This chapter will analyze the concept of national minorities as it is understood and implemented in federal Switzerland. It attempts to examine how traditional Swiss understandings of unity and diversity are being challenged by the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities which is currently ratified by 39 European states and designed to be implemented in unitary, decentralized as well as federal states. While protecting and promoting diversity in unity has always been at the heart of the pluralistic Swiss state, the concept of accommodating “national minorities” has been introduced to the Swiss scene mainly by international law.
The chapter will also outline the original understanding of unity and diversity in Switzerland and the empirical and legal challenges that demographic changes and the Framework Convention has brought to the country. The author will then examine the conceptual reactions and responses to these challenges by investigating the initial report on the implementation of the Framework Convention submitted by Switzerland in 2001 and the three subsequent reporting cycles documenting numerous changes in law and policies as well as reform projects that are affecting national minorities. By doing so, the author attempts to clarify the interactions between the country’s traditional, mostly federal, patterns of dealing with diversity in unity and the new ways of thinking about and accommodating national minorities introduced by the Framework Convention. The guiding question will be if and how the implementation of the Convention has impacted on the original Swiss arrangements developed to deal with the country’s plurality.