It’s over year ago since I last pulled my finger out and posted in my Around the World in Five Posts series. If you read the second entry, you may remember that I jokingly pondered whether the next post would appear before 2018 arrived. Well, it’s now June 2018 and it still hasn’t happened! I will be returning to it soon, though. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to look at some constitutional and geopolitical goings-on that could require me to alter my already published posts in the series, and that could also see some new countries emerge in the next few years.
Bye bye Swaziland, hello Eswatini.
Let’s start with something that’s already happened. You may or may not recall that the series broadly follows alphabetical order, based on Wikipedia‘s List of Sovereign States. However, one of those countries has recently changed its name, which means entry number two in the series will require editing in order to insert it.
On April 18th, 2018, King Mswati III changed Swaziland’s name to Eswatini. Actually, that’s not technically correct. Eswatini has always been the country’s name in the Swazi language and is derived from the name of 19th century ruler King Mswati II. Swaziland was simply the country’s official name in English. Swaziland and Eswatini essentially mean the same thing – “land of the Swazi people.”
King Mswati III of Eswatini
The decision to ditch Swaziland as the country’s official name in English and replace it with Eswatini was made in order to mark 50 years since independence. It is also viewed as a way of helping to avoid confusion with Switzerland – a very different country with a similar name to Swaziland.
The United Nations has since accepted the change of name and acknowledges the Kingdom of Eswatini. Wikipedia are sticking with Swaziland for the time being – at least for the header of their article on the country – but this is presumably down to the fact that Swaziland will remain in much wider colloquial usage until Eswatini catches on. Nevertheless, I’ll be breaking with my convention of following Wikipedia‘s list and will be sure to install Eswatini into the second post.
FYROM/Macedonia vs Greece – is a solution finally in sight?
One of the countries that emerged from the disintegration of Yugoslavia calls itself Macedonia. Or, to give it its full name, the Republic of Macedonia. A majority ethnic Slavic country with Albanian and other minorities, this newly-independent state claims a connection to Alexander the Great, or Alexander of Macedon. It uses symbols associated with the historical region of Macedonia, including in its flag. It has renamed roads and infrastructure after Alexander the Great and has asserted that traditional Macedonian symbols and historical figures form part of its legacy and identity.
The flag of the Republic of Macedonia featuring
the Vergina Sun, a historically Greek symbol
But there’s a problem with all this, especially if you’re Greek. Alexander the Great wasn’t a Slav. He was a Greek. The historical region of Macedonia today spans both countries, but the majority of its territory is in northern Greece. Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, is in Greek Macedonia. For many Greeks, the fact that that their northern neighbour calls itself the Republic of Macedonia suggests a claim over Greek territory, as well as an attempt to appropriate Greek Macedonian culture and history. The Greek response to this has been to veto efforts by the Republic of Macedonia to join international institutions, including the EU and NATO. Nationalist sentiment in both countries has crystallised around the naming issue.
Republic of Macedonia and Greece’s Macedonia region
For Macedonia (the majority Slavic state, not the Greek region), this is a problem. The country is the poorest to have emerged from the former Yugoslavia (unless you count Kosovo, but that’s another issue). It is keen to increase its ability to trade internationally and to join global institutions to help boost its economy. But the Greeks won’t allow this while it continues to call itself Macedonia. The country is a member of the United Nations, but only under the clunky compromise name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM for short).
For over two decades, the two sides have been locked in a bitter dispute, with nationalists on both sides refusing to back down. Talks have dragged on under American supervision without ever coming to a solution. However, in early June 2018, an agreement was finally reached which would see the majority Slavic state renamed as the Republic of Northern Macedonia. This name would make it clear that the country makes no claim on Greek territory. The change would remove all barriers to Macedonia joining international institutions and would speed up its EU accession process. For Greece, its northern border would be normalised and it could begin to trade openly with its majority Slavic neighbour.
Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras of Greece (left) and Zoran Zaev of Macedonia
There are hurdles to clear first, however. In the Republic of Macedonia, the proposed name change will be put to a referendum in autumn of 2018, and it is by no means guaranteed that its citizens will support the move, containing as it does numerous concessions beyond simply inserting “Northern” into its name. The Republic’s president has also vowed not to sign the agreement, which would prevent it from coming into law. Indeed, the President has been pretty scathing about his Prime Minister’s endorsement of the deal. The agreement will also need to clear the Greek parliament, which is far from certain given the objections of several parties therein.
So watch this space. You may have to get used to saying Northern Macedonia in the future. Or, if things don’t progress, you may have to accept the continuation of the current state of awkward confusion that currently exists. As things stand, Macedonia will come under “M” in our series – not because I want to piss off Greeks or am interested in taking sides, but because that’s where it is on Wikipedia’s list. However, should the name change go through, the country will appear among those countries beginning with “N”, and will be referred to as Northern Macedonia.
A South Pacific Referendum
France is in Europe, right? Well, most of it is. But France has territory in several locations around the world, from Latin America and the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. Some of these territories are very remote, but all are integral parts of the French Republic. They possess differing statuses within the republic which define the level of self-government they enjoy, but they are, essentially, parts of France.
The flags of France and New Caledonian
One of these territories is New Caledonia in the south Pacific. A group of islands scattered off the eastern seaboard of Australia, with a population of 270,000, New Caledonia is the only one of France’s overseas territories recognised as a “special collectivity”, giving it a unique status within the French Republic. But in November 2018, the people of New Caledonia will vote on whether to remain a part of France or become an independent, fully-sovereign state. Should they vote in favour of such a move, the family of nations will welcome a new country into the world.
The distance between New Caledonia and Paris is 10,289 miles
The referendum is compulsory under the terms of the Nouméa Agreement, a 1998 deal named after the territory’s capital city, that was designed to help deal with demands for greater automony among the islands’ native Kanak people. However, most preliminary polls seem to indicate that the public is likely to reject independence.
Not Another South Pacific Independence Referendum?!
Oh yes. If you like your geopolitics, there’s plenty to get your teeth into at the moment! Chances are you’ve heard of Papua New Guinea at some point, but it’s less likely you’ve heard of Bougainville. While the majority of Papua New Guinea is on the island of New Guinea (which it shares with Indonesia), it also possesses a number of smaller islands, including Bougainville.
Papua New Guinea with Bougainville in the east
Geographically, Bougainville is part of the Solomon Islands, but it is politically part of Papua New Guinea. Since Papuan independence, Bougainville has had an uneasy relationship with the government in Port Moresby, and these tensions have bubbled over into war in the past. The allocation of resources is a major factor behind this trouble.
Today, Bougainville has a high degree of automony from the rest of Papua New Guinea, and governs itself in a broad range of areas. The island is scheduled to hold a referendum some time before 2020 on whether to become independent. However, there are conditions that the island must meet before the vote can be held, and some observers doubt whether these can be met before 2020. Bougainville has a large informal economy and is a hub for illegal weapons trafficking – a problem that must be curbed before the vote goes ahead.
Current flag of Bougainville province
Unlike in New Caledonia, there is a strong possibility that, should the vote take place, the people of Bougainville will back independence. It could still take time to create a viable sovereign state in that event, however. What does this mean for the series? Well, here’s hoping I’ve finished all five posts before 2020! Even if not, a newly independent Bougainville would have to be inserted into the already published first entry.
The third post in the series is well under way. I’m also aware of changes I really should make to the previous two. All of this will hopefully appear soon. But I’m an excellent procrastinator so I make no promises!