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Articles in Europe

The Parallel Paths of the Basque Country and Scotland

By Martin W. Lewis | September 7, 2010 | 6 Comments

The Basques are not a particularly numerous people, totaling only around two and half million in Spain and another 250,000 in France. But millions more in other countries trace their ancestry to the Basque homeland once known as Vasconia. Basques were disproportionally represented in the Spanish colonial enterprise, with large numbers crossing the Atlantic

The Paradoxes of Basque Politics

By Martin W. Lewis | September 6, 2010 | 2 Comments

On September 5, 2010, the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) announced a cease-fire, hinting that it might lay down its weapons and embrace a non-violent path to independence. Spanish authorities were not impressed; ETA did not permanently renounce terrorist tactics. Of Spain’s ethnic groups, the Basques are by far the most distinctive

Contested Regionalism in Andalusia, León, and Asturias

By Martin W. Lewis | September 3, 2010 | 3 Comments

Controversies over identity and territory in Spain are not limited to the Catalan- and Basque-speaking areas. Calls for regional autonomy, nationality recognition, and even national status are being voiced elsewhere, too. Andalusia in southern Spain is one such place. Some seek to enhance the autonomy of Andalusia as a whole, while others seek to

Catalonia: Nationality or Nation?

By Martin W. Lewis | September 2, 2010 |

The Spanish policy of preserving national unity by devolving power to the regions faces three main challenges. First, some groups remain unsatisfied, pressing for enhanced self-rule or even outright independence. Second, members of several smaller unrecognized groups seek to hive off their own autonomous communities. Third, the borders of the existing autonomous communities poorly correspond

The Nation, Nationalities, and Autonomous Regions in Spain

By Martin W. Lewis | September 1, 2010 |

In everyday speech, “nation” and “nationality” are largely synonymous terms. “Nationality,” my desktop dictionary informs me, is “the status of belonging to a particular nation.” In Spain, however, the Spanish equivalents of the two terms have come to convey distinct meanings through political fiat. The official differentiation of the Spanish nation from several distinct Spanish

The World’s Shortest Border

By Martin W. Lewis | August 30, 2010 | 3 Comments

Fans of geo-trivia may be interested in locating the world’s shortest land border between sovereign states. A Fun Trivia posting on the subject – which begins by ruling out Monaco, Andorra, the Vatican, and Gibraltar – selects the two kilometers separating Botswana and Zambia. But if one counts exclaves, a much shorter border can

Neutral Zones at the Boundaries Dividing Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco

By Martin W. Lewis | August 27, 2010 |

The Wikipedia maps of Ceuta and Melilla show a double boundary separating Spanish from Moroccan territory, with a neutral zone in between. Such a depiction is unusual: borders between political entities are conventionally conceptualized as one-dimensional lines, with length but no breadth. One can, for example, easily imagine standing with one foot in Canada

Geopolitical and Religious Conflict in the Spanish Exclave of Melilla

By Martin W. Lewis | August 26, 2010 |

As mentioned in Monday’s post, tensions came to a boil this summer between Spain and Morocco over Spain’s possessions on the North African coast, Ceuta and Melilla. The squabble began in July 2010, when Spanish forces allegedly beat five Moroccan men in Melilla for carrying a Moroccan flag. The government of Morocco subsequently encouraged

The Peculiarities of Gibraltar and Other British Overseas Territories

By Martin W. Lewis | August 25, 2010 | 7 Comments

Gibraltar’s position as a British Overseas Territory makes it a geopolitical anomaly. Britain’s scattered overseas colonial remnants are under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom but are not part of it*. Since the passage of the British Overseas Territories Act of 2002 their inhabitants have enjoyed full British citizenship, but they are not under

Britain Vs. Spain and Spain Vs. Morocco in the Strait of Gibraltar

By Martin W. Lewis | August 23, 2010 | 6 Comments

Maritime chokepoints, where ships must pass through narrow passageways, are sites of geopolitical advantage that have often been contested. Sea-based empires, especially Portugal in the 1500s and Britain in the 1800s, seized and garrisoned towns and fortresses at the entrance to marine chokepoints scattered over vast distances. Today, remnants of earlier imperial projects are evident

The Limits of French Nationalism

By Martin W. Lewis | April 12, 2010 | 2 Comments

France is often regarded as a model nation-state. Its national identity is pronounced, its government has long claimed to represent the national will, and its state structures are strong and centralized. But even in France, the nation-state remains an incompletely realized ideal. France’s colonial holdings and overseas department most clearly challenge the identity of state

Is a Country Necessarily a Sovereign State?

By Martin W. Lewis | March 19, 2010 |

In the United States, the most common word used to designate the sovereign entities that make up the world geopolitical order is “countries.” In common parlance, a country is the same thing as a sovereign state, which can also be called a “nation” or a “nation-state.” To be sure, the connotations of these words sometimes

The Knights of Malta: Sovereignty without Territory

By Martin W. Lewis | March 18, 2010 | One Comment

The global political system is founded upon the idea of sovereignty, defined by the Wikipedia as “the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a territory.” The independent countries that make up the geopolitical order are all purportedly sovereign entities, exercising complete power over their territorial domains. Such domains need not be large.

Kaliningrad, Russia’s Restive Exclave

By Martin W. Lewis | February 8, 2010 | 9 Comments

In the last weekend of January, 2010, massive protests erupted in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, unnerving the country’s political establishment. Despite bitter weather, an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets to denounce both the local governor and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, ostensibly for raising utility prices and transport taxes during a time of

Maps and Stats, Good and Bad

By Martin W. Lewis | January 22, 2010 |

World thematic maps that treat each country as a holistic entity can be highly misleading. Consider, for example, the ubiquitous economic development map based on per capita gross domestic product. Here we see such countries as Brazil, India, and China uniformly colored, as if the goods and services they produced were evenly distributed over their

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