hidden europe 14

What makes a country?

by Nicky Gardner


World history is daintily decorated with picturesque polities that were nipped in the bid by greater powers. But modern Europe still has some remarkable small territories. San Marino, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Faroe Islands and the Principality of Monaco. We examine some of the badges of nationhood.

There are some questions that come back to haunt us. One is the knotty issue of just how many countries there are in Europe. We have had late night phone calls from the back rooms of pubs (quiz night, we presume!) requesting our verdict on whether there are more or less territories in Europe than there are states in the United States. It depends of course on what makes a country. Never an easy question, for it raises complex issues of political legitimacy, sometimes laced with questions of ethnicity, language and religion. The stuff of which fireworks are made - as those charged with determining the future status of Kosovo know all too well.

One hidden europe subscriber is drinking his way round the continent, valiantly consuming a glass of Guinness in every European capital. He once enquired of us whether he might reasonably expect to fund an easy supply of Guinness in Tirana, Tallinn or Tórshavn.

Tórshavn? Yes, the capital of the Faroe Islands (Føroyar), an island territory in the North Atlantic with its own parliament, banknotes, postage stamps, language and overseas representation. The Faroes have a link with Denmark, to be sure, but that association does not preclude the Faroese government from conducting its own affairs, even to the extent that when Denmark joined the European Union (EU) in 1973, the Faroe Islands chose to remain outside the union. Just as three island territories around Britain, none of them part of the United Kingdom, are also not members of the EU. Can St Peter Port (Bailiwick of Guernsey), St Helier (Bailiwick of Jersey) and Douglas (Isle of Man) rightly claim a place on the Guinness circuit? A tough call, but we would say yes.

Political curiosities, those territorial midgets that dot the map of Europe, are engaging spots. Add in the likes of Monaco and San Marino and the number of countries edges closer to the number of US states. But the whole debate begs many questions of definition.

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