A small state celebrates 2019 its birthday: the Principality of Liechtenstein was elevated to the status of an imperial principality on 23 January 1719, triggering a success story that has continued to this day.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2019. The jubilee is not just an occasion for the inhabitants of Liechtenstein to reflect upon their own history, but is also attracting the attention of many tourists and visitors. Liechtenstein is the only state in the world that acquired its name from the reigning Princely Family, and is closely linked to Austria and European history through the Princely House with its over 7 centuries of history.
The history of the Principality began a number of years before, however, when in 1699 the Princes of Liechtenstein acquired the present day Unterland – then known as the County of Schellenberg – from the Counts of Hohenems. In 1712 the Princely Family also acquired the County of Vaduz, the present-day Liechtenstein Oberland. Seven years later, in the year 1719, the diminutive Alpine monarchy was elevated to the status of an imperial principality by Emperor Karl VI, since when it has remained an established part of the European map. While it was still part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation at the time of its foundation, in 1806 it achieved sovereignty when the Confederation of the Rhine was founded. At the Congress of Vienna in the year 1815 Liechtenstein was admitted to the German Federation as an independent small state. This means the Principality of Liechtenstein, along with Luxembourg, is the only German small state that has been able to maintain its sovereignty right to the present day.
1848, the European year of revolutions, also affected Liechtenstein: revolution was in the air, even in the small state. It proved possible to avert this, and absolutism remained in place. Johann II became Prince of Liechtenstein in 1858. In the year 1862, a new constitution came into force that made provision for Parliament to represent the people. While the Prince remained in power, Parliament was closely involved in the legislative process. In 1921 the constitution was amended once again, and was supplemented to include elements of direct democracy such as the popular initiative and the referendum.
Having abolished its army in 1868, following the dissolution of the German Federation, the Principality of Liechtenstein survived the turmoil of the First World War, as it remained neutral. On account of the customs treaty with Austria, however, Liechtenstein was nevertheless hit badly by economic sanctions. Textile enterprises, which had previously accounted for a large proportion of Liechtenstein’s industrial output, went out of business and the population faced famine. For this reason, the customs treaty with Austria was dissolved in 1919. In 1923 a customs treaty was signed with Switzerland. This was the foundation of a close partnership that continues to the present.
There was another première in the year 1938. Prince Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein was the first reigning Prince to take up residence in Liechtenstein. In addition, he also renovated Vaduz Castle, which had previously been more of a ruin than a place of abode. The Princely Family continues to reside in Vaduz Castle to this day. Liechtenstein again remained neutral during the Second World War, and was directly confronted with the war only in 1945. At this time, parts of the 1st Russian National Army of the German Wehrmacht made their way to Liechtenstein territory and surrendered. Despite massive pressure from the Soviet Union, these soldiers were not extradited.
The post-war period brought far-reaching changes for the small Alpine state. Liechtenstein transformed itself from a poor agrarian state into a country of industry and services. During these years, admissions to international organisations also secured Liechtenstein’s long-term sovereignty: The first step was the admission to the International Court of Justice in 1950. In 1973 – 1975 this was followed by involvement in the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, in 1978 by admission to the Council of Europe, in 1990 as a full member of the United Nations, in 1991 admission to EFTA and in 1995 to the European Economic Area and the World Trade Organisation WTO.
Today, Liechtenstein is one of the most heavily industrialised countries in the world, has the highest per capital gross domestic product, and is one of five countries that have no government debt.
Find out more about the celebrations taking place during the anniversary on www.300.li