We’ll start at the “centre of the world”, the prime meridian, which goes through Greenwich,England. This is because that’s where the British invented time in Here we have two independent countries
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. The country of Ireland comprises the majority of the island of Ireland, while the northern part, called Northern Ireland, is of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland doesn’t really have an official flag because its population doesn’t exactly agree on whether they should remain British or unite with the rest of Ireland. The other constituent countries are in Great,Britain and surrounding minor islands… Scotland, England, and Wales.
Some people use the terms “Great Britain”, “United Kingdom”, and “England” interchangeably… but please don’t. Us Scots really don’t appreciate it. In fact, many Scots don’t want to be part of the UK. Despite an unsuccessful referendum in, there’s still a very sizable independence movement. Even more so since Brexit.
So just remember… Great Britain an island, the UK an independent country made up of non-independent countries… and England one of those countries.
Oh, and there’s also the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. Which are British, but not part of the UK for some reason. They’re referred to as Crown Dependencies.
Okay we really need to move on, lots to cover. If we go into the icy north, we find the Faroe Islands, and Greenland. Two places that you wouldn’t think have much in common, but they do, they’re both Danish. They’re both autonomous territories of Denmark. And despite the immense difference in size between the two, they actually both have a similar population of around , Unsurprisingly, Greenland is one of the least densely populated parts of the world. The island is literally ¾ ice.
Now moving onto land with a more… hospitable climate mainland Europe. First thing to talk about is probably the European Union, an economic and political union of European States.
It used to be , but, y’know Brexit.
The EU has what’s called “the Schengen Area”, an area of free travel, in which participating countries have abolished border controls. Not ALL members of the EU are part of this area, and also some non-EU members ARE. Same with the Eurozone, a monetary union in which all countries use a shared currency, the Euro. of the members are part of the Eurozone.
countries have agreements with the EU to officially use the Euro despite not being part of the EU, and then two others just sort of decided that they wanted it too, without any agreement in place.
Now given how much Europeans loved conquering the world for a few centuries, there are plenty of parts of European countries, outside of Europe. Like the large part of France in South America, or smaller islands off the coast of Madagascar. Of course, I won’t be able to cover them all.
Just a quick mention about the Vatican City, which is considered a country (the smallest in the world, entirely surrounded by Italy), but is NOT a member of the United Nations… although it is an observer State.
Okay, to Spain next. This region here is called Catalonia, it’s one of the “autonomous communities” of Spain. Many Catalans have been fighting for independence from Spain over the last century, with things picking up over the last decade. Catalonia sought permission from Madrid to hold an independence referendum. Spain said no. Catalonia said they’ll do it anyway. Spain said “wait no that’s illegal”. But they did it anyway.
The result was 92% in favour of independence, BUT everyone who wanted to remain part ofSpain just boycotted the vote, so it doesn’t really count.
The President of Catalonia later declared independence… sort of? It was all very confusing and nobody really knows what happened. Catalonia is still part of Spain, though, and their former president is currently living in self-imposed exile in Belgium.
On the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula, there’s Gibraltar, an overseas British territory, which was ceded from Spain about years ago. And just across the Mediterranean, there are a couple of parts of Africa that are still part of Spain.
Alright, what’s next… ah yes, the Balkans. This is a part of Europe in which everyone hates each other. Probably the biggest point of contention is the self-declared, partially-recognised State of Kosovo. Or the autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo, depending on your viewpoint.
The province declared its independence in 2008, after a war with Serbia a few years earlier, in which Kosovo received military support from NATO. The population of Kosovo is prodimently Albanian.
As well as this, there was also the near -decade naming dispute between Greece and Mace-- uh, North Macedonia, as it’s now called. Basically Macedonia is a large geographic region, much of which is in Greece, and was named as such after the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon.
So Greece wasn’t too happy in 1992 when their neighbour declared independence from Yugoslavia as the “Republic of Macedonia”. Due to Greek objections, the country was referred to as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in diplomatic organisations like the UN.
After 28 years the insanity was finally ended and the country was renamed the “Republic of North Macedonia”. But I’m pretty sure neither side was really happy with the outcome and they both still hate each other.
On to Russia now.
This is the Crimean Peninsula. It was annexed by Russia from Ukraine after a referendum of ... questionable legitimacy. It was only actually part of Ukraine for about half a century, since it was transferred to Ukraine while both were Soviet Republics.
Western governments and the UN do not recognise the annexation, and still consider the peninsula to be part of Ukraine. Nothing has actually been done about it, though.
One more part of Russia that’s good to be aware of, is this small exclave here called the ‘Kaliningrad Oblast’. It was originally part of the German state of Prussia, but the Soviet Union claimed it after the Allies’ victory in WWII… and then after the fall of the Soviet Union it became completely cut off from the rest of Russia..
Now travelling to Russia’s southern border with Georgia. Georgia has a somewhat precarious political situation, as it has not one, but TWO parts of the country that have declared their independence – Abkahzia, and South Ossetia. Both States have control over the areas they claim, however they very much lack international recognition. Both States declared their independence in the 1960s with backing from Russia. There was even a brief war over the dispute between Georgia and Russia in .
No prizes for guessing how that turned out…
Next we’ll take a trip down to the Mediterranean, to the beautiful summer getaway of Cyprus.
The political situation here though, is a bit ugly. The island is currently divided between the country of Cyprus, and the unrecognised Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus. There’s a UN buffer zone separating the two political entities that was established after the inter-ethnic violence between the Greeks and the Turks of the island erupted, shortly after Cyprus became independent from the UK. There was a Greek coup, followed by Turkish invasion, and it all got very messy.
Oh, and there’s also some British bases on the island.
I guess the strategic location was just too valuable to give up…
Moving further south and onto Africa. Probably the most noticeable geopolitical dispute in Africa is an area known as Western Sahara. The region is claimed (and mostly controlled by) Morocco. But the region has also been proclaimed as the independent country of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, by the indigenous rebel group the Polisario Front, which started off by fighting against Spanish colonial rule.
Spain just sort-of noped out of the whole situation, and divided the region between Morocco, and another neighbouring country, Mauritania, who also claimed the region at the time... but not anymore.
On the opposite coast of Africa, we have Somaliland. Which, once again, is a dispute caused by the Europeans. Somaliland was controlled by the British, while the rest of what is today the country of Somalia, was controlled by Italy.
the two were joined to make a new, independent country. and a civil war has been ongoing ever since.
Now moving onto the Middle Eas-- oh ****... (SIGH) Why am I doing this?!
Okay, so it is quite literally impossible to give any kind of explanation of what the hell is going on here in just a couple of minutes. So just keep in mind everything
I say here is going to be way oversimplified.
Before the beginning of the currently ongoing situation, this area was called Palestine, and was under British administration
The United Nations passed a resolution to partition the land between Jewish and Arab communities.
The descendants of these Arab communities, in this region and in refugee camps nearby, are what we today call Palestinians.
After the resolution was passed, the State of Israel was declared. This led to the first of several wars with its neighbors, in which Israel was often fighting against most (or all) of them at once.
Territory in this region has bounced back and forth between different countries and organizations MANY times. Today, Israel is also in control of the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria
Now, as well as Israel, we also have the State of Palestine, which is a partially-recognised state, with observer status at the United Nations. Its claimed territory is the West Bank, in which an interim division agreement was reached with Israel , as well as the Gaza strip, which has actually been controlled by Hamas, a Palestinian political party, and variously described as a terrorist organization.
Things are even more complicated in Jerusalem, an ancient city with profound significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. This city is fully controlled by Israel but claimed by both groups as their capital - though with different parts of the city being claimed by each group.
On top of all of this, there’s the issue of Israeli settlements, which we don’t have time to get into and I’d really like to move on now please…
Staying in the Middle East, there’s the situation in Syria, in which a devastating, multi-sided civil war has been ongoing for nearly years now. This began with a series of anti-government protests, part of the broader movement known as the Arab Spring, which were violently suppressed. The conflict is one of the bloodiest of the st century, and has spilled over to several neighbouring countries.
There’s also the situation in Iraq. There is still ongoing conflict that stemmed from the US-led invasion in to topple the government of Saddam Hussein. With ISIS having mostly lost their territory in Iraq, the violence has continued in the form of an insurgency, featuring several rebel groups. ISIS was defeated in the civil war with help from the Kurds, a distinct ethnic group in northern Iraq that is seeking independence. The people overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence, but the Iraqi government deemed the referendum illegal.
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