I have come across this description in Paddy Ashdown's (excellent) autobiography A Fortunate Life:

I have often been struck by the similarities between those countries whose fortune (or misfortune) it is to find themselves at the junction of the tectonic plates of race, culture and religion. Countries like Switzerland, Afghanistan and Bosnia are all of them mountainous regions, incredibly beautiful, the battlegrounds of conquerors and the cockpits in which, from time to time, terrible inter-ethnic conflicts break out (before the Treaty of Ticino in 1516 the famously peaceful Switzerland of today was the Bosnia of the middle ages when it came to internal war and ethnic conflict).

What were the main inter-ethnic (racial, cultural, religious) dimensions of the 16th-century and perhaps earlier conflict in Switzerland that the author is referring to here?

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    As far as I know, there wasn't any - inter-ethnic conflict is something that was invented in the 19th century and that only became widespread in the 20th. Switzerland wasn't even a state before 1640. This probably refers to conflicts between catholics and protestants but this had nothing to do with "inter-ethnic".
    – Bregalad
    Jan 27, 2018 at 16:28
  • @Bregalad The author may refer to the geographic region where the modern state of Switzerland is situated. And ethnicities may not have to be bound to states (in the modern sense) either.
    – Drux
    Jan 27, 2018 at 16:34
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    @Bregalad I suspect that he is using the term 'ethnic' here in the same sense that the word is used in the Wikipedia article on Swiss people Jan 27, 2018 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


I think he's off base about Switzerland, unless he is mischaracterizing the nature of the Swiss confederacy. I'm also not sure what he means about ethnic strife. He's probably talking about the Duchy of Savoy and France directly to the south, and the passes from France into Northwest Italy. It's a strategic point in Western Europe by which France was trying to expand into Italy, at the expense of the Holy Roman Empire and the Italian states. It's importance also made it a point of contest by the local nobility of Savoy and Milan.

Ticino is a region in Switzerland that juts into Milan, and was annexed to it in 1516.



In this case, 'ethnic-conflict' is presumably referring to ethnicity in the same way as it is defined in the Wikipedia article:

An ethnic group, or an ethnicity, is a category of people who identify with each other based on similarities such as common ancestry, language, society, culture or nation.

The group need not be based on race, culture, or religion.

The article on Swiss people states:

The traditional ethnic composition of the territories of modern Switzerland includes the following components:

  • The German-speaking Swiss (Deutschschweizer), i.e. Alemannic German, historically amalgamated from the Gallo-Roman population and the Alemanni and Burgundii, including subgroups such as the Walser. Closely related German-speaking peoples are the Alsatians, the Swabians and the Vorarlbergians.

  • The French-speaking Swiss (Romands), traditionally speaking Franco-Provençal dialects, today largely assimilated to the standard French language (Swiss French), amalgamated from the Gallo-Roman population and Burgundians (the historical Upper Burgundy). They are closely related to the French (especially those of Franche-Comté). They are occasionally referred to as Welsch in Swiss German.

  • The Italian-speaking Swiss (Svizzeri italiani), traditionally speakers of Lombard language (Ticinese variety) today partly assimilated to the standard Italian language, amalgamated from Raetians and Lombards. They are closely related to the Italians (especially Lombards and Piedmontese).

  • The Romansh, speakers of the Romansh language, settling in parts of the Grisons, historically of Raetic stock.

Now, Personally I don't know whether these groupings are generally agreed, or whether there is some dispute. That is not the point.

The point is that these groupings are accepted as ethnic groups by at least some people using that definition. Furthermore, by that definition conflict between these group is ethnic conflict, and Lord Ashdown's categorisation would seem reasonable.

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    I think that people were eager to join the Swiss over the Holy Roman Empire for example, and that there was a common drive for independence and freedom? I'm not seeing the Balkans part. The quotation seems loose and off hand.
    – John Dee
    Jan 28, 2018 at 1:45
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    Maybe there was a particular bout between the Swiss and Savoy. Noone seems to be familiar with growth of Swiss territory.
    – John Dee
    Jan 28, 2018 at 1:46
  • @JohnDee I suspect he's referring to things like the Old Zürich War or the Transalpine campaigns of the Old Swiss Confederacy. But the book's an autobiography, not a history textbook. We probably shouldn't expect too much in the way of academic rigour. Jan 28, 2018 at 1:55
  • I didn't downvote you!
    – John Dee
    Feb 3, 2018 at 23:23
  • @JohnDee Don't worry about it. I don't. :) Feb 4, 2018 at 1:26

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