Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

October 28, 2008


Strange Maps - The tiny, obscure alpine principality of Liechtenstein seems to exist as mainly a repository of arcane distinctions:

- At 160.4 sq. km (62 sq. mi), Liechtenstein is one of the smallest independent countries in the world (#189 out of 194 according to Nationmaster).

- In Europe, however, it is one of the bigger mini-states; San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City are smaller.

- But Liechtenstein is the smallest German-speaking country in the world, in population as well as size (there are only about 35,000 Liechtensteiners). It is also the only German-speaking country not to recognize officially any other language next to German

- It is also the smallest country bordering more than one other country; Liechtenstein is hemmed in by Switzerland to the west, and Austria to the east.

- The country took its name from the dynasty that ruled it (usually it's the other way round). The dynasty got its name from somewhere, of course, i.e. faraway Castle Liechtenstein ("bright stone") at the edge of the Wienerwald, south of Vienna.

- By disbanding its 80-man strong army in 1868, Liechtenstein may have been the first country in the (modern) world without an organized military force.

- Prince Franz I (born 1853, ruled 1929-1938) was married to a Viennese noblewoman of Jewish descent - probably the only Jewish crowned head in Europe, an especially poignant position in those especially anti-semitic times. Franz I abdicated in 1938 because he couldn't bear the thought of the Nazis invading while he was on the throne. As it happened, they respected the principality's neutrality (although the local Nazi sympathizers agitated against Franz I's wife).

- After World War II, Liechtenstein offered asylum to 500 Russian soldiers who fought on the German side - a staggeringly high number, considering the small population had difficulties feeding itself. Argentina eventually agreed to take them in.

- During the Cold War, all Liechtensteiners were forbidden entry into Czechoslovakia, which had nationalized huge tracts of land formerly held by the Liechtenstein dynasty.

- Although landlocked, Liechtenstein's lenient banking regulations have made it such a fiscal paradise that it is often included in the top lists of 'offshore' tax havens.

- In 2003, the ruling prince Hans-Adam threatened to leave the country if he lost a referendum on expanding his powers. He won, making Liechtenstein the only European country in modern history where the monarchy's power increased. The prince can now veto laws and dismiss governments - making the principality the closest thing present-day Europe has to an absolutist monarchy.


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September 26, 2009 10:45 PM  

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