The Amazing Linn Atlas Animates the Expansion of the Gorkha Empire, Showing the Political Fate of the Limbu People

When writing my recent posts on the expansion of the Gorkha Empire of Nepal, I was frustrated by the lack of maps on the topic. Although Wikipedia articles on such subjects are usually richly illustrated with maps, that is not the case regarding the history of Nepal. Other go-to cartographic resources also came up empty. Then I turned to YouTube and discovered the little-known but very impressive Linn Atlas. This historical map animation site focusses on Southeast Asia and environs, but goes as far afield as the expansion of the empire of Alexander the Great. Although one could criticize the Linn maps of South and Southeast Asia for portraying historical polities as neatly bounded unitary states, when they were usually somewhat spatially vague “mandalas,” with power dissipating with distance from the core, such an objection would miss the essential point: it is extremely difficult and often impossible to map such fluid political constructs. What the Linn Atlas does is done magnificently, with even microstates and their changing geographical expressions mapped at a level of detail that I would have thought unattainable.

I have extracted 2 frames from the Linn Atlas animation of the expansion of the Gorkha Empire to illustrate my point. The first shows the Gorkha polity when it was a tiny statelet, one of many ruled by the Khas people in what is now central Nepal. The second shows the situation when the expanding Gorkha Kingdom had completely surrounded the densely populated and pivotal Kathmandu Valley, then governed by three small Newar states. I have also used the Linn Nepal sequence to create my own map, which shows the expansion of the Gorkha Empire from 1743 to the time of its greatest territorial extent in 1814.

The initial frames of the Linn’s Nepal animation show the Limbuwan country as belonging to a kingdom called Vijayapur. (By 1771, however, this relatively sizable state is shown as having broken apart, its northern areas coming under the rule of an unspecified number of tiny Limbu kingdoms.) As “Vijayapur” is a Sanskrit term, one might assume that this state was ruled not by the Limbu people but rather by Hindus coming from outside the region. Professor Raja Ram Subedi, who taught at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, explained this complex situation in a brief undated article called “Historical Entity of Vijayapur State.

As Subedi noted, the Limbu and related Kirati peoples could defend their own tiny states: “The chieftains and people of Dasa Kirata were expert in archery, physical activities, military organization, building forts and agricultural works.” But they nonetheless came under the rule of a Hindu dynasty, the leaders of which were connected with the small state of Palpa located in what is now south-central Nepal. But as Subedi further explained, this did not entail the subjugation of the Limbu and other Kirati peoples:

Raja Vijaya Narayan Roy was an amicable as well as diplomatic ruler. He established cordial relations with the Kirata subjects…  . He made an alliance with Morey Hang, a chieftain of the Kirata, and appointed him as the minister (Dewan). With the help of the Kiratas, Vijaya Narayan Roy was able to repair the old fort of Bhatabhunge Gadhi and shifted his capital from Baratappa to that fort.

Subedi also noted that the Gorkha conquest did not initially change this situation:

After [the Gorkha ruler] King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Vijayapur, the separate entity of that state ended. But the privileges given to the Kirata chieftains tended to continue even after it was annexed to Nepal. Kiratas constituted majority in Vijayapur state. They set up local government. Only the sovereign power was vested in the center. Even after the unification of Nepal, local government tended to exist.

But as we saw in the previous post, local autonomy began to be whittled away in the mid nineteenth century and was eventually eliminated altogether, politically marginalizing the Limbu and other Kirati peoples.

Does Nepal’s historical origin as a conquest empire contribute to its modern political instability?  That will be the topic of the next GeoCurrents post.

Could Iran’s Government Fall?

In lecturing last night in my Stanford University Continuing Studies (adult education) class on the current protest movement in Iran, I asked one big question and provided three different possible answers. The question was: “Could massive, determined and prolonged protests bring down the Iranian Government?”

The first answer was “extremely unlikely.” Massive protests have been occurring almost continually in Iran since the so-called Green Movement of 2009, but none has shown any sign of appreciably weakening the Iranian government. In comparative terms as well, protest movements rarely result in such a major change. Repression generally works well in quelling dissent, and the Iranian government is more than willing to use harshly repressive measures. It also has a huge internal security apparatus ready to carry out its directives.

My second answer was, “certainly possible.” Massive protest movements have in the past brought down governments, the most compelling example being the “Islamic Revolution” of 1979 in Iran itself, which took down the repressive regime of the Shah. After a little more than a year of huge protests, strikes, and civil disobedience, the government was no longer able to function. It therefore essentially disbanded itself without facing an actual armed rebellion or possible foreign intervention. Even if hundreds of protests are brutally repressed and therefore seem insignificant, one successful movement can topple a regime and thus change the course of history. In retrospect, such an event can seem inevitable.

My third answer was “likely, sometime within the next twenty years.” My reasoning here is based on both the determination of the Iranian protesters and the high level of support that they seem to be getting from the population at large. The government’s increasing repression and elimination of the country’s veneer of democracy in favor of complete theocracy is also pushing Iran to the tipping point. Before 2021, moderate and even relatively liberal candidates often won Iranian presidential elections, giving the people some hope for reform from within. In 2021, however, the major reformist figures were barred from competing. As a result, relatively few Iranians bothered to vote. Yet it still seems that extensive manipulation of the vote was necessary to ensure a solid victory for the regime’s favored candidate, Ebrahim Raisi. An extreme hard-liner, Raisi openly brags about his key role in the execution of between 2,800 and 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.

As a result of such developments, support for the current Iranian regime seems to be evaporating. The main demands of the protestors have thus changed from redress of grievances to wholesale political transformation. More important in the long run, evidence also indicates that the Iranian people are not just abandoning faith in their government, but also faith in the religious beliefs that underlay the Islamic Republic. Although conventional assessments hold Iran to be an overwhelmingly Shia Muslim country, a recent survey indicates that this is no longer the case.  Instead, the country has shifted in decidedly secular direction. A 2020 article in The Conversation, based on research conducted by The Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN (GAMAAN) contends that only a around a third of Iranian citizens now follow Shia Islam. The rather astounding results of this research project can be seen in the two figures posted below. (Some of the oddities found in the pie chart, such as the high figure for Zoroastrianism, will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.)

If these findings are accurate, it becomes questionable whether Iran’s nakedly theocratic regime can persist for long. In such circumstances, heightened repression could easily result in increased opposition. Eventually, the dam will break. Such a momentous event will probably not happen in a few months, but within a few years or at least a few decades, Iran will probably undergo another protest-led revolution, this one of a secular and democratic nature.

Mapping Regional Differences in Economic and Social Development in Russia—A GeoCurrents Mini-Atlas

Generalized indicators of economic and social/human development, such as GDP per capita or HDI, typically place Russia into a medium-high category. However, such ratings overlook regional differences in economic and social development, which are highly pronounced in Russia. To examine these regional patterns, GeoCurrents has created a mini-atlas of Russia, designed using GeoCurrents customizable maps, which are available for free download. These maps examine a wide range of topics, from food consumption to alcoholism, and from crime rate to healthcare; additional maps cover issues that help explain regional patterns in development, such as the age structure and ethnic composition of the population. Unless indicated otherwise, the data comes from the Federal State Statistics Service, and refers to the year 2013. Since the data offered by the FSSS is presented in 83 Word files, one for each federal subject, we have re-organized the data into one Excel file (available for download here: Rosstat_data); some of the measures, such as the percentage of working age adults or of pensioners and sex ratios, have been calculated based on the FSSS data. Additional data comes from the “Children in Russia” publication by the FSSS, available (in Russian) here; this document, published in 2009, contains data from the preceding year. Some other data come from Wikipedia and refer to 2010 or 2013. Unfortunately, we have not been able to obtain data from a more recent date, particularly from after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014; if any of our readers know of such publicly available data, in English or Russian, please let us know.

Russia_Living_space_2013We’ll begin by looking at two rather unusual measures of the standard of living: the availability of living space and food consumption. Although Russia is a large and sparsely populated country, the availability of residential housing has long been a problem. As can be seen from the map on the left, residents of central Russian oblasts have more living space per capita than average, with inhabitants of Tver oblast enjoying an average of 29 sq. meters (312 sq. feet) per person. The only exception here is Moscow City, where an average resident has only 19.2 sq. meters (207 sq. feet) of living space, reminding one of Mikhail Bulgakov’s lament about Moscovites written some 75 years ago: “mercy sometimes knocks at their hearts…ordinary people… only the housing problem has corrupted them…” (Master and Margarita). While residents of Northern European Russia, the Volga region, and the Far East (Chukotka, Kamchatka, Sakhalin) have fairly ample living space, the North Caucasus and most of Siberia offer an average citizen more crowded housing. Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Chechnya have less than 20 sq. meters (215 sq. feet) of living space per capita, while Ingushetia posted the second-lowest figure in all of Russia: 13.5 sq. meters (145 sq. feet). A notable exceptions here is North Ossetia-Alania, with the figure of 26.9 sq. meters (290 sq. feet) of living space.

Similarly, several Siberian regions, such as Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, and Altai Republic (not to be confused with Altai Krai), have less than 20 sq. meters (215 sq. feet) of living space per capita. Particularly striking is the situation in Tuva: 12.9 sq. meters (139 sq. feet) per capita. As we shall see in subsequent posts, Tuva is found at the bottom of many development rankings. As mentioned above, the Far East overall has more residential housing per capita, although differences between, on the one hand, Primorsky Krai and Jewish Autonomous oblast, with less than 22 sq. meters (237 sq. feet) per capita, and Magadan oblast, with its ample 29 sq. meters (312 sq. feet) per person, is striking. However, in the case of Magadan, the higher availability of residential housing may be a symptom not of a higher standard of living, as one might think, but actually of a lower standard of living: since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Magadan oblast has a significant depopulation trend, and as we shall see in subsequent posts, many other indicators of human development there paint a grim picture, which helps explains this trend.


Consumption of different foodstuffs, particularly meat and dairy, which tend to be the pricier components of the Russian diet, is another interesting topic. According to Rosstat data cited in an article in, the type of food consumed in largest per capita quantity is dairy: an average Russian consumes Russia_titular_ethnicity_2010over 200 kg (440 lbs) of it a year. (The most popular type of dairy is 3.2% milk and yoghurts.) Meat, however, takes the third place in the Russian diet: an average Russian citizen consumes 75-80 kg (165-176 lbs) of meat annually, which is less than the average annual consumption of bread and other grain-based foods. Russia_Percentage_ethnic_Russians_2010However, there are significant differences in the amount of meat and dairy consumed in different regions. For example, residents of Kalmykia consumed more than twice as much meat per capita as residents of Dagestan (114 kg vs. 40 kg). As for dairy, per capita consumption in Tatarstan is more than 3.5 times greater than Chukotka.

The geographical patterns of meat and dairy consumption can be explained only in part by economic factors, as they seem to correlate more closely with culinary traditions. For example, higher meat consumption correlates well with the presence of traditionally semi-nomadic, Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking peoples: Kalmyks (Mongolic), Sakha (Turkic), and smaller Turkic-speaking groups in Altai Republic. As can be seen from the map of ethnic composition, these regions have substantial populations of their titular ethnicities and lower percentages of ethnic Russians. But this pattern does not work elsewhere; thus, Chuvashia, Tatarstan, and Tuva also feature a significant Turkic population yet have much lower figures for meat consumption. Economic factors may play a more prominent role here. But economics does not tell the whole story either, as such high GDP areas as the three Autonomous Okrugs (Nenets, Yamalo-Nenets, and Khanty-Mansiysk AOs) and Tyumen oblast have some of the lowest meat consumption figures. I find especially perplexing the low figure in Chukotka—merely 51 kg (112 lbs) per person per year, less than half of the amount of meat consumed by an average Kalmykian—because Chukotka is both economically productive and has a substantial indigenous population, which traditionally lives on reindeer and seal.* It is much easier to explain similarly low meat consumption in Northeastern Caucasus—Dagestan (40 kg), Ingushetia (54 kg), and Chechnya (58 kg)—a region of both low GDP and a culinary tradition of supplementing meat (mostly lamb and goat, as well as poultry) with a lot of fruits and vegetables (for more on the cuisine of different parts of the Caucasus, see here and here).

Russia_Milk_dairy_consumption_2013As for dairy, one finds higher levels of milk consumption in (some of the) steppe regions, including Tatarstan (364 kg per capita per year), Bashkortostan (312 kg), Orenburg oblast (308 kg), parts of southwestern Siberia (esp. Altai Krai, 335 kg, and Omsk oblast, 301 kg), as well as in Sakha Republic (281 kg)—all areas where reliance on milk has been an important feature of traditional cuisine of cattle- and horse-raising semi-nomadic indigenous groups. However, milk has not been a staple for reindeer pastoralist groups: Evens, Evenkis, Nenets, Chukchi—so even today dairy consumption in their traditional areas remains fairly low. Another area which registers higher-than-average dairy consumption is St. Petersburg (315 kg) and the surrounding Leningrad oblast (293 kg), which probably goes back to the high number of dairy-producing sovkhoz (state-owned farms) during the Soviet era.

More perplexing are the relatively low figures of dairy consumption in four neighboring oblasts in north-central Russia: Yaroslavl (246 kg), Tver (243 kg), Vologda (236 kg), and Kostroma (194 kg). These regions are traditionally renowned for their specialty butter (Vologda) and cheeses (Yaroslavl, Tver, and Kostroma), so one might expect higher dairy-consumption figures. Historically, Russians produced and consumed “white” or “farmer’s cheese” but not “yellow” or “hard cheeses”, which first came to Russia from Holland with Peter the Great. According to website, the first cheese-making facility in Russia was opened in 1795 in Tver gubernia (now, oblast) in the estate of Prince Meschersky. The first large-scale cheese-making factory was also opened in Tver gubernia in 1866 by Nikolai Vereschagin (brother of famous artist). Cheese-making then spread to Yaroslavl gubernia, where local specialty cheeses were developed: Yaroslavsky, Uglichsky, Poshekhonsky cheeses (the latter two are named after the towns where they were first made: Uglich and Poshekhonye). In 1878, a first cheese-making facility opened in Kostroma by Vladimir Blandov; according to the Wikipedia, by 1912 Kostroma gubernia boasted 120 cheese-making factories in which a variety of cheeses, including the specialty Kostromskoy cheese, were being produced. Kostroma became an unofficial “cheese-making capital of Russia”, notes What, then, explains the decline in local cheese-making and dairy consumption in this area? The answer seems to be Soviet food policy. During the communist era, regional specialty cheeses were turned into standardized recipes, mass-produced in factories all around the country, undermining the local specialization. Since the 1990s, some local artisanal cheese making has been revived, but most small local producers have not been able to complete with larger domestic factories and foreign imports. Kostromskoy and Poshekhonsky cheeses, for example, gave way to imported brie and camembert. Russia has imposed sanctions on the importation of many foreign foodstuffs, but it remains to be seen what effect these measures would have on local cheese production. (I thank Sonia Melnikova-Raich for a helpful discussion of this topic.)

Russia_Physicians_2013The rest of this post examines figures and maps concerning healthcare infrastructure. Overall, Russia ranks very high in physician density and the number of hospital beds per capita, but quite low in nurse density. Regional differences in these indicators are quite pronounced, however, and some of the geographical patterns are rather baffling. For example, unsurprisingly, Saint Petersburg boasts the highest physician density (81.2 physicians per 10,000 population), whereas Vladimir, Tambov, Tula, and Vologda oblasts in central Russia are served by fewer than 35 physicians per 10,000. One might expect Saint Petersburg to lag behind Moscow in this measure, but the figure in Moscow City is actually much lower (68.6). This contrast is probably related to the rapid population expansion in Moscow in the last two decades, something that did not occur in Saint Petersburg (for illustrative population graphs, see here); Moscow’s health infrastructure simply could not keep up with that demands of the growing population. (Saint Petersburg also has more nurses per capita and substantially more hospital beds per capita than Moscow.) Overall, Siberia’s population is served by more physicians per capita than that of European Russia and the southern Urals, although there are exceptions: Khakassia and Jewish Autonomous oblast have fewer than 40 physicians per 10,000, and Kurgan oblast is served by merely 30.2 physicians per 10,000. Another geographical pattern that stands out is the disparity in the concentration of physicians between major cities and their surrounding oblasts (Saint Petersburg: 81.2; Leningrad oblast: 34.5; Moscow City: 68.6; Moscow oblast: 39). Sharp contrasts between neighboring federal subjects are found elsewhere as well: Vladimir oblast (33.9) and Yaroslavl oblast (58), Vologda oblast (34.7) and Arkhangelsk oblast (54.5), Volgograd oblast (48.2) and Astrakhan oblast (65.8), Jewish Autonomous oblast (37.7) and Amur oblast (60.6), North Ossetia-Alania (71.7) and Ingushetia (37.7). The high physician density in Astrakhan oblast and North Ossetia-Alania is perplexing in and of itself.

Russia_Nurses_2013As for nursing personnel, higher nurse density (over than 130 nurses per 10,000 population) is found across the Russian Far North and in parts of the Altai region, which are generally areas of lower population density. The highest figures are found in Magadan oblast (151.3), Chukotka (151.1), and Komi Republic (146.6). In contrast, lower figures (fewer than 100 nurses per 10,000 population) characterize most of European Russia, the North Caucasus region, southwestern Siberia, and the southern part of the Far East. The shortage of nurses is experienced in federal cities (Moscow City: 97.9; Saint Petersburg: 98.4) and even more acutely in the surrounding oblasts (Moscow oblast: 76.7; Leningrad oblast: 73); Leningrad oblast has the lowest figure in all of Russia. Another area where nurses are in short supply is the North Caucasus economic region (Krasnodar Krai: 88.1; Dagestan: 82.1; Ingushetia: 77.1; Chechnya: 73.2). As with physician density, sharp contrasts are observed in some cases between neighboring federal subjects: Leningrad oblast (73) and Karelia (123.6), Samara oblast (91.7) and Ulyanovsk oblast (127.7), Zabaikalsky Krai (114.4) and Magadan oblast (151.3).

Russia_Hospital_beds_2013Finally, Russia ranks 3rd in the world (after Japan and Korea) with respect to the availability of hospital beds per capita; unsurprisingly, these three countries top the charts in terms of average length of hospital stays (an average Russian patient stays in hospital for 13.6 days; compare to 4.9 days in the United States). But yet again, regional variation in Russia is quite pronounced, with 149 beds per 10,000 population in Chukotka, but only 46 beds per 10,000 population in Ingushetia. The availability of hospital beds correlates somewhat with nurse density, though far from perfectly. There are more hospital beds per capita (over 120 per 10,000 population) in Siberia (especially, in Eastern Siberia and the Far East) and in parts of the European North (especially, in Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Murmansk oblast). Besides Chukotka, the highest figures are found in Magadan oblast and Tuva (both 136), and Kamchatka and Sakhalin (both 129). Lower figures (fewer than 90 hospital beds per 10,000 population) characterize much of European Russia, the Mid-Volga region and southern Urals, parts of Western and Southern Siberia, and the North Caucasus region. As with physician density, federal cities have higher figures than the surrounding oblasts (Moscow City: 85; Moscow oblast: 79; Saint Petersburg: 92; Leningrad oblast: 69); however, even the two cities do not boast particularly high figures. As with the other healthcare indicators, sharp contrasts are found between neighboring regions, such as Lipetsk oblast (79) and Oryol oblast (101), or Altai Republic (80) and Tuva (136).

Overall, it should be noted that the per-capita healthcare infrastructure does not correlate with the region’s GDP.** For example, physician density is expectedly high in richer federal cities and in Chukotka, but it is fairly low in other high GDP areas, especially in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Similarly, nurse density is predictably high in Chukotka, Sakhalin, Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrugs, but surprisingly low in other high GDP areas, particularly in the federal cities and in Tyumen oblast. Likewise, the availability of hospital beds per capita is unsurprisingly high in such rich regions as Chukotka, Sakhalin, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug, but low in others, especially in Tyumen oblast and Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug. Nor is there a close correlation between these three indicators. For instance, federal cities are characterized by a high level of physicians per capita but few nurses; conversely, there are few physicians but many nurses in Kurgan oblast. Similarly, there is no correlation between the numbers of nurses and hospital beds per capita: for example, Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug and Altai Republic have more nurses than hospital beds (1.83 and 1.69 nurses per hospital bed, respectively), whereas in Primorsky Krai and Tomsk oblast there are fewer nurses than hospital beds (0.83 and 0.93 nurses per hospital bed, respectively).



*Figures for meat consumption refer to “meat and meat products, including offal of category II and raw animal fat”. According to the Wikipedia, “offal of category II” includes heads (without tongues), feet, lungs, ears, pigs’ tails, lips, larynxes, thyroid glands, esophagus meat, and stomachs. Tongues, livers, kidneys, brains, hearts, beef udders, diaphragms, and beef and mutton tails are considered “offal of category I”.

**Of course, quantitative measures of health infrastructure say nothing about its quality. Much has been written (especially, in Russian-language blogosphere) about the pitiful state of many Russian hospitals. Recently, two lethal incidents that happened in the 2nd city hospital in Belgorod have brought this point home. In the first incident, a doctor pounded a patient to death; a video of the incident caught on security camera is rather difficult to watch. Two weeks later, an 84-year old patient fell from a 4th floor window of the same hospital; whether he committed suicide, or was pushed, or whether it was an unfortunate accident remains to be seen.


The Regionalization of California, Part 2

Regions of California MapToday’s post continues and concludes the discussion of the county-level regionalization of California. We begin here with the Central Valley, one of the most distinctive aspects of the state’s physical geography. “Valley” is perhaps not the best term to describe this feature. I will never forget the words of Jung-man Lee, now a professor of geography at Seoul National University, when we visited the valley as graduate students in the 1980s. “Valley?,” he asked incredulously. “This is a not a valley, it is a vast plain!”

California Central Valley Region Map 1The Central Valley is characterized above all by its remarkably productive agriculture and its associated agro-industries, although it also includes many medium-sized cities. Of the top 10 agricultural counties (in terms of sales) in the United States in 2012, the Central Valley counted 7, while California as a whole counted nine 9. This region is characterized overall by low to medium wage levels, relatively high crime rates, California Central Valley Region Map 2high levels of unemployment, relatively low housing valuation, and large Hispanic populations.

California’s Central Valley is clearly differentiated into several sub-regions. The major distinction is between the San Joaquin Valley in the south and the Sacramento Valley in the north, both of which are named after their main rivers. The San Joaquin is a much wider and California Top Farm Counties Mapmore agriculturally productive valley than the Sacramento. It is also more densely populated and more urbanized.

California Farmland MapI have further divided both of these two constituent valleys into their own sub-regions. The northern San Joaquin counties have been differentiated from the “core” San Joaquin counties primarily because they are much more oriented toward the San Francisco Bay Area. Parts of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, for example, almost function as bedroom communities for Silicon Valley; although the commutes are fierce, the housing-price differential easily explains the phenomenon. The northern San Joaquin counties also have slightly more liberal voting patterns than those to the south.

In regard to the Sacramento Valley, mostly urban Sacramento County (population 1.4 million) is clearly separated from the more conservative and rural counties to the north. I have appended neighboring Yolo County to the Sacramento sub-region, both because it is economically linked to it and because it is characterized by relatively left-wing voting patterns, owing largely to the presence of the University of California at Davis. Finally, I have marked Solano as an “affiliated county” because a substantial part of its territory is physically situated within the Central Valley and partakes in its agricultural economy. Portions of Contra Costa and Placer counties are also located in the Central Valley, but they are too small to merit inclusion on the map.



California Eastern Sierra Region MapThe next region that I have distinguished, “Eastern Sierra,” rarely appears in regionalization schemes, mostly because its population is so small (roughly 34,000). This is a sparsely settled area indeed, characterized by lofty peaks and arid lowlands, containing both the highest (Mount Whitney) and lowest (Death Valley) elevations in the lower 48 U.S. states. It also formerly included a productive agricultural area, the Owens Valley, but the water that made farming possible there was acquired by Los Angeles and piped south, an episode made famous by the film Chinatown. The northern two counties in the region are politically distinctive, as they are the only sparsely populated counties in the state that routinely vote for candidates in the Democratic Party. This oddity stems from the fact that many former urbanites have moved to the area to enjoy its spectacular scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities. A bizarre footnote to this phenomenon was the idea of turning Alpine into a majority-gay county in 1970. As summarized by the Wikipedia article on the Stonewall Nation:

In 1970, Alpine County had a population of about 430 people, with 367 registered voters. Under a recent California Supreme Court ruling, new county residents could register to vote after 90 days in residence. Activist Don Jackson presented his idea for taking over the county at a December 28, 1969 gay liberation conference at Berkeley, California. He was inspired by gay activist and writer Carl Wittman, who wrote in his “Gay Manifesto”, “To be a free territory, we must govern ourselves, set up our own institutions, defend ourselves….Rural retreats, political action offices…they must be developed if we are to have even the shadow of a free territory.” He (incorrectly) suggested that if as few as 200 gay people moved to Alpine County, they would constitute a majority of registered voters. Taking over the county government, he said, would result in, “a gay government, a gay civil service…the world’s first gay university, partially paid for by the state…the world’s first museum of gay arts, sciences and history…[and a] free county health service and hospital…”

Not surprisingly, the proposal did not gain traction. As noted in the same Wikipedia article, “Despite announcing in November 1970 that it had close to 500 people ready to move, in February 1971, the GLF [Gay Liberation Front] released a statement that it was abandoning Alpine County for a warmer climate. It has since been suggested that the entire Stonewall Nation idea was a hoax perpetrated by the Los Angeles GLF to generate mainstream publicity.”

California Bay Area Region Map 1Almost everyone agrees that the San Francisco Bay Area forms a distinctive region, although different sources delineate it in different ways. The most common definition, endorsed by the Wikipedia, is to include all nine countries that actually touch upon the Bay, even though Napa County barely does so. An alternative delineation, which seems to be diminishing, is that of a five-country Bay Area that coincides with the San Francisco Metropolitan Area (officially known as the “San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area”) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

California Bay Area Region Map 2I have, however, defined the Bay Area region somewhat idiosyncratically, excluding Napa and Sonoma counties, which are instead placed in the northwestern region (see the previous post), but including Santa Cruz County even though it does not come close to the Bay itself. I have done so because Santa Cruz is closely linked, especially in economic terms, to the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County, essentially). Santa Cruz could, however, just as easily be grouped with the Central Coast counties, as it often is.

The Bay Area is, in general, an affluent area characterized by extremely high housing prices and left-wing voting patterns. It also has a high proportion of Asian residents. I have not subdivided the Bay Area largely because its main sub-regions are county-based. The “South Bay, for example” is essentially Santa Clara County, while “the Peninsula” is San Mateo County. The “East Bay,” however, includes both Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
California Central Coast Region MapA “Central Coast” region is found in almost all California regionalization schemes, although, again, its delineation varies. Santa Barbara County in the south, for example, is often grouped instead with Los Angeles, and for good reason. San Benito County is sometimes excluded from the Central Coast as well, as it is far from coastal, but it is difficult to figure where else to put it (a few sources place it in the Bay Area). Overall, the Central Coast falls near the middle of most social and economic indicators. This position is somewhat deceptive, however, as the region includes both highly exclusive areas (especially in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties) and highly productive agricultural zones that are home to many poor farm workers. Monterey County ranks 4rth nationwide in terms of its value of agricultural production, thanks to the narrow but fertile Salinas Valley. This valley specializes in labor-intensive vegetable crops. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Agriculture dominates the economy of the valley. Promoters call the Salinas Valley “the Salad Bowl of the World” for the production of lettuce, broccoli, peppers and numerous other crops. The climate and long growing season are also ideal for the flower industry … In particular, a large majority of the salad greens consumed in the U.S. are grown within this region. Strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach are the dominant crops in the valley. Other crops include broccoli, cauliflower, wine grapes, and celery.

Smaller zones of equally intensive agriculture are also found in the other counties of the Central Coast region. Tourism is also highly developed in many areas, but the central coastal swath of the Central Coastal region is so rugged that tourism and almost everything else is quite constrained. This is the famed Big Sur area, noted for its spectacular scenery and sparse population.

County-level regionalization is a much trickier proposition in Southern California than in Northern California. Many southern California countries are vast, spanning several distinctive regions, and several have extremely large populations. Los Angeles County alone has more residents than 41 U.S. states. The vast majority of Southern California’s population, moreover, is concentrated in a somewhat narrow zone situated to the south and west of the Transverse and Peninsular mountain ranges, where one finds an essentially continuous belt of metropolitan population. As a result of these issues, I have aggregated the five counties of the Greater Los Angeles Area into one region, which I have dubbed, for want of a better term, “Southland.” That leaves just Imperial and San Diego counties, which are quite different from each other and thus deserve separate regional status. Imperial County stands out from all other counties in California, particularly in its demographic characteristics, as its population is roughly 80 percent Hispanic.


The Regionalization of California, Part 1

Like all US states—and indeed, virtually political units—California is divided into a number of informal and special-purpose regions. Regional designations in California are used ubiquitously in the media, in academic reports, and in everyday conversation. They are unavoidable and necessary. But as is generally the case with regionalization schemes, the numbers, names, and spatial outlines of California’s regions vary widely from map to map and author to author. As a result, a certain degree of confusion ensues.

California regions map 1After scanning the internet for depictions of California’s regions, I assembled a number of maps and have posted them here. The first image shows six informal regionalization schemes, used mainly for tourism marketing or elementary education. As can be seen, the designation and delimitation of regions varies considerably. All but one of these maps, for example, specify a “North Coast” region, but the bottom-left map extends the North Coast southward to include the San Francisco Bay Area, a maneuver that almost no one in the Bay Area would ever make. The top-middle map, in contrast, places the Bay Area in the Central Coast region, but again this is not something that a native resident would do, as the Bay Area is habitually conceptualized as a region in its own right.

Some of these maps also get the basic geography of California wrong. Both the upper and lower maps on the left side of the set, for example, severely misplace the Central Valley. The upper-left map also misrepresents the spatial outlines of Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Of these six maps, the most idiosyncratic and least useful is the one in the middle of the bottom row. A vast swath of the state is labeled here as “central corridor,” as if its only significance is that of a transportation route between the Bay Area and Southern California. Unfortunately, such a geographically bigoted viewpoint is far from uncommon in the wealthy coastal districts of the state.

California Regions Map 2The three maps in the next set are based on counties and are designated in a more formal manner. As can be seen, the regions marked on these maps also vary to a considerable extent. Some of the regional labels found here are curious. I have, for example, never encountered the term “Upstate California,” and thus imagine that the author is a displaced and confused New Yorker. The same map also uses the designation “Inland Empire” in an inappropriate manner, extending it all the way to the Nevada and Arizona borders. As several of the maps in the previous set specify, “Inland Empire” is used in common parlance to refer only to the western slice of Riverside County and the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County, areas that are situated within the greater metropolitan area of Southern California. I must also admit to a distaste for the term “Inland Empire,” as there is nothing “imperial” about this region, and the same term is used to designate a region in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Regions of California MapWith these issues and problems in mind, I decided to create my own informal but county-based regionalization scheme, using the GeoCurrents customizable map of California. To be sure, my map has plenty of its own problems, the most important of which is the fact that many California counties span commonly conceptualized regional boundaries. But I do hope that that the regions designated here are somewhat more consistently conceptualized than those found in competing schemes.




Northwest California Region MapLet us begin with the northwest coastal area. Unlike competing systems, mine separates Del Norte in the far northwest from the counties located to its south. It does so primarily because Del Norte is much more politically conservative than Humboldt or Mendocino, in part because it lacks the countercultural element that is prevalent in the latter two counties. In the California 2012 Obama Vote Mapregion that I have designated “Northwest/Wine & Weed,” tourism is vitally important and local economies depend heavily on what might be called boutique agriculture, especially that focused on the two products tagged by the label. This region can in turn be subdivided partly on the same basis: more wine in the south, and more marijuana in the north, although Mendocino County scores high on both products. This region’s southern counties, Sonoma and Napa, are also more affluent and densely populated than those of the north, and are much more closely connected to the San Francisco Bay Area. Note also that Trinity County, which I have excluded from the region, could easily be placed within it, due especially to the fact that it is conventionally classified within the “Emerald Triangle” of extensive cannabis cultivation.

Far North California Region MapMoving to the northwest one finds the region that I have designated as Far North, and alternatively as “Shasta” after its signatory mountain peak; this same area is sometimes deemed “Jefferson” after its local semi-serious secession movement. The counties of the Far North have several features in common. This region is relatively poor, heavily dependent on natural resources, characterized by inexpensive housing (by California standards), lightly populated, markedly conservative in its voting patterns, and heavily White in terms of its demography. (The map shows a somewhat lower White share of the population in Lassen and Del Norte counties, but this discrepancy stems mostly from the presence of large state prisons: Pelican Bay in Del Norte and High Desert in Lassen.)

California White Population MapIn subdividing the Far North region, I have excluded Modoc and Lassen from the core counties. This move is due to the fact that Modoc and Lassen are much more conservative than their neighbors and stand out on many other indicators as well; in terms of both physical and human geography, they fit much better with northern Nevada than with the rest of California. Non-core Trinity County, on the other hand, is less conservative and has a stronger counter-cultural element, while Plumas has much in common with the Sierra counties to the south. Tehama County, on the other hand, has been placed within the Central Valley region, but it has much in common with the Far North region as well.



Sierra California Region MapThe Sierra/Gold Country region is distinguished in part on historical grounds. Owing to the Gold Rush of 1949, this was the first part of the state to be settled by English-speaking people in large numbers (along with San Francisco and Sacramento). The counties of this region extend from the edge of the Central Valley through the gradual western slope of the Sierra Nevada USA population density maprange. (Placer County, however, also includes a small portion of the agricultural Central Valley). Historically, population in this region was concentrated in a rather narrow north-south belt in the foothills, an area called the “Mother Load” after its rich, gold-bearing rocks. Population plummeted after the gold deposits were exhausted, and the local economies switched to ranching and logging. Later, tourism surged in importance, and Nevada County in particular gained a counter-cultural element similar to that of Mendocino and Humboldt counties.


Sierra California Region Map 2The Sierra/Gold Country region is currently characterized by fairly strong support for Republican political candidates (less so, however, in Nevada County), medium levels of income, moderately low population densities, heavily White populations, and low levels of violent crime. Placer and El Dorado counties are distinguished from the rest of the region by their inclusion of some of the suburbs of Sacramento and they share as well the Lake Tahoe basin, noted for its winter sports and other recreational opportunities. As California Income Mapcan be seen on the income map posted here, they are markedly more affluent than the rest of the region. Sierra County in the north is differentiated by its tiny population and the fact that it does not encompass any portion of the distinctive foothill belt. Large parts of the Sierra Nevada range are also found in several other counties, but these counties are demographically and economically anchored in the Central Valley and are thus placed within that region. In the far south (Fresno, Tulare, and Kings counties), moreover, the distinctive foothill zone is quite narrow and never supported gold-mining communities.

Calaveras County MapPopulation has expanded dramatically over much of the Sierra region in recent decades as people have moved in from the more crowded and expensive parts of the state. Calaveras County, for example, saw its population almost double from 1980 to 2000. I know this story well, as I moved from suburban Contra Costa County to rural Calaveras in 1970, when I was 13 years of age. At the time, the entire country did not have a single traffic signal. The county as a whole has changed greatly since then, although my own hometown, San Andreas, has hardly transformed at all. (San Andreas has no connection with the famous geological feature of the same name, resulting in its unofficial slogan: “its not out fault”.)

In working on this current series of posts, I was quite surprised to discover that Calaveras has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the state, as the county has its share to meth labs as well as unsavory characters and questionable areas. It was also the site of one of the most grisly episodes of serial murder in California history. But evidently the county as a whole is a fairly wholesome place.



Valencia and the Països Catalans Controversy

Valencian Community MapFive days before the recent regional elections in Catalonia, the Archbishop of Valencia, Antonio Cañizares, gained attention and generated controversy by urging Catholics to “pray for Spain and her unity” while also arguing that “Spain is bleeding out” and that “there is no moral justification for secession.” It is not surprising that such sentiments would be voiced by the Archbishop of Valencia. The region of Valencia (officially, the Valencian Community) is largely Catalan speaking by strictly linguistic criteria and many Catalan nationalists would like to include it in a future independent Catalonia, but most of the people of Valencia firmly reject Catalan national identity.

Catalan Countries mapThis rhetorical battle over identity and language extends beyond Valencia to include other Catalan-speaking areas outside of Catalonia proper, encompassing a broad transnational region often called Països catalans (Catalan Countries). As the election approached, the rhetoric heated up. As reported in El País:

A suggestion by a Catalonia government official that the region could offer Catalan citizenship to residents of Valencia, the Balearics, parts of Aragon and parts of southern France if it becomes independent has been met with widespread indignation. Javier Lambán and Ximo Puig, the regional heads of Aragon and Valencia, called the proposal to extend Catalan citizenship to all residents of the area nationalists regard as the Països catalans (Catalan countries), because of historical ties, “intolerable” and “senseless.”

“It’s an intolerable lack of respect,” said Lambán about the statements made on Saturday by Catalonia regional justice chief Germà Gordó. “It is a clumsy and irresponsible opinion that not only violates basic legal norms, but also toys with the dignity of an entire region and the feelings of its people, in a display of identity-based arrogance – if you can call it that – with highly disturbing historical overtones.”

Catalan Language Valencia MapBut as the El País article noted, no other members of the Catalan government voiced support for Gordó’s position. Still, his comments reveal some of the deep controversies that undergird questions of regional and national identity in Spain. Gordó made it clear that in his interpretation the Catalan nation is essentially coterminous with the Catalan-speaking region. As he was quoted in the same article:

“The construction of a state must not let us forget the entire nation,” he said, specifying that this greater Catalonia included “North Catalonia [the French areas of Roussillon and Haute-Cerdagne], the Valencian Country, the Strip [the border area with Aragón] and the Balearic Islands.”

Greater Catalonia MapThe only part of the Catalan-speaking realm excluded by Gordo is the city of Alghero in Sardinia. Perhaps this was an oversight on his part, or perhaps making potential claims to a portion of Italy was simply a step too far. A few Catalan nationalists, however, would perhaps include within their envisaged domain almost all of the territories ruled by the Crown of Aragon during its medieval height, at least as evidenced by the maps posted to the left. Interestingly, they do not include the lands in what is now Greece that were dominated by the Catalan Company in the 1300s.

2015 Spanish Municipal Elections MapThe people of Valencia, as would be expected, have mixed views on the Catalan controversy. Most support the unity of Spain regardless of linguistic considerations. As can be seen in the maps posted to the left, Valencia’s voting behavior tends to mirror that of Spain as a whole, and is such is unlike those of the more separatist regions of Catalonia and the Basque Spain 2011 Election Mapcountry. But quite a few people of the region do prioritize Valencian identity. According to the Wikipedia, this “Valencianist” group itself is “bitterly divided over the very nature of the Valencian identity, something which is best reflected in the debate over the philological affiliation Valencian Language MapCatalan Dialects Mapof Valencian.” Some Valencianists simultaneously embrace a larger sense of Catalan identity, although this seems to be a decidedly minority position, with its supporters receiving at best around half a percent of the vote in recent regional elections. Pejoratively called catalanistes by their opponents, members of this group tend to identify with the political left. More conservative or centrist champions of Valencian identity, on the other hand, more often reject the Catalan connection, regarding their Valencian tongue as a separate language (the linguistic position of Valencian is a significant controversy in its own right.) They also generally favor enhanced autonomy within Spain rather than outright independence. The main political group of this movement, the Valencian Nationalist Bloc, currently holds six out of 99 positions in the Valencian legislature (Corts Valencianes) and 384 out of 5,784 elected positions in local governments.

 The growth of Catalan nationalism has been associated with a countervailing “anti-Catalan” movement both in Valencia and elsewhere in Spain, as discussed in a Wikipedia article on “Anti-Catalanism.” As noted in the article:

[A]nti-Catalanism expresses itself as a xenophobic attitude towards the Catalan language, people, traditions or anything identified with Catalonia and the political implications of this attitude. In its most extreme circumstances, this may also be referred as Catalanophobia. Several political movements, known for organising boycotts of products from Catalonia, are also actively identified with anti-Catalanism. Anti-Catalanism in its most virulent form is mostly associated with far-right Spanish political parties.


In response to such sentiments, anti-anti-Catalanism statements have also been forwarded. One such view focuses on the arts and other forms of cultural production. As argued in an A*Desk article by Oriol Fontdevila, “Anti-anti-Catalanism is a stance with which to eradicate the ballast that nationalism has placed on certain aspects of Catalan culture, that if on the one hand naturalizes it as a culture of the state, on the other, makes it difficult to place them in correspondence with current challenges and articulate them within contemporary cultural production.”

In the end, all that I can say is that the situation is complicated indeed, and as a result is highly interesting.


Val d’Aran: The Catalonian Exception

Val d'Aran 2015 Election 2As the previous post noted, the rural areas of Catalonia generally supported pro-independence political parties in the 2015 regional election, whereas most urban areas did not. There are, however, several exceptions to his generalization. The most striking one is the comarca (“county”) of Val Val d'Aran 2015 Election 1d’Aran, located in the extreme northwestern portion of Catalonia. With a population of 9,993 scattered over 633.5 km2 (244.6 sq mi), Val d’Aran is hardly an urban area, yet its voters firmly rejected the independence movement, favoring instead regionalist and unionist parties.

Val d’Aran’s rejection is Catalan nationalism is easy to explain, as the comarca is not part of the Catalan cultural region. The indigenous inhabitants of the valley speak Aranese, a dialect of the language of Occitan (which is itself often disparaged as a mere dialect) that formerly extended across southern France. Although fewer than 5,000 people speak Aranese as their native tongue, it was granted the status of the third official language of Catalonia (along with Catalan and Spanish) in 2010. (If this maneuver was designed to bring the people of Val d’Aran over to the side of Catalan nationalism it evidently failed.) According to the 2001 census, roughly a third of the comarca’s inhabitants speak Spanish as their native language, whereas some 19 percent speak Catalan. As noted in the Wikipedia, “speakers of languages other than the local Aranese are typically people born outside the valley, or their children.”

Dialects of Occitan MapPhysical geography helps explain why Val d’Aran is part of the Occitan rather than the Catalan linguistic sphere. Unlike the rest of Catalonia, Val d’Aran is located to the north of the Pyrenees crest, with its streams draining through France to the Atlantic Ocean. It is thus not surprising that its cultural affiliations link it more to southern France than to northeastern Spain. Maps of the Occitan language, like the one posted to the left, thus typically show Val d’Aran as something of an outlier, the only part of the Occitan linguistic region located on the Spanish side of the border.

Occitan Supradialects 1From a broader linguistic perspective, however, this view is somewhat misleading. Most students of the Gallo-Romance languages place Occitan and Catalan in the same category, Occitan Supradialects 2as these two tongues are quite closely related. Some dialectologists, moreover, argue that the southwestern Occitan dialects of France are actually more closely linked to Catalan than they are to the northeastern Occitan dialects, as can be seen in the maps posted here. In this view, Catalan and southwestern Occitan together form the “Aquitanopirenec” dialect grouping.

In pre-Roman times, the people of Val d’Aran probably spoke a precursor to Basque, or at least a closely related language in the hypothesized Vasconic family. The place-name itself suggests as much. According to the Wikipedia, “The name Val d’Aran is formed from val in Gascon [an Occitan dialect], meaning valley, and aran from Basque haran, also meaning valley. The name is thus a pleonasm or tautological place name as it translates to Valley of the Valley.” In pre-Roman times, the Pyrenees did not form a linguistic frontier. As noted in another Wikipedia article:

 Pre-Roman Languages of Iberia MapThere are many clues that indicate that Aquitanian [a pre-Basque Vasconic language] was spoken in the Pyrenees, at least as far east as Val d’Aran. The place names that end in ‑os, ‑osse, ‑ons, ‑ost and ‑oz are considered to be of Aquitanian origin, such as the place-name Biscarrosse, which is directly related to the city of Biscarrués (note the Navarro-Aragonese phonetic change) south of the Pyrenees. “Biscar” (modern Basque spelling: “bizkar”) means “ridge-line”. Such suffixes in place-names are ubiquitous in east of Navarre and Aragon, with the classical medieval ‑os > ‑ues taking place in stressed syllables, pointing to a language continuum both sides of the Pyrenees.


The Rural/Urban Divide in Catalonia’s 2015 Election

According to most media sources, the Catalan independence movement scored a major victory in the September 28 regional election, taking 72 out of 135 seats in Catalonia’s parliament (Parlament de Catalunya). More careful reporting, however, noted that the results were actually mixed. In terms of the popular vote, candidates advocating independence gained the support of less than half of the electorate. Had the vote been an actual plebiscite on soverienty, skeptics argue, the motion would have been defeated. But Artur Mas, the leader of the independence movement, offered a different interpretation, claiming that “the Catalan people have spoken”—and have spoken for independence. As he put it, writing in The Guardian:

On 27 September Catalonia’s voters went to the polls and with a record 77.4% turnout gave a win in every single electoral district to the political forces whose campaign promise was, if elected, that they would follow a “roadmap” towards Catalan independence from Spain. Pro-independence lists obtained 48% of the votes and 72 seats out of 135, whereas unionist lists got 39% of the votes and 52 seats. These plebiscitary elections were the only way possible to give the Catalan people the vote on the political future they have long called for, after the Spanish government’s longstanding refusal to allow an independence referendum.

The fact that the pro-independence vote and the Spanish-unionist vote together fall well short of 100 percent indicates the presence of a third option, that of enhanced regional autonomy without actual sovereignty. But this third “regionalist” option, which rests on a mixed sense of Catalan and Spanish identity, was favored by relatively few voters. According to a recent Politico article, this “middle ground” lost support in part “because the campaign was not based on a rational debate on whether it makes economic sense to have full fiscal autonomy or leave the EU, the eurozone or NATO. Rather, it pandered to nationalistic feelings and prejudices…”


Catalonia 2015 Election MapAs mentioned in an Economist article, the pro-independence parties were able to gain control of the regional parliament without winning an outright majority due to “Catalonia’s unequal voting system, which favours less-populated rural areas.” The uneven electoral geography of the contest is clearly evident in a series of maps, posted on the website Saint Brendan’s Island, that show the percentage of the vote taken by the top six parties in each comarca (administrative division). I have amended these maps slightly by providing a crude characterization of the political philosophy of each of these groups (in red), along with their percentage of the vote across Catalonia. The leading contingent, an electoral coalition called “Together for Yes” (Junts pel Sí), is marked as “big tent” on the map because its constituent parties span a fairly wide range of political positions, falling both to the right and the left of center. The much less popular Popular Unity Candidacy party also favors Catalan independence but is situated too far to the left to have joined the “Together for Yes” coalition.


Catalonia Population Density Election MapThe second illustration, which juxtaposes a population density map with an expanded map of the “Together for Yes” vote, clearly shows the urban/rural electoral divide in Catalonia. The region’s most densely populated areas in general gave relatively little support to the independence movement, favoring instead the unionist and regionalist parties. One factor here is the presence of many migrants from other parts of Spain, who not surprisingly tend to support the unionist cause. In Barcelona, Spanish (or Castilian, as most Catalan nationalists insist) is the main language, and although three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants can speak Catalan, fewer than half are able to write in the language. Similar situations are found in the other major urban areas of Catalonia. As noted in the Wikipedia article on the historic city of Lleida: “After some decades without any kind of population growth, it met a massive migration of Andalusians who helped the town undergo a relative demographic growth.”


The Quixotic Campaign to Split New York State

New York Southern Tier MapA new drive to divide the state of New York, separating the “Upstate” region from metropolitan New York City, is gaining visibility both within the state and nationally. On Sunday, August 30 a secession rally organized by more than a dozen groups was held in the town of Bainbridge (population 3,300) in New York’s Southern Tier, the movement’s core area. Some secessionists would like to split New York into two states and others would rather transfer the Southern Tier counties to the neighboring state of Pennsylvania. Either option would be difficult to accomplish owing to New York Division Mapconstitutional issues. Realizing such problems, the “Divide NYS” organization wants to retain a single state but divide it into two “autonomous” regions, one in the south, which would retain the name “New York,” and another in the north, which would be called “New Amsterdam.” As the organization’s website puts it:

The state of New York really should be two separate regions, The New Amsterdam Region and the New York Region; which is almost the same as being separate states! Since Congress is unlikely, in the foreseeable future, to give the Northeast two more US Senate seats a new state would require; our autonomous regions method is more likely to succeed!

Numerous proposals to divide New York have been put forward in the past, most of which are based on the cultural, economic, and political differences that separate Upstate New York from New York City and its greater metropolitan area. As framed by the Divide NYS website:

The State of New York contains a tremendously diverse population and is unique in its dichotomy. The overwhelming majority of the state consists of small to medium sized communities set in a rural and suburban climate; generally conservative values blend with moderate liberal ideals to create a unique political platform. Meanwhile, the downstate counties that make up New York City are significantly more liberal leaning in their values and are world famous for the size and power of the most significant city in the world.

It is equally unfair to both upstate and downstate residents to share a representative government; the vast differences in lifestyle and aspirations demonstrate that both downstate and upstate should have their own autonomous governments so as to more effectively serve their constituents.

Marcellus Shale MapMost observers think that the current push to split the state is driven mostly by economic and environmental considerations, particularly high taxation rates and New York’s ban on fracking. But in Upstate New York overall, popular sentiments in regard to such issues remain highly mixed. According to recent Quinnipiac polling, 55 percent of the residents of Upstate New York support the ban on fracking. That is not the case, however, in the Southern Tier, a relative poor area that sits over the gas-rich Marcellus Shale Formation. As was recently reported in

The Upstate New York Towns Association feels pushed to the limit by high property taxes, low sales tax revenue and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. This combination has driven them to research whether leaving New York to become part of Pennsylvania is a realistic possibility. “The Southern Tier is desolate,” Conklin Town Supervisor Jim Finch (R) told WBNG. “We have no jobs and no income. The richest resource we have is in the ground.” The ground in Conklin has natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, and Finch sees the ban as a violation of property owners’ rights. http://

State Secession 2012 Election MapAlthough the differences between upstate and downstate New York are undeniable, it is not accurate to claim that the state is “unique in its dichotomy,” as does the “Divide NYS” website. In actuality, several states have more pronounced regional/political divisions than New York, most of which also have active state secession movements. A fascinating New Republic map from 2013 shows what the 2012 presidential electoral map would have looked like if the major secession movements had achieved success. As can be seen, most state splits would have benefitted the Republican Party, with new “red” states emerging in the form of Lincoln, Jefferson, Northern Colorado, Superior, and “Illinois without Cook County (Chicago].” In the case of New York, however, both new states would have remained firmly within the Democratic Party camp, with Barack Obama having beaten Mitt Romney by 8.9 percent in Upstate New York.


New York 2012 Presidential Electin MapAn examination of the 2012 presidential election in New York, moreover, fails to reveal a clear “upstate/downstate” political divide. As can be seen on the map posted to the left, the four main boroughs of New York City (encircled by the heavy red line) voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, but the rest of the downstate region (marked off by the heavy black line) New York 2012 Senate Election Mapevinced a voting pattern almost indistinguishable from those of the eastern, far northern, and central portions of the state. In the 2012 senatorial election, moreover, the north/south divide disappears altogether in favor of an east/west division, as almost all counties in the eastern half of the state strongly supported the Democratic candidate, whereas in the west the same candidate triumphed by a much narrower margin.

New York 2014 Gubernatorial Election MapThe electoral results of single year, however, can be misleading. In the 2014 gubernatorial election, the upstate/downstate division is more apparent. In this instance, almost all upstate counties supported the Republican candidate, with the exception of those located in the far northeast and those containing major cities (Albany, Syracuse, and Buffalo) or major universities (Cornell and Binghampton). In downstate New York, this electoral map, like most others, reveals a dark blue Democratic core (NYC) and lighter blue periphery (the Republican candidate did, however, take a plurality of votes Suffolk county in eastern Long Island, but fell short of gaining a majority).

In the final analysis, if New York were to be divided into two states, the 2012 US election divided states mapdownstate successor state would be solidly blue, supporting Democratic candidates in almost all elections, whereas the upstate successor would likely be a “purple” swing state. Most other states with active secession movements are much more cleanly split into “blue” and “red” regions. Such strongly marked divisions will likely encourage the movement for state secession. Accomplishing this goal, however, will remain difficult, and as a result I would be surprised to see the emergence of any new states. I would be even more surprised, however, to see New York—or any other state—dividing itself into “autonomous regions.” There is, after all, a precedent for state division in the United States, as Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia emerged in such a manner. There is no precedent, however, for the creation of “autonomous” sub-state entities.


The Ahl-e Haqq Minority Faith Fights for Its Homeland in Northern Iraq

Daquq Google EarthEarlier this week, Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched an offensive against ISIS in the Daquq district of Iraq, some 40 kilometers south of Kirkuk. Aided by airstrikes from US-led coalition warplanes, Kurdish forces took over a number of villages. As reported in the news service Rudaw:

Hismadin said Kurdish reinforcements streamed in once the Peshmerga’s heavy fighting began. He added that members of the Kurdistan regional parliament and many volunteers were also on hand. “We will not stop until we push out ISIS,” Jaafar Mustafa, commander of the 70th Peshmerga Forces, told Rudaw.

Kirkuk area religion mapAlso participating in the offensive was the 630-strong First Kakai Battalion of the Peshmerga, whose members have been fighting “to protect their ancestral lands along the Daquq frontline” despite being woefully underequipped, as noted in another Rudaw article. The Kakai (or Kaka’i) belong to a little know-known but significant religious minority, roughly one million strong, that is concentrated in the Kurdish region of western Iran. This faith is more commonly called Ahl-e Haqq, although the term Yarsan is often encountered as well. It is sometimes more loosely grouped with the Yezidi faith and other local religions under a “Gnosticism” label. Michael Izady’s map of religion in Iraq shows a sizable area of this faith just to the south and east of Kirkuk. It does not, however, include the city of Daquq in the Kakai/Yarsan/Ahl-e Haqq area. The Wikipedia article on the town, however, claims that, “The majority of the 50,000 inhabitants are Kurds from the Kakai faith.”


The exact nature of the Kaka’i/Ahl-e Haqq/Yarsan sect is hotly debated. Some scholars view it as an offshoot of Shia Islam, whereas others consider it a fundamentally non-Muslim faith with a mere Islamic veneer. The latter view is found in the Wikipedia article on the group:

Among other important pillars of their belief system are that the Divine Essence has successive manifestations in human form (mazhariyyat) and the belief in transmigration of the soul (dunaduni in Kurdish). For these reasons, the members of Ahl-e Haqq faith cannot be considered as part of the religion of Islam. The Yarsani faith has no common belief with Islam other than the ghulat Shia Islamic assertion of the divinity or godhead/godhood of Ali, although it can be identified as Kurdish esoterism which emerged under the intense influence of Bātinī-Sufism during the last two centuries. ….

The Yarsani faith’s unique features include millenarism, nativism, egalitarianism, metempsychosis, angelology, divine manifestation and dualism. Many of these features are found in Yazidism, another Kurdish faith, in the faith of Zoroastrians and in Shī‘ah extremist groups; certainly, the names and religious terminology of the Yarsani are often explicitly of Muslim origin. Unlike other indigenous Persianate faiths, the Yarsani explicitly reject class, caste and rank, which sets them apart from the Yezidis and Zoroastrians.

Yet according to the scholar Jean During, “Ahl-e Haqqism” is firmly rooted in mystical Islam, and is best seen as “an offshoot of a kind of Sufism which adapted itself to Kurdish customs.”* But During’s article also makes it clear that the faith deviates strongly from all orthodox interpretations of Islam. In its theology, the “divine manifestations” encountered in world history include not only Jesus, Abraham, and a number of Muslim figures, but also Zoroaster, the Buddha, and Plato. Equally intriguing, as During explains, is the fact that:

Elitism is part of the Ahl-e Haqq culture: they have a conviction that they stand above standard Islam, and belong to a kind of avant-garde. They possess the key of understanding of historical events, which permits them to interpret all contemporary events in a sometimes paradoxical way. …. This leads them to subversion. They never fear the law nor the blame… . They often like to show themselves as provocative, professing shocking beliefs or non-conformist practices” (During p. 124).

Kurdish Languages Map 1According to most sources, most adherents of Ahl-e Haqq speak Gorani, which is also the main language of their religious writings. Although Gorani is often considered to be a Kurdish dialect, it is not interintelligible with the main Kurdish tongues, Kurmanji and Sorani. But then again, Kurmanji and Sorani are not interintelligible with each other, meaning that Kurdish is best viewed as a language group rather than a distinct language in its own right. But this expanded definition of “Kurdish” does not necessarily include Gorani, even though its speakers are counted as ethnic Kurds. As noted in the Wikipedia, “A separate group of languages, Zaza-Gorani, is also spoken by several million Kurds, but is linguistically not Kurdish.” As this quotation makes clear, Gorani is most closely related to Zaza (or Zazaki) of central-eastern Turkey, another “Kurdish” language that is closely associated with a highly heterodox Muslim sect (Alevism, in this case). As can be seen in Izady’s map of Kurdish dialects, Gorani is spoken in the Ahl-e Haqq area of Iraq just to the south of Kirkuk.

Kurdish languages map 2A relative new (posted 2014) Wikipedia map of the Kurdish languages, however greatly restricts the extent of Gorani. Instead, it maps most of the area usually depicted as Gorani-speaking under the category of “Pehlewani,” or “southern Kurdish.” The Wikipedia article on Southern Kurdish also claims, contrary to most sources, that it, rather than Gorani, is the main language of the Ahl-e Haqq: “It [Pehlewani] is also the language of the populous Kurdish Kakayî-Kakavand tribe near Kerkuk [Kirkuk] and most Yarsani Kurds in Kermanshah province [in Iran].”


This situation is confusing, and I can only conclude that more research is needed. Minority faiths and languages in this part of the word deserve much more attention than they have received. The Yezidis, owing to the atrocities that they have suffered, have at long last been noticed by the global media. Other groups deserve the same consideration. For those interested in the topic, I cannot recommend Gerard Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms highly enough. I only wish that Russell could have included a chapter on the Ahl-e Haqq.

*. The quotation is from page 114 of: Jean During, 1998, “A Critical Survey on Ahl-e Haqq Studies in Europe and Iran.” In Tord Olsson, Elisabeth Ozdalga, and Catharina Raudvere, eds. Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious, and Social Perspectives. Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul Transactions, Vol. 8.


Poland’s Stark Electoral Divide

Poland 2015 Election MapSome observers were surprised by the triumph of conservative candidate Andrzej Duda over incumbent Bronisław Komorowski in Poland’s May 2015 presidential election. Duda’s margin of victory, however, was thin: 51.5 percent of the vote against Komorowski’s 48.5 percent. As is typical of Polish elections, the results were geographically patterned in a stark manner. Duda, like most conservative candidates, won almost every country in southeastern Poland, many by a substantial margin, whereas the centrist candidate Komorowski triumphed almost everywhere in the west and north. The few areas that Duda lost in the “greater southeast” are almost all major cites, such as Łódź, Warsaw, and Kraków, as would be expected, given the general left-voting tendency of urban dwellers (I have added the names of several cities to the Wikipedia electoral map to make this pattern clear.) The northwest/southeast divide, however, is still reflected in the urban sector, as the Duda did much better in such southeastern cities as Kraków and Lublin than in such northwestern cities as Poznań and Gdańsk.

This geographical division in Polish elections should not, however, be exaggerated. Few areas, for example, saw an overwhelming victory of one candidate or the other, unlike the situation found in most elections in neighboring Ukraine. Over large areas of Poland, Duda and Komorowski split the vote relatively evenly, just as they did in the country as a whole. I begin to have doubts about the national integrity of any country when one political faction routinely gains over 80 or 90 percent of the vote over large areas, but that is not the case in Poland.

Poland GDP Per Capita MapPoland’s northwest/southeast electoral divide does not fit very well with the country’s socio-economic and demographic divisions. To be sure, western Poland is more prosperous than eastern Poland, a pattern that is masked on the per capita GDP map by the relatively wealth of greater Warsaw, which makes the voivodeship (province) of Mazovia appear richer than it would otherwise register. But note that Warmia-Masuria in the far north supported Poland Population Density MapKomorowski despite being a relatively poor region, just as Małopolska in the far south supported Duda despite being a relatively well-off region. Population density plays even less of a role. As the map posted here indicates, low-density regions are found in Poland’s center-voting western and northern peripheries as well as its right-voting eastern periphery.

Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map1Instead, as has often been noted, Poland’s electoral divide is rooted in historical and cultural factors. The regions that generally vote for centrist or left-center candidates had all been part of Germany (and more specifically, Prussia) before World War I, whereas those that vote for center-right candidates had all been part of either the Russian or the Austro-Hungarian empire in the same period. (I have posted two maps obtained from other websites (here and here) that illustrate this pattern from earlier Polish elections.) It is intriguing that this divide persisted after the massive population dislocations that occurred at the end of World War II, when millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from what is now western and northern Poland and replaced by Poland Voting Pre-War Germany Map 2million of Poles transferred from the east. Perhaps political attitudes that had been established among the ethnic Poles who had lived under German rule spread among those who moved into the region after the war. Such a conclusion, however, is little better than a guess; the issue surely calls for more investigation — or clarifying comments from informed readers!


Belarussian Language in Poland MapOne largely rural area of eastern Poland, Hajnówka County, stands out for having strongly supported Komorowski. Hajnówka town is noted as the gateway to Biełaviežskaja Pušča, widely regarded as Europe’s largest “primeval forest.” Its distinctive voting pattern, however, is probably related to its large Belarussian population, which may be put off by the Polish nationalism and Euro-skepticism of Duda’s party. Whatever the cause, this region has voted in the same manner as Poland’s west and north since the transition to democratic rule at the end of the Cold War.

German Minority in Upper Silesia MapIn the south center-west, Opole Voivodeship stands out for its especially strong support for the defeated incumbent Komorowski. This region is also ethnically distinctive, as it is one of the few places in western and northern Poland to have retained a sizable ethnic German population. The reason behind the survival of a German-speaking community here is interesting. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Alongside German and Polish, many citizens of Opole-Oppeln before 1945 used a strongly German-influenced Silesian dialect (sometimes called wasserpolnisch or wasserpolak). Because of this, the post-war Polish state administration after the annexation of Silesia in 1945 did not initiate a general expulsion of all former inhabitants of Opole, as was done in Lower Silesia, for instance, where the population almost exclusively spoke the German language. Because they were considered “autochthonous” (Polish), the Wasserpolak-speakers instead received the right to remain in their homeland after declaring themselves as Poles. Some German speakers took advantage of this decision, allowing them to remain in their Oppeln, even when they considered themselves to be of German nationality.

Poland Kukiz Vote 2015 MapAnother possible factor in Opole’s distinctive voting pattern was the strong showing on the “protest” candidate Paweł Kukiz in the election’s first round. Nationwide, Kukiz received over 20 percent of the vote, and in some parts of Opole he won a plurality of the votes. Not surprisingly, Kukiz is a native son of Opole, having been born in the town of Paczków, deemed the “Polish Carcassonne” for its well-preserved medieval buildings. Kukiz is best known not as a politician but rather as a musician and actor. According to the Wikipedia, he performs in the genres of rock, pop, pop rock, and punk rock. (I would be tempted to classify the few songs that I listened to as “folk punk rock,” but I have little knowledge of such matters.)

I initially assumed that Kukiz voters would have gravitated to the centrist Komorowski rather than the right-leaning Duda in the second election round, but that is not necessarily the case. As it turns out, the political stance of Kukiz is difficult to classify, and many of his supporters probably sat out the second vote. As Aleks Szczerbiak writes in a fascinating post in The Polish Politics Blog:

Mr Kukiz stood as an independent ‘anti-system’ candidate. His background is as a rebellious rock singer who performed in a band called ‘The Breasts’, best known for their 1992 anti-clerical song ‘The ZChN (Christian-National Union) is coming’. The now-defunct Christian-National Union was a clerical-nationalist party which, as a member of Polish governments in the 1990s, promoted the Catholic Church’s social and political agenda. However, Mr Kukiz also professes a strong commitment to the Catholic faith, arguing that his best known composition was motivated by a desire to protect the Church from abuse by exploitative clerics.

Indeed, in recent years he has been better-known as an advocate of social conservative and patriotic causes. In 2010 Mr Kukiz opposed a ‘EuroPride’ homosexual march in Warsaw and was dismissive of the election in 2011 of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transsexual parliamentary deputy, as the product of identity politics rather than ability. His musical recordings have also increasingly emphasised national-patriotic themes and he was at one time involved in supporting the annual ‘Independence March’ held on November 11th, the day that Poles celebrate national independence, which has come to be associated with nationalist groupings. However, describing himself ‘a right-winger with a left-wing heart’, Mr Kukiz also has a very eclectic approach towards socio-economic policy: supporting low taxes while positing an active role for the state in tackling poverty, and enjoying close links with a number of prominent trade union activists and leaders.


Echoes of Biafra: Geographical Patterns in Nigeria’s 2015 Election

(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is now on its summer schedule, which should entail 3 posts per week.)

Nigeria 2015 election mapNigeria’s 2015 election has been widely regarded as marking a milestone in the country’s democratic transition. For the first time, an incumbent president lost a bid for reelection. Goodluck Jonathan, the outgoing leader, conceded defeat readily, graciously passing power to his challenger Muhammadu Buhari, who he had trounced in the 2011 election. Buhari had been a repressive military ruler of Nigeria in the early 1980s, but he now regards himself as a “converted democrat.” Many observers credit Buhari’s victory to the belief among many Nigerians that a northern Muslim with a military background can deal more effectively with the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency than a southern Christian with a civilian background, such as the militarily ineffectual Jonathan. Many also think that Buhari’s somewhat abstemious personal habits will give him an edge in tackling the country’s massive corruption problems.

Nigeria 2011 election mapAs the first two maps posted here show, Nigeria’s 2015 election saw a significant reduction in county’s north/south regional/religious electoral divide. In 2011, every northern, Muslim-dominated state voted for Buhari, many by an overwhelming majority, whereas almost every southern, Christian-dominated state voted for Jonathan, many by an overwhelming majority. In the 2015 election, however, a number of southern states favored Buhari, including the country’s economic core of Lagos. Such a “mixed” electoral map is a hopeful sign for Nigerian national unity. Nigeria’s regional political division has been so pronounced that a special election rule was created to ensure some measure of trans-regional support: a successful presidential candidate must gain at least 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states.

Nigeria 2015 election Jonathan Vote MapBut the 2015 electoral map also shows the persistence of regional division. Although Buhari did quite well in many southern states, he failed miserably in the southeast. Over most of this densely populated and economically significant area, Buhari received less then 10 percent of the vote, as the electorate remained overwhelmingly committed to Jonathan. Intriguingly, the area that voted heavily for Jonathan in 2015 almost exactly matches the Nigeria 2015 Election Biafra Mapregion that rebelled against Nigeria and declared itself to be the independent country of Biafra in the late 1960s, as can be seen in the next map. This area, demographically dominated by the heavily Christian Igbo people, thus remains politically distinctive from the rest of the country. Among some groups in the southeast, the desire for independence remains strong.

In the coastal belt of the southeast, another factor may have contributed to Buhari’s poor showing. Prior to the election, it was rumored that Buhari was planning to suspend job-training programs and payments to former militants that had greatly reduced political violence in this strife-plagued region. As Voice of America reported on June 2, 2015:

Former militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta say unrest may resume if the country’s new president ends the amnesty program and monthly payments that brought peace to the oil-producing region.

Each month, former militants who used to spend their time bombing pipelines and kidnapping foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta get the equivalent of about $330 to convince them to occupy their time in other ways. They also get access to training programs intended to help them find other work.

This arrangement started in 2009, but it was never supposed to last forever. New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said so in his inauguration speech last week, announcing the program would end in December.

Two days later, however, a senior Nigerian official announced that the new Nigerian government “is committed to continuing with a militant amnesty program in the Niger Delta in a bid to improve the security situation in the oil-producing region…” The country can ill-afford renewed fighting in this region, despite the expense of the program.

Nigeria 2015 Election Yoruba MapThe real change in Nigeria’s electoral geography from the 2011 to the 2015 election is found in the southwest, another densely populated, economically significant region. In 2011, this area had supported Jonathan, but in 2015 it gave the majority of its votes to Buhari. But in neither election was the margin of victory pronounced. As a result, the southwest has apparently come to function as the vital “swing region” in Nigerian elections.

Most of the southwest is demographically dominated by members of the Yoruba ethnic group. Although Yorubaland is mostly Christian, it also contains quite a few Yoruba-speaking Muslims, as well as many practitioners of the indigenous Yoruba religion, a faith that has seen something of a revival in recent decades. (Unfortunately, data on the actual religious make-up of the region is not easy to find.) Although the Yoruba are mixed when it comes to religion, they do tend to have a strong sense of regional and ethnic identity – as well as a degree of suspicion of both the Igbo-dominated southeast and the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri dominated north.

Nigeria Econony Igbo People MapAnother “swing” area in recent Nigerian elections is the Edo-speaking state of Edo in the south-center. Here Jonathan triumphed in the 2015 election, but did so narrowly. Edo is one of the most economically productive states of Nigeria. It is also the heir of the once-powerful kingdom of Benin, noted for its magnificent artistic output of bronze-work during the medieval and early modern periods. The Kingdom of Benin is not to be confused with the modern country of Benin located to the west of Nigeria, which was formerly called Dahomey. Dahomey changed its name to “Benin” not in reference to the kingdom of that name, but rather to the adjacent portion of the sea known as the “Bight of Benin.”

Wednesday’s post will examine Nigeria’s regional divisions more carefully, looking specifically at those who would like to divide the country into several new sovereign states.


Regional Stereotypes in Brazil

As noted in the previous post, the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have distinctive voting patterns. In the 2014 presidential election, São Paulo voted strongly for the center-right challenger Aécio Neves, whereas Rio de Janeiro was the only state in southeastern Brazil to support the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff. The two states are similar in some respects, as they are both prosperous by Brazilian standards, densely populated, and located in the same general area. But the rivalry between the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—and between their two main cities of the same names—is intense.

Brazil Paulista Stereotype MapIn looking for maps that might help explain the regional patterns of the recent Brazilian election, I came across an interesting cartographic collection that sheds light on this important regional rivalry. The site, called National Stereotype, takes on all manner of national and regional stereotypes with a tone of good-natured amusement. A 2013 post on Brazil includes six maps depicting visions of the country from the perspectives of several regions. Here the competition between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro is clearly evident.

The first map reproduced here, which shows the supposed vision of Brazil held by the typical Paulista (resident of São Paulo), labels Rio de Janeiro as “Brazilian Argentina.” As National Stereotype explains:

Argentina brasileira = Brazilian Argentina. The rivalry between paulistanos/paulistas (those from the city/state of Sao Paulo) and cariocas/fluminenses (those from the state/city of Rio de Janeiro) is legendary. As legendary as the rivalry/hatred Brazilians have against Argentineans, hence the name.


Brazil Paulista Stereotype2 mapOther intriguing features of the map include the label “does not exist” for the remote Amazonian state of Acre (home of the noted politician Marina Silva), and the designation of Rio Grande do Sul as a land of male homosexuality. According to National Stereotype, other Brazilians often make fun Rio Grande do Sul, a state with its own distinctive voting patterns (see the comments on the previous GeoCurrents post). A second map showing a Paulista perspective is more stripped down—and more hostile to Rio, which is designated as a radioactive zone that one should not enter.


Brazil Carioca Stereotype MapThe map showing the perspective of the residents of Rio de Janeiro, or Cariocas, seems much less insulting to the regional rival, as it merely labels São Paulo as “Interiorr.” But as National Stereotype notes, the “Paulista/caipira accent draws the “r”. The interior is the hinterlands of Brazil, and cariocas think paulistas are hillbillies or rednecks.” Note that “Argentina” is used again as a term of disdain, in the case for the three southernmost states of the country. On this map, Acre in the far west is deemed an “unknown area.” Note as well that the maps showing the view from either Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo reduce northeastern Brazil to one state, although Paraíba is used in the former case and Bahia in the latter. The description of the important state of Minas Gerais on the Rio map as “Region without beaches” is telling; as National Stereotype puts it:

To most cariocas … the beach is everything. So a big state with lots of people and without beaches like Minas Gerais is seen as very puzzling or boring. Why would people choose to live there?


Brazil Gaucho Stereotype MapThe map showing the perspective of the residents of Rio Grande do Sul, who are known in Brazil as Gauchos, also features beaches prominently, both those in neighboring Santa Catarina and those of the faraway northeast, the latter designated as Praias distantes, or “distant beaches.” The northeastern interior, on the other hand, is disparagingly called Destino dos impostos, or “destination of [our] taxes.” Rio de Janeiro is more insultingly labeled Favelas, or “slums,” while the term used for São Paulo refers to a long-standing football (soccer) rivalry. Yet again, the existence of Acre is jokingly called into question, with an intentional misspelling. Rio Grande do Sul itself is deemed the land of civilization and given a huge extension to the north. Its northern counterpart, Rio Grande do Norte, occupies a prominent position on the map but not in the correct location, as it is actually two states to the east of Piauí. Minas Gerais is insulted here for the poor quality of its grilled meat: “Gente que não sabe fazer churrasco” (“people who don’t know how to barbeque”). This may seem to be a rather feeble insult, but barbequing is highly regarded in Rio Grande do Sul.


The Beloved CountryI wonder what the Gauchos of Rio Grande do Sul would think of South Africa’s tradition of meat grilling, known as braai, which is something of an obsession in the Afrikaner community. One can see its significance in the title of a recently published cookbook, which refers to the title of a famous South African novel.

My Error on Ukraine’s Political Divisions

Ukraine Political Regions 1Several months ago, I posted an article and a map on GeoCurrents in which I divided Ukraine into a “nationalist” region and a “Russian-oriented” region. In retrospect, it seems that most of the area that I had designated as “Russian-Oriented Ukraine” does not actually fit that category. Despite the fact that a few pro-Russian demonstrations have occurred in a number of cities in this region, the bulk of it has remained calm and shows no signs of giving substantial to support pro-Russian separatists. A recent Harvard study indicates as much:

A new study conducted at Harvard University suggests that Russian-speaking Ukrainians may be significantly more supportive of Kyiv’s standoff against Moscow and the pro-Russian separatists than has previously been reported. …

What was surprising, “very surprising” [Bruce] Etling said, was the portion of Russian-language content coming specifically from within Ukraine that was backing the Euromaidan protests. “In Ukraine, among Russian-speakers, 74 percent were supportive of the protests, and only a quarter were opposed,” he said.

Ukraine 2004 election mapI had based my idea of a “Russian-Oriented Ukraine” not so much on linguistic geography as on electoral geography. The area that I had so designated had consistently supported candidates oriented more to Russia than to Europe and more in favor of decentralization than of a strong, unitary state. But evidently it was one thing to vote for a Ukrainian party that leaned toward Moscow and eschewed strong Ukrainian nationalism and quite another to want to see the break-up Ukraine Political Regions 2of Ukraine and the establishment of pro-Russian “statelets”. As a consequence, I have redrafted the map. In its new form, only Lugansk and Donetsk—much of whose territories now form two unrecognized, pro-Moscow “People’s Republics”—are deemed “Russian-Oriented.” (Crimea is still designated as “Russian-Occupied.”) The rest of southeastern Ukraine has been relabeled as “ambivalent,” which is probably not the best term.

New Novorossiya mapI am hardly the only one to have made this error. Many Russian nationalists, for example, openly refer to the entire expanse of southeastern Ukraine as “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia.” (As this term Novorossiya Map 2dates back to the conquest of this region from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1700s, “Novorossiya” now seems to connote to such people something on the order of “New Old New Russia.”)

Major threats to Ukraine’s national integrity, of course, still exist—and not just in the far east and Crimea. Last night’s ultranationalist protests in Kiev (Kyiv) were discussed in a blog-post today by Walter Russell Mead under the heading “Prelude to Dismemberment?” Such an assessment, however, seems rather extreme to me.

Ukraine Language MapLanguage maps showing the Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking regions of the country are themselves fascinating, as they tend to vary greatly in their depictions. I have posted here two extremes. The first is a recent Wikipedia map, derived from 2001 census data, that shows almost the entire country as strongly Ukrainian-speaking. The second, which also relies on information from the 2001 census (albeit aggregated in a different manner), shows the Ukrainian language as limited Ukraine Language Map 2to the far west; it also indicates that the entire southeast, and much more of the country as well, is actually Russian speaking. Most intriguingly, it depicts the core north-central region of the country as “Surzhyk speaking,” Surzhyk being an informal Russian-Ukrainian hybrid, described by the Wikipedia as:

a range of mixed (macaronic) sociolects of Ukrainian and Russian languages used in certain regions of Ukraine and adjacent lands. There is no unifying set of characteristics; the term is used for ‘norm-breaking, non-obedience to or nonawareness of the rules of the Ukrainian and Russian standard languages.’


The linguistic situation here is obviously highly complex. Rather than wade into these murky waters myself, I would refer readers to an excellent recent post on this issue by Asya Pereltsvaig in her website Language of the World.



Regional Patterns in India’s 2014 General Election

India 2014 Election mapThe overriding story of India’s 2014 general election is of course the massive triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi, along with the corresponding defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC). The BJP gained 166 seats in the Lok Sabha (Indian parliament) for a total of 282, while the INC lost 162 for a total of only 44. Yet in regard to the overall vote, the BJP victory does not appear so overwhelming, nor does the gap between the two main parties loom so large: the BJP took only 31 percent of the total vote against the 19.3 percent share of Congress. This discrepancy reflects the collective strength of India’s many regional and minor national parties, along with the fact that the Indian National Congress has few areas of concentrated support. But both the BJP and the INC do gain addition clout from their allied parties. In the nationwide vote, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance took 36.5 percent, whereas the INC-led United Progressive Alliance took 22.2 percent. But regardless of such complexities, if one analyzes the election results for all Indian political parties, the conclusion is clear: the 2014 contest reflects a major swing to the political right.

India 2014 Election BJP MapTo illustrate the main geographical patterns in the election, I have posted the Wikipedia map (originally in German) of the results above. The numerical data provided in this post come from the same source. I have also outlined some of the regional results found on this map to create a series of more simplified maps, with stylized boundaries. These maps, unfortunately, are rather crude, due to time constrains. In some cases, I have juxtaposed these maps with maps showing the results of the previous national election (2009).

India 2014 Election NDA MapThe main national pattern, clearly evident on the first map posted here, is a new electoral split between greater northwestern India, where the BJP dominated, and the south and east, where regional parties prevailed. The BJP’s current zone of support spans some of the deepest economic and cultural divides in India. It includes many of the country’s most prosperous and socially developed areas as well some of its poorest regions. It also bridges the gap between the Indo-Aryan-speaking north and the Dravidian-speaking south; although the south largely supported regional parties, most of Karnataka opted for the BJP.

India 2009 2014 Elections NDA mapThe zone of BJP support expanded greatly from 2009 to 2014. Its main new areas of electoral success include the mountainous north (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir), impoverished and densely populated Uttar Pradesh, prosperous Haryana, and relatively poor and arid Rajasthan. Congress and its allies in the United Progressive Alliance saw major declines in these same areas, but their most spectacular drop was in the southeast. Here regional parties unaffiliated with their alliance did particularly well. In Andhra Pradesh, the INC was undermined in part by the controversies surrounding the creation of the new state of Telangana.

India 2014 Election INC MapThe paucity of districts taken by the Indian National Congress is striking. The only sizable areas in which the party was victorious were the lightly populated and peripheral far northeast and a few mostly rural zones in India 2014 Election UPA Mapsouth-central India. Although southeastern Karnataka constitutes one of the largest remaining Congress strongholds, Bangalore—the regional metropolis and center of India’s high tech industry—surprised some observers by voting for the BJP. The INC’s allies in the United Progressive Alliance also performed poorly, with the Maharashtra-based Indian Nationalist CongressIndia 2009 2014 Elections UPA Map—which had been “expelled from the Indian National Congress … for disputing the right of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi to lead the party”—losing three seats to take only six, and the Bihar-based Rashtriya Janata Dal taking only four. In West Bengal, the All India Trinamool Congress, which broke away from the INC in 1989, triumphed handily, but it also dropped its connection with the broader United Progressive Alliance two years ago.

India 2014 Community Parties Election MapIndia’s Third Front alliance, dominated by parties of the far left, also suffered a sharp loss in the election of 2014. This coalition saw a significant loss of representation in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu. India’s two major communist parties triumphed only in the small state of Tripura in the far northeast and in a few scattered districts of Kerala and West Bengal. Marxism’s electoral decline has been steep; as recently as the 2004 contest, most districts in West India 2014 Election Third Front MapBengal and Kerala supported communist parties. Nationally, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) dropped seven seats and retained only nine, whereas the Communist Party of India lost three seats and kept only one. Several other parties in the Third Front alliance saw even larger declines. The Uttar Pradesh-based Samajwadi Party dropped 18 seats and kept only five, and the Bihar-based Janata Dal (United) Party lost 18 seats India 2019 2014 Election Third Front mapand retained only two. (Curiously, Janata Dal [United] is a secularist, socialist party, yet it had previously been in an alliance with the BJP, which it dropped “in protest against the elevation of Narendra Modi.”) One party in the Third Front, Odissa-based Biju Janata Dal, gained both seats and votes. But this social-India 2004 election mapdemocratic party joined the Third Front only in 2009, having previously been affiliated with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. In India, political parties and especially party alliances do not always follow clear ideological lines.

Several parties allied with the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance also gained representation. Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena, a hard-core Hindu Nationalist party, added seven seats for a total of 18, and the populist Andhra Pradesh-based Telugu Desam Party gained 10 for a total of 16. In Bihar, the Lok Janshakti Party—which is officially described as secularist and socialist—went from zero seats to six. In Punjab, the Sikh-oriented Shiromani Akali Dal held even at four seats, although its share of the popular vote dropped.

Several central portions of Punjab, on the other hand, supported the new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party. In India overall, this party performed much worse than had been expected in late 2013, when its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, was elected chief minister of Delhi. Kejriwal, however, stepped down several months after his victory due to his frustration with the lack of progress against graft, a move that was evidently costly to his party. Nationally, Aam Aadmi took only two percent of the vote.

Several non-aligned regionalist parties did extremely well. The centrist, Tamil Nadu-based All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam gained 28 seats for a total of 37. In the emerging state of Telangana in the south-center, the center-right Telangana Rashtra Samithi went from two seats to 11. In southern and northeastern Andhra Pradesh, the new YSR Congress Party, which recently broke from both Congress and the United Progressive Alliance, gained nine seats.

Two major regional parties crashed. In Tamil Nadu, the democratic-socialist Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam went from 18 seats to none, taking only 9.6 million votes as opposed to the 18 million that went to the more conservative All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party. In Uttar Pradesh and environs, theBahujan Samaj Party lost all 21 of its seats. Despite this gargantuan drop, the party still took 23 million votes—four percent of the total—putting it in third place in the popular count. Such a discrepancy between votes and seats reflects in part the huge population of the central Ganges Valley. In 2009, Bahujan Samaj had taken ten per cent of the vote nationwide. This party gains its strength primarily from the Dalit (“untouchable,” formerly) community and the so-called Other Backwards Castes (OBC). The fact that the BJP’s leader, Narendra Modi, is himself a member of an OBC may have helped siphon off some support from Bahujan Samaj Party.

Modi’s membership in an OBC, however, has been the subject of controversy. As was reported in DNA, Congress Party representatives recently claimed that:

 Narendra Modi doesn’t belong to any backward caste, but was in fact born into an upper caste “Vaishya” family, that is given title of “Modh”, for being super rich, like Mod Brahmin and Modh Bania.  Alleging Modi was a “fake OBC”, former Gujarat Assembly opposition leader Shaktisinh Gohil armed with documents said Modi belonged to a Vaishya sub-caste the “Modh Ghanchi”, a microscopic minority found only in Gujarat. “He, in fact, belongs to the upper caste since he comes from a prosperous business community,” said Gohil.

Modi’s proponents, as well as some of his local opponents, disagree. As reported in RediffNews:

 The moot question is — is Modi an OBC?

“Yes!” says Achyut Yagnik, co-author of The Shaping of Modern Gujarat and a staunch critic of Modi.

Yagnik, an Ahmedabad-based thinker and social activist, says, “The Modh Ghanchi community is part of the Other Backward Classes in Gujarat. They are NOT upper castes.”

It will be interesting to see if Modi’s caste positions continues to be discussed.

The discussion on India’s 2012 election will continue with additional posts later this week. Maps showing the success of the major regional parties, along with state boundaries, will be posted.