The Foreigns Present: Your Guide To The Hellholes
Those crazy Kosovars! Their little declaration of independence has caused quite the shitstorm -- not just among the great powers who are wrangling over whether to recognize them or not, but among the world's other pissant quasi-countries, who are mad that they didn't get to do it first. Palestinian presidential aide Yasser Abed Rabbo whinily declared that "Kosovo is not better than us. We deserve independence even before Kosovo!" -- and it's probably more true for his blighted semi-occupied wasteland than most. This week, The Foreigns will take you on a tour of the world's saddest unrecognized not-countries.
TRANSNISTRIA: Come for the heroin, stay for the whores
Transnistria (or, for fans of superfluous consonants, Transdnistria) is a tiny slice of the already-shitty ex-Soviet republic of Moldova wedged between the Dniester river and the Ukraine. While Moldova is mainly inhabited by Romanian speakers, the inhabitants of Transnistria are mainly Russians and Ukrainians who were much less enthusiastic about the whole "collapse of the Soviet Empire" thing; the presence of the Russian 14th Army, which some 17 years after the fact hasn't gotten around to going back to Russia yet, ensured that they would stay de facto unshackled by their Moldovan oppressors.
Despite not one but two votes in favor of independence over the years, the Transnistrians can't seem to get those snobs in the West to give them the time of day. These days the inhabitants mostly spend their time engaging in Soviet cosplay (see photo) and serving as a major transshipment point for drugs and prostitution into Europe, all under the benevolent gaze of President-For-Probably-Ever Igor "Yakov" Smirnov.
NORTHERN CYPRUS: Maybe this "independence" thing wasn't such a hot idea
Ah, Cyprus! Lovely Mediterranean isle, marred only by its two main ethnic groups, the Greeks and Turks, who hate each other's guts! When a Cypriot coup threatened to unify Cyprus and Greece, Turkey invaded the northern part of the island and kicked all the Greeks out; a few years later, in 1983, the Turks up north declared the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Admittedly, nobody but Turkey recognized it as a real country, but, still, problem solved, right?
Wrong! Flash-forward to 2004, when Cyprus joins the EU, and the Northerners want in! So they turn out to vote in favor of a UN plan to reunify the island, but the southerners vote against it 'coz it was too nice to the Turks or some such. Sorry, suckers! Northern Cyprus thus has the dubious distinction of not having its independence vote or its de-independence vote recognized. Oh, and it's also not getting any of that sweet, sweet EU cash.
SOMALILAND: Proving that "hellhole" is a relative term
Let's say you were in Somalia. What would your main priority be? We'd guess it'd be getting the hell out of Somalia! And as it is true for individuals, so also it's true for clans and vast swaths of territory. When the southeast part of the country (an ex-Italian colony) degenerated into civil war and clan-based madness in 1991, the northwest part (an ex-British colony) said, you know what, I don't think that's really for us. Building on a wholly successful five-day stretch as a separate country in 1960 (after which it merged with the ex-Italian bit), Somaliland declared independence and hasn't looked back since!
Over the past 16 years, Somaliland has written a constitution, held elections, signed trade agreements with Ethiopia, spent half of its budget on its military, exported its delicious cattle, and wooed tourists to see its neolithic cave paintings. Its picturesque capital, Hargeisa, is marked by working traffic lights rather than hundreds of pickup trucks filled with drugged-up machine-gun-wielding teenagers. But the fuddy-duddy international community, with its "no new African countries, please" policy, won't recognize its independence. Might we suggest a "Somalia exception" to this rule?
ABKHAZIA AND SOUTH OSSETIA: Sometimes pawns are just happy to be in the game
Man, the early '90s were a magical time, weren't they? So many places had secession fever! Everyone was seceding from the Soviet Union, and sometimes bits of those countries that seceded also seceded themselves! Two such bits were Abkhazia and South Ossetia, tiny slivers of Georgia roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, respectively, which had the good (?) fortune to be inhabited by non-Georgians and on the border with Russia. After a couple brief and nasty wars, some ethnic cleansing, etc., etc., we've got two little unrecognized de facto independent countries, plus some "governments-in-exile" in Georgia, which says that they're really part of Georgia, and Russia backing the separatists mostly because it pisses the Georgians off.
And there things might have stayed indefinitely, since nobody really cares about Georgia, let alone impoverished, mountainous regions that may or may not be part of Georgia -- but then along came those shit-stirrers in Kosovo! Now Russia is threatening to recognize these two little statelets in revenge for the West's recognition of Kosovo. The Abkhaz and South Ossetian leadership is of course super excited about the prospect, because nothing could possibly go wrong for you when your enormous neighbor is playing games with your sovereignty for its own larger geopolitical purposes!
WESTERN SAHARA FREE ZONE: Sand, sand sand!
WESTERN SAHARA! Land of opportunity! Oh, wait, no. Land of endless fertile land and resources! No, that's not right either. Land of possible phosphate reserves! And strife! When Spain pulled out of its most desert-y colony in 1975, Morocco came marching in, quickly getting tangled up with the rebel POLISARIO Front. Over the course of the '80s, Morocco built a series walls out of sand (sand, for God's sake) enclosing the good bits of the territory. Which left POLISARIO in charge of the not-good bits. Of the Western Sahara. They call it the "Free Zone," which is nicer than the "Oh My God This Is Completely Uninhabitable Zone." But at least its people are free. Free! Free to look at the sand walls and dream about all the delicious phosphate on the other side.