The principality of Liechtenstein–Alemannic-German-speaking, picturesque, tucked high up in the Alps between Germany and Switzerland–started as a power-grab. The Liechtenstein family was an Austrian dynasty that acquired much land in the region but didn’t own it in a manner that would earn it a seat in the Imperial parliament. Seeking political power, by 1719 the Liechtensteins had acquired a 62 square mile land that consisted of the Lordship of Scellenberg and the country of Vaduz, renaming it after themselves. The title of
the land earned them a seat in the parliament, and beyond that, micromanaging the nation was apparently not at the top of their things-to-do list; no sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein visited the principality until about 120 years after the purchase.

A couple centuries later the Liechtenstein family still rules its country, but no longer from afar; in 1938 the Princely Family of Liechtenstein relocated from Austria and actually became quite popular. In 2003 the people of Liechtenstein voted to enable Prince Hans Adam II to veto legislation and dismiss any government minister at his discretion. This gives the prince of Liechtenstein more power than almost any other reigning constitutional monarch.

The prince of Liechtenstein has actually had a great deal of power since the early 1800s
when French conqueror Napoleon’s empire disintegrated, leaving the tiny country without any larger power to control it. Liechtenstein allied itself with Germany in the mid-1800s, then with Austria, where its monarchs resided. In 1938 Germany annexed Austria en route to the start of World War II, finding some sympathizers among Liechtenstein’s National Union party. At the time Liechtenstein’s prince was the 84 year old Franz I. His wife, Elisabeth von Gutmann, a wealthy Viennese woman who he had married in 1929, was Jewish; Liechtenstein’s Nazis started to call her their “Jewish problem.” In part because of this, Prince Franz I abdicated, giving the crown to his 31 year old cousin, Franz Joseph.

Since World War II the little principality of Liechtenstein has transformed from a
relatively poor, rural nation, into one of the richest countries in the world. This has
a lot to do with its lax banking restrictions–even more appealing to the wealthy than its neighbor’s infamous “Swiss banks”–which attracted vast amounts of international cash. As a result, in 2012 Liechtenstein actually had more registered companies (es. 74,000) than citizens (about 35,000). Though, as Josh Levin reported in Slate, “banking isn’t the only game in town: Liechtenstein is also a leading producer of sausage casings and false teeth.” (Prince Hans Adam II, who in 2012 was estimated to have a fortune of about five billion dollars, must have sold a lot of sausage casings.)

Liechtenstein doesn’t often make the international news, though in 2007 it hit the global headlines when Switzerland’s army invaded it a surprise nighttime attack…sort of. Apparently, 170 Swiss soldiers had crossed Liechtenstein’s border–accidentally–while conducting a training exercise in the middle of a very dark night. Liechtenstein is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have an army, so in theory the invading force could probably have just stayed, but the Swiss quickly apologized.

Liechtenstein doesn’t necessarily have its own distinct form of music, but it is quite a musical nation; each year it hosts a number of internationally popular music festivals, like Guitar Days, Schubertiade, and the rock and heavy metal festival, Wavejam Openair, held every year in Balzers.

Read Josh Levin “Big Man, Little Countries” entry about visiting the LieGames, the small states’ Olympics, in Liechtenstein

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