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322 - The 'claves of Liechtenstein

October 23, 2008, 8:24 PM



The tiny, obscure alpine principality of Liechtenstein seems to exist as mainly a repository of arcane distinctions:

  • At 160.4 sq. km (62 sq. mi), Liechtenstein is one of the smallest independent countries in the world (#189 out of 194 according to Nationmaster).
  • In Europe, however, it is one of the bigger mini-states; San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City are smaller.
  • But Liechtenstein is the smallest German-speaking country in the world, in population as well as size (there are only about 35,000 Liechtensteiners). It is also the only German-speaking country not to recognise officially any other language next to German (1).
  • It is also the smallest country bordering more than one other country; Liechtenstein is hemmed in by Switzerland to the west, and Austria to the east.
  • The country took its name from the dynasty that ruled it (usually it’s the other way round). The dynasty got its name from somewhere, of course, i.c. faraway Castle Liechtenstein (“bright stone”) at the edge of the Wienerwald, south of Vienna.
  • By disbanding its 80-man strong army in 1868, Liechtenstein may have been the first country in the (modern) world without an organised military force.
  • Prince Franz I (born 1853, ruled 1929-1938) was married to a Viennese noblewoman of Jewish descent – probably the only Jewish crowned head in Europe, an especially poignant position in those especially anti-semitic times. Franz I abdicated in 1938 because he couldn’t bear the thought of the Nazis invading while he was on the throne. As it happened, they respected the principality’s neutrality (although the local Nazi sympathisers agitated against Franz I’s wife).
  • After World War II, Liechtenstein offered asylum to 500 Russian soldiers who fought on the German side – a staggeringly high number, considering the small population had difficulties feeding itself. Argentina eventually agreed to take them in.
  • During the Cold War, all Liechtensteiners were forbidden entry into Czechoslovakia, which had nationalised huge tracts of land formerly held by the Liechtenstein dynasty.
  • Although landlocked, Liechtenstein’s lenient banking regulations have made it such a fiscal paradise that it is often included in the top lists of ‘offshore’ tax havens.
  • In 2003, the ruling prince Hans-Adam threatened to leave the country if he lost a referendum on expanding his powers. He won, making Liechtenstein the only European country in modern history where the monarchy’s power increased. The prince can now veto laws and dismiss governments – making the principality the closest thing present-day Europe has to an absolutist monarchy.

Another distinction is visible only when seeing a map of the borders of Liechtenstein’s Gemeinden (communes) such as this one. Liechtenstein as a whole has an unremarkable teardrop shape, but the subnational entities are fragmented to such an extent that, internally, Liechtenstein looks like a crazy patchwork quilt. It must be the most exclave-rich country in the world, at least relative to the rather small number of subnational entities.

I use the word ‘exclave’ instead of the more currently used term ‘enclave’. The meanings of these terms overlap, but only partially (2). And the distinction is particularly clear in these cases.

While many of these Liechtensteinian fragments might be considered exclaves, most also border more than one other territory, and consequently only three can be considered enclaves (which are totally surrounded by only one other territory): the communes of Schaan and Planken each contain an enclave of each other within their main territory (each enclave in this case naturally also being an exclave), Schaan also containing an enclave of Vaduz (which, from the point of view of Vaduz, is an exclave, of course).

  • Vaduz, the capital of the country, is the most fragmented of Liechtenstein’s 11 communes. It consists of 6 distinct territorial units, one of which is a true enclave within the commune of Schaan. The name Vaduz might derive from aquaeductus (‘aqueduct’) or from vallis thiudisk (‘valley of the [German] people’), its either/or origin reflecting that, linguistically, Liechtenstein was in a contact zone between romance and germanic cultures.
  • the commune of Balzers consists of three incontiguous areas.
  • Triesenberg, consisting of two separate parts, is the largest commune of the principality.
  • Schaan, the most populous commune, is all over the place, with three large chunks of territory in the north, centre and south of the principality – plus two exclaves in Planken.
  • Planken, which counts less than 400 inhabitants, is the least populous of Liechtenstein’s communes. It consists of two larger bits of territory, and two smaller exclaves, one of which is also an enclave in Schaan.
  • Eschen, in the north, is made up of a large, medium and small portion. Its neighbour Gamprin is made up of two parts.
  • The communes of Ruggell, Schellenberg, Mauren and Triesen consist of (only) one part each.

This map found in the Atlas of Liechtenstein at Wikimedia Commons.

PS – the map looks a bit iffy just above where the name PLANKEN is printed. I assumed the corridor linking what looks like a second exclave of Schaan to that commune’s main territory is part of Schaan itself, making that exclave contiguous (and therefore not an exclave). This was consistent with the information I have on the number and location of communal enclaves. Two comments convinced me that the Schaan corridor is in fact a Vaduz exclave. Any more info, please send. 

(1) See comments for more on official languages in Germany other than German.

(2) Map nerd alert: When the distinction between enclave and exclave is less important or not relevant, imprecision can be avoided by syncopating either term to ‘clave.


322 - The 'claves of Liecht...

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