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Fürstentum Liechtenstein
Principality of Liechtenstein
Flag of Liechtenstein Coat of arms of Liechtenstein
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: none
Anthem: Oben am jungen Rhein
Location of Liechtenstein
Capital Vaduz
47°08′ N 9°30′ E
Largest city Schaan
Official language(s) German
Head of Government
Constitutional monarchy
Hans-Adam II
Otmar Hasler
• Total

• Water (%)

160 km² ( 189th)
{{{areami²}}} mi²

2004 est.
2000 census


32,528 ( 187th)

210/km² ( 37th)
• Total
• Per capita
1999 estimate
$825 million ( 179th)
$25,000 ( 26th)
HDI ( 2003) NA ( unranked) – NA
Currency Swiss franc ( CHF)
Time zone
• Summer ( DST)
CET ( UTC+1)
Internet TLD .li
Calling code +4231
1. Used Swiss area code 41 75 until 1999

The Principality of Liechtenstein ( German: Fürstentum Liechtenstein) is a tiny, doubly landlocked country in Western Europe, bordered by Switzerland to its west and by Austria to its east. Mountainous, it is a winter sports resort, though it is perhaps best-known as a tax haven.


The modern territory of Liechtenstein formed at one time (an albeit diminutive) part of the ancient Roman province of Raetia. For centuries this territory, geographically removed from European strategic interests, had little impact on the tide of European history. Prior to the reign of its current dynasty, the region was enfiefed to a line of the counts of Hohenems.

The Liechtenstein dynasty, from which the Principality takes its name (rather than vice-versa), comes from Castle Liechtenstein in faraway Lower Austria, which the family possessed from at least 1140 to the 13th century, and from 1807 onwards. Through the centuries, the dynasty acquired vast swathes of land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria , Silesia and Styria, though in all cases, these territories were held in fief under other more senior feudal lords, particularly under various lines of the Habsburg family, which several Liechtenstein princes served as close advisors. Thus, and without any territory held directly under the Imperial throne, the Liechtenstein dynasty was unable to meet a primary requirement to qualify for a seat in the Imperial diet, the Reichstag.

The family yearned for the added power which a seat in the Imperial government would garner, and therefore searched for lands to acquire which would be unmittelbar or held without any feudal personage other than the Emperor himself having rights on the land. After some time, the family was able to arrange the purchase of the minuscule Herrschaft ('Lordship') of Schellenberg and countship of Vaduz (in 1699 and 1712 respectively) from the Hohenems. Tiny Schellenberg and Vaduz possessed exactly the political status required, no feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and the suzerain Emperor.

Thereby, on January 23, 1719, after purchase had been duly made, Emperor Charles VI decreed Vaduz and Schellenberg were united, and raised to the dignity of Fürstentum (principality) with the name "Liechtenstein" in honour of [his] 'true servant, Anton Florian of Liechtenstein'. It is on this date that Liechtenstein became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire. Ironically, but as testament to the pure political expediency of the purchases, the Princes of Liechtenstein did not set foot in their new principality for several decades.

Schloss Vaduz, overlooking the capital, is still home to the Princes of Liechtenstein.
Schloss Vaduz, overlooking the capital, is still home to the Princes of Liechtenstein.

In 1806, most of the Holy Roman Empire was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte's France. This event had broad consequences for Liechtenstein: imperial legal and political mechanisms broke down, while the Holy Roman Emperor abdicated the imperial throne: the Empire itself dissolved. As a result, Liechtenstein ceased to have any obligations to any feudal lord beyond its borders. Modern publications generally (although incorrectly) attribute Liechtenstein's 'sovereignty' to these events. In reality, its prince merely became suzerain as well as remaining sovereign lord. Since on 25 July 1806 the Confederation of the Rhine was founded, the prince of Liechtenstein was a member, in fact a vassal of its hegemon styled 'protector', French Emperor Napoleon I Bonaparte, until its dissolution on 19 October 1813.

Soon after, it joined the German Confederation ( 20 June 1815 - 24 August 1866, presided by the Emperors of Austria). Until the end of World War I, Liechtenstein was closely tied to Austria. However, the economic devastation caused by that conflict forced the country to conclude a customs and monetary union with its other neighbour, Switzerland.

During World War II, Liechtenstein remained neutral, while family treasures within the war zone were brought to Liechtenstein (and London) for safekeeping. At the close of the conflict, Czechoslovakia and Poland, acting to seize "German" possessions, expropriated the entirety of the Liechtenstein dynasty's hereditary lands and possessions in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia - the Princes of Liechtenstein lived in Vienna until 1938. The expropriations (subject to modern legal dispute at the World Court) included over 1,600 km² of agricultural and forest land, including also several family castles and palaces. It is thus little wonder that during the decades of the Cold War, citizens of Liechtenstein were forbidden by Czechoslovakia from even entering that country.

In financial straits following the war, the Liechtenstein dynasty often resorted to selling family artistic treasures, including for instance Da Vinci's priceless portrait " Ginevra de Benci", which was purchased by the United States government. However, the economic condition of Liechtenstein improved rapidly. During the decades following, Liechtenstein prospered, its economy modernizing with the advantage of low corporate tax rates which drew many companies to the country.

The Prince of Liechtenstein is among the world's wealthiest heads-of-state, with an estimated wealth of 2 billion dollars. The country's population enjoys one of the world's highest standards of living.


Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy headed by its ruling prince or Fürst. The current prince is Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, who succeeded upon his father's death in 1989. The parliament of Liechtenstein, the Landtag, consists of 25 representatives chosen by the people. A cabinet of five members is responsible for daily political matters.

In a referendum on July 1, 1984, male voters granted women the right to vote in national (though not local) elections, a victory for Prince Hans-Adam who had supported the legislation. Unlike many other constitutional monarchies, the constitution of Liechtenstein gives many important powers to the Prince, some of which have caused controversy in recent years.

Critics were, however, largely discredited when in March 2003, a popular referendum bolstered the Liechtenstein dynasty's constitutional position. Prior to the referendum, Prince Hans-Adam had announced that he and his family would relocate to Vienna, Austria if the House's constitutional prerogatives were curbed. The referendum confirmed the broad popularity of the Liechtenstein dynasty and underscored the populace's faith in Prince Hans-Adam as leader.

Administrative division.
Administrative division.

The parliamentary elections of March 11 and 13th, 2005 resulted in the government of Otmar Hasler losing its general majority in the Landtag. By April he had formed a coalition government with the main opposition party.

Liechtenstein was admitted to the United Nations in 1990.


Liechtenstein is divided among eleven communities (Gemeinden - singular Gemeinde), most consisting of only a single town. These are:

  • Vaduz
  • Schaan
  • Balzers
  • Triesen
  • Eschen
  • Mauren
  • Triesenberg
  • Ruggell
  • Gamprin
  • Schellenberg
  • Planken


Liechtenstein is situated in the Upper Rhine valley of the European Alps. The entire western border of Liechtenstein is formed by the river. In its east, Liechtenstein rises to higher altitudes, its highest point, the Grauspitz, reaches 2,599 m (8,527 ft.). Despite its alpine location, prevailing southerly winds make the climate of Liechtenstein rather mild. In winter, the mountain slopes are well suited to winter sports.

Liechtenstein is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world; i.e., a landlocked country surrounded by other landlocked countries. The other is Uzbekistan. It is the only country with a majority of German-speaking people that does not share a border with Germany (though there are substantial German-speaking minorities in Argentina, Brazil and Namibia).


Despite its small geographic area and limited natural resources, Liechtenstein has developed into a prosperous, highly industrialized, free-enterprise economy, and boasts a financial service sector and also living standard which compare favourably to those of the urban areas of Liechtenstein's large European neighbours. Advantageously low business taxes – the maximum tax rate is 18% – as well as easy Rules of Incorporation have induced about 73,700 holding (or so-called 'letter box') companies to establish nominal offices in Liechtenstein. Such processes provide about 30% of Liechtenstein's state revenue.

Recently, Liechtenstein has shown strong determination to dispel the country's unhelpful image as a center for international money-laundering.

Liechtenstein participates in a customs union with Switzerland and employs the Swiss franc as national currency. The country imports more than 90% of its energy requirements. Liechtenstein has been a member of the European Economic Area (an organization serving as a bridge between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Union) since May 1995. The government is working to harmonize its economic policies with those of an integrated Europe. Since 2002, Liechtenstein's rate of unemployment has doubled, although it stood at only 2.2% in the third quarter of 2004.

Looking northward at Vaduz city-centre
Looking northward at Vaduz city-centre


Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country of Europe, after Vatican City, Monaco, and San Marino. Its resident population is approximately 1/3 foreign-born, primarily Germans, Austrians, and Swiss.

The official language is German; most speak an Alemannic (and highly divergent) dialect of German, see Middle High German. About 76% of the population adhere to the Roman Catholic faith, while about 7% are Protestant.

On November 27, 2005, Liechtenstein voters rejected an initiative that would prohibit abortion, birth control, and living wills in the principality. Instead, a government-sponsored counterproposal was ratified. The anti-abortion initiative was supported by Roman Catholic Archbishop Wolfgang Haas. Hereditary Prince Alois was initially sympathetic to anti-abortion proposal, but became neutral during the run-up to the vote. [1]


There is about 250 km of paved roadway within Liechtenstein, and 9.5 km of railway. The country's rails are administered by the Austrian Federal Railways as part of the route between Feldkirch, Austria, and Buchs SG, Switzerland. Four stations in Liechtenstein, including Schaan-Vaduz, Forst Hilti, Nendeln, and Schaanwald, are served by an irregular stopping-train service running between Feldkirch and Buchs. While EuroCity and other long distance international trains also make use of the route, these do not call at Liechtenstein stations. Liechtenstein Bus is a subsidiary of the Swiss Postbus system, and connects to the Swiss bus network at Buchs SG and at Sargans.


Due to Liechtenstein's small size, the country has been strongly affected by external cultural influences, most notably those originating in the southern German-speaking areas of Europe, including Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland, and the Tyrol. The Historical Society of the Principality of Liechtenstein plays a role in preserving the culture and history of the country.


Liechtenstein football teams play in the Swiss football leagues. The Liechtenstein Cup allows access to one Liechtenstein team each year in the UEFA Cup -- FC Vaduz, a team playing in the Swiss Challenge League (i.e. the second level of Swiss football) is the most successful team in the Cup, and scored their greatest success in the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1996 when they defeated the Latvian team FC Universitate Riga by 1:1 and 4:2, to go on to a lucrative fixture against Paris St Germain, which they lost 0:4 and 0:3.

The Liechtenstein national football team has traditionally been regarded as an easy target for any team drawn against them, a fact that served as the basis for a book about Liechtenstein's disastrous qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup by British author Charlie Connelly. In autumn 2004, however, in an astonishing week the team managed a 2:2 draw with Portugal, who only a few months earlier had been the losing finalists in the European Championships, and went on four days later to defeat Luxembourg by 4 goals to 0 in Luxembourg, in qualification matches for the 2006 World Cup.

As an alpine country, the main opportunity for Liechtensteiners to excel is in winter sports such as downhill skiing: Hanni Wenzel won two Olympic titles in 1980.

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