- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

VADUZ, Liechtenstein The air is clean, the Alpine vistas stunning. The people are rich, jobs are plentiful, the country has no enemies and crime is so rare that there wasn't even a jail until 10 years ago.
So what is Liechtenstein's problem? What has gotten people so steamed up that they're resorting to hate mail? Why would anyone leave a pig's snout and a disemboweled cat at his enemies' doors? And why is Liechtenstein's ruling prince threatening to emigrate if he doesn't get his way?
The answer is that at a time when monarchies all over Europe have been reduced to figurehead status, Prince Hans-Adam II wants more powers chiefly, the right to fire governments and appoint interim ones.
A referendum today will settle the question, probably in the prince's favor. But many people fear that whatever the outcome, their country a bit smaller than Washington, D.C., nestled in a bend of the Rhine River between Austria and Switzerland, with a population of 33,000 will never be the same again.
The prince is sure the voters will support him, he said in reply to written questions from the Associated Press. "But in the event of a 'no' vote, then our move would be a matter of weeks or months rather than years."
The prince's supporters maintain that his departure would drive away foreign investors and herald economic disaster. But critics such as former Prime Minister Mario Frick say that if he does win the referendum it will be because of his "blackmailing threat to leave the country."
"Only a few will do so out of their hearts," said Mr. Frick, 38, who helped set up the so-called Democracy Secretariat to support a rival proposal. It was this mild-mannered lawyer who recently found a decomposed pig's snout and tail at his office door. The dead cat was sent to a different critic.
The culprits are not known, and no one is suggesting the royal family is involved. But as the climate has grown ugly, Hans-Adam, 58, has done little to calm things down.
Instead he has come out fighting, implicitly likening his opponents to World War II traitors and threatening to leave his 13th-century castle and move with his family to Austria if the referendum goes against him.
Spared the rigors of world war and steeped in a secretiveness that seems appropriate for a place that got rich as a tax haven, many in this country are reluctant to answer strangers' questions. They tend to glance up nervously at the castle high over Vaduz, the capital, and the ubiquitous red-and-blue "Yes to the Royal Family" posters exhorting Liechtensteiners to back the prince.
Those who plan to vote against the constitutional change sometimes request anonymity, saying they fear losing their jobs.
Still, Liechtenstein has good reason to feel indebted to the royal family that has ruled it for 284 years.
Prince Franz-Josef, the current prince's father, is credited with keeping Liechtenstein out of the Nazis' clutches. The country was so poor after World War II that he sold some of the family jewels to help bail it out. His billionaire son is quick to point out that he pays his own expenses rather than charge the taxpayer.
Under Franz-Josef's benevolent guidance, Liechtenstein, like other constitutionally quirky corners of Europe such as Monaco and the Isle of Man, became a low-tax, no-questions-asked banking center.
Hans-Adam, who took over in 1989, led Liechtenstein into a loose economic treaty with Europe that brought banks and trust companies pouring in. Today there are more companies registered in Liechtenstein than there are citizens, and its per-capita income is as high as Switzerland's.
At one point it was internationally blacklisted as a refuge for shady cash but received a clean bill of health after the government passed laws to curb money laundering.
Although Vaduz is still affectionately known as Staedtle, or little town, it has undergone a building boom, and opulent villas line the hillsides. It has classy galleries and a sleek, black, ultramodern art museum containing some of the prince's priceless old masters.
The prison holds mostly white-collar criminals whose meals are delivered by a hotel known for gourmet cuisine.
The prince likes to hike, bike and ski; is a Roman Catholic; and fiercely guards the privacy of his four adult children against the tabloid feeding frenzy that has devoured other European royals.
But although he has retained his father's tradition of inviting the population to the castle for drinks and snacks on Liechtenstein's national day, "He is more feared than respected and more respected than loved," said Mr. Frick, who as prime minister from 1993 to 2001 repeatedly clashed with Hans-Adam about the constitutional issue.
The 1921 constitution gives the monarch the final say on laws, and the right to dissolve parliament and call early elections. At the same time, anyone can force a referendum on a law by gathering 1,500 signatures.
Hans-Adam says he wants to iron out ambiguities in the constitution by making it stipulate that he can sack an ineffective government and appoint an interim one pending elections. He also wants the deciding vote in appointing judges, saying the process shouldn't be controlled by bickering political parties.
"The worst thing about his proposals is the whole question of power. In the future, the prince could snap his fingers and say, 'I've lost confidence in you,' and in a split second the government would vanish," Mr. Frick said.
Nonsense, counters the prince, arguing that Liechtenstein's people have more democratic powers than any other country's and that, under his plans, 1,500 signatures on a petition would be enough to force a referendum on abolishing his own job.
However, an expert commission set up by the 44-nation Council of Europe, a watchdog body to which Liechtenstein belongs, has studied the prince's proposal and calls it a "serious step backward" that could "lead to the isolation of Liechtenstein within the European community of states."
In parliament, the prince angrily slammed the report by the so-called Venice Commission as misinformed and one-sided.
Even in the unlikely event that Hans-Adam loses the vote and emigrates, he is expected to remain monarch on a symbolic basis, or perhaps step aside in favor of Alois, his 36-year-old son.
"Like many Liechtensteiners," he told the AP, "I am convinced that if the prince and his family were to move abroad, this would be a disadvantage for the country and its people. … But if the monarchy loses public confidence, then it's up to the people to find a solution without the monarchy."

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