Vatican City Confidential: Inside the World's Smallest Dictatorship

Being a resident of the world’s smallest city-state isn’t all its cracked up to be. For centuries the people of Vatican City have lived under strict authoritarian rule by a ruthless autocrat who wields absolute power. 

The state's media is controlled by the all powerful Supreme Pontiff who exercises  complete legislative, executive and judicial control. And in recent years the pontiff has taken measured steps to control the private sector. If you want to make a phone call or go online within Vatican City, you will have to use the Vatican Telephone Service

When residents aren’t in church or serving the pope, they are usually watching TV via the Vatican Television Center, which is the national broadcast service of Vatican City. The Vatican Information Service is nothing more than a regularly issued stream of propaganda aimed at controlling its 800 residents. 

Living inside the cold, concrete Vatican walls, the 800 residents — many of whom are servants of the state — are forced to don the same clothes, day after day, even during the oppressive heat of the summer months. A strict dress code must be followed by all those who visit the city, even tourists. This, while the pontiff is dressed in the finest white cloth and gold jewelry.

The Vatican pharmacy boasts great prices on perfume and beauty products. But if it's viagra or condoms you’re after, look elsewhere; the pharmacy does not sell products that are "contrary to life." All goods must go through a centralized government-controlled point of contact called the Department of Goods and Supplies, which is in charge of the distribution of products through points of sales. 

Despite a deficit in 2008 of over 15 million euros, keeping up appearances remains extremely important to the Supreme Pontiff. An entire department is dedicated to the grounds keeping of the Pontifical Villas. The department also sees that the pontiff's every need is met when he is in residence. Never one for modesty and always for making a quick buck, the pontiff’s face is plastered on self-minted coins and stamps. 

Justice is mediated swiftly within the small 0.2 square mile city. At any time, the pontiff may interject himself into the proceedings of any civil or penal case. Individuals have no recourse in judicial matters unless explicitly given approval by him. Though the city is comprised of fewer than one thousand people, the state retains a police force called the Gendarmerie, whose purpose is to protect the Supreme Pontiff from internal threats to his absolute power. 

Despite its permanent observer status within the United Nations, Vatican City has seen to it that it operates outside international law by identifying as a distinct entity, and any signing of international treaties is done so with reservations. 

There isn’t much of daily life within Vatican City that isn’t touched by the Supreme Pontiff. Residents live under an increasingly authoritarian regime which they must rely on for all goods and services. Living inside a wall of silence and solitude, the residents of Vatican City are forced to live a life of piety in the hopes of one day appeasing their Supreme Leader.

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Andrea Ayres-Deets

PM Politics Intern- M.A. in Writing from the University of Warwick. Lover of sci-fi, awkward situations, and coffee.

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