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History of Liechtenstein

The Principality of Liechtenstein has been blessed with very little history. Liechtenstein's borders have remained unchanged since 1434, when the Rhine established the border betweeen the Holy Roman Empire and the Swiss cantons.

A Roman road crossed the region from south to north, traversing the Alps by the Splügen pass and following the right bank of the Rhine at the edge of the floodplain, for long uninhabited because of periodic flooding. Roman villas have been excavated in Schaanwald and Nendeln. The late Roman influx of the Alemanni from the north is memorialized by the remains of a Roman fort at Schaan.

The area, part of Rhaetia, was incorporated into the Carolingian empire, and divided into countships, which became subdivided over the generations.

The medieval county of Vaduz was formed in 1342. The 15th century brought three wars and some devastation, but the 17th century was a lowpoint, with some plague, some skirmishing from the struggles of the Thirty Years War but most of all from a witch hunt, in which more than 100 persons were persecuted and executed.

Prince Johann Adam Andreas of Liechtenstein bought the domain of Schellenberg in 1699 and the county of Vaduz in 1712. The Prince Liechtenstein had wide landholdings in Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, but none of the lands were held directly from the Emperor. Thus the prince was barred from admittance to the Council of Princes and the prestige and influence that would entail. By acquiring these Lordships, which were directly subordinate to the Holy Empire, the Prince of Liechtenstein obtained his end. Vaduz took the name of the family that now ruled the county. On January 23, 1719, emperor Karl VI decreed that the counties of Vaduz and Schellenberg be promoted to a principality with the name Liechtenstein for his servant Anton Florian of Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein became a sovereign state in 1806 when it joined Napoleon's Confederation of the Rhine upon the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. The French under Napoleon occupied the country for a few years, but Liechtenstein retained its independence in 1815 within the new German Confederation.In 1862, new Constitution was promulgated, which provided for a Diet representative of the people. In 1868, after the Confederation dissolved, Liechtenstein disbanded its army of 80 men and declared its permanent neutrality, which was respected during both World Wars.

Until the end of World War I, it was closely tied to Austria, but the economic devastation caused by that conflict forced the country to conclude a customs and monetary union with Switzerland. In 1919 Liechtenstein entrusted its external relations to neutral Switzerland. In 1938 Prince Franz Josef II became the first Prince of Liechtenstein to take up permanent residence in Liechtenstein. He ruled from Vaduz until his death in 1989.

Since World War II (in which Liechtenstein remained neutral) the country's low taxes have spurred outstanding economic growth. Liechtenstein became increasingly important as a financial center. In 1989, Prince Hans-Adam II succeeded his father to the throne, and in 1996, Russia returned the Liechtenstein family's archives, ending a long-running dispute between the two countries. In 1978, Liechtenstein became member of the Council of Europe, and then joined the United Nations in 1990, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1991, and both the European Economic Area (EEA) and World Trade Organization in 1995.

In a referendum on March 16, 2003, Prince Hans-Adam, who had threatened to leave the country if he lost, won a large majority (64.3%) in favour of overhauling the constitution to effectively give him more powers than any other European monarch. The new constitution gave the prince the right to dismiss governments and approve judicial nominees and allowed him to veto laws simply by refusing to sign them within a six-month period.

On August 15, 2003, Hans-Adam announced he would step down in one year and hand over the reins to his son Alois.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45