Economising on culture

Europe is a home to six microstates – countries somewhat too small to get noticed on a 1:100M map. Among these you can find Vatican City, the state with the most weird citizenship policy; Andorra, the only country on Earth smart enough to be governed by a bishop and the President of France; San Marino, governed by a Captain since early 1600s; Malta, the group of islands that witnessed more regime changes than anyone else; Liechtenstein, the world’s largest false teeth producer; and Monaco, the land featuring the only casino almost owned by the state. These microstates are actually only small by size: GDPs per capita of each of them stand among the first 50 in CIA’s rankings, and all this during the economic downturn of last years. But let’s take a closer look on these small sovereign territories.

Vatican is obviously an odd man out here: it’s a purely functional state that serves as a home to the world’s largest chtistian church and some of the staff supporting it, mainly the highest governing organs and security services, around 600 people in total. The major part of Vatican City’s income was brought in by investments from the EU and by the revenues from tourism, not to mention the UNESCO World Heritage Sites valued between $10 billion and $15 billion in 2012. But anyway, that’s a country of a single organisation, independent or not. It’s artificial, therefore it doesn’t carry any interest. Other 5 are real countries, and some of them even more real than their bigger neighbours.

Andorra, for example, attracts 12 million tourists annually – that’s like an entire population of Greece – with its winter sports facilities, amazing views and tax-free goods and makes the visitors spend more than $2 billion each year which then settle down inside andorrans’ warm jacket pockets. And all that while having the population of just 85 thousand people. But nationals prefer to study abroad, to reside abroad and finally leave the country at some point, “giving space” for even more tourisrs each year. Having such an amazing history of being a sovereign nation since the 13th century, Andorra has absolutely unique cultural acievements that cannot be found in any other part of Europe but this huge social potential has been fully buried deep under the country’s new priorities – tourism and financial services.

Liechtenstein’s GDP is a bit bigger than Andorra’s, and this microstate seems to have paid somewhat more attention to its people. Vaduz, the capital, holds an extensive art collection and is a home to the world’s unique post stamp museum. And still, the most impressive private art collection of The Prince of Liechtenstein is currently situated in Vienna, Austria. San Marino’s historic centre is a current UNESCO World Heritage site, but have you ever heard about it before? I am almost sure that you did not. Malta? The beaches and parties in Paceville certainly attract much more tourists. Monaco? People don’t come to Monaco to visit a museum. The majority stays there just for a bunch of nice restaurants, some tax benefits and impressive gambling houses. Maybe a little of attention is drawn by The Rally of Monaco and the country’s rugby team, but the yachts standing at the marina receive much more amazed sights.

You see the tendency? The governments of those countries aknowledge the exceptional position they are in, but they manage to notice only the possible financial benefits making Monaco, Liechtenstein and others a good place for an old billionaire that wants to escape the income tax and, at the same time, forcing, for instance, a future writer to search for a more appropriate place to get printed. And they have the right to, and the population of those countries doesn’t seem to care, so they twice have the right to. But watch this: staying focused on the tourism, why not invest more in the existing architecture, literature schools, music inside the country and make the already present tourists, who will definitely want to see it all, pay a little? States’ executives could get two for the price of one: attract more travelers and make the country a better place to live.

An example? Look at Venice. The entire city in Italy’s North-East is powered by cultural development. Art galleries that actually impress, book stores that can make you explore the shelves for centuries, music festivals that bring you the best performers live, design stores that make you cry every time you’re asked to leave, legendary fashion shows and marvelous cuisine, not to mention the architecture of the city, – all this makes Venice an absolute must in Italy, even for Italians that prefer to not to go out of their apartment.

Along with all this, paying attention to the cultural facilities inside the microstates will also bring the benefits Venice will hardly ever have. The status of tax heavens will help art collectors and exhibition organisers save money on art taxes. The already developed tourist infrastructure will need little or no upgrade to be able to host an art exhibition, a concert or a fashion show. Moreover, the existing cultural landmarks will get advertised and will get discovered by more people. Plus, believe it or not, getting an event hosted in such a small country gives a special charm to the presented content. It’s like changing a giant concert hall for a furnished living room.

With such a number of advantages in this area, Europe’s microstates have an absolutely outstanding possibilities for active cultural expansion. And if the governments of those countries decide to stick to the right approach, maybe “I’m going to Monaco to see that writer in person” or “I’m going to Andorra to listen to that jazz performer live” or “I’m going to Liechtenstein to see that amazing picture” will not sound so weird in the future.


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