Monday, September 22, 2014

Liechtenstein: A Visit To A Peculiar Micro-State in the Heart of Europe

Well before we arrived there - thanks to Rolf- we already knew it was a micro-state in the heart of Europe - sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria.  To give a relative idea of area scales: Barbados has 166 square miles and Liechtenstein occupies 62 square miles.  Another way to put it: About 6 Liechtensteins would fit inside the Colorado Springs metro area. The map below fixes ideas on its location:

We entered after leaving St. Gallen - see top map- and drove directly to the capital Vaduz - population 35,000 - which is also the site for the Prince's palace.   It is this palace that's a main tourist draw for this Lilliputian nation, and also a big reason why - though a professed "open democracy" - the citizens are really limited in what they can do.

Citizens of this micro-state refer to it as Fürstentum (principality) of Liechstenstein 

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A bit more background from Wikipedia:

“The family, from which the principality takes its name, originally came from Castle Liechtenstein in Lower Austria which they had possessed from at least 1140 until the 13th century (and again from 1807 onwards). The Liechtensteins acquired land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria, Silesia, and Styria. As these territories were all held in feudal tenure from more senior feudal lords, particularly various branches of the Habsburgs, the Liechtenstein dynasty was unable to meet a primary requirement to qualify for a seat in the Imperial diet (parliament), the Reichstag. Even though several Liechtenstein princes served several Habsburg rulers as close advisers, without any territory held directly from the Imperial throne, they held little power in the Holy Roman Empire.

For this reason, the family sought to acquire lands that would be classed as unmittelbar ("unintermediated"), or held without any intermediate feudal tenure, directly from the Holy Roman Emperor. During the early 17th century Karl I of Liechtenstein was made a Fürst (prince) by the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias after siding with him in a political battle. Hans-Adam I was allowed to purchase the minuscule Herrschaft ("Lordship") of Schellenberg and county of Vaduz (in 1699 and 1712 respectively) from the Hohenems. Tiny Schellenberg and Vaduz had exactly the political status required: no feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and the suzerain Emperor.”

The write up adds:

“On 23 January 1719, after the lands had been purchased, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that Vaduz and Schellenberg were united and elevated the newly formed territory to the dignity of Fürstentum (principality) with the name "Liechtenstein" in honour of "[his] true servant, Anton Florian of Liechtenstein". It was on this date that Liechtenstein became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire."

Of course, when we arrived the first thing we wanted to do is what all tourists wanted to do - get our photos taken with the Schloss (Castle) in the background.  As yours truly has:
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You can see a close up of the castle below (upper center):
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Liechtenstein is often described as a direct democracy, where voters can propose and enact constitutional amendments and legislation independent of the legislature - but Rolf told us to take that with a grain of salt.  He referenced one occasion when the people tried to approve some national measure like an increased minimum wage - but the Prince expressed his displeasure. The people were notified that unless they withdrew the proposed law the Prince would leave the country. This sounds minor until you consider that  most of the capital inflow is from tourist dollars and the prime attraction of the country is the Prince's castle. So much for direct democracy!

The main paper is the VolksBlatt (People's Voice), see e.g. the banner below:

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On the day we arrived, the most notable front page story (headline translated from the German) was:

"Cancer, Dementia and Diabetes Cost Millions

The article noted that since 2011 the three diseases had cost the principality some 52 million franks. The medical treatment costs alone in the same time period - have been 33 million franks. Oh, and the health care costs keep rising including the "indirect" costs when caretakers must take time off from work to care for a loved one.

One thing that stood out for us is the general quality of the place appeared a poor cousin to its neighbor, Switzerland - but then most nations would fare poorly by comparison,  even the U.S.. For example if you compared the scenic beauty of Switzerland's Jungfrau region of the Alps to the Colorado Rocky Mountains - with all the frack wells despoiling the view from the foothills in the latter.

The people themselves appeared friendly enough, but not as much as the Swiss. Maybe this was because of having less economic security - who knows?

After our photography we settled into a nearby "Bakerei" to have some excellent coffee and cream puffs. (Which were nearly all air). We noted the people around us,  most of whom - including one guy who appeared to be a refugee from 1960s Haight & Ashbury, seated alone. We also observed hardly any social media devices.

Liechtenstein was intriguing, but we were all glad to get back to Switzerland after leaving Vaduz!

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