promoting places (that don’t exist)

GAS Jeans publishes a youthful magazine called the maGASine that has a general “rethink” theme, which highlights everything from art and architecture, to clothes and travel. In one edition, an article called nation obscura highlighted a number of countries that were unknown – either unrecognized internationally, or cast off by its neighbouring countries, whatever the political case may be.

The countries include: Brunei Darussalam, São Tomé and Príncipe, Comoros, Djibouti, Timor-Leste, Equatorial Guinea, Grenada, Nauru, Kyrgyzstan and Micronesia.

This leads me to one my favourite authors, Simon Reeve*, who created the 2005 documentary Places That Don’t Exist, which essientially highlights a number of countries, that again – are technically not there.

Some of the countries he visited are: Somaliland, Transniestria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Ajaria, South Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Somalia, Moldova, Taiwan, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

It makes me question how countries can establish & promote themselves as a nation, despite not being an official nation, recognized by the rest of the world. According to Reeve, there are approximately 200 official countries in the world, but there are dozens of “breakaway states” which are deemed separate or independent. They have their own governments, implemented their own authories, their own passports, and even currency and stamps, but all which mean absolutely nothing to the rest of the world. (For example, their currency, passports and stamps are valid, but aren’t accepted in any other country other than their own.) It’s not just a matter of not being taken seriously, it’s much more contrived. And of course there is a downside, where they are taken advantage of by neighbourging countries, and are often made silent partners in other unsavoury activities.

So how does one (a potential collective) do PR for a nation? Similarly, who does the PR for Canada, and how is it contained? How do one of the above-mentioned nations establish themselves, control how they’re perceived internationally, when they’re stamped with such dismal uncertainty and basically exiled from the rest of the world?

*Simon Reeve produced the 2003 documentary called Meet The Stans, which took him to the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.


3 thoughts on “promoting places (that don’t exist)

  1. Jo. Chen says:

    I find it funny that Simon Reeve had listed Taiwan as one of the places that are considered non-existent, especially when it’s where my family originated. It seems to me that countries that are on the map are those that meet a certain standard dictated by the superpowers of the world. It also appears that countries without a place on the map usually have trouble getting attention because of economic and political issues. Taiwan, by Western standards, has a fairly robust economy and enjoys a decent standard of living (rural areas, however, are the exception). Due to its “renegade” origins and its continuing conflict with China, which considers it a province of China rather than its own independent country, it does not have high standing in the ranks of the world map. People might recognize Taiwan by the fact that it manufactures many goods for Western destinations. Sadly, when some people see the mark, “Made in Taiwan” in the label of a product, they automatically rank the product as substandard and the country as well. This type of stereotyping may also be a reason why some countries are not on the map; because they are considered unworthy of map ranking.

    I think making a country visible to the rest of the world involves creating a singular message that is not only simple, but can be understood on a human level globally. This takes not only money, but time and effort by government officials to reach out to neighbouring countries as well as the superpowers. Global citizens, at the same time, have to be open-minded enough to realize that there is more to this global village than what is printed on the map. If we were all willing to be more understanding of the unknown cultures that surround us, we wouldn’t have all this confusion and conflict over land and identity.

  2. staffeen says:


    You’ve touched on it exactly. And when dealing with the “reputation of a nation”, it’s not always in their control. Most of those countries are controlled by their surrounding/neighbouring mother-father states, and have little to no independence, despite appearing so. Those larger states control every aspect, down to the food that’s imported, to the food grown, to the music people listen to – despite having their own Government.

    So because of this unfashionable tie to these larger states, they have no choice but to accept their fate. I think every country suffers from some form of stereotype, but in their case, it’s almost counterproductive. How can you fix your reputation when your peers don’t even acknowledge you?

    And as for Canada’s reputation, I think we’re still seen as the younger annoying cousin of Britain, or the annoying sibling to the U.S. But I think we’re slowly finding our identity, slowly but surely, and I think that’s a part of our reputation as well…

  3. kandice says:

    From a dry, legal-ish perspective:

    There really is no formula for recognizing a state. However, per Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” A state must also be independent, meaning it is able to exercise self-determination, free of the authority of any other state. These characteristics are generally recognized as requirements for statehood under customary international law.

    Of course, one or more of the requirements can be contested. And even if a state satisfies the conditions, it doesn’t mean any other state has to (or will) recognize it. It comes down to considerations of realpolitik — hence Israel is not recognized by the Arab states, and Taiwan’s position is perpetually ambiguous. In the latter case, China’s “chequebook diplomacy” buys diplomatic recognition from (poor, African and South American) countries at the expense of Taiwan. I guess that’s pretty effective public relations. (Side note: what many people seem to have forgotten is that, until 1971, Taiwan (the Republic of China) was recognized as the legitimate government of China, and held China’s seat at the UN.) Bottom line: if Taiwan were “rising” and owned hundreds of billions of dollars in US treasury securities, the situation would be completely different.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s