20th Anniversary of the Death of Fürst Franz Josef II

  November 13, 2009 at 1:38 pm by

Fürst Franz Josef II von und zu Liechtenstein died 20 years ago, on 13 November 1989; he has been the Head of State of the small Principality for 51 years, from 1938 to 1989, leading it during its evolution from a poor agricultural Country to one of the richest Nations in the World.

Prince Franz Josef was born in Schloss Frauenthal, Austria, on 16 August 1906, the eldest of the eight children of Prince Aloys (1869-1955) and Princess Elisabeth, née Archduchess of Austria (1878-1960); his paternal grandparents were Prince Alfred (1842-1907) and Princess Henriette (1843-1931; Alfred’s first cousin), while his maternal grandparents were Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (1833-1896) and his third wife Archduchess Maria Teresa, née Infanta of Portugal (1855-1944). Franz Josef was named after his godfather and maternal great-uncle, the Emperor of Austria.

Fürst Franz Josef II - source: Presse- und Informationsamt, Vaduz

Fürst Franz Josef II - source: Presse- und Informationsamt, Vaduz

Prince Franz Josef was born during the very long reign of his great-uncle Fürst Johannes II (a brother of Princess Henriette); in 1923 Prince Aloys, then 3rd in the Line of Succession, renounced his rights, and in 1929 the deaths of Aloys’ elder brother and of Fürst Johannes left Franz Josef the first in the Line of Succession after his great-uncle Fürst Franz I (the younger brother of Princes Johannes II and Henriette).

On 30 March 1938 Fürst Franz I turned over the regency to Prince Franz Joseph, and died four months later, on 25 July 1938; Franz Josef became the Ruling Prince of Liechtenstein.

His accession happened in a very negative moment: the 1928 bankruptcy of the Liechtensteinian Sparkasse left the Government without money and very close to the bankrupt, and the 1929 economical crisis worsened further on the economical situation of the whole Country; moreover in 1938 the German Nazi government occupied Austria, and several lands and possessions of the Princely Family in that country were expropriated.

During the Second World War Liechtenstein remained neutral, and was spared from the direct consequences of the war.

On 7 March 1943 the Prince married in Vaduz the Austrian Countess Georgine “Gina” von Wilczek (1921-1989), with whom he had five children: Hans Adam (b.1945, the present Fürst), Philipp (b.1946, Chairman of LGT Group), Nikolaus (b.1947, Ambassador of the Principality to Belgium and the Holy See), Nora (b.1950, Dowager Marchioness of Marino and member of the IOC) and Wenzel (b.1962, tragically died in 1991). Fürst Franz Josef and Fürstin Gina were the first Princely Couple to reside permanently in Vaduz instead of Vienna, as a consequence of the Anschluss, and this fact helped to increase their popularity among the Liechtenstein people.

The years following the war were marked by the economical boom, with the establishment of a lot of big industries, low-taxes companies, trusts and banks in the Principality and the development of a very rich and modern economy and State; the main reasons of this boom were the Customs Union with Switzerland, the introduction of the strong and stable Swiss Franc as currency, the neutrality of the Principality, the political and social stability and, most of all, a very liberal economical organization and the very moderate taxation.

Between 1950 and 1990, during Franz Josef’s reign, the exports increased from 15 to 887 millions of Francs and the banks’ balance sheet strength increased from 48 to 4364 millions.

In the same period, Liechtenstein joined several international organisations, like the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1950, the OSCE in 1975, the Council of Europe in 1978.

Together with the economy, the welfare improved in Liechtenstein, as a consequence of the strong economic development; the internal political remained stable during the years, and in 1984 women received voting rights.

Gina and Franz Josef in 1988 - see at wikipedia

Gina and Franz Josef in 1988 - see at wikipedia

In this context, Fürst Franz Josef and Fürstin Gina were very loved by the people; their complementary personalities – Franz Josef was a very friendly but shy person, Gina was very warm, cordial, expansive and sociable – helped the popularity of the Princely Family to increase.

Franz Josef thought at his country as a big family, of whom he was the father; he was worried to maintain a human dimension of the State, to fortify the inner closeness and the coherency of the population, and cared for the education and the housing of the young people.

In 1984, after 46 years of reign, Prince Franz Josef II appointed Prince Hans-Adam II his permanent representative, but remained the Head of State; in January 1989, at the death of Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the Prince became the world longest ruling sovereign.

On 18 October 1989, Fürstin Gina died of cancer, aged 67; they had been married for 46 years; Franz Josef survived her only for 26 days, and died on 13 November 1989 in Grabs, Switzerland, after 51 years of reign.

Their deaths were seen as the end of an era for the Principality, in which the people and its Princes lived very close together.

More info about Fürst Franz Josef II and Fürstin Gina can be found in this thread.

Filed under Historical Royals, Liechtenstein
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