Liechtenstein, officially known as the Principality of Liechtenstein (German: Fürstentum Liechtenstein), is a tiny principality located in Central Europe and Western Europe. It is just 62 square miles in size, sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland in the middle of the Alps. The river Rhine forms its western border and much of the country is made up of mountains. The country is the last German-speaking monarchy and (arguably) the last remaining remnant of the Holy Roman Empire.
Its very existence is one of those random historical happenstances: the Lordship of Schellenburg and the County of Vaduz were purchased by the powerful Austrian von Liechtenstein family in 1699 and 1712 respectively because these two titles, as tiny as their associated territories were, had "Imperial immediacy" (i.e. no superior lord but the Holy Roman Emperor himself) and therefore entitled their holders to sit in the Imperial Diet. On January 23, 1719, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI united Vaduz and Schellenburg, creating the Principality of Liechtenstein. The medieval knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein is named after another Liechtenstein castle and has nothing to do with this state.
When Napoléon Bonaparte dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, the von Liechtensteins found themselves in charge of an independent country and finally got round to actually visiting it. Liechtenstein was a member of the German Confederation, but was left out of both the German Empire and Austria-Hungary as it decided to pursue a policy of neutrality in the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War. The von Liechtensteins were still at heart an Austrian noble family and mostly stayed in Vienna until the end of World War I brought Imperial Austria crashing down.
Since then, Liechtenstein has aligned itself more with Switzerland and today it is in many ways just another canton of Switzerland - it uses the Swiss postal system and the Swiss Franc as its currency, Liechtenstein's utilities are mostly handled by Switzerland, as is its penal system (anyone serving more than just a short stint in jail will go to a Swiss prison), major companies will typically treat Switzerland and Liechtenstein as the same 'territory' for business, and the two nations are in a customs union with each other. If Liechtenstein were to hypothetically join Switzerland as its 27th canton, it would become its second smallest note and fourth least populatednote . One of the few exceptions to its dependence of Switzerland is with its railways; the country's local rail service is provided by Austria, where the S2 line of the Voralberg S-Bahn runs through the country on runs between Buchs and Feldkirch.
However, remaining independent allows it to be a tax haven and Liechtenstein's main source of wealth is from foreign companies taking advantage of its low corporation tax rate. In fact, Liechtenstein is the only country in the world with more registered companies than it has inhabitants—sort of the European equivalent of Delaware, but even more insignificant (and without any notable political figures). This has led to a minor spat with the United States over the conflict between confidential banking and the prevention of money laundering. This status has recently been eroded somewhat by opening up accounts to the United Kingdom's tax body for them to have a look at.
Liechtenstein does however have some "real" companies of its own, such as Hilti who make a popular concrete fixing, Ivoclar Vivadent, producer of a large proportion of the world's false teeth, and Intamin, a renowned ride and rollercoaster manufacturer.
Owing to its status as a tax haven and its tiny population (around 37,000 as of 2014), it's one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of $157,040, just below the record holder Monaco and surpassing the status of the wealthiest "conventional" country, Luxembourg (for some reason, Liechtenstein and Monaco don't show up often in economic rankings, probably due to their status as tax havens) and three times the GDP per capita of the US. If one measures it with the cost of living, though (which is very expensive), it drops down by about $70,000 and ranks third, below Luxembourg.
Liechtensteiners speak a dialect typical of the Alpine Germans, the Alemannic, which is highly divergent from the German of the lowlands. Like its eastern neighbor, Austria (but unlike Germans elsewhere), the German population is almost entirely Roman Catholic. The rest of the population mainly consists of Turks and other peoples of former Yugoslavia who are either Muslims or Orthodox Christians.
Also won the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in Economicsnote due to the odd policy of the tourism board allowing the entire nation to be rented for a party (in 2012, Halo 4 rented it for a launch event).
And as an interesting bit of trivia from the BBC, Liechtenstein's current territory of 62 square miles is actually a recent expansion from 2006, due to a fluke found by modern measuring methods.
Due to expropriations of the ruling family's property and fallout from the Beneš decrees that expelled ethnic Germans and Hungarians, Liechtenstein had a long feud with Czechoslovakia, taken so far as to not have relations with The Czech Republic and Slovakia after the Velvet Divorce. This policy was finally changed as they established diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic in July 2009, and Slovakia five months later.
Holds the record for possibly the youngest leader ever elected in Europe, after Mario Frick won elections in 1993 and became Prime Minister aged 28. He was in office until 2001.
The country's ruling dynasty is also considered to be one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe, due to the fact that the Prince has the final say in government policy. Because of that, it is known for a quirk of the constitution in the other German-speaking European countries: The prince is not allowed to sell the country (which would include all its inhabitants), despite owning every square inch of it. But much like Switzerland, Lichtenstein also has a strong tradition of direct democracy, where referenda are frequently held to decide on the country’s policies and laws.
Liechtenstein does not have an army, having dissolved it in 1868. But given how tiny the country and its population are and that the principality is surrounded by two much bigger allies who speak the same language, they probably don't need one.
It was also invaded by the Swiss. By accident. Apparently a commando group got lost after taking a wrong turn somewhere. Make of that what you will.note
Random trivia note: It, along with Uzbekistan, is one of the only two doubly landlocked countries in the world. This means it only borders other landlocked countries, so a person has to cross two borders to find a sea. Liechtenstein has the same National Anthem melody as the United Kingdom, and yes, they have played a football/soccer match against each other before.
The Liechtensteiner flag
The Liechtensteiner national anthem
- Unitary semi-direct democracy under a parliamentary semi-constitutional monarchy
- Monarch: Hans-Adam II
- Regent: Alois
- Prime Minister: Daniel Risch
- Capital: Vaduz
- Largest Municipality: Schaan
- Population: 38,896
- Area: 160 km² (62 sq mi) (189th)
- Currency: Swiss franc (Fr.) (CHF)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: LI
- Country calling code: 423
- Highest point: Grauspitz (2599 m/8,527 ft) (88th)
- Lowest point: Rhine (430 m/1,411 ft) (71st)