Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book 157, Liechtenstein: "Liechtenstein: A Modern History" by David Beattie

Sometimes doing this blog is more of a ritual than anything else...

 So, Liechtenstein. Principality of 35,000 people. How many writers amongst them? One prominent one, in fact: Prince Hans Adam II himself, who's scribbled out a rather well regarded text called The State in the Third Millennium.

In retrospect, I should've ordered myself an ebook version, because what I ended up with instead was dry dry book on history and constitutional law and economy:

Was there anything worth remembering from my couple of hours skimming through this book? Well:

a Roman soldier’s helmet has been discovered on Liechtenstein's territory, bearing his name (not mentioned) but not, alas, his legion,

 during the Middle Age witch-hunts, out of a population of 3,000 people in the principality, 300 were tortured and executed,

 the many Jewish immigrants involved in the banking industry fled before WW2, which was a shame because they would have been pretty safe. Liechtenstein never capitulated to the Nazis, remaining resolutely neutral, avoiding an Anschluss (Hitler once grumbled that he never wanted to hear words Liechtenstein and Switzerland again “because the people there hate me") and a Nazi putsch,

 after the war, Communist Czechoslovakia insisted that the Liechtenstein royal family were Germans and had to hand over their land in their territory, when in fact they were only kinda culturally German the way many German Czechs like Kafka were,

 during the 1968 referendum, separate votes were held amongst men and women to decide whether or not to allow women’s suffrage. Most men – and most women - voted against it. (This kind of direct democracy is quite feasible in such a small country.)

it's naturally hard to figure out what holds the country together culturally (a third of the residents are non-citizens, though they're mostly Germans and Austrians), but a lot of it's the royal family,

• also, the country's "economic miracle" is thanks not only to banking (the author was very forgiving of the whole tax avoidance and money laundering thing), but also to high industrialisation - they had an early hydroelectric dam, plus manufacturing bases for false teeth.

Yeah, I think that's about it. Most of the book was really fawning over the princes - and yeah, that's all of them on the cover, from Karl I who bought the area in 1608 to Hans Adam who's still there right now. The author's a former British ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Maybe he had a crush of Hans, who is quite the silver fox.

There was also a bit about the Princes' extensive art collection, which has been on show at the Met and Singapore (he once sold a Franz Hals to help with state finances, not that there's any public debt now). And in fact I was thinking of reading one of these art catalogues for this entry, but I felt, well, it's kinda awkward when the princes and the art aren't actually housed in Liechtenstein itself.

For a nice fun intro to this country, I'd recommend the chapter on the microstate from George Mikes's Switzerland for Beginners. Not that reading it was a total bore - interesting resonances for a Singaporean to read about this weird little mega-rich nation's survival, prosperity and uncertain future.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:
“In 2006 the Pinricpality of Liechtenstein will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its full state sovereignty. It is younger than the USA but older than the modern states of Belgium, Greece, Italy, Germany and many others. In the heart of Europe, it is the diversity of Europe. Its people, its traditions, its institutions and its economy give it much to hope for. Amid their justified celebration of the past and heir optimistic anticipation of the future, many Liechtensteiners will reflect on the much-quoted words of Peter Kaiser, their first historian, the country’s representative at the German National Assembly in Frankfrut in 1848-1849 and one of those who defined Liechtenstein identity:

'If we understand our advantage correctly, we may present ourselves as a small nation that endangers nobody but commands respect from all. Life is short; but an honourable name remains and serves down to the latest posterity for an example and for emulation.'”

Next book: Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher, from Austria.

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