Friday, October 4, 2013
Story of Monarchy: Liechtenstein
Another of the most accomplished military leaders of the House of Liechtenstein was Prince Johann I Joseph who earned an illustrious reputation, mostly as a general of cavalry, in the service of the Austrian Emperor throughout the wars with Revolutionary France and the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. He concluded the Peace of Pressburg with the French Emperor, distinguished himself in battle after battle and even held temporary command of all the Austrian forces after the resignation of the famous Archduke Charles. Unfortunately, he had to resign in 1810 after arranging the Peace of Schoenbrunn which the Austrians claimed was too generous toward the French. Perhaps diplomacy was not his strong point but he was a very capable ruler and an absolute brilliant battlefield commander. It was also during this period that the Principality of Liechtenstein officially became a sovereign state when, after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (which had become mostly theoretical by that point anyway) Liechtenstein joined the French-backed Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 as a grouping of the German states that would be under French influence rather than Austrian. The Congress of Vienna reaffirmed the independence of the tiny principality and Liechtenstein later joined the German Confederation which was a grouping of the German states with the Emperor of Austria as president.
Realizing that Austria might be able to play the part of ‘big brother’ to little Liechtenstein, after the German Confederation broke up the Prince of Liechtenstein decided to declare permanent neutrality in the hope that everyone else would just leave them alone. To show that he was purely trusting on international goodwill, the Prince disbanded the Liechtenstein army -exactly eighty soldiers. Fortunately, during this time stable leadership was provided by HSH Prince Johann II the Good who reigned longer than any other monarch in European history after the dazzling King Louis XIV of France. He instituted land reforms, political reforms, enacted a new constitution that granted more rights and greater public participation in the political process and he did his best to keep the country on stable financial ground. That, however, proved to be a nearly hopeless struggle. Liechtenstein was, of course, neutral in World War I but the economic stranglehold placed on Austria-Hungary by the Allied nations effected Liechtenstein as well (which was, of course, quite unfair). The suffering in Austria-Hungary (and Germany) was immense so just imagine how much worse things were in Liechtenstein, a country that amounted to nothing more than a small valley with a few villages of mostly subsistence farmers.
This was also a dangerous time for Liechtenstein, though few outsiders realize it today. The Prince was particularly alarmed by the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. With the Nazis endeavoring to join all German-speaking populations to their “Third Reich” it was only natural that Liechtenstein should be concerned. There was also a small but vocal faction of Nazi sympathizers in Liechtenstein that wished for this to happen and who singled out Prince Franz I for particular ridicule due to his marriage to a Viennese woman who happened to be Jewish. Naturally for Nazis they tended to blame every problem in Liechtenstein on the influence of this Jewess and they would hold pro-Nazi ceremonies, carrying torches and lighting swastikas at night. The loyalists of Liechtenstein responded with their own demonstrations in support of the monarchy, matching the Nazis by lighting fires on the hillsides in the shape of a crown. Happily, throughout World War II, Nazi Germany respected the neutrality of Liechtenstein and the principality survived the Nazi era in Europe relatively unscathed, though, again, they suffered like Switzerland and Sweden simply by proximity.
The fact that this was possible was owed in large part to Prince Franz Joseph I who reigned from 1772 to 1781 who appreciated the value of the growing art collection of the family. However, it was under Franz Joseph II and especially Prince Hans Adam II that the worry of an impoverished principality became a thing of the past. The Princes of Liechtenstein knew their tiny country could produce very little and without outside investment their people would always be one step away from financial disaster. So, the Prince enacted laws which respected privacy and property, cut taxes drastically and cut regulations such as on banks which made the tiny principality one of the best places in the world to do business. The neighbors may have grumbled about Liechtenstein being a tax haven and having banking regulations that amounted to ’ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’ but the fact is that the country prospered as never before and Liechtenstein still remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world. To put it simply, thanks to the good sense of her princes, Liechtenstein doesn’t have to worry about money anymore; which is quite a blessing for a country that not so very long ago was reduced to ruinous penury.