Last Updated: Friday, 09 October 2015, 08:53 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Liechenstein : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Liechenstein : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 9 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Liechtenstein is a tiny European principality located between Switzerland and Austria.


Main language: German

Main religion: Roman Catholicism

Minority groups include Swiss 3,600 (10.4%), Walsers (about 8%, no recent data), Austrians (5.9%), Italians (3.5%) and Germans (3.4%).

The total population was 34,905 in 2005, 34 per cent of whom were foreign citizens, according to national statistics. Two-thirds of jobs were held by foreigners. Just over half the workforce lives in Liechtenstein, the rest commuting daily from Switzerland and Austria.

Liechtenstein's Walsers are descendants of immigrants from the Swiss canton of Valais who settled in the mountain commune of Triesenberg at the end of the thirteenth century and continue to speak a distinctive form of German. Other Walsers are settled in Italy, Austria and Switzerland. The Walser dialect is an Alemannic German form.


The Principality of Liechtenstein was bought by the Liechtenstein family. In 1699 Prince Hans Adam, acquired the County of Schellenberg and in 1712 the County of Vaduz. In 1719 Liechtenstein became part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1805 it joined the Confederation of the Rhine and in 1815 the Germanic Confederation, which was dissolved in 1866. Liechtenstein formed a customs union with Austria in 1852. After the First World War and the collapse of the Austrian currency, Liechtenstein turned to Switzerland with which it concluded a customs union in 1923. Liechtenstein was neutral in both World Wars. In 1991 it joined the United Nations and EFTA, and the European Economic Area in 1995. In 1999 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of a senior judge Dr Herbert Wille and against Prince Hans-Adam II that the Supreme Court rather than the monarch should have the last say in constitutional matters. However, a new constitution was approved by 64 per cent of voters in 2003 giving the prince the right to dissolve government, control a committee appointing judges, and veto legislation. The constitution also gives the people the power to call a referendum and abolish the monarchy.


The official language is German. The country is divided into 11 Gemeinden (communes) governed autonomously but under central government supervision. Women received the vote only in 1984 and in 1992 the constitution was amended to give women equal rights.

In 2005 the Office for Gender Equality was expanded to become the Office for Equal Opportunity. Its responsibilities include immigration and integration of foreigners, school and education, work, health, social security, disability, age, religion, gender and sexual orientation. It provides counselling and coordination with other government offices.

The Penal Code was amended to make racism a criminal offence as of February 2003. At the same time the government adopted a five-year National Action Plan against racism, which includes education regarding racism and xenophobia, and programmes for integrating foreigners.

In July 2003 the government set up the Commission for the Protection against Violence to document acts of violence linked to right-wing extremism.

Children acquire citizenship if either parent is a citizen of Liechtenstein. Foreign nationals can obtain Liechtenstein citizenship if they have lived in Liechtenstein for at least five years and have renounced their previous nationality.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

The Liechtenstein government states that the country has no minorities. The language and culture of the Walser minority, which is largely rural, is in decline.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance in its 2003 report welcomed the government's adoption of the new criminal law to fight racism, and the development of a strategy to combat right-wing extremism. However, it expressed concern that young people seemed to be drawn to right-wing extremism, and that statistical data on racism and discrimination was insufficient, especially regarding health, education, housing and social security. In 2004 the Liechtenstein Institute began a research programme to improve the situation.

There is some evidence that non-German-speakers and foreigners who are not nationals of Austria and Switzerland are discriminated against. Immigrant women and Muslims are particularly vulnerable. The National Action Plan has set out to address the problems of discrimination and integration. The 2006 programme 'Mother-Child German' provides German language courses for immigrant mothers and children to help integration.

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