views updated


LOCATION: Liechtenstein
POPULATION: 35,200 (2008)
LANGUAGE: Standard German; Alemannic German; English, French
RELIGION: Roman Catholic; Protestant


Liechtenstein is a tiny, picturesque country located in the heart of Europe. The citizens of this politically neutral principality enjoy a peaceful and prosperous existence in the midst of a scenic Alpine landscape. The region now known as Liechtenstein has been continuously inhabited since 3000 bc. After successive periods of rule by the Rhaetians, Celts, and Romans, it was settled by the Alemanni, a Germanic people who arrived in the area in the 5th century ad. In the 8th century the region formed part of Charlemagne's empire, and it was later divided into two separate entities, the Lordship of Schellenberg and the County of Vaduz, both of which later belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. Prince Johann Adam of Liechtenstein acquired Schellenberg in 1699 and Vaduz in 1712, uniting the two domains as the Imperial Principality of Liechtenstein. Except for a brief period of French rule under Napoleon, the principality has been independent ever since that time.

For part of the 19th century, Liechtenstein was an autonomous unit of the German Confederation. Since the 1860s the country has been politically neutral, with no standing army. Under its 1921 constitution, Liechtenstein became a constitutional monarchy with a single-chamber parliament and a prime minister appointed by its prince. Maintaining its neutrality during the First and Second World Wars, Liechtenstein became one of the only areas of western Europe to remain free from warfare during the past two centuries. Economically, Liechtenstein joined with Switzerland to form a customs union in 1924, when it adopted the Swiss franc as its currency. The principality joined the United Nations in 1991. Crown Prince Hans Adam has been Liechtenstein's reigning monarch since 1984; however, on 15 August 2004, Hans Adam transferred the official duties of the ruling prince to his son Alois, retaining his status as head of state. Despite its small size and limited natural resources, Liechtenstein has developed into a prosperous, highly industrialized, free-enterprise economy with a thriving financial service sector and living standards on a par with its large European neighbors. 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 [EU]) since 1995. The government is working to harmonize its economic policies with those of an integrated Europe. Although Liechtenstein has recently adopted anti-money laundering legislation, there are still concerns about the use of financial institutions for money laundering.


Liechtenstein is a landlocked country located in the Rhine River valley between Switzerland and Austria. With an area of roughly 62 square miles (160 square kilometers)—slightly smaller than Washington, D.C.—it is Europe's fourth smallest country. The western part of Liechtenstein, situated on the Rhine's eastern bank, is a flat region covering about 40% of the country, with mountains occupying much of the larger area to the east. A steep Alpine slope called the Drei Schwestern ("three sisters") extends across Liechtenstein's border with Austria. The highest point in the country is the Grauspitz, at 8,525 feet (2,599 meters).

Liechtenstein has a population of approximately 35,200 people, of whom roughly two-thirds are native-born residents of Alemannic descent. The rest are immigrants from Switzerland, Austria, and other countries. Liechtenstein's population is unevenly distributed among the principality's 11 administrative districts, which are called communes. Vaduz, the capital city, has a population of about 5,250.


Standard German is the official language of Liechtenstein, used for official purposes and taught in the schools. However, most people also speak a local Alemannic dialect that resembles the German spoken in Switzerland. The people in the mountain region of Triesenberg, whose forebears emigrated from southeastern Switzerland in the 13th century, speak a unique dialect called Walser. The principal languages taught in school are English and French.


Some of Liechtenstein's legends date back to the dark days of the 17th century, when a savage wave of witch hunts swept over the principality during the reign of the Count of Hohenems. One concerns a fiddler named Hans Jöri, who unknowingly plays at a party thrown by a group of witches. The witches vanish when he disobeys them by drinking a toast to his own health, after which he suddenly finds himself seated on a scaffold holding a bleeding ox's hoof—a symbol of witchcraft—in his hand. In another tale, a farmer suspects that a witch's spell is preventing his butter from thickening. After he thrusts a redhot pitchfork into it, it thickens right away. The farmer's suspicions are borne out when he is then approached by a witch who has burn marks on her hands shaped exactly like the prongs of the pitchfork.


Roman Catholicism is the state religion of Liechtenstein, and as of the 2000 census about 78% of the people were Catholics, while approximately 8% were Protestants, 5% Muslims, and the rest belonged to other denominations. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. As of 2008, there were efforts ongoing to disentangle church and state. For instance, in a survey commissioned by the government in 2007, the overwhelming majority of the population was in favor of tolerance and respect toward other religions, called for equal treatment of the religious communities by the state, and tended to support the abolition of the constitutionally guaranteed privileges of the Roman Catholic Church.


Many of Liechtenstein's holidays are holy days of the Christian calendar. These include Epiphany (January 6), Candle-mas (February 2), the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), Easter (observed from Good Friday through Easter Monday), Ascension, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8), All Saints' Day (November 1), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and Christmas, which is celebrated December 24–26. Christmas is the most important holiday of the year, celebrated by putting up Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, and visiting with friends and family. Other holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Labor Day (May 1), and Liechtenstein's national day (August 15), which is celebrated with speeches and fireworks.

People in rural areas still observe some of the traditional holiday customs passed on by preceding generations. Th ere is the annual Corpus Christi procession, an event for which the entire village turns out, carrying a variety of devotional objects and passing by homes adorned with candles, flowers, and religious paintings. On Bonfire Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, boys walk through their villages collecting wood for a large bonfire, which they light in the evening. They then perform an age-old ceremony, tracing patterns in the air with torches they have lit from the flames of the bonfire. After the fire dies out, the boys return home to a traditional pancake supper. Another rural Lenten custom is "Dirty Thursday," also called "Sooty Thursday," which is observed on the last Thursday before Lent. On this occasion, boys arm themselves with chimney soot, which they rub into the faces and hair of unsuspecting victims. Another traditional prank carried out on this date is stealing a pot of soup from the kitchen of a village house. Some women have been known to even the score by hiding an old shoe in the soup pot.


Liechtensteiners live in a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Hence, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first Communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the education system is marked by many families with graduation parties.


Liechtensteiners commonly greet each other by shaking hands. Verbal greetings include Gruezi (also used in Switzerland) and the German Grüss Gott. Hoi! is a popular informal greeting used among friends.


Liechtenstein is a modern, industrialized country whose residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. Most Liechtensteiners live in single-family homes, although apartment living has become increasingly common for young families who cannot afford their own homes. Th ere is suffi-cient housing for all of Liechtenstein's inhabitants, and dwellings range from wooden houses scattered across picturesque mountain villages to modern multi-story apartment buildings in the capital city of Vaduz.

Average life expectancy in Liechtenstein is 80 years, and the infant mortality rate is a very low 4.52 per 1,000 live births. Liechtenstein's health care system provides free regular examinations for children under the age of 10. The principality has one public hospital of its own and has also formed agreements with Switzerland and Austria that allow its residents access to hospital facilities in those countries when they are needed. A representative survey conducted in 2006 showed that nearly 90% of all respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with medical services in Liechtenstein.

Private automobiles are Liechtenstein's most important mode of transportation, and the principality has a well-developed system of roads and highways. Its main highway runs through the country, linking it with Austria and Switzerland. Low-cost public transportation is provided by postal buses, which carry passengers to destinations within Liechtenstein and also to Austria and Switzerland. Liechtenstein has one railway, operated by the Austrian Federal Railways. Th ere is no airport within Liechtenstein's borders—the nearest one is Kloten Airport in Zurich, Switzerland.


The typical family in Liechtenstein, as in most of its western European neighbors, is the nuclear family, composed of parents and, on average, about two children. Most Liechtensteiners marry in their late twenties, preferring to complete their education before taking on the responsibilities of raising a family. It is not unusual for unmarried couples to live together before (or instead of) marrying. Several distinctive traditional customs are still practiced at weddings in rural villages. When the bride and groom leave the church following the marriage ceremony, they often find their way barred by a rope held by the village children, who must be "bribed" by the best man in order to let the couple pass. Further bribes may have to be paid later, at the wedding feast, if the children manage to make off with one of the bride's shoes. Sometimes the groom's friends even "kidnap" the bride herself, and it is then the groom's turn to pay up. Yet another wedding custom is firing guns into the air, a practice that has been banned for safety reasons, but is still encountered occasionally. Women in Liechtenstein have only had the right to vote nationally since 1984. Many married women work outside the home.


The people of Liechtenstein wear modern, Western-style clothing for both casual and formal occasions. They dress neatly and, in many cases, rather conservatively in public. Th eir traditional costumes, or Trachten, are worn only rarely, for festivals and other special occasions. The women's costume has a gathered waist, a full skirt, and an apron, while men wear knee-length breeches, a flat black hat, and a loden (woolen) jacket.


Liechtensteiners eat three meals a day. Coffee and bread with jam are commonly eaten for breakfast (called Zmorga). Zmittag, eaten at mid-day, is the main meal of the day and typically includes a main dish, soup, a salad, and dessert. A lighter meal (Znacht) is eaten at dinnertime, often consisting of an open-faced sandwich made with various kinds of meat and cheese. Although Liechtenstein is too small to have developed an extensive national cuisine, it does have some distinctive regional dishes. Käsknöfle consists of noodles made by squeezing a mixture of flour, water, and eggs through a perforated board. The noodles are then baked with grated cheese and a layer of fried onions and often served with applesauce or a salad. Hafaläb, another favorite, is a dish made with a corn- and wheat-flour dough formed into small loaves that are boiled, left out to dry, sliced, and then fried. Corn flour is the principal ingredient of Törkarebl, made from porridge that is then fried to create a dumpling-like dish often served with elderberry jam.


Virtually all adults in Liechtenstein are literate. Both primary and secondary education are administered by the central government, and all children must attend school from ages 6 to 15. In addition to government-run public schools, there are also private schools sponsored by the Catholic Church. After completing their secondary school requirements, students either receive vocational training or prepare for the university entrance examination, known as the Matura. Liechtenstein has no universities of its own, so its young people go to college in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland (including those studying to be teachers themselves, who are generally trained in Switzerland). Liechtenstein does have an evening technical college that offers courses in engineering and architecture and a music school, as well as a variety of facilities for adult education.


Liechtenstein's great cultural treasure is the art collection of its prince, which dates back to the early 1600s. Housed in the capital city of Vaduz, it is the second largest private art collection in the world (surpassed in size only by that of Britain's royal family) and one of the finest. Its many masterpieces cover a wide range of periods and schools of art, and it includes sculptures, tapestries, silver, and porcelain, as well as paintings by Breughel the Elder, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Rubens, and other masters. Liechtenstein also has a strong musical tradition. Brass bands and vocal ensembles abound in rural areas, while the cities of Vaduz and Balzers both have highly regarded operetta companies.


Since World War II, Liechtenstein has been transformed from an agrarian society into a modern industrial state. Agriculture, which once occupied a majority of the population, now employs 2.1% of the paid work force, and 54% of all employed adults work in service-sector jobs. Liechtensteiners put in a long work day—often from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm with a midday lunch break lasting an hour or longer. About 13,900 of Liechtenstein's labor force of 29,500 people commuted to work from Switzerland, Austria, or Germany in 2001. The greatest proportion of foreign workers are employed in industry. Liechtenstein's major industries include metal finishing, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, and electronic equipment.


The majority of Liechtensteiners are sports enthusiasts—45% belong to sports clubs. The principality's downhill ski resorts are world famous, especially those at Malbun and Steg. The Steg resort also has a popular cross-country ski course with a 1-mile (1.7-kilometer) stretch that is floodlit, allowing for night-time skiing. Summer sports include hiking, bicycling, and soccer.


The people of Liechtenstein enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities. Cultural pursuits—such as performing in choirs and bands—are also popular, and many people belong to social clubs. Television is a common form of recreation. All television programming is received from abroad, as the principality does not have its own broadcast facilities. Radio broadcasts originating in Liechtenstein began in 1994.


Historically, Liechtenstein's major crafts included basket weaving, coopering (barrel making), clog carving, and the fashioning of elaborate rakes. Today these activities have largely been replaced by the modern crafts of pottery, sculpture, and wood-carving, all areas in which Liechtenstein's artisans have a distinguished reputation throughout Europe.

Liechtenstein is world famous for its beautiful postage stamps, valuable collector's items that provide a significant source of government revenue. Many are based on paintings found in the prestigious art collection of Liechtenstein's prince.


Concern about the large number of foreign residents in Liechtenstein—over one-third of the population—has led to restrictive immigration policies, spurred by fears of endangering the cultural unity that distinguishes this tiny nation from its neighbors. However, increased numbers of foreign workers from neighboring German-speaking countries continue to commute to jobs in Liechtenstein, and foreigners still account for approximately 47% of the principality's work force. Some Liechtensteiners fear the growing Muslim population: the Muslim community has grown since the 1990s as a result of an influx of migrants primarily from Turkey and the Western Balkans (Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), many of whom re-settled from other Western European countries. The Muslim population increased from 689 in 1990 to 1,593 in 2000. The government grants the Muslim community a residency permit for one imam, plus one short-term residency permit for an additional imam during Ramadan. The government follows a policy of routinely granting visas to the imams in exchange for the agreement of both the Turkish Association and the Muslim community to prevent religious diatribes by the imams or the spread of religious extremism.


The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. The law prohibits all forms of domestic violence and provides for restraining orders against violent family members. Frauenhaus is a women's shelter providing both counseling and refuge for battered women (including nonresidents) and dependent children. Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense. Spousal rape has the same penalties as rape under other circumstances. In 2007 a new provision of the penal code entered into force making stalking a criminal offense. Prostitution is illegal. Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine.

Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including rights under family law, property law, and in the judicial system. The Equal Opportunity Office and the Commission on Equality between Women and Men works to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination. However, societal discrimination continues to limit opportunities for women in fields traditionally dominated by men. Men earn more than women, and women generally do not receive equal pay for equal work. Implementing a European Union directive, parliament in 2006 unanimously adopted amendments to the labor contract law and the equal opportunity law to combat gender discrimination in the workplace.

In 2007 there were six women in the parliament and one woman in the five seat cabinet.

A recent government-ordered study found evidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2007. In a poll 71% of homosexuals who responded said that discrimination was widespread in the country; 58% of the overall population expressed the view that homosexuality remained a taboo.


Beattie, David. Liechtenstein: A Modern History. London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004.

Duursma, Jorri. Self-Determination, Statehood, and International Relations of Micro-States: The Cases of Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, and the Vatican City. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Eccardt, Th omas M. Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2005.

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

Meier, Regula A. Liechtenstein. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1993.

Nelson, Kay Shaw. Cuisines of the Alps: Recipes, Drinks, and Lore from France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2005.

Paris, Sheldon. "The Principality of Liechtenstein." Stamps. 9 October 1993: 40.

"The Principality of Liechtenstein." Culturegram '95. The David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham Young University. Provo, UT: Brigham Young Univ., 1994.

The Principality of Liechtenstein. (22 May 2008).

Sasseen, Jane, et al. "Europe's Pocket Fortresses." International Management, March 1993: 28

—revised by J. Hobby


Updated About content Print Article Share Article