Saturday, February 14, 2015

Three Generations: Interview with Prince Hans-Adam II

Photo: Daniel Ospelt / Vaterlandmagazin /
Today, The Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, Duke of Troppau and Jägerndorf, Count of Rietberg, Reigning Prince of the House of Liechtenstein turns 70. To mark the occasion, he, his oldest son, Hereditary Prince Alois, and Prince Wenzel, second in line to the throne, gave three lengthy interview published today in a supplement magazine to today's Vaterland. The following questions were asked by Janine Knöpfli. The translation into English by Luxarazzi.

Your Serene Highness, they say the older you get, the clearer the images of your childhood become. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the past?
I have always been a person who rather looks to the future. The past is the past, it only matters if it influences the future. For example, I have been interested in history and archaeology for a long time; the personal, not so much. Only if I could learn from it. I believe the first memory I have from my childhood is the birth of my sister, Princess Nora.

You are 70 years old now. Some people only really start their life at the age of 70, they start doing things they have always wanted to. How is it for you? Will you birthday change anything?
I never thought about that. I have always planned for my future. When do I have to hand over my duties? When is the best time? For example, when should I hand over the regency to my oldest son? Something new basically always comes from this thoughts.

Would you like to start with something new now?
Whenever I hand over some of my duties, I always have more time. For example, I had time to write my book. I also have more time to occupy myself with physics - something I would have liked to study at university. Since a few years, I have also involved myself in our asset management again together with my two younger sons. In addition, I keep myself busy with town planning.

That's a bit of an unusual pastime! How can we picture that?
There's a lot we can improve when it comes to town planning. Many years ago, towns were built to serve the people, these days they are build to serve cars. How can you combine the character of nice, old towns with a high quality of living with the demands of our time? I work together with a number of Dutch experts. We try to find out how to be able to compete economically when building something. Before we start to venture in this field of work, I want all questions answered.

Your book "The State in the Third Millenium" has been translated into numerous other languages. Are there plans for another book?
No, there are not. I wrote to book because I saw many years ago that globalisation will question the way our states work. Interestingly, the book drew a lot of interest. I'm often invited to give a presentation or participate in a discussion about it. Of course it's very time consuming but I think it's worth it. In a globalised world we, as a small state, can only live in freedom, peace and prosperity when the rest of the world lives in freedom, peace and prosperity.

So no other book? Maybe about your life?
No, no, that would be much too boring. (Laughs.)

You have probably answered thousands of interview questions in your life. However, you never seemed to be bored. You are friendly and insightful. When do you become impatient?
Of course there are certain questions that I won't answer. I would always also say so. There are simply topics I can't or don't want to give answers about.

When it came to the media, the Princely House drew a line very early on. Did keeping your distance prove to be successful?
Keeping our distance definetely proved successful. My parents already made sure to distance themselves from the media. I was shocked when Prince Charles and Princess Anne visited us for the skiing holidays. We were pretty much besieged by the world's media. Charles and Anne were smuggled out of Schloss Vaduz with a delivery van, so we could go skiing on our own for a few hours. We wanted our children to grow up as normal as possible and for them to go to local schools. So we deliberately cut personal information to a minimum; to see as few pictures of our children in the media as possible. If you are not known, you are not interesting to the press.

Have you never had problems with the yellow press?
If you reach a certain level of recognition, a lot of money is paid for images of you and it becomes profitable to hire a helicopter to take pictures of you. A photographer has time for weeks to take the 'right' picture. The problems we had with the yellow press only arose during the visits of Prince Charles. They tried to bribe our employees with monthly salaries.

So you can go to the pharmacy on your own these days?
Yes, it's quality of living if you can walk around without a bodyguard in tow. With my wife, I often go out to eat pizza or simply for a walk around Vaduz. Of course Liechtensteiners will recognise us but tourists mostly don't. Even when I leave the castle and there is a tourist standing in front of it, they usually never know who walks past them in trainers and windbreaker.

If you were a journalist yourself, what question would you ask for your 70th birthday?
There are a lot of questions that fascinated me about physics already when I was a teenager.

That's too bad, physics of all things. I can't ask you anything about that as I never had a clue about it.
My father spent his free time with further mathematics. I have always had this fascination with physics, that we have Einstein's physics on the one hand and quantum physics on the other. Both theories do not complement each other and are even contradictory. So the question arises if we can bring both theories together.

Which was your favourite subject in school?
I always liked history. Archaeology also interests me.

Have you ever dug yourself?
My first teacher David Beck awoke my interest in archaeology. He was its pioneer in Liechtenstein. He took us to excavation sites. That was fascinating to me. I saw that in many developing countries a lot was destroyed by the construction of streets and so on. So I established a Liechtenstein-Swiss foundation for archaeology abroad. The foundation works well. I visited a number of excavations myself.

Of dinosaurs as well?
We focus on human remains. When the remains of settlements are discovered while something else is build, we finance the excavation so that they are not lost. We try to sensitise the local population. The foundation is great promotion for Liechtenstein and the cooperation with the Swiss works well.

When you think back to your childhood, at what point did you realise that your life would not be like the life of your school mates?
Basically when I started school. We lived in the castle, did not speak dialect. As a result, my first friend was a German student, Uve Harder. My parents paid attention that we were not treated differently to the other students.

Have you ever gotten a Tatze (a punishment in school; being hit with a cane or strap on the hand)?
When I was in first grad, by David Beck.

How can we picture it, did your father ever sat down with you when you were a child and told you that one day you would become The Prince and what it would mean?
No, there was no such day. A lot of things, you simply catch while growing up. You see that there are receptions, talks with prime ministers, official visits and so on. So an explanation wasn't necessary. When I went to high school, my father asked me what I wanted to study. I said physics or archaeology and he said to me, "Hans-Adam, we cannot afford that. You need to study economics and law. Economics as you need to build up our families fortune again and law as I would like to hand over my duties as head of state while I'm still alive." I caught early on that something in our asset management must be wrong. The family often talked about selling yet another painting or land. You simply knew that things weren't good.

So everyone relied on you?
I had to build up our wealth again and so I studied law and economics in St. Gallen.

I think you liked it though, didn't you?
It was interesting as I could already start to immerse myself in finding ways to build up the family's fortune while still at university. I wrote by dissertation about the use of computers in banking.

In a time where there hardly were any computers.
My parents had contact with IBM Europe. My father had no insight in either our asset management or the bank. I had to change that. I knew that the bank thought about buying a new generation of IBM computers. Via IBM I then gained insight into our bank and could start to reorganise it. That was towards the end of my university studies.

How did you handle this responsibility and pressure?
I knew I had to solve the problems of our asset management. If our assets had collapsed, so would probably have the monarchy. I told my father, "Either we deal with it now and you give me the necessary authority over the bank or I go and work for IBM who had offered me a job. I have children now and I have to feed them. If all of this comes apart, we have to pack our bags and move back to Vienna." So I didn't have much to lose.

Did you ever wish to escape? Maybe as a teenager? Were you rebellious?
I was rebellious pretty much my whole life, already in elementary school. Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten the Tatze from David Beck, who I nevertheless admired greatly. The Tatze almost was like an honour for me: I am someone. As a boy, you are always a little rebellious. While in boarding school in Zuoz, I played ice hockey - not the most gentle of sports. I never was a virtuous student. I remember that the religious education class here in school in Liechtenstein was done in a very old-fashioned way. We had to memorise the old catechism. I thought the questions were stupid and the answers were stupid as well. So in front of the whole class I got up, tore apart the catechism and threw it out of the window. A few years later, a new catechism was introduced. So maybe I was always a bit ahead of my time.

But it had consequences.
Yes, back in those days it even went to the government. The Hereditary Prince tears up the catechism! I was kept in after school to write lines. It was a beautiful summer day, I was locked up on the third floor. I looked out of the window and discovered the rain gutter. So I climbed out of the window and down the gutter - I was anything but a virtuous student.

Pretty rebellious.
A little, yes.

So I guess you were also a rebellious teenager. Did you smoke?
Of course. Nielen.

What would your parents say about you as a teenager? They probably didn't know about the Nielen.
No. We were raised in an old-fashioned way. Governesses cared for us. I went to elementary school here and then for the first part of high school in Vienna. There we had a governess and a university student who should have cared for us...

(Laughs.) That's not the easiest thing when you live in the middle of the city in the Stadtpalais. Three boys full of energy [Hans-Adam and his brothers Philipp and Nikolaus] in a city full of life. And we were country boys. We played football in the Volksgarten park even though it was forbidden.

You had a pretty normal upbringing.
I am very thankful for my parents that they paid attention to it even though it was so different to their's. My father did not go to school but instead teachers came to his home.

Your Serene Highness, I planned to ask you what you would have become if not Fürst. But you basically already answered that. Either you would have launched rockets into the sky as a physicist, developped the first tablet computers at IBM, or studied archaeology.
Indeed. Natural sciences always fascinated me: physics, technology, ...

But would you have still met your wife, Countess Marie Kinsky, if you hadn't become Fürst?
Yes, the distant relation would have still been there. The aunt of my wife, Princess Lilly, was married to Prince Hans who lived here in Liechtenstein. Thus the Kinskys often came here during the holidays.

Was it an arranged marriage?
No, we were free to decide ourselves. We were here during the school holidays and my mother learned that a number of young people were staying at Prince Hans' house. She invited them to the castle, "Come and visit us, my children are bored and only have silly ideas." (Laughs.) They came for dinner. Marie Kinsky walked into the door. I saw her and said, "She will be my wife!" If you will, it was love at first sight.

You were only 15.
Yes, and Marie was five years older.

At that age, five years are a lot.
Yes, A LOT. But I was persistent. My future brother- and sister-in-laws called me Schnullerbaby (dummy baby). My parents and parents-in-law thought that I should first finish my education. Only in 1967 they had mercy.

But that was before you had finished your education...
In Liechtenstein it was basically more or less common knowledge that I was in a relationship. But the press didn't know anything. WBW was the only journalist who knew about it. He agreed to keep it a secret. The whole cover blew when Charles and Anne were here. WBW agreed to plant red herrings for the international media. My girlfriend and I took a walk through the forest around the castle and WBW didn't know anything about it. He took a group of journalist to show them the area around the castle and they saw us. WBW tried to distract them but it didn't work.

And what happened then?
WBW managed to convince the journalists to keep it a secret until an official announcement was made. That messed up the plans of my parents a little. You couldn't announce an engagement and then wait two years for a wedding. And so our wedding date was settled. We married in the summer of 1967, two years prior than planned - thanks to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

What do you have great regard for in your wife?
After her parents had lost everything, her family lived very humbly. The parents had raised their children themselves. That was a different family life than I knew. But I liked it very much. I knew that Marie Kinsky wouldn't only be a good wife but also a good mother. It was clear to us that we would raise our children ourselves. I changed nappies and that was before the time of Pampers [meaning in the time of cloth nappies]. I gave them the bottle - I could have worked as a nanny. (Laughs.)

There were situations in your life as a head of state when you were greatly criticised. How do you handle criticism?
If there is a foundation for it, I think about what I should change. If there isn't any, I ignore it. It was clear to me, what I had to change: The asset management, the foreign policy, the constitution, the justice system, the legitimation of the monarchy - all of those were things I knew I had to reorganise. The house law, which dated from the 17th century, as well. Again and again, reigning princes, including my father, had tried to change it but were stopped by vetoes. Every male family member of age used to have a veto right. Together with my brothers and a number of other family members who were in favour of reform, I came up with a new house law. It was up to the other family members to decide whether they wanted to join the new family organisation or not. In the end, all of them did join, even though some weren't really in favour of the changes.

You like to be a little provocative, don't you?
Yes, like a torero and the red cape. (Laughs.)

You also like when the people of Liechtenstein don't say 'yes' to everything. Something happens then. From physics we know that friction creates warmth.
(Laughs.) Exactly. If I hadn't created conflict, a lot of things wouldn't have changed.

What do you think about the Demokratiebewegung (literally democracy movement, a political group in Liechtenstein)?
Especially for other countries the Demokratiebewegung is a sign that we have freedom of speech. Many abroad say that this isn't the case in Liechtenstein. Of course you can criticise the monarchy in Liechtenstein. With a simple majority the monarchy can be abolished in Liechtenstein at any time. It shows that different ideas can always be implemented.

You are often parodied, for example in the Schlösslekeller. Can you laugh about yourself?
(Laughs.) Yes, of course. It's part of being a head of state to be caricatured.

You are not only a father but also a grandfather. What relationship do you have with your grandchildren? Do you see them often?
I have the great luck to see my grandchildren often and that we have a good relationship.

What advice do you give them?
I do not meddle in their upbringing. My children and children-in-law do great jobs. The contact with the children of the Hereditary Prince is a little closer for the simple reason that they also live in the castle. Due to his future role, the contact to Prince Wenzel will always be closer. I assume that one day he will take over the job. I can tell him about my experiences to take with him on his path. For me it was important to hear what my father and grandfather had experienced. Studying economics and law was the right thing. My father studied forestry, that was important in his day as the family still lived outside of Liechtenstein and did not play a major role here. The role of the monarchy depends if you are able to and how you finance it.

What would be the best birthday gift?
The education vouchers. [They are favoured by the Prince and Hereditary Prince but remain a long discussed topic in Liechtenstein politics.]

Stay tuned as interviews with Hereditary Prince Alois, who talks about the singing abilities of his family, and Prince Wenzel, who reveals what he has been up to since finishing school last year, are still to come! If those still aren't enough interviews for you, there are another two that Prince Hans-Adam gave to Vaterland alone to mark his birthday, here and here. Yet another interview can be found at 1 FL TV (and as I haven't watchted it yet, I can't tell you what it is about.)

Interview with Hereditary Prince Alois
Interview with Prince Wenzel
...and What the Ladies Have to Say

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