Swiss history: How the army attacked Liechtenstein three times — by mistake
Switzerland has been neutral for the past 500 years. But that didn’t stop it from “invading” its tiny neighbour three times in the past 35 years. How did this happen?
Liechtenstein lies very – and, it would seem, dangerously —close to Switzerland. Where a border should be between the two Alpine nations there is only a footbridge, which may explain why the Swiss military made its way into the minuscule, 23-kilometre-long principality with such ease.
The first incident in the ‘oops…sorry’ category happened in 1985. During a training exercise in the proper use of ground-to-air-missiles, Swiss artillery launched rockets straight into Liechtenstein, igniting a massive forest fire along with a diplomatic snafu.
At first the Swiss claimed that strong winds, which were blowing in the region on that day, were to blame for the misdirected launch. But in the end, the government paid several million francs for damages inflicted on Liechtenstein’s forests.
Seven years later, Switzerland struck again.
Army recruits were on maneuvers when they received orders to set up an observation post in Triesenberg. The soldiers obliged, until local residents started to ask what the Swiss military unit was doing in their town. It was only then that the recruits — and their commanders — realised that Triesenberg is located in Liechtenstein.
Fast-forward to a rainy night in 2007, when 170 troops armed with rifles (but apparently not with a GPS) stumbled into Liechtenstein. They marched on for more than a kilometre until someone exclaimed, “Hey, this isn't Switzerland”! (“Hey, das isch nöd d Schwiiz”)!
At this point the soldiers turned around and hot-footed it back home.
In all fairness, it is difficult to tell Switzerland apart from Liechtenstein, even in broad daylight. Rural areas in both countries look the same, and people in both nations speak the same Swiss German dialect and use Swiss franc as their currency.
Imagine how much more complicated it is to distinguish one country from another when it’s dark and raining.
According to reports, the incident did not have any political repercussions.
“It’s not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something”, Markus Amman, Liechtenstein’s spokesman for the Interior, remarked at the time.
“These things happen”, he added philosophically, no doubt referring to the two previous episodes when the mighty Swiss army came uninvited.