But what about Seborga, a tiny principality surrounded by Italy, entirely unrecognised by its larger neighbour? Or Cabinda, which continues to fight for independence against nearby Angola? Or Moskitia on the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast, or Balochistan, divided up by the 19th century British among what are now Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Middleton – aided by Sarah Greeno’s wonderful illustrations, and an innovative printing method – briefly explains in turn the unique stories behind each of these ‘countries that don’t exist’. However, these aren’t simply 50 places with similar and well-known struggles for independence, many of which may one day actually become real countries. Instead, it’s an insight into a multitude of different scenarios by which these odd locations can exist and operate, at varying degrees of recognition, outside the established and UN-approved map of geopolitical nation-states.
Particularly fascinating is seeing well-known semi-self-governing places, such as the Isle of Man, Ryukyu (Okinawa) or Rapa Nui, being discussed in the same terms as the high-profile struggles of Tibet, for example, and yet the peculiarity of their statuses make them entirely suitable for inclusion. Many stories cry out for more, Middleton providing only a tease of the bigger picture, but overall, this is a fascinating catalogue of stories and a reminder of how varied the world can be when the established geopolitical order starts fraying at the edges.
AN ATLAS OF COUNTRIES THAT DON’T EXIST by Nick Middleton; Macmillan; £20 (hardback)
This review was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.