Visiting Europe’s Small Countries

“In Part 1 of “Big Man, Little Countries,” Josh Levin visits the smuggler’s paradise of Andorra. In Part 2, he surveys the fast cars and rich folks at the Monaco Grand Prix. In Part 3, he goes to San Marino, the world’s oldest republic. In Part 4, he begins his visit in Liechtenstein for the Games of the Small States of Europe.”

In part five, he says goodbye to his small country soiree.

The tiny nations of Europe, while all precious in their own way, offer similar answers to the question that defines their existence: How can a small country survive in a big-country world? They’re all in historically inaccessible, largely mountainous locations. They have low taxes and a preponderance of financial institutions. Their national welfare depends on tourism.

The more you dig, the more common bonds you find. The countries we visited are all in the United Nations, and none are in the European Union. With the exception of Andorra, they all have populations of around 35,000 people. Monaco, San Marino, and Andorra, in that order, have the three longest life expectancies of any U.N. member states. (Liechtenstein is No. 15.) Each of the little countries devotes considerable resources to producing and marketing postage stamps, though that could change—San Marino’s Rondelli told us that young people are losing interest in philately. To fill the revenue gap, perhaps the little countries can band together to peddle an Avengers-style comic series: The Smuggler! The Yachtsman! Iron Marinus! Captain Liechtenstein!

Along with these social and economic links, small-country people share a similar worldview. While everyone is proud of their petite heritage, they also see the downside of life in a thimble: As one woman in Liechtenstein told us, “You fart, and everyone knows it.” This flatulence problem, though, shouldn’t imply that these little citizenries see themselves as homogeneous. Andorra has seven parishes, San Marino has nine municipalities, Monaco has 10 wards, and Liechtenstein has 11 villages, each of which is allegedly identifiable by a distinctive German accent. Even in the world’s smallest countries, everyone has a hometown.

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