National Geographic : 1948 Jul
Liechtenstein Thrives on Stamps BY RONALD W. CLARK ALONE among the countries of Europe, the diminutive Principality of Liech tenstein is facing the future with pre war larders, full bank vaults, and hardly a thought of the Marshall Plan. Lying at the critical junction point between Western and Central Europe, separated from Switzerland on the west by the tumbling upper Rhine and from Austria on the east by a 6,000-foot frontier ridge, Liechtenstein has 61 square miles and 11,000 inhabitants to call her own (map, page 108).* It would be easy to claim that it was these two factors, unique size and position, which have made the country what seems to me the most contented corner of postwar Europe. Not a bit of it. If Liechtenstein were a normal-sized state instead of a pocket show piece which too few visitors take the trouble to study seriously, it would still form a labora tory specimen of prosperity at work. For the factors which have combined to keep the country in the financial clear are a peaceful past, a sober basic economy, and a unique "industry" which assumes that stamps should be printed to make money rather than merely to be put on letters. More Than 600 Years Old Liechtenstein's history is complex and regal. Its status as a sovereign state goes back to May 3, 1342, when Count Hartmann I became ruler of the Principality of Vaduz, the castle crowned little town of 2,400 inhabitants that is now Liechtenstein's capital. By 1434 this small province had been en larged in the traditional feudal way to con tain the two separate counties of Schellenberg and Vaduz, both of which were held as im mediate fiefs to the Holy Roman Empire. Nearly 300 years later, in 1719, Emperor Charles VI confirmed their possession by the house of Liechtenstein and authorized them to be known as the Principality-the Fiirsten tum-which remains to this day. Two diplomatic somersaults in the early 19th century gave the country three different allegiances within ten years. In July, 1806, the then ruler, John I, seceded from the Empire and joined the Confederation of the Rhine under the aegis of Napoleon. After the collapse at Waterloo, he joined the Ger man Confederation, and when the Confedera tion finally expired in 1866 the Principality became politically independent. Liechtenstein has remained free ever since, in spite of strong spiritual ties with Austria and the attempts of a small group of Austrian Nazis, who, with a handful of Liechten steiners, marched across the frontier near Feld kirch at midnight on March 24, 1939, in an effort to carry out a miniature Anschluss. They were politely handed back across the frontier after their failure, and seven years later, in the summer of 1947, twelve of them were tried by the authorities and received prison sentences. Wartime Refuge for Escaping Allies Throughout the war, Liechtenstein re mained poised perilously between Hitler and Switzerland. From Liechtenstein's "happy valley" of the Malbun, the German patrols who looked enviously down could be seen guarding the Austrian frontier ridge. There were, of course, polite diplomatic in quiries from the Reich, inquiries which grew when the number of American and British prisoners escaping to the country from Ger many and Austria reached the hundreds. The Germans well knew it would have been much easier to guard the Rhine frontier than the mountain ridge. Nevertheless, Liechtenstein stuck to her moral guns. She had no other, for the coun try has had no army since 1868 and the last Liechtenstein soldier died in 1943 at the age of 91. Even troops from Switzerland were for bidden to enter the country (with the excep tion of the customs officers allowed under the Customs Union of 1924). All refugees and prisoners of war who were caught were in terned, and when Pierre Laval, collaborationist Premier of France, appeared at the frontier in May, 1945, he was politely but firmly told to apply elsewhere for sanctuary. The traveler who enters the country today can also come along the mountain road from Feldkirch, Austria, but he is far more likely to come from the Swiss town of Buchs. There I dropped off the Arlberg Express be fore it plunged across a corner of stationless Liechtenstein toward Vienna. A few hundred yards along the road from the neat Buchs station I was stopped by the gray-clad Swiss guards at the steel bridge across the Rhine. Although the Customs Union between Liechtenstein and Switzerland * See "Round About Liechtenstein," by Maynard Owen Williams, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1927.