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Home » Cartography, Europe, Nationalism

Mega-Nationalist Fantasy Maps of the Balkans

Submitted by on December 1, 2011 – 5:20 pm 19 Comments |  
YouTube Fantasy Maps of the Future BalkansYouTube videos of “greater countries,” which imagine the glorious expansion of existing states, have a distinct geographical distribution. The vast majority of these hyper-nationalistic fantasies come from the region stretching from Pakistan to Hungary. Although a number of “greater” countries outside of this area have been proposed, few are supported at the popular level by YouTube productions. Greater Morocco, for example, is a historically potent and often-mapped idea, but a video search on the subject yields nothing but “greater flamingos” inhabiting certain Moroccan lagoons. The geographical clumping of this YouTube genre no doubt stems in part from the contagion effect; imaginary maps showing the expansion of one country provoke nationalists in neighboring countries to respond in kind.

YouTube Map of Greater Albania and the "Albanian Sea" The Balkans and environs form the focal area of the genre. A YouTube search for “future Balkans” returns an especially rich trove of grandiose maps. Quite a few depict multiple “greater” countries. The images at the top of the post, for example, envisage the simultaneous expansion of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. Maps of this type have a distinctly Christian bias, if not a more narrowly Eastern Orthodox one, as they prophesy the diminution or disappearance of such largely Muslim states as Turkey, Albania, and Kosovo. Macedonia, a country of mostly Orthodox Christian heritage, is usually erased as well. Bulgarian nationalists often insist that Macedonians are actually western Bulgarians, while Greek and Serbian nationalists commonly claim all or part of Macedonia on historical grounds. Western Macedonia, a mostly Albanian-speaking region, is also demanded by partisans of Greater Albania. The most imaginative map of this set takes the further step of inundating Serbia, turning it into the “Albanian Sea.”

YouTube Maps of Greater Greece Depictions of Greater Greece, sometimes expressed under the rubric of the “Megali Idea,” tend to focus mostly on territorial gains in Anatolia. In a number of depictions, Turkey disappears altogether, divided between Greece, Armenia, and other states, real or imagined. One video explicitly calls for the “repatriation of Turks and Azeris to Mongolia and areas of northern China.” Not surprisingly, YouTube maps made by champions of Greater Turkey respond in kind. Several visualize Turkey, Albania, and Macedonia expanding together at the expense of Greece. Although all such visions of the future might seem comically absurd, many have been watched tens or even hundreds of thousands of viewers.

It is not surprising that YouTube dreams of national aggrandizement would center on the greater Balkan region. The Balkans have seen several major geopolitical rearrangements over the past century, beginning with the two Balkan wars (1912-1913) and continuing through the emergence of two of the world’s newest countries, Montenegro (2006) and Kosovo (2008). Complex ethnic mixtures have also long characterized the region, although they have been much reduced by the legacies of war and nation-building. If mega-nationalistic videos are any indication, the geopolitical framework of the Balkans remains unsettled in the popular imagination.

YouTube Maps of Greater Hungary and Greater SlovakiaTo the north of the Balkans, Greater Hungary also has a significant YouTube presence. Hard-line Hungarian nationalists, who make up a significant political block in the country, demand the return of all territories stripped away in the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. A particularly dramatic clip shows an eagle reattaching the lost lands to the current rump Hungarian state. Neighboring Slovakia, scheduled for annexation by the devotees of Greater Hungary, has no genuine YouTube presence. One Hungarian chauvinist, however, has posted a mocking video of Greater Slovakia, placing a truncated map of the country on the South Pole, accompanied by frenetically dancing penguins. The first comment below the video, in Hungarian, states that it would have been better to have placed Slovakia on another planet. Hyper-nationalist rhetoric evidently remains virulent in some quarters of central European society.

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  • Anonymous

    Perhaps there’s no videos for Greater Morocco because their wishes are partly fulfilled  with the continued occupation of the Western Sahara. 

    Posting a video might draw attention that this occupation is propped up by copious amounts of US “aid” to Rabat and Security Council veto votes.

    • Excellent point. But it is true that some versions of Greater Morocco also include parts of Algeria. In fact, the two countries had a brief armed conflict — the so-called Sand War — over the border area in 1963

      • Alexander Richards

        Indeed, the current Moroccan government line is that the SADR is nothing more than a group propped up by Algeria to conduct a proxy war in Morocco. Which does at least have some basis in the current geopolitics of the area, even if it’s a gross oversimplification

  • What for me is more shocking of the Balcans is that a linguistically unitary nation: Serbo-Croatia or Yugoslavia (as the Greater Serbo-Croatia was actually known) could not stay together and were easily split along obsolete religious lines, when they were mostly a secular people. Also that they tend to exterminate and not assimilate the other. A very freaky region (but great people, some of them at least).

    • Yugoslavia actually included two areas with distinct languages: Slovenian and Macedonian (the latter is closest to Bulgarian). But you are right in noting that unlike in many other places where languages more than anything else define ethnic groups, in the Balkans what language a person speaks is determined (at least in part) by what ethnic group they belong to, which is determined by religious rather than linguistic criteria.

      What is even more fascinating is how the Balkans remain characterized by “complex ethnic mixtures”, despite the level of prolonged and intimate contact among even unrelated (or not closely related) languages and the amount of shared grammatical features among them. For example, both Bulgarian (Slavic), Romanian (Romance) and Greek all have rather similar, reduced case systems, even though other Slavic languages tend to have much more elaborate case systems, while Romance languages have lost case altogether. Or Bulgarian, Romanian and Albanian all have suffixal articles (e.g. ‘the book’ comes out literally as ‘book-the’) — this is not found anywhere in Europe except in the Balkans and (parts of) Scandinavia.

      And speaking of how linguistically uniform Serbo-Croatian is, though different dialects are rather similar among them, those in Serbia are far more “Balkanized” than those in Croatia. For example, Serbian — like Greek, but unlike Croatian — uses a subjunctive instead of an infinitive, e.g. ‘I want to write’ is rendered in Serbian literally as ‘I want that I write’.

      Such grammatical similarities typically arise when there is a long and intimate contact between groups, with a lot of intermarriage. And still they manage to remember very well who is who…

      • Thanks, Asya, for bringing up this phenomenon of linguistic convergence, technically known by the German term “Sprachbund.” The Balkans forms the classic sprachbund, while South Asia forms another.   

        • You are absolutely right: the Balkans is the classical case of a Sprachbund (I think the term itself was invented specifically for the Balkans case). South Asia is another Sprachbund, and so is Southeast Asia. Some people even believe that the Altaic area forms a Sprachbund (rather than a genuine language family), and so does the (Northern) Caucasus area. Northeastern Europe around the Baltic Sea is another example (Finnish, Russian, Baltic languages).

      • The latest think you mention of “suffixed article” (nominative declension by another name) also happens in Basque, mind you: liburu-a = book-the, and was also the case of Latin (at least implicitly) before it lost its declensions (Vulgar Latin(s) leading to Romances).

        But anyhow, I’m not sure if what you say of natal adscription to ethnicity is limited to the Balcans or more general of Central and Eastern Europe (as opposed to Western Europe where ethnicity/nationality is more a fluid, interactive choice and not so much a birthright/burden from birth). We do not make much of a fuzz here in the Basque Country on whether your parents or grandparents are local or immigrant, it’s more: do you feel Basque or more like Spaniard/French, a socio-political option and not something that merely comes with birth. In fact thinking in terms of ethnicity=ancestry is considered racist here: immigrants and minorities must be assimilated (without denying their peculiarities and without forcing the matter too much but that’s the goal anyhow).

        In the Balcans instead you can’t (in most cases) choose to be Serbian… you are or you are not. This is sociological and not political (ethnic Serbs or Italians from Croatia have in principle the same rights and duties as any ethnic Croat) but the sociological distinction the non-assimilating stubbornness of probably all parties is troubling. As I said it also happens elsewhere: ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia do not assimilate easily and are used as Trojan horse in international politics.

        But all that I can find some similitudes (but different attitudes) to what may happen in Western Europe, in Ireland or the Basque Country or Corsica. What really shocks me is that the division between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks is pre-Westfalia and yet post-Socialist. By the same criteria we should divide Germany across religion lines and what not. But nope: that only happens in Serbo-Croatia and in some peculiar colonial realities like Palestine of Syria-Lebanon.

        On the contrary, Greece has assimilated its Albanians and other minorities for example (although there was some controversy back in the day on how was the Macedonian Slavic minority treated), being an example of Western-like ethnic politics (not necessarily better in all but less prone to outright democidal genocide) but then they make a whole mess for something as silly as the name of the Republic of Macedonia.

        • Maju: I believe you are correct about the suffixal article in Basque. I should have said that it “is not found anywhere in Indo-European languages except in the Balkans and (parts of) Scandinavia”. But Latin did not have it. In fact, it didn’t have articles at all. The (in)definite articles in Romance languages is a later development and they precede the noun, not follow it (and don’t attach as a morpheme either). So generally speaking, suffixal article is not the same as nominal declension: lots of (more conservative) Indo-European languages have nominal declension…

          As for your comment on the differences in the “ethnic feeling” between Western Europe and the Balkans/Central/Eastern Europe, I think Western Europe is more of an exception rather than the other way around. A lot of places around the world treat “ethnicity” or some such concept as essential to one’s identity. In fact, it’s an interesting “party game” I play with my students. I ask them to write “who they are” — what sorts of answers they provide differs very much depending on where they are from. American and Western European students provide answers that are very different from those of people from other parts of the world…

          • SirBedevere

            I wonder if one does not see that more inclusive sense of nationhood in peoples who form a minority of the state they are in. At the turn of the last century, Hungarians were happy to consider as Hungarian anyone who wanted to be–famously including “Hungarians of the Jewish faith”–since they were only a minority in the Kingdom. Now they are an overwhelming majority of the Republic of Hungary and the more nationalist among them love to label as foreigners anyone who has even the slightest hint of non-Hungarian ancestors.

          • I think this is part of the general Eastern European obsession with the distinction between “ethnicity” and “nationality” (to add to the confusion, “ethnicity” is referred to as “nationality”, in Russian at least). One can be of Russian nationality without being ethnically Russian, and so on. I find it extremely difficult to explain such issues to Americans though… for example, why “Russian Koreans” can’t be called “Korean Russians” (an analogous group in the US would be “Korean Americans”)… Here’s Martin’s excellent post on this matter:


  • jeff n.

    Another fun place for this is the Paradox Games forums–Paradox makes big-picture historical strategy games about the early modern period through the Second World War, and a lot of people on the forums use these to express nationalist-revanchist-fantasist ideas and/or complain why their favorite country isn’t the most powerful in the game.

    • Thanks for the link.  I have looked at a few similar maps, but I did not know about this site. Playing such games can be source of geographical education.

  • You won’t find any maps of a Greater Slovakia dominating Central Europe on, but do a little search for Velka Morava and you will be taught about the grand principality that brought civilization to Central Europe, of which Slovakia is the last remnant.  You can also find some rather disturbing nostalgia for Father Tiso’s Slovakia, which was larger to the East, though a little smaller to the South.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Fascinating — many thanks for bringing this up. Do Czech nationalists also look back to “Great Moravia?”  They certainly could. Also, do you know how Slovak nationalists conceptualize Samo’s Realm, and the fact that Samo was probably a Frank?

      • SirBedevere

        The Czechs always begin with Samo and Great Moravia. I have seen some Slovak histories that begin with Samo, but most that I have seen begin with Great Moravia. Alphonse Mucha’s painting cycle “The Slav Epos,” though begins with “The Slavs in their Urheimat (my translation)” and includes “The Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy into Great Moravia,” but has nothing about Samo.

  • Tjebbe van Tijen

    Irredentism is a constant aspect of nations, society and the states they form, loose, reform and so on. A pity and a surprise that you forgot to include links to the exmaples you give… it devaluates the value of your article and lets the reader redo what you have already done. Consider giving the scource for each Youtube screenshot seperately. It is the reference that makes the argument in the ned.

  • ferg

    Have you EVER read a history of the Balkan countries?!? How Macedonia is a result of political engineering?

  • Samuel Fanning

    How do you make such maps? Do you people know any tools to create maps with changed world borders? i’m still at the paper level, never done computerized maps lol