The Rules: What is a Country?

My husband asked me if I planned to read a book from Puerto Rico. That made me wonder, what defines “a country”? To me, a country is a place with defined borders, where the language, food, and dress (and of course, literature!) is different from that of other countries. And they have a history of ethnic diversity.

But whether a place is officially recognized as “a country” turns out to be…political. And depends on who is doing the recognizing.

How Many Countries Are There?

A geography website from the UK says there could be from 194 to 260 countries, depending on your definition.

“For example, Taiwan claims to be a country, but China states that Taiwan is just another part of China. The consequence is that the USA, that doesn’t want to upset China, doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a country. Conversely, from the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania but the USA continued to regard them as independent countries that were ‘occupied’ because it didn’t really get on with the USSR.”

In a general gesture of thumbing my nose at conquerors who absorb independent countries (you suck, guys) here are my definitions:

  • Kashmir…country.
  • Taiwan…country.
  • Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales…countries.
    • Yes, I know they are part of the UK, but they are so distinct linguistically that they’re very separate in my mind. In addition, they have well-defined and ancient borders. Besides, the PM’s website for the UK declares that the UK is “made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.”
  • Bavaria…not a country. Just like Texas isn’t a country.
    • Maybe someday I will read a book from each state in Germany–because they all used to be kingdoms before Bismark–but I don’t have time this year!
  • Puerto Rico and Guam…countries.
    • If I flew there for a vacation, I would feel as if I were going to another country…not a part of (protectorate) the US. Ditto Hawaii.
  • The Vatican, sorry United Nations, NOT a country.  Part of Italy.
  • Tibet and Nepal…countries.
  • Russia…
    • Oh boy, this is going to be a pain. I don’t think I have time for all the breakaway Russian republics this year either. Might be a separate project. Or not.

As you can see, I’m mostly making more work for myself. But that’s ok. It’s not work if you love it. 🙂

Native Americans and Alaska Natives

In addition, many people may not be aware that there are 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes within the geographic borders of the U.S. They are recognized by the government as sovereign nations.

It’s official. I may not finish this blog until I’m 90.

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3 thoughts on “The Rules: What is a Country?

  1. Interesting! Speaking as a UK citizen, England, Scotland, Wales are very definitely countries, having been taken over by the English centuries ago. You forgot Cornwall, which was also very definitely a country up until the 15th century when England absorbed it into its borders. There has never been an official, or legal takeover of Cornwall, which has it’s own language, and flag. In the UK only countries are allowed to fly flags without permission, so you see the Cross of St Andrew’s (Scotland) The Cross of St George (England) The Welsh Dragon (Wales) and the Cross of St Piran (Cornwall). There is also a Cornish Independence Party and a movement to get devolution here, as Wales and Scotland have done.
    For those who don’t know – I live in Cornwall!

  2. What can I say? thanks again for this interesting debate. Following your reasoning Romania and Republic of Moldavia? one country whose historical region Moldavia, has been ripped away by the Soviets in 1945. But then again, I don’t personally think that being a country is so important in the end, Or maybe it is for political and economic reasons. But from a literary point of view your definition of “a place with defined borders, where the language, food, and dress (and of course, literature!) is different from that of other countries. And they have a history of ethnic diversity.” better applies to cultural regions. Which would enormously complicate your project. But on the other hand maybe your beautiful project is so special that it needs to be expanded.

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