Geopolitics

The reflection of political conflict and concord on world and regional maps

Insurgency in Paraguay – and Genocidal Agitation Against Brazilians in the Country

Wikipedia’s “list of on-going armed conflicts” (see the previous post) had some surprises for me, as it includes a few insurgencies that I had thought were over. One example is that of the Paraguayan People’s Army, or EEP Rebellion (from the Spanish label, Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo). Wikipedia gives a 2023 death toll of seven for this conflict, and a cumulative count of 145+ since its beginning in 2005. These figures do not seem to be reliable, however, as the listed source for the 2023 figure is from 2022. I was not able to find any information on deaths this year in an admittedly cursory internet search. The Wikipedia article on the EEP, however, emphasizes its continuing activity, claiming that it can field up to 1,000 militants. As the article notes:

[T]he EPP has millions of dollars collected in kidnappings, extortion, expropriations and even contributions from neighbors and supporters. To this day, they continue to gain followers in the area, given the void left by the Paraguayan State.

The EEP is in many respects a typical Latin American Marxist-Leninist insurgency. It aims its attacks on wealthy landowners and security official, both private and public. Its operations have been focused in the central-eastern part of the country not far from the boundary with Brazil (see the map below), a restive region that has seen the development of large, mechanized farms over the past few decades. A few years ago, the EEP gained some global notoriety for kidnapping Mennonite farmers, one of whom was killed when his family was unable to come up with the $500,000 demanded for his release.

Conflict over land use and ownership in eastern Paraguay is an issue of the political far-right as well as the far-left. In Paraguay’s April 2023 general election, the populist and self-described nationalist-anarchist candidate of the National Crusade Party, Paraguayo “Payo” Cubas, surprised many observers by coming in third place, taking almost a quarter of the votes cast. In 2019, then-senator Cubas was impeached after he called for the genocide of Brazilians living in his country. As reported by Folha de São Paulo:

Brazilian bandits, bandits! Invaders! Now deforesting the country,” he shouts. “At least 100,000 Brazilians must be killed here,” he continued, mentioning that 2 million Brazilians are living in the country. The Brazilian government estimates that there are 350 thousand.

Following his failed bid for the presidency, Cubas was arrested for “disturbing the peace” after he refused to accept the election results and led anti-governmental protests. This was not the first time that he found himself in legal trouble. In 2016, Cubas was arrested “after hitting a judge with a belt and defecating in the office of the judge’s secretary.”

The large Brazilian presence in eastern Paraguay dates to the 1960s. These so-called “Brasiguayos” (“Brasiguaios” in Portuguese), many of whom were born in Paraguay, are now thought to number around half a million, a little less than 10 percent of the country’s population. They form the dominant group in several border towns, which are now mostly Portuguese speaking. This fact is almost never noted on language maps of Paraguay, although I did find one somewhat dated example (posted below). This map, not surprisingly, comes from the extensive archives of Reddit’s “Map Porn” community.

The initial Brazilian immigrants in Paraguay were mostly landless peasants who cleared the land for agriculture. They were later followed by well-off farmers who developed mechanized, commercial agriculture, usually focusing on soybeans. As commercial farmers moved in, many of the earlier migrants were forced back to Brazil, where they often found themselves unwelcome. Settling mostly in the new agricultural areas of Matto Grosso do Sul, their plight gained the attention of Amnesty International, which claimed in a 1992 report that were the victims of “illegal detentions, allegations of excessive use of force by the police, intimidation and a possible extra judicial execution.” The irony inherent in the situation has been noted. As one author put it, “Brazilians living in Paraguay wound up being expelled by their own countrymen.”

Anti-Brazilian agitation in Paraguay over the past few decades has generally focused on landownership issues. It seems to have reached a peak between 2008 and 2012, when Paraguay was under a leftwing government, an unusual condition in that country. As noted in a 2012 article in Gazeta do Povo:

The epicenter of the most recent agrarian conflict in Paraguay is located 75 kilometers from Foz do Iguaçu, in the department of Alto Paraná. A group of 6,000 landless Paraguayans, called “carperos”, have been camped for almost a year in the municipality of Ñacunday, on the border between two rural properties owned by producers of Brazilian descent. They threaten to take by force an area of 167,000 hectares spread across the departments of Alto Paraná, Canindeyú and Itapúa on the border with Brazil and Argentina. Armed and willing to radicalize the movement, they claim that the lands occupied by Brazilians belong to the Paraguayan government and should serve the agrarian reform project undertaken by President Fernando Lugo.

Cultural and even racial issue are also at play. As reported in a 2001 New York Times article:

They complain that the only television available locally is Brazilian and that their children grow up rooting for Brazil’s national soccer team instead of their own and speaking Portuguese as their second language instead of the Indian language Guaraní [Note: Paraguay is almost completely bilingual in Spanish and Guaraní].

Radio broadcasts in Guaraní urging landless peasants to rise against the Brazilians continue to be heard here. About 80 percent of San Alberto’s 23,000 residents are of Brazilian descent, and by voting as a bloc they have succeeded in electing one of their number, Romildo Maia de Souza, as mayor. …

One source of friction, all sides agree, is racial. Many of the Brazilians are blue-eyed, fair-skinned descendants of the German, Italian and Polish immigrants who flocked to Brazil’s three southernmost states a century ago. Many of the native-born Paraguayans most resentful of the Brazilian presence are of [indigenous] Indian stock.

Finally, geopolitical implications further complicate the situation. A 2019 scholarly paper by Andrew Nickson warns that Paraguay might be a Brazilian “protectorate in the making,” which seem a bit exaggerated. A big up-coming issue in this regard is the renegotiation of the Itaipú Treaty, which covers the shared Itaipú dam, the third largest hydroelectric facility in the world.

Insurgency in Paraguay – and Genocidal Agitation Against Brazilians in the Country Read More »

Mapping Recent War Fatalities and the Persistence of Current Armed Conflicts

As noted in the previous GeoCurrent post, the civil war in Burma/Myanmar is one of the bloodiest conflicts in the world today. According to a comprehensive Wikipedia table, its death toll thus far in 2023 is 10,790, the fourth highest in the world. It follows only the Ukraine-Russia war (83,637-100,000+), the war in Sudan (11,501), and the multifaceted insurgency in the Maghreb/Sahel (10,868). Given the rapidly mounting number of fatalities in the current war between Israel and Hamas, however, the rankings for 2023 will probably have to be revised. In any event, in 2022 Burma had the third highest death count if one uses the upper range of estimates found in the table (20,206, as opposed to 109,600+ in Ethiopia and 100,000+ in Ukraine).

Burma’s civil war is also extraordinarily long-lasting, dating from 1948. The only on-going wars listed by the Wikipedia as having started earlier are the Kurdish insurgency in Iran (1918), the “Jamaican political conflict” (1943), and the insurgency in Kashmir (1947). The article also lists the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Baloch insurgency (in Pakistan and Iran) as having begun in the same year as Burma’s civil war, 1948. As of October 6, 2023 – when this post was initially written – none of these other armed conflicts had been nearly as deadly over the previous 10 months as that of Burma. On October 6, the Wikipedia table provided the following 2023 death tolls for these persistent conflicts: Kurdish insurgency in Iran, 147; Jamaican political conflict, 295; insurgency in Kashmir, 433; Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 287; and Baloch insurgency, 500. As of today, however, it gives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a fatality count of 1,827. All told, if one combines recent death tolls and conflict duration, Burma’s civil war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to be the most serious conflicts in the world today.

The Wikipedia article under consideration includes a serviceable map of the “number of combat-related deaths in current or past year” (posted below). It might seem odd to place Mexico in the highest category (more than 10,000 fatalities), but the source includes “drug wars,” an intriguing but questionable move. As the map shows, wars today are concentrated in northern and central Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia, northern South America, Mexico, and Ukraine & Russia. In contrast, East Asia, Central Asia, Europe, southern Africa, southern South America, northern North America, and Oceania (Australia and the Pacific) are nearly free of armed conflicts.

This map, however, as well as the table that was used to generate it, must be regarded as highly approximate. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to consistently and accurately tabulate deaths in armed conflicts. Although the Wikipedia article does an admirable job, it misses some deadly conflicts. It does not list Papua New Guinea, for example, as having experienced any combat-related fatalities over the past two years. In actuality, so-called tribal wars in New Guinea’s highlands are ubiquitous. According to a recent article in The Guardian, more than 150 people died in clashes in one province (Enga) in August 2023 alone.

To help visualize the severity and persistence of current armed conflicts, I made several maps based on the same data found in the Wikipedia article. The first map below is probably the most effective. Rather than shoehorning the data into discrete country-based categories, I placed size-graded stars indicating the 2022 fatality count on the actual location of each conflict, to the extent that that is possible. But it often isn’t, as in the case of the Islamist insurgency in the Maghreb/Sahel, which is listed as occurring in 15 separate countries. At any rate, this map seems more effective at revealing the “clustering” of current conflict than the Wikipedia’s map (posted above). If drug wars are excluded, deadly conflicts in 2022 were concentrated in the “Greater Horn of Africa” (including Yemen), Burma and adjacent parts of South Asia, the northern Middle East proper, central Africa, Nigeria and environs, Afghanistan & Pakistan, and Ukraine.

The map of the duration of current armed conflicts, based on the data in the same Wikipedia table, depicts southern Asia as the area with the most persistent conflicts, followed by Central Africa. The final map shows total fatalities by country in 2021. Whether these maps do a better job of conveying the spatial patterns found in the Wikipedia table than the Wikipedia’s own map is for the reader to decide.

Mapping Recent War Fatalities and the Persistence of Current Armed Conflicts Read More »

Successful Resistance Against the Regime of Burma (Myanmar) by the Karenni People

The civil war raging in Burma (Myanmar) is one of the world’s longest running conflicts, stretching back to 1948, the year of Burma’s independence from Britain. But as hostilities ebb and flow in both time and place, the current war is dated by some as only having begun in 2021, the year of the country’s most recent military coup and crackdown on civil society. But no matter how one measures it, this struggle is bloody and grim. According to the Wikipedia article on “ongoing armed conflicts,” the Burmese Civil War currently has the third highest death toll of 2023, following only the war in Ukraine and the insurgency in western Africa that stretches across more than a dozen countries. Almost 11,000 people have lost their lives this year alone, with a casualty count of perhaps more than 20,000* in 2022. But despite the ongoing and persistent carnage, this conflict rarely makes the news in the United States.

To follow the Burmese civil war, one can consult Burmese sources, available online in both Burmese and English. I especially recommend The Irrawaddy, produced by Burmese journalists in exile in Thailand. One of its most interesting recent articles highlights the importance of the country’s smallest state, Kayah (formerly Karenni), in successfully taking on the Tatmadaw, the brutal Burmese military. The article claims that resistance fighters in Kayah have killed 2,065 junta soldiers while losing only 153 of their own in the past two years. Leading the charge is the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF), which was formed shortly after the February 2021 coup. Some of its fighters had previously been affiliated with the Burmese military as border guards but switched sides after the military take-over. As The Irrawaddy notes, the “KNDF supports federalism, or power-sharing between the Union and state governments with self-determination and self-administration for ethnic states.” According to one recent report, the Burmese government currently controls only some ten percent of Kayah state (including its capital, Loikaw), with the rest of it either contested (20 percent) or under the control of insurgents (65 percent). If this report and others like it are true, the Wikipedia map posted below is highly inaccurate, or at least out of date, as it significantly exaggerates the extent of governmental control.

Despite the success of their military resistance, the people of Kayah (Karenni) State have experienced intense suffering over the past two and a half years. (For those interested, the assaults on their state are regularly tabulated and mapped in detail by the Karenni Civil Society Network; see the map below). According to one recent report from a different agency:

At least 180,000 Karenni people have been forcibly displaced, which is more than 40 percent of the estimated total Karenni population. …. Some families have been displaced multiple times, as IDP sites come under attack by junta forces. Based on legal analysis of the data collected, the report finds that members of the Burmese military have committed the war crimes of attacking civilians, attacking protected objects, pillaging, murder, torture, cruel treatment, and displacing civilians in Karenni State.

As is often tragically the case in Burma, extremist Buddhist monks have been encouraging military assaults and worse. According to a recent United States Institute of Peace report:

Under the hot sun, a Pa-O monk spoke to the rally and characterized the Karenni people as a lower race, describing the KNDF and the Peoples’ Defense Forces broadly as worse than the Islamic State. Another Pa-O monk called for the burning of Karenni villages if the KNDF did not stop the alleged violence, declaring: “They say it is not a religious war. But our three monks have died.” … These alarming speeches carried themes of ethnic hierarchy, Buddhist nationalism and zealous hatred.

Surprisingly, the “ethnic hierarchy” and “Buddhist nationalism” evident in this monk’s speech do not come in their usual form, which is associated with the majority Burman (Burmese-speaking) population and directed against Muslims and members of the so-called hill tribes. In this case, both the Karenni and their Po-O antagonists are historically regarded as “tribal peoples,” both belonging to the larger Karen ethno-linguistic group, at least as it is sometimes reckoned. But the Pa-O people are almost entirely Buddhist and have aligned closely with the Burmese military, which has pursued a “divide and rule” strategy among the country’s minority populations. The strategy had been largely successful before 2021 but is currently failing. The Karenni, in contrast, are religiously divided, with some following Buddhism, others Christianity (of several sects), and others traditional animism/shamanism. They are also, needless to say, firm opponent of the Burmese military.

The success of little Kayah State in resisting the Burmese military probably has roots in colonial history. Kayah was never integrated in British Burma and largely escaped British rule. In the 1870s, the Kingdom of Burma, having been reduced to a rump state after losing two wars against the British, was trying to expand into upland regions. Threatened by this policy, the tiny principalities of the Karenni people sought help from Britain, leading to an 1875 treaty between the United Kingdom and Burma that recognized their independence. In 1892, however, Karenni leaders agreed to accept a stipend from the British government in return for allowing it some local oversight. But domestic policies remained under the control of local leaders. As a result, the Karenni lands were usually mapped as not falling under direct British rule, the only part of Burma generally given that distinction (see the map below). A fascinating 1931 map, however, classified Karenni State as one of four regions in Burma that were “loosely” administered by the British Raj, with two others depicted as “unadministered” (see below). (Intriguingly, Karenni state was reportedly the world’s largest producer of tungsten in the 1930s; geologists affiliated with the Oxford Burma Project currently hope that political stabilization will eventually allow the reestablishment of extensive commercial mining there and elsewhere in mineral-rich Burma.)

As Burma was preparing for independence after World-War II, it sought to incorporate the Karenni states into its coming union. Its 1947 constitution insisted on the amalgamation of these small indigenous realms into one Burmese state, but also allowed the possibility of secession after a ten-year period. But with independence the following year, as tersely noted by the Wikipedia article on the state, “the Karenni leader U Bee Htu Re was assassinated by central government militia for his opposition to the inclusion of the Karenni in the Union of Burma. An armed uprising swept the state that has continued to the present day.”

Despite its formidable power, the Burmese military (Tatmadaw) does not seem to be doing well in the current conflict. A recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations claims that it has lost half or more of its troops since the 2021 coup, due to death, desertion, or defection, and that it has retreated on several fronts. The Tatmadaw is also evidently having difficulty filling the classes at its military academy. According to one report, the government now has stable control over only around twenty percent of the country’s townships. Due to recent military reversals, the Tatmadaw is now engaging in extensive air attacks, often directed against civilian targets. Such a strategy is of little military significance and greatly intensifies animosity against the regime.

The Council on Foreign Relations report mentioned above also contends that the Burmese government is facing growing international problems:

Even China, which has backed the junta and sees Myanmar as a strategically critical investment destination, is playing both sides of the fence. Beijing has continued to plow money into the country and supplied the military with weapons, despite its pariah status, and it has provided the junta with diplomatic cover at international forums. Yet it has also maintained links with the ethnic militias and their political wings, and its backing of Naypyidaw has grown more tepid as the army continues to lose ground. As for Russia, though it too has supplied the junta with arms, Moscow is facing its own obvious problems right now and may not be able to ship weapons abroad for long.

Due to these reversals, Burma’s military government may be reconsidering its strategy. Or perhaps not. Another article from the United States Institute of Peace nicely summarizes the current situation:

Are conciliatory winds stirring among the leaders of Myanmar’s coup regime, or is the junta engaging in deception and distraction as it struggles on the battlefield against a broad range of resistance forces? The answer is almost certainly the latter. It would not be the first time the ruling generals have sought to stimulate international interest in promoting dialogue solely to enhance their legitimacy abroad.

Successful Resistance Against the Regime of Burma (Myanmar) by the Karenni People Read More »

The End of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the Continuing Reduction of Armenian-Populated Lands

Let us begin with a paradox: “On September 20, 2023, the world political map underwent a significant change, but that change is not reflected on the world political map.” This seemingly nonsensical statement makes sense with the addition two Latin terms: “On September 20, 2023, the de facto world political map underwent a significant change, but that change is not reflected on the de jure world political map.” The de facto map, which shows actual power on the ground, was transformed by the defeat of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and its impending annexation by Azerbaijan. But as Nagorno-Karabakh was already part of Azerbaijan according to diplomatic convention, the official de jure map of the region registered no change.

From its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until late September of this year, Azerbaijan did not exercise power over its full internationally recognized territory. Its southwestern corner was instead under the power of the self-declared and unrecognized state called Artsakh, better known as Nagorno-Karabakh. This Armenian-populated region functioned as a client state of the Republic of Armenia, if not as an appendage of it. In 2020, Azerbaijan defeated Armenia/Artsakh in a brief war and took control of most of the disputed territory, leaving only the core region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was connected to Armenia proper by the narrow Lachin Corridor, patrolled by Russian troops. Earlier this year, Azerbaijan cut-off access to the corridor, putting great pressure on Artsakh. On September 19-20, Azerbaijan’s military overran the entire area, after which Artsakh’s leadership announced that their statelet would be dissolved on January 1, 2024. As a result, Azerbaijan will for the first time control its entire territorial extent as recognized by international convention. But the de jure and de facto maps remain out of alignment elsewhere in the Caucasus, as two official parts of Georgia are still under the control of two Russian client states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

An extended New York Time headline of September 29 nicely captures the current geopolitical situation of the losing country: “Armenia: Cast Adrift in a Tough Neighborhood. While the Caucasus nation might want to reduce its reliance on Russia for a more reliable ally, Western nations have offered moral support but little else.” After independence in 1991, Armenia turned to Russia for military support, hosting a Russian military base and joining the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan). But Russia was of little help in its 2020 war with Azerbaijan, in which Azerbaijan’s Turkish- and Israeli-made drones outperformed Armenia’s Russian-made armaments. Armenia then began edging away from Russia and toward the West, a process that accelerated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Just before Azerbaijan conquered the rest of Artsakh in late September 2023, U.S. military personnel were helping train Armenian troops in Armenia. But the U.S. offered nothing beyond vaguely smoothing words after Azerbaijan’s military assault. As reported by the New York Times, the United States “has so far resisted placing sanctions on Azerbaijan for a military assault that the State Department previously said it would not countenance.”

The lack of support for Armenia by the United States is not surprising. The U.S., like most countries in most circumstance, stands in favor of the official de jure world political map, and is thus reluctant to acknowledge any alternative arrangements. (Although there are certainly exceptions, such as Washington’s recognition of the independence of Kosovo, which seceded unilaterally from Serbia and is thus unrecognized by the United Nations.) Brute geopolitical realities also favor Azerbaijan, as it is much more populous and economically developed than Armenia. As a relatively secular Shia Muslim nation, moreover, Azerbaijan is also a useful counterweight against Iran (more Azeri speakers live in Iran than in Azerbaijan).

Immediately after the fall of Artsakh, ethnic Armenians began streaming out of the region, seeking refuge in Armenia proper. It is expected that by the end of the year there will be few if any Armenians left in the region. Azerbaijan claims that Armenians could remain in place as Azerbaijani citizens. Armenians, however, point to Azerbaijan’s threats and purported atrocities, arguing, with some international support, that genocide would be the more likely outcome if they were to remain. Azerbaijani apologists, for their part, point to the fact that many Azeris once lived in what is now Armenia, but were themselves victims of Armenian-led expulsions (see the map below). It also true that ethnic Kurds, who were formerly the dominant population between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh proper, fled or were expelled after the expansion of Armenian power following the fall of the Soviet Union (see the map below). (Other Kurdish populations from both Armenia and Azerbaijan had been deported by Soviet authorities to Kazakhstan in 1937.)

From a world historical perspective, Azerbaijan’s conquest of Artsakh and the subsequent removal of the Armenian population from the region represents one more chapter in the long history of the diminution of the Armenian territorial sphere. As the paired maps below show, Armenians once constituted either a majority or a large minority over a broad zone extending across what is now eastern Turkey and beyond (unfortunately, the Vivid Map posted here has no key). Ottoman expulsions of Armenians before and especially during World War I, recognized by most historians as an episode of genocide, vastly reduced the extent of Armenian populated land. After the downfall of the Soviet Union, Armenian communities were either expelled from or voluntarily left many former Soviet lands. With the downfall of Artsakh, the contiguous zone of Armenian-populated territory is now reduced to the small rump state of Armenia.

Understandably, many Armenian-Americans have been enraged about the lack of U.S. action on this issue. As reported in the Guardian:

Everything that is happening today is utterly predictable, and much of it could be avoided with more forceful American action,” Paul Krekorian, the first Armenian American president of the Los Angeles city council, told the Guardian.

It’s a catastrophic situation. Genocide is happening before our very eyes,” Krekorian said. “And my country is doing essentially nothing.” Memories of the 1915 Armenian genocide, when 1 million to 1.5 million Armenians died under the Ottoman Turkish empire, remain strong in the community and many of the signs held outside the Ronald Reagan library referenced it and what the protesters saw as its echoes.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, few American media outlets have done much substantive reporting on this issue. At one time, something like this would have been a major news story. Over the past half-century, however, the U.S. new media have become increasingly insular, tightly focused on American politics, society, and culture, and hence little concerned with most events occurring outside the country. Economic globalization has oddly coincided with journalistic deglobalization.

The End of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the Continuing Reduction of Armenian-Populated Lands Read More »

Who Are the Gagauz, Where Is Gagauzia, and Why Are They in the News?

The “Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia,” located in southern Moldova, rarely makes the news. On September 25, 2023, however, the New York Times ran a full-page article on the region under the vague title “Fugitive Oligarch Gaines Surprise Foothold in Moldova.* The article describes Gagauzia as an “enclave” within Moldova. That is not technically correct, as a geopolitical enclave is part of one country that is surrounded by the territory of another, whereas Gagauzia is merely an autonomous region of Moldova. Fear of losing that autonomy lies behind the ethnic tensions that have given this obscure region international attention.

The New York Times article focuses on the shady activities of Ilan Shor, a disgraced financier who was “convicted in 2017 for his role in ransacking Moldova’s banking system.” In the summer of 2023, a follower of Shor, Evghenia Guțul (Yevgenia Gutsal), was elected governor of Gagauzia, allowing Shor to gain considerable power in the autonomous unit. This victory was internationally significant because Guțul and Shor support Russia and oppose the E.U. The United States accused Shor in 2022 “of working with ‘Moscow-based entities’ to undermine Moldova’s efforts to join the European Union and engaging in ‘persistent malign influence campaigns on behalf of Russia.’” (Note: direct quotes in this paragraph are from the Times article.)

The description of Gagauzia in the New York Times’ article is minimal. It notes only that Gagauzia is a “Russian-speaking region wary of the largely Romanian-speaking authorities in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital,” and that “the enclave, with around 140,000 people, mostly members of the small Turkic community of Orthodox Christians, remained out of step with the rest of the country.” Although largely accurate, this depiction is not adequate for understanding the tensions in the region. One might wonder, for example, how Gagauzia can be “Russian-speaking” when its majority ethnic group, the Gagauz, are “Turkic,” indicating that they speak a Turkic language. Yet both assertions are essentially true. The Gagauz tongue, the territory’s official language, is indeed in the Turkic language family, but its use is rapidly declining, especially in cities and towns, in favor of Russian, long used as Moldova’s main language of inter-ethnic communication. While the Gagauz are turning to Russian, they are also rejecting Romanian (or “Moldovan,” as it is often locally called), their county’s official** language. Such attitudes do not augur well for Moldova’s national future.

The origin of the Gagauz people is obscure, owing in part to their combination of speaking a Turkic language and following Eastern Orthodox Christianity. As the Wikipedia article on the Gagauz notes, “In the beginning of the 20th century, a Bulgarian historian counted 19 different theories about their origin. A few decades later the Gagauz ethnologist M. N. Guboglo increased the number to 21.” The most intriguing, if highly unlikely, theory is that they are descendants of the original Balkan Bulgarians, who were a Turkic-speaking people who conquered the area now known as Bulgaria beginning in the late seventh century. The Bulgars subsequently adopted the Slavic language widely spoken in their new kingdom, which became known as Bulgarian, and also converted to Christianity under influence from the neighboring Byzantine (East Roman) Empire.

Whatever their origins, the Gagauz stress their affinity with the Bulgarians. In early times they generally called themselves “Hasli Bulgars” (True Bulgarians) or “Eski Bulgars” (Old Bulgarians), Under Russian Empire, they were usually called “Turkic-speaking Bulgars,” as the term “Gagauz” was at the time often considered offensive. Most Gagauz today live near Bulgarian-speaking settlements in southern Moldova and the adjacent Ukrainian region of Budjak, as can be seen on the map posted below. (Since I cobbled this map together from separate and questionable language maps of Moldova and Ukraine, its accuracy is probably not very high.)

It might be surprising that so many Bulgarians live in southern Moldova and southwestern Ukraine, considering how far this area is from Bulgaria. Before population exchanges in the early twentieth century, however, many Bulgarians lived in the intermediate coastal region of Romania, thus forming a nearly continuous swath of settlement in an admittedly highly mixed area (see the first map below). The language map of the Bessarabia Governorate of the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth century, posted below as well, is also revealing. Bessarabia, which included what is now Moldova, the Budjak region, and a small section of northwestern Ukraine, was highly ethnically mixed. Note the sizable German-speaking area and the prominent positions of Jews in the towns and cities (visible in the pie charts). Today there are probably fewer than 20,000 Jews in Moldova, and its German population is negligible.

The Gagauz in Moldova identify with Bulgarians and Russians rather than with ethnic Moldovans in part because they are concerned about cultural domination by Romanian-speaking people. When the Soviet Union began to fracture in 1990, Gagauz leaders declared the formation of a Gagauz Republic, which gained de facto independence when the Soviet system collapsed in the following year. A similar situation emerged in eastern Moldova, where the heavily Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking region called Transnistria also separated from the rest of the country. Unlike Transnistria, however, Gagazia was peacefully reunited with Moldova in 1995 after its people accepted limited self-rule within their own spatially reduced Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (see the map below). Importantly, the Gagauz were promised that if Moldova were ever to unite with Romania, they would be able to opt out of the union. Unification with Romania, however, has little support in Moldova; in the country’s most recent parliamentary election, the pro-unification party AUR (Alliance for the Union of Romanians) received less than one half of one percent of the vote. In Romania, in contrast, AUR got over nine percent of the vote in the most recent election, finishing in fourth place.

But if union with Romania is unlikely, the Moldovan government has still been emphasizing the use of the Romanian (“Moldovan”) language and deemphasizing that of Russian. In protest, as noted in a Balkan Insight article, “Gagauzia adopted a regional education code that implied a greater use of the Gagauz language in school, as well as a more detailed study of Gagauz history and culture” in 2016. The Moldovan government, however, declared this new policy to be “unconstitutional and provocative.” Today, a more immediate concern of the Gagauz is Moldova’s quest to join the European Union (official candidacy was gained June 2022). If that were to happen, Gagauzia could lose its autonomous status. To guard against this possibility, Gagauz leaders have been seeking support from Moscow, a dangerous gambit indeed.

Reports on feelings of national identity in Gagauzia are mixed. One recent article cites a Gagauz informant as stating that “anyone who lives in our autonomy feels like a citizen of Moldova, because the Gagauz have no other homeland. For example, Bulgarians can go to Bulgaria, Greeks to Greece, Russians to Russia… But the Gagauz have no other homeland.” The same person also stated, however, that few Gagauz students seek higher education elsewhere in Moldova, preferring to study instead in the break-away statelet of Transnisria, where Russian is the main language of instruction. Other sources, moreover, claim that anti-Moldovan sentiments are so pronounced that most Gagauz do not even want to learn Romanian, their “national” language. In response, many Moldovan observers fear that the autonomous territory is planning outright secession, in concert with Russia.

In the Ukrainian region of Budjak, Bulgarian and Gagauz speakers have generally supported Russia-friendly candidates over their Ukrainian nationalist rivals. As can be seen on the paired maps posted below, in the first round of the 2019 election, Ukrainian-speaking areas in Budjak generally supported Volodymyr Zelensky, whereas the Bulgarian- and Gagauz-speaking areas supported Yuriy Boyko. Boyko’s party, Opposition Platform – For Life, has been banned by the Ukrainian government for its pro-Russian leanings. But as the Wikipedia article on Boyko notes, after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine he reversed most of his pro-Russian stances and now supports Ukraine’s proposed ascension to the European Union. Not surprisingly, the political environment of Ukraine changed much more dramatically than that of Moldova after the 2022 invasion.

* That is the title in the print edition. In the on-line edition it isCash, Mules and Paid Protests: How a Fraudster Seized an Ethnic Enclave”

** Moldova also recognizes Belarusian, Bulgarian, Gagauz, German, Hebrew, Polish, Romani, Russian, and Ukrainian as minority languages

Who Are the Gagauz, Where Is Gagauzia, and Why Are They in the News? Read More »

How Well Can ChatGPT Analyze a Complex Map? Part 2: Rich Counties in Red States

In the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the neighboring states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah all strongly supported Donald Trump, giving him respectively 70, 64, and 58 percent of their votes. But in all three states several counties opted for Joe Biden, a few by considerable margins (see the map below). All of these seeming exceptions are easily explained on the basis of demographic characteristics. Latah County, Idaho and Albany County, Wyoming, for example, are the sites of their states’ main universities, and college towns and nearby communities usually support candidates in the Democratic Party. Salt Lake County, Utah, in contrast, contains a major metropolitan area, which are also generally “blue” on electoral maps. Sparsely populated Grand County, Utah falls into neither category, but its main town, Moab, is a major center of outdoor recreation. Western communities with economies based on outdoor amenities also typically vote for Democrats. Teton County, Idaho falls into this same category.

The darkest shade of blue on this map is given to Blaine County, Idaho and Teton County, Wyoming. Their deciding demographic characteristic, as of Summit County Utah, is a variant of the environmental amenities theme, as all are sites of major ski resorts and their associated residential communities. What really distinguishes these three counties from their neighbors, however, is their wealth. As the somewhat dated map below posted shows, these are among the richest counties in the United States. With the exception of those whose wealth is largely derived from natural resources and farming, wealthy counties generally support Democratic candidates.

I wanted to see if ChatGPT could find and explain the seeming anomaly of low-density, white-dominated counties located in the conservative intermontane West strongly favoring Joe Biden over Donald Trump. I therefore made the following pointed, and hinting, request:

“Write a 500-word analysis of the geographical patterns found in the 2020 United States presidential election based on a map of all U.S. counties shaded by the margin of victory, paying attention to counties that were exceptions to the general geographical rules found on this map and taking into account per capita income.”

The essay that the chatbot gave in response is reproduced below.  As can be seen, it fails to either locate or explain this interesting phenomenon.

Thinking that the chatbot would perform better if I limited its analysis to Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, I gave it another chance. This response is also included below. Here again it failed its assignment. Although ChatGPT did notice and explain the seeming oddity of Teton County, Wyoming, it also included a major error in the same sentence: “County-level data shows that Trump won all but one county in the state, Teton County, which is known for its higher-income residents and a significant number of transplants from more liberal areas.” Perhaps ChatGPT did not notice that Biden also won Albany County, Wyoming because he took less than 50 percent of its votes. But Biden’s margin of victory here was still a reasonably solid 2.76 percent.

To sum up to this brief series, ChatGPT seems to be particularly bad at geographical analysis. Somehow, that does not surprise me.

ChatGPT Response 1:

The 2020 United States presidential election exhibited intriguing geographical patterns when analyzed using a county-level map shaded by the margin of victory. These patterns were influenced by various factors, including economic conditions such as per capita income. Let’s delve into the key observations, general trends, and notable exceptions:

General Patterns:

  1. Urban-Rural Divide: A conspicuous urban-rural divide was evident. Urban and suburban areas, particularly along the coasts and in major metropolitan regions, tended to favor the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Conversely, rural and less densely populated areas, especially in the Midwest and the South, leaned toward the Republican incumbent, Donald Trump.
  2. Economic Centers: Counties encompassing major economic hubs, like Manhattan (New York County), Los Angeles County, and Cook County (Chicago), predominantly supported Biden. These urban centers typically have higher per capita incomes due to their concentration of economic activity, educational institutions, and diverse populations.

Notable Exceptions:

Several counties deviated from the general patterns, and these exceptions can be partly explained by considering per capita income:

  1. Rural Prosperity: In some rural counties, particularly in states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and parts of Texas, which benefit from natural resource industries (e.g., oil, gas, and agriculture), Trump received strong support despite their rural status. These exceptions underscore the economic diversity within rural America, where high per capita incomes can translate into political allegiance to Trump.
  2. Urban Economic Variation: In urban areas, especially in Rust Belt cities like Youngstown, Ohio, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, Trump gained ground in counties with lower per capita incomes. Economic hardship and the decline of manufacturing jobs in these regions likely contributed to this shift, illustrating how economic conditions can influence political preferences.
  3. Florida’s Diversity: Florida’s diverse economic landscape and a significant retiree population resulted in a mix of counties concerning per capita income and political leanings. While Miami-Dade County, with its high per capita income derived from tourism and international trade, experienced a shift toward Trump among some Hispanic voters, other counties with lower per capita incomes, such as Duval County (Jacksonville), swung toward Biden.
  4. Pennsylvania’s Suburban Complex: In Pennsylvania, Montgomery County, a suburban county with a high per capita income due to its proximity to Philadelphia, leaned decisively toward Biden, aligning with the urban-suburban pattern. However, nearby counties like Bucks and Northampton, with lower per capita incomes, displayed stronger support for Trump, suggesting a complex interplay of economic and demographic factors.
  5. Colorado’s Diversity: Colorado’s political landscape was influenced by factors like per capita income. While highly populated and affluent counties around Denver favored Biden, more rural counties with lower per capita incomes, especially in the Western Slope, remained staunchly Republican.
  6. Urban-Rural Divide in Swing States: In pivotal swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the urban-rural divide played a substantial role. Notably, in Michigan, Macomb County, with a median income below the national average, shifted toward Trump, while higher-income suburban counties near Detroit leaned Democratic.
  7. Texas’s Suburban Shift: Texas saw suburban counties around major cities like Dallas and Houston, which typically have higher per capita incomes, shifting toward Biden. This shift challenged the notion of Texas as a solid Republican stronghold, emphasizing the impact of economic diversity in suburban areas.

In summary, the geographical patterns observed in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as reflected in county-level margins of victory, revealed a dynamic interplay of economic conditions, demographics, and regional dynamics. While urban areas with higher per capita incomes generally favored Biden, exceptions in both rural and urban settings demonstrated the multifaceted nature of American politics. Understanding these exceptions is essential for a comprehensive analysis of the election results, as they underscore the complex relationship between economic well-being and political preferences in a diverse and evolving nation.

 

Prompt for second experiment: “Write a 500-word essay analyzing the 2020 presidential election returns from Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah using country-level data.”

ChatGPT Response 2.

Title: Analyzing the 2020 Presidential Election Returns in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah

Introduction

The 2020 United States presidential election was one of the most highly anticipated and closely watched elections in recent history. While national-level analysis often dominates discussions, it is equally important to examine the results at the state level to gain a deeper understanding of the political landscape. In this essay, we will analyze the 2020 presidential election returns in the states of Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah using county-level data, shedding light on key trends, demographics, and political dynamics that shaped the outcomes in these predominantly conservative states.

Idaho: A Stronghold for Republicans

Idaho, known for its deep-rooted conservatism, continued its tradition of favoring the Republican candidate in the 2020 election. With a state-level margin of over 30 percentage points in favor of Donald Trump, it was one of the most solidly Republican states in the nation. County-level data reveals that the Republican dominance was consistent throughout the state, with Trump carrying the majority of counties.

One notable observation from the Idaho data is the urban-rural divide. While metropolitan areas like Ada County (Boise) leaned more Democratic, rural counties, particularly in the eastern part of the state, overwhelmingly supported Trump. This pattern reflects a broader national trend seen in many states, where urban areas tend to favor Democratic candidates, while rural areas lean Republican.

Furthermore, Idaho’s predominantly white population played a significant role in shaping the outcome. The lack of racial diversity in the state contributed to a more homogeneous political landscape, with racial and ethnic minorities having less influence on the election outcome compared to more diverse states.

Wyoming: A Republican Stronghold with Unique Dynamics

Wyoming, like Idaho, is considered a Republican stronghold, but it exhibits some unique dynamics. With a staggering margin of over 40 percentage points in favor of Trump, Wyoming was one of the most reliably red states in the 2020 election. County-level data shows that Trump won all but one county in the state, Teton County, which is known for its higher-income residents and a significant number of transplants from more liberal areas.

A striking feature of Wyoming’s election returns is its low population density. The state’s vast, sparsely populated rural areas play a crucial role in shaping the political landscape. In such regions, where traditional values and limited government intervention are often prized, the Republican message resonates strongly.

Another factor to consider is Wyoming’s energy industry, which is a significant contributor to the state’s economy. Trump’s promises to support fossil fuels and reduce environmental regulations likely bolstered his support among voters in this state, where energy policy is of paramount importance.

Utah: A Conservative State with Nuanced Tendencies

Utah is another conservative state, but it has shown more nuanced political tendencies. While Trump comfortably won Utah, his margin was smaller than in Idaho and Wyoming. County-level data reveals some interesting insights. Utah’s population centers, including Salt Lake County, leaned more Democratic, driven in part by a younger and more diverse demographic.

One notable aspect of Utah’s political landscape is the presence of a significant independent and moderate Republican constituency. This group, often referred to as “Never Trumpers,” was less enthusiastic about the president. The presence of prominent figures in the state’s Republican establishment who openly criticized Trump may have contributed to this trend.

Conclusion

In analyzing the 2020 presidential election returns in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah using county-level data, it is clear that these predominantly conservative states exhibited unique political dynamics. Idaho and Wyoming remained solid Republican strongholds, with their rural areas and homogeneous populations contributing to the overwhelming support for Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Utah, while still conservative, showed more nuanced tendencies, with urban areas and a moderate Republican constituency influencing the election outcome.

Understanding these state-level dynamics is crucial for comprehending the broader political landscape in the United States. The 2020 election provided valuable insights into the interplay of demographics, regional characteristics, and political ideologies that shape electoral outcomes in these states. As we look ahead to future elections, it is essential to continue analyzing state-level data to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the American political landscape.

How Well Can ChatGPT Analyze a Complex Map? Part 2: Rich Counties in Red States Read More »

How Well Can ChatGPT Analyze a Complex Map, Part 1?

This second-to-last post in the current series on ChatGPT examines the chatbot’s ability to find and explain patterns found on a relatively complex map. ChatGPT cannot (yet?) make maps, but can it intelligently analyze them? To test its abilities, I asked it to write an analytic essay on the geographical patterns found on a map of the 2020 U.S. presidential election with counties shaded by the margin of victory (a map of this sort is posted below). It managed to capture the basic contours reasonably well, focusing on regional divisions and the urban-rural split. But it missed many of the more subtle patterns and failed to notice any exceptions to the general rules that it had inferred. I therefore began to refine my queries, asking for more details about specific patterns. I have been told that this “narrowing in” strategy is needed to get the most out of ChatGBT. I was not impressed, however, with the results. If anything, the chatbot lost coherence when given additional information and more pointed requests.

Although I ran a number of these experiments, I will discuss the results of only two, one today and another in the next and final post in this series. The query that I used for today’s post specified that ChatGPT should pay attention to exceptions found for the general patterns that it had identified.

The chatbot’s response to this prompt is reproduced below, along with my comments on its errors and points of confusion. My comments are [IN BRACKETS AND IN ALL CAPS].

ChatGPT Response:

The 2020 United States presidential election was a historic event that brought about a complex tapestry of geographical patterns when analyzing the margin of victory across all U.S. counties. While certain general trends [I ASKED ABOUT PATTERNS, NOT TRENDS] emerged from the map, there were notable exceptions that provided a deeper understanding of the diverse political landscape in the country.

General Patterns:

When examining the map shaded by the margin of victory, several broad geographical patterns became evident:

    1. Coastal Strongholds for Democrats: Counties along the East and West Coasts, from Maine to Florida and Washington to California, predominantly voted for the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, with significant margins of victory [THIS IS ESSENTIALLY UNTRUE. WITH JUST A FEW EXCEPTIONS, BIDEN ENJOYED A “SIGNIFICANT MARGIN OF VICTORY” IN COASTAL COUNTIES ONLY IN CALIFORNIA. FROM SOUTHERN DELAWARE TO SOUTHERN FLORIDA, MORE COASTAL COUNTIES VOTED FOR TRUMP THAN BIDEN (SEE THE FIRST MAP BELOW). AND WHAT ABOUT THE GULF COAST? IS IT NOT “COASTAL”?]. This trend aligns with the historical tendency for urban and coastal areas to lean left. [ONLY IF ONE HAS A VERY SHALLOW DEFINITION OF “HISTORICAL.” AND WHY DOES THE TERM “URBAN’ APPEAR IN A SECTION FOCUSED ON THE COAST/INTERIOR DIVISION?]
    2. Inland Republican Strongholds: In contrast, many [MOST, ACTUALLY] inland counties in the Midwest and South showed robust support for the Republican incumbent, Donald Trump [THIS IS TRUE NOT JUST IN THE MIDWEST AND SOUTH]. These regions often featured rural or less densely populated areas, which have traditionally leaned conservative. [MANY INLAND, NON-METROPOLITAN COUNTIES IN THE SOUTH SUPPORTED BIDEN, OFTEN BY A WIDE MARGIN. ALL HAVE BLACK MAJORITIES. THE CHATBOT COMPLETELY MISSED THIS IMPORTANT EXPLANATORY FACTOR.]
    3. Urban-Rural Divide: The urban-rural divide was pronounced, with densely populated urban centers and their surrounding suburban counties favoring Biden. On the other hand, rural counties consistently supported Trump, reflecting deeper cultural and demographic divisions.

Notable Exceptions:

While these general patterns were dominant, there were several counties that stood out as exceptions, challenging the conventional wisdom [THIS IS NOT A MATTER OF “CONVENTIONAL VERSUS UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM,” BUT RATHER ONE OF “FINE-LEVEL VERSUS GROSS-LEVEL ANALYSIS”] of their respective regions:

    1. Urban Counties in Red States: In typically conservative states, such as Texas and Georgia, urban counties like Harris County (Houston) and Fulton County (Atlanta) experienced a significant shift toward the Democratic Party [HARRIS COUNTY, TX DID NOT SHOW A “SIGNIFICANT” BLUE SHIFT IN THIS ELECTION, AS CAN BE SEEN ON THE MAP POSTED BELOW].  These counties, characterized by their growing and diverse populations, flipped or came very close to flipping from Republican to Democratic [THERE WAS NO “FLIP” OR “NEAR-FLIP” INVOLVED! HARRIS COUNTY HAS BEEN HABITUALLY SUPPORTING DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES FOR SOME TIME.]
    2. Rural Counties in Blue States: Conversely, some traditionally Democratic states like Minnesota and Oregon saw rural counties trending toward the Republican candidate [RURAL COUNTIES IN OREGON HAVE BEEN MOSTLY “RED” FOR SOME TIME. ALSO, MY QUERY DID NOT ASK FOR AN ANALYSIS OF ELECTORAL CHANGE]. For instance, in Minnesota, several northern and western counties that had previously supported Democrats shifted toward Trump [AS CAN SEEN ON THE MAP BELOW, SEVERAL NORTHERN AND WESTERN MINNESOTA COUNTIES SAW A “BLUE SHIFT” FROM 2016 TO 2020].
    3. Florida’s I-4 Corridor: Florida, a perennial swing state [NOT ‘PERENNIAL; ONLY FROM 1992 TO AROUND 2020], demonstrated a unique geographical pattern [WHAT IS  “UNIQUE” ABOUT IT?]. While the state as a whole leaned slightly toward Trump, the I-4 corridor, which stretches from Tampa Bay to Orlando, remained a closely contested battleground. This region, known for its political diversity and mix of urban and suburban areas [RURAL AREAS AS WELL], defied the state’s overall trend [A LOT OF ATTENTION HAS BEEN GIVEN TO THE MIXED AND CHANGING VOTING PATTERNS OF THE I-4 CORRIDOR; SEE THE SECOND MAP BELOW. BUT AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, THIS REGION IS NOT REALLY AN EXCEPTION TO FLORIDA’S GENERAL ELECTORAL PATTERNS, AND IT SAW ONLY MINOR ELECTORAL SHIFTS FROM 2016 TO 2020; SEE THE THIRD MAP BELOW].
    4. The Rural-Urban Split in Swing States: In swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the margins of victory in urban counties, such as Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia [THERE IS NO “DETROIT COUNTY”], were crucial in securing these states for Biden. Conversely, the majority of rural counties in these states remained staunchly Republican. The tension between urban centers and rural areas was starkly visible in these key battleground states.
    5. Native American Influence: In Arizona and New Mexico, Native American reservations and communities played a significant role in the election. Several counties with sizable Native American populations, such as Apache County in Arizona, favored Biden. This underscores the importance of demographic diversity and tribal influence in these southwestern states [YES, BUT WHAT ABOUT NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES IN OTHER STATES, PARTICUARLY MONTANA AND SOUTH DAKOTA?].
    6. Maine’s Split Decision: Maine stood out with its unique [NOT UNIQUE; NEBRASKA HAS THE SAME SYSTEM] allocation of electoral votes. While the state as a whole went for Biden, it was one of only two states (alongside Nebraska) [OK, BUT THIS STATEMENT CONTRADICTS  “UNIQUE’ IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE] to split its electoral votes by congressional district. Trump managed to secure one of Maine’s congressional districts, emphasizing the granularity of political preferences even within a single state. [“EVEN” WITHIN A SINGLE STATE? THERE IS TREMENDOUS “GRANULARITY” IN REGIONAL VOTING PATTERNS IN EVERY STATE. BESIDES THAT, MY QUERY WAS ABOUT VOTING PATTERNS AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, NOT ABOUT ELECTORAL VOTES]

In conclusion, the geographical patterns found in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as indicated by the margin of victory across counties, painted a diverse and multifaceted picture of American politics. While overarching trends pointed to the urban-rural divide and regional tendencies, notable exceptions illuminated the complexity of the electorate. These exceptions often hinged on factors like changing demographics, local economic conditions, and unique historical and cultural influences [LOCAL ECONOMIC CONDITIONS WERE NOT MENTIONED IN THE ESSAY], illustrating the rich tapestry of American democracy. Understanding these exceptions is crucial for a comprehensive analysis of the political landscape in the United States.

How Well Can ChatGPT Analyze a Complex Map, Part 1? Read More »

Religion Trumps Language in Turkey’s Hatay Province in the 2023 Presidential Election

Turkey’s Hatay Province, which forms a small “panhandle” extending southward along the eastern Mediterranean, is one of the most distinctive parts of the country. Hatay is characterized by linguistic and ethnic diversity. It has the highest percentage of Arabic speakers in Turkey. It is also home to several Christian communities (Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Maronite, Antiochian Greek, and Armenian Apostolic) and minority Muslim sects (Alawite and Alevi). As noted by Wikipedia, “Unlike most Mediterranean provinces, Hatay has not experienced mass migration from other parts of Turkey in recent decades and has therefore preserved much of its traditional culture.”

Hatay did not join Turkey until 1939, having previously been part of the French-ruled Mandate of Syria. When the French departed Syria, a referendum in Hatay led to union with Turkey, which was the outcome favored by France. Many observers, however, question the legitimacy of the vote. Many Syrians, moreover, reject the Turkish annexation of the region.

In the 2023 Turkish presidential election, incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the vote in Hatay by a relatively small margin. As the map below indicates, Erdoğan took some of Hatay’s districts handily, while his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu won others by an overwhelming majority. What might account for these differences? Following to the Wikipedia language map posted above, language does not seem to be the main factor, as some Arabic-majority districts voted heavily for Erdoğan and others for Kılıçdaroğlu.

The language map in question, however, is imprecise. Another Wikipedia map, limited to Hatay, provides a much better depiction, although it does not take population density into account (see the second map posted below). Here Arabic-speaking areas are noted with green markings, with Turkish speaking areas marked in red. Three districts in Hatay have Arabic-speaking majorities, which I have indicated on the paired electoral with the letter “A.” As can be seen on this map, one of these districts overwhelmingly supported Erdoğan, one overwhelmingly supported Kılıçdaroğlu, and the either had mixed results.

The key to explaining this seeming discrepancy is found in religion, which is also noted on the Wikipedia map in question. Here Arabic-speaking Sunni areas are marked with green squares while Arabic-speaking Alawite districts are marked with green circles. As can be seen by comparing these maps, the Alawite-dominated areas strongly supported Kılıçdaroğlu, whereas the Sunni-dominated areas strongly supported Erdoğan – as did Arabic-speaking Sunni areas elsewhere in Turkey.

Alawites should not be confused with Alevis, although they often are, and they do have a number of similarities. Both are members of highly heterodox Shia offshoot sects who generally favor a resolutely secular political order. The Turkish-speaking population of Hatay includes some Alevis, although they are not indicated on the map posted above, or on any other map that I have found. Alawites, in contrast, are almost entirely Arabic speaking. Most Alawites live to the south, in the coastal area of Syria, where they form the majority population. The Assad government of Syria is dominated by Alawites, although they have been long disparaged and are often despised by their country’s Sunni majority. Alawites in Turkey’s Hatay province show pronounced hostility to Erdoğan, who supported the “Arab Spring” movement to overthrow Syria’s Alawite-dominated Assad regime. Erdoğan also gave sanctuary to millions of Syrian Sunni refugees, who tend to exhibit hostility towards Alawites.

This situation was depicted by Soner Cagaptay in a 2013 article:

Warning signs of this have been evident for months. For example, local Alawite groups such as the “Platform Against Imperialistic Interference in Syria” have been organizing pro-Assad rallies for some time — the largest, held last September, drew over ten thousand people. As one Alawite put it during an interview with Aljazeera, “Western imperialistic powers, along with Sunni-led regimes, are trying to topple a legitimate regime in Syria.” Minor tensions between Sunni refugees from Syria and Hatay Alawites have been reported as well. Alawite business owners and civil servants complain of Syrian refugees questioning them over their sectarian identity, with some claiming they have been blacklisted and harassed by Sunni Arab emigres.

For more information on the similarities and differences between Alevis and Alawites, see Cagaptay’s interesting but no doubt controversial 2012 article, “Are Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis the Same?”

Religion Trumps Language in Turkey’s Hatay Province in the 2023 Presidential Election Read More »

Economic Disparities and Election Results in Turkey

The Republic of Türkiye (Turkey) is characterized by stark discrepancies in regional economic productivity. In 2021, nominal per capita GDP figures ranged from 153,479 Turkish Lira (17,089 US$) in Kocaeli Province, located east of Istanbul, to 26,837 Turkish Lira (2,988 US$) in Ağrı Province, located along Turkey’s eastern border. Although maps of Turkish per capita GDP by province are readily available, I made my own to highlight these regional disparities, accomplished mainly by using a two-color scheme.

The correlation between economic productivity and ethnicity in Turkey is close, at least on the low end of the spectrum. As can be seen by comparing the two posted above with that posted below, Turkey’s least economically productive provinces are all located in the primarily Kurdish southeast. The most economically productive provinces are concentrated on the other side of the country, in the northwest. This latter region includes both coastal provinces and provinces located in the northwestern quarter of the central Anatolian Plateau.

Historically, Turkey’s western coastal strip was much more productive than most of the rest of the country. Over the past several decades, however, a number of cities on the Anatolian Plateau have seen significant industrialization and rapid economic growth. Several have been deemed “Anatolian Tigers,” defined by Wikipedia as cities that “have displayed impressive growth records since the 1980s, as well as a defined breed of entrepreneurs rising in prominence and who can often be traced back to the cities in question and who generally rose from the status of small and medium enterprises.” Some of these “Tiger cities,” however, are located closer to the coast than the plateau. (The locations of the “Anatolian Tigers,” as defined by Wikipedia, are shown on one of the maps below.)

A comparison of the map of Turkish economic productivity with that of the 2023 presidential election (see the previous post) reveals some interesting connections. To illustrate these patterns more clearly, I have outlined in red the provinces that supported challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, superimposing them on the per capita GDP map.

As can be seen, a majority of the Turkey’s richer and poorer provinces supported Kılıçdaroğlu, whereas most of its mid-level provinces supported Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Closer analysis, however, reveals that other factors are more important than per capita GDP for understanding the election results. For example, Kocaeli, Turkey’s most economically productive province, supported Erdoğan, as did most of its prosperous northwestern neighboring provinces. Support for Kılıçdaroğlu in the poor southeast, moreover, is less a reflection of economic standing than of Kurdish ethnicity, as most Kurds reject Erdoğan’s pronounced and ethnically inflected Turkish nationalism.

An interesting exception to the general patterns of anti-Erdoğan sentiments in the southeast is Şanlıurfa, which is one of Turkey’s poorest provinces; it also has, according to Wikipedia, a Kurdish majority. Yet Şanlıurfa decisively supported Erdoğan, as it had in the past several elections. But Şanlıurfa is more ethnically mixed than the Wikipedia article on it indicates; a 1996 study found that it had a Kurdish plurality but not a majority. Şanlıurfa is home to a substantial Arab community, as well as a very large refugee population. As the paired set of maps post below shows, the Arabic-speaking part of Şanlıurfa voted overwhelmingly for Erdoğan. (The pattern is markedly different, however, in Turkey’s most heavily Arabic-speaking province, Hatay, as will be examined in a later post.)

Kılıçdaroğlu’s other main region of support was the far west and southwest, covering the European portion of Turkey and the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. Historically, this was the wealthiest part of Turkey, and it has long been the most liberal and Western-oriented part of the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that it supported the more liberal and Western-oriented candidate.

As the upper map posted above shows, Erdoğan’s main bastions of support are located in the core Anatolian Plateau, with the important exception of those areas dominated by the Alevi religious minority, and the Black Sea coast. Much of this region has seen substantial economic growth and infrastructural investment under Erdoğan’s leadership, has long been noted for its more conservative interpretations of Turkish nationalism. Many of the districts along the eastern half of the Black Sea coast had been heavily populated by ethnic Greeks before the early 1920s; when the local Greeks were expelled, Turks moved in, many of whom had themselves been expelled from Greece at the same time. It is not surprising that the descendants of such people are noted for their pronounced Turkish nationalism.

Two important provinces in the western portion of the Anatolian plateau supported Kılıçdaroğlu the 2023 election. One is Ankara, where the national capital (of the same name) is located, and the other is Eskişehir, which is noted for its large and strong universities. It is not surprising that these more cosmopolitan provinces voted against Erdoğan. Yet both provinces, and that of Istanbul as well, supported Erdoğan in the 2018 election, when his opposition was divided (see the maps below). From 2018 to 2023, Erdoğa lost ground in major urban areas, along the southern Mediterranean coast, and in the far northeast (another area with large ethnic minorities). Yet his overall vote stayed roughly the same, indicating a solidification of support over the core Anatolian region. Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi faith may have played a significant role here.

Economic Disparities and Election Results in Turkey Read More »

Immigration and Religion in Turkey’s 2023 Presidential Election

In the Turkish presidential election of May 2023, long-term leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decisively defeated his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, taking 52.18 percent of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82 percent. The results were a surprise to many, as in April most polls had put Kılıçdaroğlu ahead, some by a commanding lead. In this election, Erdoğan’s opposition had finally forged a united front. Pronounced inflation, mounting indebtedness, and a devastating earthquake contributed to a widespread feeling that Erdoğan was headed to defeat. Yet in the end, Erdoğan received a higher percentage of the vote than he had in 2014 and only slightly less than in 2018.

Erdoğan is generally regarded as a strongly nationalist, right-wing populist with somewhat authoritarian inclinations, and for good reasons. Kılıçdaroğlu, in contrast, is a figure of the left, having been vice president of the Socialist International from 2012 to 2014. Yet on the crucial issues of immigration and refugees, Kılıçdaroğlu situated himself to the right of Erdoğan, at least in terms of how the left-right spectrum is conceptualized in the United States and Europe. As the election approached, moreover, Kılıçdaroğlu intensified his anti-immigrant rhetoric, telling his supporters that, “We will not abandon our homeland to this mentality that allowed 10 million irregular migrants to come among us.” (The figure is probably closer to five or six million, which is still a huge number for a country of 85 million.) Kılıçdaroğlu went so far as to seek and gain the support of the far-right anti-immigration politician Ümit Özdağ. A few days before the election the two men signed a seven-point protocol, one line of which stipulated that “All asylum seekers and fugitives, especially Syrians, will be sent back to their countries within one year at the latest.” At roughly the same time, Özdağ released a short film showing “a dystopian Turkey, dangerous for Turks and governed by Syrians, where speaking in Turkish is forbidden.” It quickly went viral on social media.

Did Kılıçdaroğlu’s increasingly harsh immigration stance contribute to his defeat? Some observers think so. According to Sinan Ciddi, “Kilicdaroglu’s turn to the political right appeared desperate and inconsistent, and likely turned off some Kurdish voters.” It is also noteworthy that Kilicdaroglu did not do very well in most areas with concentrated refugee populations (see the paired maps below). But overall, anti-immigrant rhetoric probably cost Kılıçdaroğlu few votes. Turkey’s massive refugee population is widely viewed as placing an intolerable burden on social order and the economy. As noted in a 2019 article, “83 percent of Turks said they view Syrian refugees negatively, while only 17 percent said they viewed them positively.”

Many observers credit Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat instead to his lackluster campaign, a lack of genuine unity in his camp, and his neglect of core economic issues – as well as to the underhanded methods employed by Erdoğan’s campaign. Ciddi, however, claims that “the uncomfortable truth is that Erdogan won because Kemal Kilicdaroglu was his opponent,” arguing that the 74-year-old candidate’s “nomination was imposed from the top, with little to no deliberation.” A more dynamic opposition candidate who had been selected democratically, he implies, probably would have won.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s religious faith also probably contributed to his defeat. He is a member of the minority Alevi sect, a Shia offshoot that is followed by roughly 15 percent of the population of Turkey, otherwise a strongly Sunni country. Alevism is noted for its liberal and cosmopolitan orientation and for its belief that the core tenets of Islam should be interpreted in a decidedly non-literal manner. According to many strict Sunnis, Alevis do not even belong to the Muslim community. By publicly embracing his faith in the campaign, Kılıçdaroğlu took a calculated risk.  As the French political scientist Elise Massicard argues:

He broke a taboo. Until then, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi identity had been seen more as an incriminating campaign argument, as Alevis have a bad and often sulfurous reputation among a predominantly Sunni population. In recent years, they have been largely excluded from the power channels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip [Erdogan]’s AKP [Justice and Development Party] and its associated resources. This “coming out” – when everyone in Turkey knows Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi – is a way of reclaiming that identity and turning the stigma around.

Did such a “coming out” insure Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat? I was told as much by a prominent Turkish intellectual, whose anonymity I respect. What is most clear, however, is that Kılıçdaroğlu performed extremely well in Alevi dominated areas. At the provincial level, his best showing was in Tunceli, the only Turkish province with an Alevi majority. (Although no numbers are provided, this is clear on the Wikipedia map of the election posted below.) The same pattern is more strikingly evident on the Electoral Geography 2.0 district-level map. Yet as this map also shows, Kılıçdaroğlu’s margin of victory was even larger in a few districts located far from Tunceli. Some of these showings, however, are explicable on the same religious grounds. Kılıçdaroğlu scored an overwhelming victory, for example, in Damal in the far northwest, and Damal is a district “populated by Alevi Turkmens.” But at the same time, Kılıçdaroğlu did not do well in many areas in Anatolia with sizable Alevi minorities, which might indicate strong anti-Alevi sentiments among their majority populations.

We shall examine other geographical patterns in the 2023 Turkish election in the next GeoCurrents post.

Immigration and Religion in Turkey’s 2023 Presidential Election Read More »

The Black Sea Region as a Historical Focus of “Ethnic Cleansing” and Genocide

The Black Sea region is not noted for its history of genocide and forced population transfers (or “ethnic cleansing”). Internet searches on several different engines, for example, returned very little linked to these key terms. But there is probably no other area in the world that has experienced more instances of these forms of atrocity, at least in the 20th century. The map posted below shows key episodes in the region, starting with the Circassian genocide of the mid 19th century. As is immediately apparent, the Black Sea region has been the focus of many such events.

There are several important reasons why the Black Sea has seen so much ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the 1930s and early 40s, one genocidal dictator, Joseph Stalin, controlled much of the region, whereas another, Adolf Hitler, coveted and invaded the same area. Stalin’s mass killing in the Black Sea zone began in the 1930s with the Holodomor, or the mass extermination by starvation of the kulaks (peasants owning more than 3.2 hectares of land) of Ukraine and environs and of Cossacks in the Kuban region. After Nazi Germany invaded, Hitler ordered the genocide of vast numbers of Jews living in the northern Black Sea region. As German forces drove toward the oil fields of Baku, Stalin ordered the mass removal of several ethnic groups in the region who were suspected of not being adequately loyal to the Bolshevik regime. This process was itself genocidal, as vast numbers of people perished in the process. Something similar had happened to the Armenians of the greater southeastern Black Sea region during and before World War I: Ottoman authorities were worried about Armenian loyalty, and therefore expelled vast numbers to the deserts of the Middle East. The mortality rate was extraordinarily high, leading most scholars to classify this as an episode of genocide.

But there are other reasons for the processes of ethnic removal that have occurred in the Black Sea region. Much of the coastal zone had long been characterized by profound ethnolinguistic diversity, as is common in maritime areas characterized by extensive interregional trade. Such diversity ran afoul of the modern political model of the ethnically based nation-state. As a result, many ethnic communities were kicked out to create more ethnically homogeneous countries. Sometimes this involved mutual expulsions, as occurred when the new Turkish Republic expelled its ethnic Greeks to Greece while Greece expelled most its ethnic Turks to Turkey. Romania and Bulgaria did something similar in the 1940s. Such episodes continued throughout the 20th century. In the 1980s, for example, Bulgaria undertook mass expulsions of ethnic Turks. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Georgia became independent, Abkhazia declared its independence from Georgia; in the conflict that followed, most ethnic Georgians and Greeks either voluntarily left Abkhazia or were expelled from it.

One Black Sea coastal region, Budjak in Ukraine, was subjected to less “ethnic cleansing” than many other littoral areas, although its Jews and Germans were mostly lost in the early 1940s. A current language map of Budjak reveals a much more complicated ethnic mixture than is found in most other Black Sea coastal regions.

In investigating the Black Sea region, I have been repeatedly struck by how central it is to understanding and interpreting key historical events and processes, dating back to the neolithic. Yet the Black Sea region occupies a very modest position in the conventional geo-historical imagination. This paradox deserves further scrutiny.

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Orthodox Christianity, Nationalism, and Islam in the Republic of Georgia

A large 2017 Pew Research study found a relatively close connection between religious beliefs and national identity in the Republic of Georgia. According to the Pew data, 89 percent of Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. By some measures, the level of religiosity in Georgia is also high, with 99 percent of respondents reporting that they believe in God (as opposed to 49 percent in Estonia and 29 percent in Czechia). Religious belief in Georgia has strengthened markedly since independence and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to Pew, 87 percent of Georgians think that their country is “very or somewhat religious today,” with only 25 percent stating that it was equally religious in the 1970s and 1980s. But at the same time, only 38 percent reported daily prayer and only 17 percent said that they attend church weekly. Information on fasting and other important Orthodox religious practices was not reported. (The teachings of the Orthodox Church on fasting are quite strict.)

The same Pew polling also found a strong sense of Georgia national identity. 78 percent of Georgians surveyed reported that they are “very proud to be a citizen of their country,” the highest figure among all central and eastern European countries covered, with 85 percent agreeing with the statement “our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.” Georgian culture, moreover, was explicitly linked by most respondents to Orthodox Christianity, with 81 percent agreeing with the statement “being Orthodox is very or somewhat important to truly be a national of your country.”

Such religiously inflected ethnonationalism confronts a challenge in Georgia’s sizable Muslim community, which includes roughly 10 percent of the country’s population. As can be seen on the map posted below, Muslim Georgians are concentrated in two areas, the southwest and the south-center-east. As most Muslims live in rural areas, their presence is exaggerated by this map; of Georgia’s major cities, only Batumi has a sizable Muslim population (25 percent). In Tbilisi, the figure is only 1.5 percent.

Georgia’s two main Muslim areas are demographically distinct. Most Muslims of the southwest follow Sunni Islam and speak Georgian; those of the south-center-east mostly follow Twelver Shia Islam and speak Azerbaijani. Before the 1944, a sizable population of Turkish-speaking Sunni Muslims lived south-west-central Georgia; in Adigeni municipality they constituted approximately 75 percent of the population. These so-called Meskhetian Turks were genocidally deported by Joseph Stalin near the end of WWII. Today, only some 1,500 live in Georgia.

But despite the close association of Orthodox Christianity and nationalism in a country with a sizable Muslim presence, there seems to be relatively little overt religious tension in Georgia. One would expect any such tensions as does exist to be most pronounced in the east, where the local Muslim population speaks a language identified with a neighboring country (Azerbaijan) and is largely monolingual. According to the 2014 Georgian census, only 18.7 percent of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia speak Georgian fluently. Not surprisingly young Azerbaijani-speaking Georgians often pursue higher education in Azerbaijan. Yet even so, most members of their community nationally identify with Georgia. As reported in the Wikipedia article on Azerbaijanis in Georgia, “According to the 2008 UN Association of Georgia report, 98% of Azerbaijanis surveyed in Kvemo Kartli considered Georgia their homeland, 96% acknowledged that the problems they face are common to citizens countrywide and around 90% linked their futures with Georgia.”

It is also notable that the ethnic Azerbaijani population in Georgia has increased since independence, rising from 5.7 percent of the national population in 1989 to 6.3 percent in 2014. In contrast, the county’s main non-Georgian-speaking historically Christian peoples – Russians, Greeks, and Armenians – has seen major population decreases in the same period, as will be explored in a later post.

The lack of religious/ethnic tensions in the Azerbaijani-speaking part of Georgia is linked to the generally cordial relations found between the Republic of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which are of long standing. The two countries trade extensively and have cooperated on several major projects, most notably the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. Tensions between them have occasionally emerged, however, generally over such issues as football (soccer) rivalries and historical sites. Even the border demarcation remains contentious, due primarily to the presence of a historically important monastery complex that straddles the existing boundary.

The lack of religious/ethnic tension in the Azerbaijani-speaking region of Georgia might also be associated with the general low level of religiosity among the Azerbaijani people. Both Pew and Gallup polling find that Azerbaijan is a largely secular country, with most people reporting that religion is not particularly important in their lives. As the detail of a Pew map of religiosity that is posted below indicates, Azerbaijan groups with Europe rather than the Middle East in regard to intensity of religious belief. Georgia, in contrast, is in an intermediate position.

Orthodox Christianity, Nationalism, and Islam in the Republic of Georgia Read More »

The Astounding Rise of the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement

The Netherlands is one of the world’s most densely populated and urbanized countries. But it is also a farming powerhouse; by some measures, the Netherlands is the world’s second largest agricultural exporter by value, following only the United States. The Netherlands manages to profit so handsomely from farming in such a crowded land by focusing on the intensive production of high-value crops.

By many measures, the Netherlands’ agricultural system operates in an environmentally responsible manner. In 2019, the World Economic Forum lauded the country as a leader in efficient and sustainable agriculture. But Dutch farmers, like almost all others, are responsible for some environmental degradation, which the government of the Netherlands is now eager to reduce. Pronounced opposition is generated in the process. Recent restrictions on nutrient runoff and a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides have been viewed by most Dutch farmers as a threat to their livelihoods. In 2019, a new Dutch party, the Farmer-Citizens Movement, emerged to represent the country’s agricultural sector. This party seeks to enact a “Right to Agriculture Act,” wants to reduce the power of the European Union over Dutch farmers, and is wary of climate mitigation policies. It is generally regarded as a center-right to right-wing populist organization.

In the Dutch provincial election of March 15th, 2023, the Farmer-Citizen Movement achieved a shocking victory, not only coming in first place nationwide (with more than 19 percent of the vote), but also achieving a first-place showing in every province. In the same contest, all the Netherlands’ established parties saw major losses. The only other significant party experiencing a gain was the Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren; PvdD), which took almost 5% of the vote nationwide. Intriguingly, these two growing parties are situated at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, particularly when it comes to agricultural issues. Caroline van der Plas, leader of Farmer-Citizen Movement, has stated that the Party for Animals is one of her party’s two main enemies, the other being Wakker Dier, an animal-welfare organization that seeks to end factory farming.

The recent Dutch election attracted a great deal of interest in the country. According to NL Times, “The turnout stood at 57.5 percent, higher than 2019’s already high 56 percent … [and] likely [to] be the highest since the late 1980s.” Its results have generated much analysis, if not soul-searching, among the leaders of the Dutch political establishment. According to EuroNews, the election represented a “resounding rebuke to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling four-party coalition.” As the NL Times reported:

 

 

Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the BBB’s massive victory “a very clear cry to politicians” and a “very clear relevant signal” from the voter. Rutte told ANP he does not yet know how to interpret this cry. He needs more time to think about it. Sixteen hours after the first results is too early for a “full-fledged analysis,” he said.

The electoral map of the 2023 provincial election in the Netherlands reveals precisely what one would expect: the Farmer-Citizen Movement had its best showing in provinces with relatively low population density and its worst in those of higher density. It might be surprising, however, that it did as well as it did in such thickly settled areas as North and South Holland and Utrecht, taking more than 13% of the vote in all three. But as the agricultural map of the Netherlands posted below shows, even these provinces have a significant amount of highly productive agricultural land. The Farmer-Citizen Movement also finds some support among Dutch urban dwellers; the national economy of their country, after all, rests heavily on its agricultural sector.

Intriguingly, the electoral returns of the Party for the Animals show very little geographical variation. I started to make a map of its vote by province, but abandoned the quest when I realized that it would reveal almost nothing. This party’s vote-share was almost the same in agrarian Drenthe (4.5%) as in highly urban South Holland (4.7%).

As the 2023 Dutch election indicates, Europe is experiencing a political realignment in which the division between rural and metropolitan areas figures more prominently than it did in the past. The same tendency is found in North America. Climate politics will almost certainly intensify this divide. It will be interesting to see how such a realignment plays out in coming elections.

The Astounding Rise of the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement Read More »

California, the Californias, and the Possible Loss of Far Northern California to Greater Idaho

In English, the word “California” is almost always restricted to the U.S. state of the same name, excluding the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. To include these areas as well, the term “the Californias” is used. Wikipedia has an informative article on this concept, detailing its history and including the two maps posted below. But the idea of “the Californias” is seldom encountered. A Google image search of “the California’s map” returns hundreds of images of the American state and almost nothing depicting the two Mexican states, let alone maps of the three Californian polities combined. Google even hesitated to search for this term, first showing an array of images of “the Californians.” A Neeva search gave much better results, showing many historical maps as well as a few contemporary ones that join California, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.

This erasure of the broader meaning of the term “California” is unfortunate, as it obscures some important history. The place name originally referred to the peninsula of Baja California, and was only much later applied to the area that now constitutes the U.S. state. This restricted California was first depicted by European mapmakers as an island, as it took a long time for cartographers to determine that it was a peninsula. Maps showing California as an island are of interest to both historians of cartography and map collectors. Stanford University is fortunate to house the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection: California as an Island, which includes 800 items.

The idea that the three Californias constitute any sort of a unit has had little if any salience ever since the United States annexed “Alta California” in 1847. Interestingly, however, there was a brief period during the Mexican revolution when some Mexican leftists nurtured dreams of reunion and reconstitution. As explained in the Wikipedia article:

The reunification of the Californias or Greater California is the irredentist idea of a united California often consisting of modern-day California, Baja California, and Baja California Sur, or largely based on the former lands previously governed by the province of Las Californias (1767-1804), including much of the American Southwest. There were fears during the Magonista rebellion of 1911 from both Americans and Mexicans of a Magonista expansion into California from, then Magonista-controlled, Baja California that would establish anarcho-communism across the Californias and inspire rebellions from indigenous Californians against the US and Mexican governments.

 

Rather than being reunited with the south, there is a far greater likelihood that the American state will itself be partitioned. Proposals to divide California have a long history and occasionally attract political interest and media attention, although the chance of actual division remains remote. But there is growing animosity toward the state government in many of California’s more rural and conservative counties, particularly those in the far north and northeast. As Sacramento stresses its environmentalist credentials and seeks to quickly reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuels, such secessionists attitudes can be expected to intensify.

California is by no means alone in experiencing such regional tensions. In neighboring Oregon, many primarily rural eastern counties have voted to leave the state and join Idaho, which would generate an enlarged state to the east dubbed “Greater Idaho.” This proposal is currently being considered in Idaho’s legislature. Most experts, however, think that the chance of this happening is slim if not negligible, as it would need approval by the legislatures of both Idaho and Oregon as well as the U.S. Congress. But as political polarization increases, agitation for such a political-geographical realignment could intensify.

Although the Greater Idaho movement is currently focused on annexing Eastern Oregon, many of its adherents have larger ambitions. The maps collected on the Greater Idaho webpage show several versions of the would-be expanded state, some of which extend to the Pacific Ocean in what is now southwestern Oregon. Some also include far northern and northeastern California. Merchandise advertising Greater Idaho on mugs, T-shirts, and sweatshirts usually include a sizable chunk of California.

Relatively few maps of an enlarged Idaho include much of eastern Washington, another generally conservative area that is increasingly dissatisfied with the political environment of the state in which it is located. Eastern Washington is more densely populated than eastern Oregon or far northern California, and as a result its inclusion would greatly change the structure of an enlarged Idaho. Spokane is almost as a large as Boise and would therefore form a secondary core region of such a “greater Greater Idaho.” But if only eastern Oregon and northeastern California were to be included, Boise would still be the state’s main metropolitan area, and it would be much more centrally located than it currently is.

California, the Californias, and the Possible Loss of Far Northern California to Greater Idaho Read More »

An Electoral-Geographical Paradox in Czechia? Not Really

In the January 2023 presidential election in Czechia (the Czech Republic), former army general Petr Pavel decisively defeated former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, with Pavel taking 58.33 percent of the vote to Babiš’s 41.67. Most political leaders and commentators in Western Europe and North America were relieved by this outcome. Pavel is noted for his strong pro-NATO and pro-Western views. He is also a social progressive. Finding inspiration in Scandinavian countries, he supports same-sex marriage, higher taxes on the wealthy, and increased economic redistribution. He also opposes the death penalty. Babiš, in contrast, has expressed skepticism towards NATO and is often regarded as having authoritarian tendencies. He rejects the European Union’s refugee policy, arguing that it is the responsibility of the Czech government to look after the interest of Czech citizens, and has made dismissive comments about his country’s Roma (or Romani) minority. In 2013, he won a satirical prize for the “anti-ecological comment of the year.” Babiš is also extremely wealthy and has been involved in a number a financial and political scandals.

Maps of the 2023 Czech presidential election show a distinct metropolitan/non-metropolitan divide. Although Pavel won the majority of the votes cast across most of the country, his level of support was significantly higher in the Prague metropolitan area, in Brno, Czechia’s second largest city, and in Plzeň, its fourth largest. Babiš, in contrast, did better in rural areas and those dominated by small cities. The one important exception was the metropolitan area of Ostrava, located in the northeastern part of the country. Ostrava is Czechia’s “rust belt,” a region formerly dominated by coal mining and steelmaking that experienced significant decline after the fall of communist rule. It is not surprising that the socially progressive, pro-Western candidate Pavel performed poorly in such an area.

The geographical patterns described above are similar to those found in recent elections in the United States and Western Europe. From an American perspective, Pavel would certainly be regarded as the more left-wing candidate and Babiš as the more right-wing one. But the situation is more complicated. Pavel, for example, describes himself as “right of center,” owing largely to his support for corporate interests and economic orthodoxy. The more populist Babiš, for his part, enacted some policies when he was Prime Minister that would generally be regarded as left-leaning, including increasing pensions and public-sector salaries. Many Czechs therefore reverse the “right-wing” and “left-wing” tags for the two politicians. Consider, for example, the map below, originally posted on Reddit Europe by the Czech commentator “Victor D.” Here the Prague region is mapped as almost always voting for right-wing candidate – as are the country’s other major cities, except left-voting Ostrava. Victor D. depicts rural areas and those dominated by small cities as habitually supporting candidates on the left. He understands that such categorizations run counter to those found in Western Europe:

Western Europeans please note: the usual European situation where cities are mainly left-leaning while the countryside is more right-leaning is reversed in Czechia. This is mainly because the left is, due to historical developments, seen as the “conservative” force in the country, while the right has been the driving force for change and reform. As a result, large urban centres in Czechia are mostly leaning centre-right (liberal, progressive), while rural regions lean towards the left…”

It seems to me that the “usual European situation” is not reversed in Czechia: what is reversed is rather the meaning of the terms “left” and “right.” The connotations of these essential political categories have been in flux for some time in western Europe and especially in North America. The left historically found its main base of support in the working class, which generally opposes the economic interests of the elites but also tends to have somewhat conservative views on social and cultural issues. In recent decades, political parties previously identified as left-wing have turned more to affluent professionals, business leaders, and college-educated workers in the service sector, simultaneously losing support among the traditional working class. Put differently, traditional class politics in “the West” have declined in importance, whereas those associated with identity groups and social, cultural, and environmental issues have become increasingly central.

Such changes in political affiliation and categorization present major problems for communication. From the perspective of current political discourse in the United States, Victor D’s assertion that “large urban centres in Czechia are mostly leaning centre-right (liberal, progressive), while rural regions lean towards the left…” makes no sense whatsoever. But if the terms are defined in a different and most historical manner, they make perfect sense.

I have long been reluctant to use the term “liberal” when discussing politics, as the meanings of this term can be so different as to be diametrically opposed. In the U.S., someone now described as an “extreme liberal” sits at the opposite end of the political spectrum from a “neo-liberal,” whose views would be more accurately described as “paleo-liberal.” I now sometimes wonder whether even “left” and “right” have become so unmoored from their original meanings as to lose their utility as terms of analysis. But what could possibly replace them?  We seem to be stuck in a situation of fundamental paradox and ambiguity.

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