll sticker)—which costs 40 Swiss francs—for one calendar year in order to use its roadways, for both passenger cars and trucks. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute network has a total length of 1,638 km (1,018 mi) (as of 2000) and has, by an area of 41,290 km2 (15,940 sq mi), also one of the highest motorway densities in the world.[148] Zurich Airport is Switzerland’s largest international flight gateway, which handled 22.8 million passengers in 2012.[149] The other international airports are Geneva Airport (13.9 million passengers in 2012),[150] EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg which is located in France, Bern AirportLugano AirportSt. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport and Sion Airport. Swiss International Air Lines is the flag carrier of Switzerland. Its main hub is Zürich.

Switzerland has one of the best environmental records among nations in the developed world;[151] it was one of the countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and ratified it in 2003. With Mexico and the Republic of Korea it forms the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG).[152] The country is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world, with 66% to 96% of recyclable materials being recycled, depending on the area of the country.[153] The 2014 Global Green Economy Index ranked Switzerland among the top 10 green economies in the world.[154]

Switzerland developed an efficient system to recycle most recyclable materials.[155] Publicly organised collection by volunteers and economical railway transport logistics started as early as 1865 under the leadership of the notable industrialist Hans Caspar Escher (Escher Wyss AG) when the first modern Swiss paper manufacturing plant was built in Biberist.[156]

Switzerland also has an economic system for garbage disposal, which is based mostly on recycling and energy-producing incinerators due to a strong political will to protect the environment.[157] As in other European countries, the illegal disposal of garbage is not tolerated at all and heavily fined. In almost all Swiss municipalities, stickers or dedicated garbage bags need to be purchased that allow for identification of disposable garbage.[158]

Demographics

Population density in Switzerland (2019)

Percentage of foreigners in Switzerland (2019)

In 2018, Switzerland’s population slightly exceeded 8.5 million. In common with other developed countries, the Swiss population increased rapidly during the industrial era, quadrupling between 1800 and 1990. Growth has since stabilised, and like most of Europe, Switzerland faces an ageing population, albeit with consistent annual growth projected into 2035, due mostly to immigration and a fertility rate close to replacement level.[159] Switzerland subsequently has one of the oldest populations in the world, with the average age of 42.5 years.[160]

As of 2019, resident foreigners make up 25.2% of the population, one of the largest proportions in the developed world.[4] Most of these (64%) were from European Union or EFTA countries.[161] Italians were the largest single group of foreigners, with 15.6% of total foreign population, followed closely by Germans (15.2%), immigrants from Portugal (12.7%), France (5.6%), Serbia (5.3%), Turkey (3.8%), Spain (3.7%), and Austria (2%). Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, were the largest group among people of Asian origin (6.3%).[161]

Additionally, the figures from 2012 show that 34.7% of the permanent resident population aged 15 or over in Switzerland (around 2.33 million), had an immigrant background. A third of this population (853,000) held Swiss citizenship. Four fifths of persons with an immigration background were themselves immigrants (first generation foreigners and native-born and naturalised Swiss citizens), whereas one fifth were born in Switzerland (second generation foreigners and native-born and naturalised Swiss citizens).[162]

In the 2000s, domestic and international institutions expressed concern about what was perceived as an increase in xenophobia, particularly in some political campaigns. In reply to one critical report, the Federal Council noted that “racism unfortunately is present in Switzerland”, but stated that the high proportion of foreign citizens in the country, as well as the generally unproblematic integration of foreigners, underlined Switzerland’s openness.[163]

Languages

National languages in Switzerland (2016):

  German (62.8%)
  French (22.9%)
  Italian (8.2%)
  Romansh (0.5%)

[164]

Switzerland has four national languages: mainly German (spoken by 62.8% of the population in 2016); French (22.9%) in the west; and Italian (8.2%) in the south.[165][164] The fourth national language, Romansh (0.5%), is a Romance language spoken locally in the southeastern trilingual canton of Grisons, and is designated by Article 4 of the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French, and Italian, and in Article 70 as an official language if the authorities communicate with persons who speak Romansh. However, federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in Romansh.

In 2016, the languages most spoken at home among permanent residents aged 15 and older were Swiss German (59.4%), French (23.5%), Standard German (10.6%), and Italian (8.5%). Other languages spoken at home included English (5.0%), Portuguese (3.8%), Albanian (3.0%), Spanish (2.6%) and Serbian and Croatian (2.5%). 6.9% reported speaking another language at home.[166] In 2014 almost two-thirds (64.4%) of the permanent resident population indicated speaking more than one language regularly.[167]

The federal government is obliged to communicate in the official languages, and in the federal parliament simultaneous translation is provided from and into German, French and Italian.[168]

Aside from the official forms of their respective languages, the four linguistic regions of Switzerland also have their local dialectal forms. The role played by dialects in each linguistic region varies dramatically: in the German-speaking regions, Swiss German dialects have become ever more prevalent since the second half of the 20th century, especially in the media, such as radio and television, and are used as an everyday language for many, while the Swiss variety of Standard German is almost always used instead of dialect for written communication (c.f. diglossic usage of a language).[169] Conversely, in the French-speaking regions the local dialects have almost disappeared (only 6.3% of the population of Valais, 3.9% of Fribourg, and 3.1% of Jura still spoke dialects at the end of the 20th century), while in the Italian-speaking regions dialects are mostly limited to family settings and casual conversation.[169]

The principal official languages (German, French, and Italian) have terms, not used outside of Switzerland, known as Helvetisms. German Helvetisms are, roughly speaking, a large group of words typical of Swiss Standard German, which do not appear either in Standard German, nor in other German dialects. These include terms from Switzerland’s surrounding language cultures (German Billett[170] from French), from similar terms in another language (Italian azione used not only as act but also as discount from German Aktion).[171] The French spoken in Switzerland has similar terms, which are equally known as Helvetisms. The most frequent characteristics of Helvetisms are in vocabulary, phrases, and pronunciation, but certain Helvetisms denote themselves as special in syntax and orthography likewise. Duden, the comprehensive German dictionary, contains about 3000 Helvetisms.[171] Current French dictionaries, such as the Petit Larousse, include several hundred Helvetisms.[172]

Learning one of the other national languages at school is compulsory for all Swiss pupils, so many Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual, especially those belonging to linguistic minority groups.[173]

Health

Swiss residents are universally required to buy health insurance from private insurance companies, which in turn are required to accept every applicant. While the cost of the system is among the highest, it compares well with other European countries in terms of health outcomes; patients have been reported as being, in general, highly satisfied with it.[174][175][176] In 2012, life expectancy at birth was 80.4 years for men and 84.7 years for women[177] — the highest in the world.[178][179] However, spending on health is particularly high at 11.4% of GDP (2010), on par with Germany and France (11.6%) and other European countries, but notably less than spending in the USA (17.6%).[180] From 1990, a steady increase can be observed, reflecting the high costs of the services provided.[181] With an ageing population and new healthcare technologies, health spending will likely continue to rise.[181]

Urbanisation

Urbanisation in the Rhone Valley (outskirts of Sion)

Between two thirds and three quarters of the population live in urban areas.[182][183] Switzerland has gone from a largely rural country to an urban one in just 70 years. Since 1935 urban development has claimed as much of the Swiss landscape as it did during the previous 2,000 years. This urban sprawl does not only affect the plateau but also the Jura and the Alpine foothills[184] and there are growing concerns about land use.[185] However, from the beginning of the 21st century, the population growth in urban areas is higher than in the countryside.[183]

Switzerland has a dense network of towns, where large, medium and small towns are complementary.[183] The plateau is very densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape continually shows signs of human presence.[186] The weight of the largest metropolitan areas, which are ZürichGenevaLausanneBasel and Bern tend to increase.[183] In international comparison the importance of these urban areas is stronger than their number of inhabitants suggests.[183] In addition the two main centres of Zürich and Geneva are recognised for their particularly great quality of life.[187]

Largest towns

Religion

Religion (age 15+) in Switzerland – 2016[189]
Affiliation % of Swiss population
Christian faiths 68
Roman Catholic 37.2

 

Swiss Reformed 25.0

 

Eastern Orthodox 2.3

 

Evangelical Protestant 1.2

 

Lutheran 1.0

 

other Christian 1.3

 

Non-Christian faiths 6.5

 

Muslim 5.1

 

Buddhist 0.5

 

Hindu 0.6

 

Jewish 0.2

 

Other non-Christian faith 0.3

 

Unaffiliated 24.0

 

Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognise official churches, which are either the Roman Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.[190]

Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland (about 68% of resident population in 2016[189] and 75% of Swiss citizens[191]), divided between the Roman Catholic Church (37.2% of the population), the Swiss Reformed Church (25.0%), further Protestant churches (2.2%), Eastern Orthodoxy (around 2%), and other Christian denominations (1.3%).[189] Immigration has established Islam (5.1%) as a sizeable minority religion.[189]

24% of Swiss permanent residents are not affiliated with any church (AtheismAgnosticism, and others).[189]

As of the 2000 census other Christian minority communities included Neo-Pietism (0.44%), Pentecostalism (0.28%, mostly incorporated in the Schweizer Pfingstmission), Methodism (0.13%), the New Apostolic Church (0.45%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.28%), other Protestant denominations (0.20%), the Old Catholic Church (0.18%), other Christian denominations (0.20%). Non-Christian religions are Hinduism (0.38%), Buddhism (0.29%), Judaism (0.25%) and others (0.11%); 4.3% did not make a statement.[192]

The country was historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. Switzerland played an exceptional role during the Reformation as it became home to many reformersGeneva converted to Protestantism in 1536, just before John Calvin arrived there. In 1541, he founded the Republic of Geneva on his own ideals. It became known internationally as the Protestant Rome, and housed such reformers as Theodore BezaWilliam Farel or Pierre ViretZürich became another stronghold around the same time, with Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger taking the lead there. Anabaptists Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel also operated there. They were later joined by the fleeing Peter Martyr Vermigli and Hans Denck. Other centres included Basel (Andreas Karlstadt and Johannes Oecolampadius), Berne (Berchtold Haller and Niklaus Manuel), and St. Gallen (Joachim Vadian). One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597. The larger cities and their cantons (Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Zürich and Basel) used to be predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, the Valais, the TicinoAppenzell Innerrhodes, the Jura, and Fribourg are traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was rejected by 78.9% of the voters.[193] Some traditionally Protestant cantons and cities nowadays have a slight Catholic majority, not because they were growing in members, quite the contrary, but only because since about 1970 a steadily growing minority became not affiliated with any church or other religious body (21.4% in Switzerland, 2012) especially in traditionally Protestant regions, such as Basel-City (42%), canton of Neuchâtel (38%), canton of Geneva (35%), canton of Vaud (26%), or Zürich city (city: >25%; canton: 23%).[194]

Culture

Alphorn concert in Vals

Three of Europe’s major languages are official in Switzerland. Swiss culture is characterised by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of traditional customs.[195] A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language, the country itself being rooted in western European culture.[196] The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in Graubünden in eastern Switzerland constitutes an exception, it survives only in the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition.

Switzerland is home to many notable contributors to literature, art, architecture, music and sciences. In addition the country attracted a number of creative persons during time of unrest or war in Europe.[197] Some 1000 museums are distributed through the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950.[198] Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Paléo FestivalLucerne Festival,[199] the Montreux Jazz Festival,[200] the Locarno International Film Festival and the Art Basel.[201]

Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity.[12][202] Nowadays some concentrated mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski resort culture in winter, and a hiking (Germandas Wandern) or Mountain biking culture in summer. Other areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas and small farms are omnipresent outside the towns. Folk art is kept alive in organisations all over the country. In Switzerland it is mostly expressed in music, dance, poetry, wood carving and embroidery. The alphorn, a trumpet-like musical instrument made of wood, has become alongside yodeling and the accordion an epitome of traditional Swiss music.[203][204]

Literature

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not only a writer but also an influential philosopher of the eighteenth century[205] (his statue in Geneva).

As the Confederation, from its foundation in 1291, was almost exclusively composed of German-speaking regions, the earliest forms of literature are in German. In the 18th century, French became the fashionable language in Bern and elsewhere, while the influence of the French-speaking allies and subject lands was more marked than before.[206]

Among the classic authors of Swiss German literature are Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854) and Gottfried Keller (1819–1890). The undisputed giants of 20th-century Swiss literature are Max Frisch (1911–91) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90), whose repertoire includes Die Physiker (The Physicists) and Das Versprechen (The Pledge), released in 2001 as a Hollywood film.[207]

Famous French-speaking writers were Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Germaine de Staël (1766–1817). More recent authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947), whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh environment and Blaise Cendrars (born Frédéric Sauser, 1887–1961).[207] Italian and Romansh-speaking authors also contributed to the Swiss literary landscape, but generally in more modest ways given their small number.

Probably the most famous Swiss literary creation, Heidi, the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Alps, is one of the most popular children’s books ever and has come to be a symbol of Switzerland. Her creator, Johanna Spyri (1827–1901), wrote a number of other books on similar themes.[207]

Media

The freedom of the press and the right to free expression is guaranteed in the federal constitution of Switzerland.[208] The Swiss News Agency (SNA) broadcasts information around-the-clock in three of the four national languages—on politics, economics, society and culture. The SNA supplies almost all Swiss media and a couple dozen foreign media services with its news.[208]

Switzerland has historically boasted the greatest number of newspaper titles published in proportion to its population and size.[209] The most influential newspapers are the German-language Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, and the French-language Le Temps, but almost every city has at least one local newspaper. The cultural diversity accounts for a large number of newspapers.[209]

The government exerts greater control over broadcast media than print media, especially due to finance and licensing.[209] The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, whose name was recently changed to SRG SSR, is charged with the production and broadcast of radio and television programmes. SRG SSR studios are distributed throughout the various language regions. Radio content is produced in six central and four regional studios while the television programmes are produced in GenevaZürich, and Lugano. An extensive cable network also allows most Swiss to access the programmes from neighbouring countries.[209]

Sports

Ski area over the glaciers of Saas-Fee

Skiingsnowboarding and mountaineering are among the most popular sports in Switzerland, the nature of the country being particularly suited for such activities.[210] Winter sports are practised by the natives and tourists since the second half of the 19th century with the invention of bobsleigh in St. Moritz.[211] The first world ski championships were held in Mürren (1931) and St. Moritz (1934). The latter town hosted the second Winter Olympic Games in 1928 and the fifth edition in 1948. Among the most successful skiers and world champions are Pirmin Zurbriggen and Didier Cuche.

The most prominently watched sports in Switzerland are footballice hockeyAlpin skiing, “Schwingen“, and tennis.[212]

The headquarters of the international football’s and ice hockey’s governing bodies, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), are located in Zürich. Actually many other headquarters of international sports federations are located in Switzerland. For example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), IOC’s Olympic Museum and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) are located in Lausanne.

Switzerland hosted the 1954 FIFA World Cup, and was the joint host, with Austria, of the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament. The Swiss Super League is the nation’s professional football club league. Europe’s highest football pitch, at 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) above sea level, is located in Switzerland and is named the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium.[213]

Roger Federer has won a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, making him the most successful men’s tennis player ever.[214]

Many Swiss also follow ice hockey and support one of the 12 teams of the National League, which is the most attended league in Europe.[215] In 2009, Switzerland hosted the IIHF World Championship for the 10th time.[216] It also became World Vice-Champion in 2013 and 2018. The numerous lakes make Switzerland an attractive place for sailing. The largest, Lake Geneva, is the home of the sailing team Alinghi which was the first European team to win the America’s Cup in 2003 and which successfully defended the title in 2007. Tennis has become an increasingly popular sport, and Swiss players such as Martina HingisRoger Federer, and Stanislas Wawrinka have won multiple Grand Slams.

Motorsport racecourses and events were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster with exception to events such as Hillclimbing. During this period, the country still produced successful racing drivers such as Clay RegazzoniSébastien BuemiJo SiffertDominique Aegerter, successful World Touring Car Championship driver Alain Menu2014 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Marcel Fässler and 2015 24 Hours Nürburgring winner Nico MüllerSwitzerland also won the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2007–08 with driver Neel Jani. Swiss motorcycle racer Thomas Lüthi won the 2005 MotoGP World Championship in the 125cc category. In June 2007 the Swiss National Council, one house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland, voted to overturn the ban, however the other house, the Swiss Council of States rejected the change and the ban remains in place.[217][218]

Traditional sports include Swiss wrestling or “Schwingen“. It is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport by some. Hornussen is another indigenous Swiss sport, which is like a cross between baseball and golf.[219] Steinstossen is the Swiss variant of stone put, a competition in throwing a heavy stone. Practised only among the alpine population since prehistoric times, it is recorded to have taken place in Basel in the 13th century. It is also central to the Unspunnenfest, first held in 1805, with its symbol the 83.5 stone named Unspunnenstein.[220]

Cuisine

Fondue is melted cheese, into which bread is dipped

The cuisine of Switzerland is multifaceted. While some dishes such as fondueraclette or rösti are omnipresent through the country, each region developed its own gastronomy according to the differences of climate and languages.[221][222] Traditional Swiss cuisine uses ingredients similar to those in other European countries, as well as unique dairy products and cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmental, produced in the valleys of Gruyères and Emmental. The number of fine-dining establishments is high, particularly in western Switzerland.[223][224]

Chocolate has been made in Switzerland since the 18th century but it gained its reputation at the end of the 19th century with the invention of modern techniques such as conch