Geographical Patterns in the German Federal Election of 2013

German Election 2013  CDU vote MapThe recent German federal election has been widely heralded as a major victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union party (along with its regional sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria). Taking almost 42 percent of the vote and nearly half of the seats in the Bundestag, Merkel’s center-right party had its best showing in almost a quarter century. It is thus not surprising that the Chancellor “urged her party to celebrate ‘a super result’ as she looked set for a historic third term” (as reported by the BBC).

Merkel’s victory, however, was far from overwhelming. The three main parties of the left, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Alliance ’90/The Greens, and The Left (Die Linke), would, if combined, control enough seats to form a government, a possibility precluded only because the former two parties refuse to join forces with the hard-left Die Linke. Moreover, Germany’s other main center-right party, the Free Democrats, did not reach the five percent threshold necessary for representation in the Bundestag, a massive decline from its 14.6 percent showing in 2009. 2013 marks the first time since it was founded in 1948 that the “classically liberal” Free Democrats failed to gain representation. The party’s 2,082,305 votes (4.8 percent) were almost matched by those of the upstart, anti-Euro Alternative for Germany (2,052,372), founded earlier this year. The only other parties to win more than one percent of the vote were the Pirate Party (2.2%), which stresses Internet freedom, and the far-right National Democratic Party (1.3%). Germany’s only significant secessionist organization, the Bavaria Party, took only 57,285 votes, a slight gain from its 2009 showing of 48,311. Other minor parties participating in the election include the deep-green Human Environment Animal Welfare Party (140,251 votes), the “eco-pro-life” (for want of a better term) Ecological Democratic Party (127,085 votes), the “radical-centrist” Die PARTEI, which supposedly wants to rebuild the Iron Curtain and turn the former East Germany into a Special Economic Zone (78,357 votes), The Republicans, an anti-immigration group (91,660 votes), and the evangelical Party of Bible-Abiding Christians (18,529 votes).

German election 2013 SPD voteElectoral maps at the level of the sixteen constituent states (Länder) of Germany reveal distinct geographical patterns. (Note: these maps, like the figures given above, show the results of the “second”* vote, in which voters select a party, determining whether it passes the five percent threshold, rather than a specific Bundestag candidate.) As in other recent elections, that of 2013 shows Germany to be roughly divided into three political regions: the northeast, the northwest, and the south. The northeast—the former East Germany—is much more supportive of candidates from the far left than is the rest of the country, as can clearly be seen on the map showing support for Die Linke (“The Left”). In the former West Germany, Die Linke did fairly well in industrial Saarland and in the urban state of Bremen, but even here its count was less than half of what it received in the northeast. Due in part to the local strength of the far left, the center-left Social Democrats performed poorly in the former East Germany, taking less than fifteen percent of the votes in Saxony. (Overall, the Social Democrats had their second-worst showing since 1949.) Also notable is the fact that the Green Party as well failed to gather many votes in the former East Germany, outside of east-central Berlin. As can also be seen, the Green Party did particularly well in urban areas, gaining over twelve percent of the vote in Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg.

German Election 2013 Far Left Vote MapIn the former West Germany, the south is clearly more conservative than the north. As is the case in most elections, Bavaria in particular supported the center-right, giving just under half (49.3%) of its votes to the Christian Social Union in Bavaria and less than a quarter to the Social Democrats and Die Linke combined. Baden-Württemberg in the southwest also solidly supported the center-right, although not to the same extent as neighboring Bavaria. Baden-Württemberg, noted for its engineering-oriented economy, also gave a relatively high percentage of its votes to both the Greens and the Free Democrats.

Germany Election 2013 Green Vote MapUnsurprisingly, Germany’s electoral map shows relatively close correlations with its map of per capita GDP, especially if one excludes the urban states of Hamburg, Berlin, and Bremen. Of the large states, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg rank second and third on per capita GDP, trailing only Hesse. The five poorest states of Germany, on the other hand, constitute the former East Germany (with the exception of East Berlin). On Germany’s per capita GDP map, the Cold War division of the country is still strikingly evident after a quarter century of reunification.

German election 2013 Free Democrats Vote MapThe much more detailed Spiegel Online map posted below, which shows constituency results for the “first vote” (in which voters opt for a specific candidate for the Bundestag, rather than a party) reveals some slightly different patterns. Here, for example, one can discern two centers of Social Democratic power, one in central Germany and the other in the industrial northern Ruhr. The Berlin inset map is also of note, as it shows strong support for the far left in the former East Berlin, and for the Green Party in central Berlin. Intriguingly, the Greens took two adjacent constituencies in the heart of the city, located on either side of the old Berlin Wall. As the BBC notes in an article arguing that the Cold War division of the city persists, these Green-voting areas “have been gentrified heavily, with large numbers of young, professional incomers.”

Germany per capita GDP by state mapSpeigel German Election 2013 Map *The voting actually occurs simultaneously; the “first vote” is on the left-hand side of the ballot, the “second” on the right.


Geographical Patterns in the German Federal Election of 2013 Read More »

Explaining the Rapid Rise of the Xenophobic Right in Contemporary Europe

Copyright James Mayfield

The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable rise in xenophobic, deeply conservative, and even extreme right-wing parties across much of Europe.[1] Whereas thirty years ago most xenophobic parties failed to even pass the 5% minimum voter threshold that is typically required to enter government, it can be argued that they now constitute as much as ~28% of the parliament in countries like Austria, and arguably have reached the ~70% level in Hungary.[2] By 1999, the Austrians—who traditionally tout themselves as the “first victims” of the Third Reich—had elected the prominent nationalist and accused Holocaust denier[3] Jörg Haider as the governor of Carinthia and given his Freedom Party more than 26% of the vote in the national elections. Haider proceeded to personally help dismantle multilingual street signs that were erected for the local Slovene minority.[4] The Golden Dawn party, which now has more than ~7% of the national vote in Greece, often marches in the streets of Athens with Rune-emblazoned flags and jackboots that easily remind the older generations of the German occupation of 1941-45. Most recently, the Golden Dawn has distributed free meals to the racially “authentic” Greek public.[5] At the same time, prominent members of Hungary’s powerful Jobbik party have even called for the government to prepare lists of Jews who might “[pose a] threat to Hungarian national security.”[6]

Hoping to understand these surprising changes in the European political climate, this post will briefly analyze the characteristics of the xenophobic right as of 2013, underscore the diversity of xenophobic parties, and try to explain some of the patterns encountered when the far-right takes hold, as well as their exceptions. The rough percentages listed next to the parties refer to their approximate share of national parliaments according to the most recent elections, and are corroborated with each country’s respective government websites. It will become apparent that it is very difficult to locate common patterns that might explain when and why the far-right takes hold in Europe.

The shift across Europe towards the right is perhaps as surprising as it is alarming, considering that the specters of World War II and totalitarianism are still ripe in the historical memory of virtually all European societies. Even more surprising, the xenophobic right has enjoyed some of its greatest successes in countries that are usually associated with liberalism and multiculturalism, including Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Even in supposedly tolerant Switzerland, the powerful Swiss People’s Party (~26%) has restricted the construction of mosques and minarets and has even campaigned with an ad that depicted three white sheep kicking a black one out of the country.[7] Far-right, racist parties like Vlaams Blok in Belgium were gaining in popularity until they were banned for extremism in 2004. In the 2003 elections, the Vlaams Blok won almost 12% of the seats in the Chamber of Representatives. Observers in the West have especially struggled to comprehend how quickly the extreme right has emerged in Greece, the supposed birthplace of democracy. The growing popularity of the right across the continent is a source of great concern for human rights groups in Brussels, which routinely encourage national courts to ban xenophobic parties on the grounds that they breach international protections against racism.

Copyright James Mayfield
My map charting the spread of elected xenophobic parties in Europe as of 2013. When viewed on a map, the growth of the far-right is striking. Green refers to countries were a xenophobic party is in government, which gray means none is in power. Copyright James Mayfield/GeoCurrents.

However, it is critical to understand that “the right” cannot be homogenized or reduced to the typical imagery of fascism, neo-Nazism, racism, or dictatorship that might emerge in our minds when we think of the right in European history. Xenophobic parties have garnered increasing support from voters of diverse political ideologies, primarily because of growing disaffection with the status quo. As the vulnerabilities of the European Union become more apparent, increasing numbers are calling for reform of pan-European economics, integration, open border immigration, and multiculturalism—principles that have shaped the development of Europe since World War II. With skyrocketing unemployment across most of the continent, massive immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Balkans into Western Europe, and what many feel to be a broken economic and political structure of the European Union, voters of various backgrounds seem to be choosing radically different solutions to the ongoing crises in Europe.

With this in mind, it is important to recognize that political movements of the xenophobic right are just as varied as social democratic and far-left parties. They include traditionalists, pro-Europeanists, Euroskeptics, democrats, nationalists, racialists, neo-Nazis, and even Greens. The vast majority of xenophobic parties calling for restricted immigration are obdurately democratic. Most advocate a traditional, conservative, or even moderate approach to resolving Europe’s problems within the democratic process. These relatively moderate nationalists include the True Finns of Finland (~19%), the Sweden Democrats (~6%), the Danish People’s Party (~12%), and the People’s Party of Portugal (~11%). Even the ruling Fidesz Party of Hungary (~53%) advocates a conservative platform rather than a militant or autocratic agenda, despite being castigated by Western media as far-right or even dictatorial after it amended the constitution to strengthen executive powers.[8] In some countries, such as Serbia and France, far-right parties have little parliamentary strength but still boast very popular public figures. The Front National of France has only two seats in the National Assembly out of 577, but Marine Le Pen came in third in the 2012 presidential election with almost 18% of the vote. The extremist, racialist Serbian Radical Party is not even in the national government, but its former leader Tomislav Nikolić was elected president of Serbia in 2012. In short, we should be wary about placing all xenophobic movements in the same category. They vary as much in regard to their popular support as they do in regard to their ideology, and not all of them embrace anti-democratic, fascist, or authoritarian agendas.

Although all of these parties have their share of supporters who take a more violent approach to tackling immigration, most parties on “the far-right” are better described as conservative and xenophobic. The majority advocate a multi-party democratic system and do not call for any future constitutional changes that might repudiate democratic checks and balances. Most call for a non-violent solution to Europe’s economic and immigration issues. Even such nationalist parties as the New Flemish Alliance (~17%) and the Vlaams Belang (~8%) of Belgium are staunchly ethnic nationalist, but their ideology springs just as much from a desire to strengthen the rights of the Flemish population as it does from their plans to target immigrants. The same tendency applies to the rather moderate National Alliance of Latvia (~14%) and the Order & Justice Party of Lithuania (~13%), which are most concerned with offsetting the historically disproportionate influence of Russian minorities who settled in these states during the Soviet era.

The only major elected parties that take an aggressive, racialist, militant stance are the Jobbik Party of Hungary (~17%), Svoboda of Ukraine (~11%), the Golden Dawn of Greece (~7%), and “Attack!” of Bulgaria (~10%). For example, whereas most Greek parties are at least to some extent cultural nationalists (including the PASOK socialists) who allow immigrants like Albanians to assimilate into Greek culture, only the Golden Dawn often sees “Greek” as an exclusive racial category. The Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian far-right often makes similar exclusions. By contrast, “moderate nationalists” like the Sweden Democrats are more interested in curbing unrestricted immigration than they are in racial issues. Quite different are more militant parties like Jobbik, which is often accused of having links to the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda), a quasi-paramilitary organization that has been compared to the brownshirts of the German SA.[9] While Bulgarian nationalists, the Golden Dawn, and Svoboda do not have equivalent organizations, their supporters have been widely linked to vandalism and assaults against immigrants, mosques, and synagogues in Athens, Sofia, and Kiev.[10] It is also widely assumed that the Athens police either cooperates with Golden Dawn or at least looks the other way during the frequent assaults on Albanian, Turkish, and Muslim immigrants in the capital.[11]

Although the economic weaknesses that have swept the EU since 2008 have become increasingly obvious, the chief reason behind the rise of the xenophobic right is not the economic alternatives it offers, but rather its hostility towards unrestricted immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Balkans. But here too, each country and party is very distinct. Xenophobic parties in Europe range from simply wanting tighter border controls, to calling for a “whites-only” immigration policy, to demanding the wholesale deportation of minorities. Although virtually all xenophobic parties are at least “soft Euroskeptic,” some merely call for greater national autonomy within the EU, whereas other are petitioning to quit the EU altogether, primarily in order to resolve the supposed immigration crisis.

Although xenophobic parties challenge immigration policies as a whole, most of their hostility is focused on Muslim immigrants, especially Moroccans, Indonesians, Arabs, Somalis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis, as well as African blacks. Importantly, xenophobia is often equally harsh against other European or “white” immigrants, particularly Albanians, Bosniaks, Greeks, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Poles, Balts, Romanians, and Russians. In Italy, the center-right Lega Nord is more xenophobic towards Southern Italians than towards Muslims. The Golden Dawn of Greece is viciously hostile towards Albanians. In Switzerland, xenophobia is mostly directed against immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Whereas most major xenophobic parties are not overtly Anti-Semitic, Hungary’s Jobbik is widely seen as not just Anti-Zionist but anti-Jewish, and deeply anti-Ziganist (anti-Gypsy) as well. Austrian right-wing parties are usually focused against Slavs and Turks, while in the Netherlands the noted provocateur Geert Wilders and his Dutch Party of Freedom (~10%) are particularly hostile towards Muslims, especially Indonesians and Somalis. The militant Svoboda party of Ukraine (~11%) directs most of its xenophobia against ethnic Russians, Jews, Tatars, and Roma, while the aptly named “Attack!” party of Bulgaria (~10%) is vociferously anti-Ziganist, anti-Romanian, and anti-Turkish. The popular Bulgarian nationalist Volen Siderov has gone so far as to claim that Bulgaria still has yet to be liberated from “Turkish [i.e. Ottoman] rule” as long as Turks and other Muslims (presumably the Slavic-speaking Pomaks) “occupy” the country. The various “targets” of xenophobic parties demonstrates that the far-right is often successful in countries with large immigrant populations and where hostility towards newcommers is strongest. So too, the diversity of these targets remind us that we cannot generalize far-right movements as if they share the same enemies, agendas, solutions, or even political principles.

Copyright James Mayfield
My map showing the proportion of Muslim populations in Europe today (including indigenous and immigrant populations). Also included are the ethnic groups that often become the focus of the hostility of xenophobic parties. Stats from government websites and the CIA World Factbook.

It is thus difficult to locate patterns that might explain why and where the far-right has achieved electoral success. Many examples lead to contradictory and surprising results. It is suggestive that this trend is occurring during a time of great economic hardship—just as the far-right gained sway in Europe during the post-WWI slump in the early 1920s. and especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s Considering the historical link between economic instability and the rise of the far-right, it is thus surprising that such countries as Spain and Cyprus have very weak far-right movements despite having suffered skyrocketing unemployment and crippling public debt. Instead, leftist parties such as the Eurocommunist Progressive Party of Cyprus and the left-leaning ethnic separatists of Catalonia have enjoyed remarkable success in the last several years.

As another possible explanation, one might expect immigrant “transit” countries that have recently experienced a surge of immigration, such as Malta, Italy, and Cyprus, to turn towards the right. But this is not generally the case. Indeed, Malta’s powerful Nationalist Party is deeply conservative and pro-Maltese, while Italy has several small neo-fascist parties, such as that of Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra. However, extreme xenophobic parties like Imperu Ewropew of Malta and Forza Nuova of Italy have had very little success. Neither is even in the national government.

Other cases also make it difficult to find consistent patterns behind the rise of the xenophobic right. We might expect ethnically diverse countries with large immigrant populations like the United Kingdom to have strong right-wing movements. However, the British National Party has consistently failed to meet the 5% threshold. (The burgeoning U.K. Independence Party is certainly conservative and EU-skeptical, but it is not truly xenophobic.) However, diverse and immigrant-rich France has seen the rise of powerful xenophobic figures like Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen before her. If ethnic diversity itself does not automatically trigger the rise of the far-right, one might conclude that ethnic homogeneity provides a more fertile ground for xenophobia. This is certainly the case in regard to Hungary, which has by far the largest right-wing movement in Europe in terms of its electoral results. So too, relatively homogenous Finland offers substantial support to xenophobic nationalist parties like the True Finns (~19%). However, other relatively homogenous states, like Poland and Norway, have weak xenophobic parties.

We might also be inclined to look for basic cultural characteristics that might explain the rise of the far-right. It is perhaps intriguing that Hungary seems to be the first country to drift towards the far-right, having been the first to pass anti-Jewish legislation in the 1930s when Miklos Horthy installed a right-wing dictatorship . However, cultural xenophobia alone does not seem to lend electoral success to far-right parties. A prime example here is Romania. Although Romanian culture is often described as deeply xenophobic and often viciously racist (particularly against Roma and Jews, and even Hungarian to some extent), the Romanian parliament is almost completely social democratic and socialist. The same might be said about Poland, Serbia, and Croatia. Even countries with genocidal pasts such as Slovakia, Germany, Croatia, and Serbia, lack strong right-wing parties. Another key example is Russia. Although Russia has what many sources consider to be the most virulent subculture of skinheads and neo-Nazis fomenting violence against migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia—marked by such horrors as the filmed beheading of a Tajik boy—extreme right parties like Great Russia and the Russian All-People’s Union have very little electoral success.[12] In short, there does not seem to be anything inherent in European national cultures that puts xenophobic parties in power.

One final explanation adds both perspective and contradiction. We might expect countries facing a difficult, traumatic, or confusing phase of transition to move towards extremist movements. Studies have shown that neo-Nazism, nationalism, and the National Democratic Party are far stronger in the former East Germany than in the rest of the country since the fall of the Berlin Wall. So too, this concept of transition may explain why Bulgarians and Ukrainians tend to support the far-right as they move away from their communist past. However, this explanation falls flat when we look at other former socialist states like Romania, Poland, Russia, and the Czech Republic, where the far-right is rather weak. Transition and cultural insecurity alone do not provide an explanation.

Two final examples are perhaps the most surprising when trying to explain the rise of the far-right: Norway and Sweden. Right-wing parties have never had much success in either country. Norway’s powerful Progressive Party (~22%) is only mildly xenophobic and is better described as conservative nationalist. The Sweden Democrats are much more virulently xenophobic, but have only recently broken the 5% minimum threshold necessary to enter government. However, throughout the 1990s and even today, Norway and Sweden saw some of the most brutal waves of anti-immigrant violence in Europe. While theses attitudes are by no means widespread in Scandinavia, this seeming contradiction might reinforce our conclusion that cultural xenophobia does not mean xenophobic parties will get elected. In Norway and Sweden, the extreme “black metal” music-oriented subculture that emerged in 1992 perpetrated numerous brutal attacks on immigrants.[13] Over a hundred churches were burned in Norway and Sweden, often with the intent to purge Scandinavia of Christian influences that the arsonists interpreted as an immigrant “Middle Eastern plague” that had to be replaced by the ancient Nordic racial religion.[14] Norway’s supposed immigration problem was met with uncompromising xenophobia and racism by members of this subculture. As late as 2008, prominent black metal musicians like Gaahl insisted that Norwegians had a duty to “remove every trace [of] what…the Semitic roots have to offer this world.”[15] He captured the opinion of much of the growing subculture by asserting that Norway is no place for immigrant “niggers” and “mulattos.”[16] The popular Norwegian drummer Jan Axel Blomberg repeated similarly that “we don’t like black people here.”[17] The Norwegian case tells us that homogenous cultures facing a very difficult adjustment to immigration and diversity often generate extreme reactions, but that such reactions do not necessarily translate into electoral success.

As this post has demonstrated, the xenophobic right has become more pervasive than most observers may have realized. Perhaps this is disconcerting. At the same time as many Europeans are calling for greater integration and cooperation in order to fix Europe’s problems, increasing numbers of people are moving in the opposite direction by advocating greater nationalism, homogeneity, and xenophobia. However, the common gut reaction to interpret this trend as a rebirth of fascism, Nazism, racialism, or dictatorship is as sensationalist as it is oversimplified. The xenophobic right advocates radically different economic, political, and cultural platforms in response to the supposed immigration crisis. So too, as the above cases demonstrate, we cannot explain when and why the far-right takes hold by pointing to any common cultural, demographic, or economic patterns. When we consider the aforementioned conflicting and contradictory cases in Europe, it remains to be found what exactly causes far-right parties to become popular so quickly. Each xenophobic movement must be observed—with understandable trepidation and concern—on a country-by-country basis.

James Mayfield is a historian, researcher, and translator from Stanford University with two Masters Degrees in History. He specializes in genocide, nationalism, post-colonial identity, and cultural traumas. He currently has two books soon to be released, one on the expulsion of 10,000,000 ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (Memoria del Olvido) and one on an ethnic Slovene survivor of both German and Italian concentration camps during World War II (Peter Starič, My Life under Totalitarianism). Contact him here:

[1] In this article, “xenophobia” refers to any political platform that calls for the strict limitation of immigration, strengthened border controls, the reform or abolition of the Schengen Zone, or even the expulsion of minorities.

[2] This number refers to the combination of the Austrian Freedom Party (roughly 17% of the Nationalrat) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (~11%). For Hungary, this number refers to Fidesz (~53%) and Jobbik (~17%).

[3] Anat Shalev, “Foreign Ministry ‘concerned’ over Austria elections,” Yedioth Ahronoth Newspaper,,7340,L-3603718,00.html.

[4] “Haider zagrozil Korineku zaradi odločbe ustavnega sodišča,” Dnevnik,

[5] BBC, “Athens police stop food handout by Greek far right,”

[6] Marton Dunai, “Anger as Hungary far-right leader demands lists of Jews,” Reuters,

[7] Elaine Sciolino, “Immigration, Black Sheep, and Swiss Rage,” New York Times,

[8] Hungary has even been threatened with suspension or punishment by some European Union MEPs. See Pablo Gorondi, “Hungarian PM Orban rejects criticism of constitutional change, says democracy not threatened,” Fox News,

[9] Balazs Penz and Alex Kuli, “Brown shirts march in Budapest as Gyurcsany condemns ‘Fascists,” Bloomberg,

[10] Maria Vidali, “News from Greece: Anti-Jewish attacks,” Central Europe Review,

[11] Paul Mason, “Alarm at Greek police ‘collusion’ with far-right Golden Dawn,” BBC,

[12] Dan Harris and Karin Weinberg, “Violence ‘in the name of the nation,” ABC News,

[13] See Michael Moynihan, Lords of Chaos: Satanischer Metal: Der blutige Aufstief aus dem Untergrund (Index Verlag, 2004).

[14] See Bård Eithun Faust in Aaron Aites, “Until the Light Takes Us,” Artists Public Domain/Field Pictures, 2009.

[15] Jessica Joy Wise and Sam Dunn, “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” Seville Pictures/Warner, 2005.

[16] See Tomasz Krajewski’s interview with Gorgoroth, scan available here:

[17] Moynihan, Lords of Chaos, 305.

Explaining the Rapid Rise of the Xenophobic Right in Contemporary Europe Read More »

Misleading Murder and Rape Maps, and the Sweden Rape Puzzle

World Murder Rate MapThe previous post on murder rates in Brazil featured a Wikipedia map of homicide rate by country, based on a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). That map, reproduced here, is less than ideal, as its highest category lumps together countries with hugely different homicide rates, ranging from 20.1 per 100,000 in Kyrgyzstan to 91.6 in Honduras. I therefore remapped the same data in 12 rather than six categories. I also used a two-color scheme, depicting low-murder-rate countries in varying shades of blue and high-murder-rate countries in red. Such a system better captures the huge variation in murder rates, which ranges from 0.3 per 100,000 (Iceland and Singapore) to almost 100 per 100,000 (Honduras).

World Murder Rate Geocurrents MapThe geographical patterns revealed by the map are clear. Murder is much more common in tropical Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Russia than it is in most of the rest of the world. Homicide is relatively rare in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East & North Africa.

But are such figures reliable? In general, murder data is considered to be one of the more reliable crime statistics, due in part to the mere severity of the offense. But that still does not mean that it is necessarily trustworthy. I am skeptical, for example, of the low homicide rate posted for Somalia (1.5), which is substantially below those of neighboring countries. Much of Somalia is wracked by extreme violence, although it can be difficult to determine whether an individual killing is best considered an act of murder or an incident of war. But more to the point, how could a country as anarchic as Somalia possibly gather dependable murder data?

The low reported murder rate in China has been received with some skepticism, as have official reports that it has been declining sharply in recent years. As The Economist recently reported:

Official figures show that the number of murder cases rose from fewer than 10,000 in 1981 to more than 28,000 in 2000. Since then it has dropped almost every year, to about 12,000 in 2011. China’s statistics bureau does not disclose which crimes are included in its murder data. Chinese scholars say that a single case might include several deaths, and that some killings which occur in the course of other violent crimes such as rape or robbery might be excluded. In a 2006 report, the World Health Organisation estimated that in 2002, when 26,300 murder cases were recorded in China, 38,000 people died from “homicide-related injuries”.

Homicide Data Source mapWhen I mentioned China’s supposedly low murder rate in my seminar on the history and geography of current global events this week, the one Chinese student in the class expressed strong doubt. According to her, murder for gambling debt is common in China but rarely recorded. Although I was unable to find systematic information on this topic, an internet search of “China, murder, gambling” does return a curiously large number of hits.

The authors of the UNODC report are well aware of such data problems, and they worked hard to overcome them. They have considered the discrepancies found among different sources of information for different countries, and they weight the results accordingly. For several parts of the world they have abandoned conventional “criminal justice data” in favor of “public health sources.”  In the process, they have revised murder rates of many African countries sharply upwards.

World Rape Rate MapIf global murder-rate figures are problematic, rape-rate figures appear to be almost worthless. Consider, for example, the Index Mundi rape-rate map posted here, which indicates that Sweden and New Zealand have some of the highest levels of rape in the world, and that Egypt has one of the lowest. Although the map comes with a disclaimer,* it is hardly adequate. Could anyone possibly believe that Sweden has a higher rape rate than Egypt? Egypt is currently suffering a rape epidemic so severe that it is becoming a diplomatic issue. Sweden, meanwhile, consistently rates as one of the most gender egalitarian, nonviolent countries in the world.

Yet it does appear that many people accept such official statistics, and are happy to use them to score ideological points. This occurs on both on the right and left sides of the political spectrum. In a letter to the government of Sweden, leftist filmmaker Michael Moore writes:

Let me say that again: nine out of ten times, when women [in Sweden] report they have been raped, you never even bother to start legal proceedings. No wonder that, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, it is now statistically more likely that someone in Sweden will be sexually assaulted than that they will be robbed. Message to rapists? Sweden loves you! So imagine our surprise when all of a sudden you decided to go after one Julian Assange [of Wikileaks fame] on sexual assault charges.

On the political right, an article in FrontPage also accepts Sweden’s official rape statistics on face value, but places all the blame on Muslim immigrants:

In 2003, Sweden’s rape statistics were higher than average at 9.24, but in 2005 they shot up to 36.8 and by 2008 were up to 53.2. Now they are almost certainly even higher as Muslim immigrants continue forming a larger percentage of the population. With Muslims represented in as many as 77 percent of the rape cases and a major increase in rape cases paralleling a major increase in Muslim immigration, the wages of Muslim immigration are proving to be a sexual assault epidemic by a misogynistic ideology.

Although Muslim immigrants have been responsible for many if not most recent cases of forcible rape in Sweden, the country’s extremely high official rape rate seems to be mostly a result of tabulation strategies. Many acts are counted as rape in Sweden that would not be so counted elsewhere. As explained recently in the BBC:

On the face of it, it would seem Sweden is a much more dangerous place than these other countries. But that is a misconception, according to Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries’ records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely. In Sweden there has been this ambition explicitly to record every case of sexual violence separately, to make it visible in the statistics,” she says. “So, for instance, when a woman comes to the police and she says my husband or my fiance raped me almost every day during the last year, the police have to record each of these events, which might be more than 300 events. In many other countries it would just be one record – one victim, one type of crime, one record.”

Barriers to Rape Reporting MapMany countries exhibit the opposite tendency: the systematic under-reporting of rape. Rape cases are not reported for a variety of reasons, both cultural and institutional.

One strategy for determining the actual prevalence of rape is to examine obstacles to reporting the crime. The Woman Stats Project, which has created an intriguing map collection, has done precisely that, mapping the “Strength of Barriers to Reporting Rape.” As can be seen, cultural and legal obstacles are depicted as extreme across South and Southwest Asia, and much of Africa as well. The data source, however, is not specified, and I am skeptical of many of the claim advanced by the map. Are reporting barriers really much more intense in Germany than they are in Austria or Switzerland?  I have more serious misgivings about another map in the same cartographic series, which depicts the prevalence of rape. This map tells us that rape is non-existent in Armenia and Georgia, and that India, Pakistan, and Sudan have a lower prevalence of the crime than Iceland, Finland, and Australia. It also tells us that Brazil—another country currently experiencing a “rape epidemic”—suffers less rape than the Netherlands and at least six times less rape than Montenegro. The huge gaps between neighboring countries in Africa are also highly suspicious.

Prevalence of Rape MapWhen it comes to crime rates, it does seem that statistics—and maps based on those statistics—are often so misleading as to be essentially dishonest.

*The disclaimer reads as follows: “Note though that comparison of crime rates across countries needs to be be taken with a grain of salt, since in some countries the population may be reluctant to report certain types of crimes to the police.”


Misleading Murder and Rape Maps, and the Sweden Rape Puzzle Read More »

Changing Geographical Patterns in British Elections?

Britain 2010 Election Wikipedia MapAn interesting article in this week’s Economist examines Britain’s north/south electoral divide. The south, baring London, habitually votes for the Conservative Party, whereas the north generally opts for Labour. The article, quoting John Hobson, traces the division back to the 1800s, when a “southern ‘Consumers England’ of leisurely suburbs” was opposed to “a northern ‘Producers England’ of mills and mines.” The author claims that regional political disparities were reduced from the 1920s to the 1960s, but subsequently strengthened again. As the article notes:

The return of the split reflects the diverging economic experiences of the two halves of the country. Beginning in the 1960s changing industrial fortunes drove a wedge between the manufacturing-oriented north and the services-heavy south.

Over the years the Conservative Party has been expelled from most of the north of England (and almost all of Scotland). Labour has been virtually driven from the south. … The differences between them now go beyond economic circumstance—their cultural and political identities are ever more distinct. This represents a daunting but inescapable political challenge.

Britain 2010 Election Map CartogramOn a conventional electoral map, the north/south division outlined in the Economist article is rather vague. In recent elections, the Conservative Party has indeed carried most of the south, but it has also won many constituencies (as British electoral districts are termed) in northern England, some by strong margins. This pattern is clear on both the Wikipedia map posted above and the Electoral Geography 2.0 map posted here. Note that these figure, like most British electoral maps, use red for the left (Labour Party), blue for the right (Conservative Party), and yellow for the vaguely centrist (left-libertarian? center-left?) Liberal Democrats. On the Electoral Geography 2.0 map, purple indicates the Scottish National Party, and green the Welsh Nationalists (Plaid Cymru). The Green Party, which took one constituency, gets a different shade of green.

The general geographical patterns of the 2010 general election are clear. Labour was victorious in much of metropolitan London, in south Wales, in the industrial cities and mining areas of the Midlands and the north, and in the Scottish lowlands. The Liberal Democrats did well in the Scottish Highlands, in parts of central Wales, and across much of southwestern England, especially Cornwall. The Scottish Nationalist Party took a few areas in northwestern and northeastern Scotland, just as the Welsh nationalists took a few in western Wales. In England as a whole, and especially in the southeast, the blue hue of the Conservative Party dominates.

Britain 2010 Economist Election MapBut as The Economist article explains, such mapping can be misleading, as it does not take into account population disparities:

On ordinary electoral maps the north-south divide is not as plain as it might be. Rural British constituencies are both big and nearly always represented by a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat. Thus swathes of the country will appear blue and yellow come what may. And Northern Ireland is represented by parties not seen elsewhere. If you look just at the mainland, though, and equalise the size of the constituencies, the binary reality becomes obvious (see map). Save for a belt of Tory hills and dales across North Yorkshire and the Lake District, the north is red—as are, barring nationalists, Wales and Scotland. The south is deep blue, strikingly so in the surrounds of London (it gets more Liberal Democrat to the west). Only in London and the Midlands do the parties seem to be in real competition.”

The Economist maps the demographically weighted electoral returns by transforming constituencies into hexagons of equal area. The map is effective,* but it does not fully capture regional demographic disparities, as constituencies vary in population from under 60,000 to over 80,000. The electoral cartogram found in the second figure above, entitled “General Election 2010: The True People’s Vote Map,” is perhaps more effective in this regard. Here it is clear that if one disregards greater London, southern England, and especially the southeast, is Conservative territory.  The few exceptions are not surprising: Luton, a traditional center of automobile manufacturing; Oxford, a University and industrial city; and the central urban areas of Bristol and Southampton. Unlike Oxford, the more high-tech-oriented university city of Cambridge went for the Liberal Democrats

Britan 1955 1966 ection mapsOverall, I am not fully convinced by The Economist’s argument that British regional voting disparities lessened significantly from the 1920s to the 1960s. In examining the maps posted on Electoral Politics 2.0 that go back to 1955, I am rather struck in by the consistency of the pattern, at least in England. (In Scotland, on the other hand, the Conservative vote, once pronounced in the south and north, has indeed collapsed, replaced by votes for the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish nationalists.) In England, to be sure, some elections trended in the Conservative direction (1987) and others in that of the Labour (1966), but “blue” constituencies tend to remain blue, just as “red” ones generally remain red. A few exceptions can be found; Merseyside (greater Liverpool) is definitely more Labour-oriented now than it had been in the 1950s. But overall, England shows little variation in electoral geography over this period.

Britain 1979 1987 election mapsIn the 2010 election, the parties that placed fourth and fifth by total votes, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the British Nationalist Party (BNP), did not win any constituencies, and hence are not represented on the map. The fast-growing UKIP, an anti-EU organization usually described as “right-wing populist” or “right-libertarian,” took 3.1 percent of the vote countrywide, while the far-right British National Party took 1.9 percent. Both parties had done much better in the 2009 European Parliament election, when UKIP astoundingly bested not just the Liberal Democrats but Labour as well, scoring 16.5 per cent of the total vote. In the same election, the BNP took 6.2 percent of the vote, while the Green Party gained 8.1 percent. Protest votes were no doubt important in this election.

Britain 1997 2010 election mapsThe geographical patterns of the two anti-EU rightwing parties in the 2009 European Parliamentary election are intriguing. As can be seen in the paired maps posted here, the hard-right BNP won most of its votes in traditional Labor strongholds, doing particularly well in such places as Stoke-On-Trent (“the Potteries,” a ceramic manufacturing district) and in the area immediately east of London. UKIP, on the other hand, did better in traditionally Conservative and Liberal-BNP UKIP 2009 Vote MapDemocratic voting areas, such as those to the west of Birmingham and those in southwestern England. Neither party did well at all in central London, while both did well in the far eastern reaches of the London metropolitan area.

Most opinion polls looking ahead to the 2015 general election put the Labour Party in first place, ahead of the Conservatives by some six to eight percent. Most also put UKIP ahead of the Liberal Democrats, albeit by a narrow margin. In local council races to be held this May, many traditionally Conservative districts are expected to vote instead for UKIP. Conservative party leaders are evidently very concerned about the rise of this new rival to the right.

* The green color used for “other” parties in The Economist map is potentially misleading, as it covers both the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties and the Green Party.  As mentioned above, the Greens took only once constituency—Brighton Pavilion in southeastern England. What then does the green hexagon in the western part of the Yorkshire-Humber region indicate? All other maps that I have examined indicate that the three major parties carried all of the constituencies in this region in 2010.



Changing Geographical Patterns in British Elections? Read More »

Mapping the 2013 Swiss Referendum: Executive Compensation

Switzerland Executive Compensation Election Map2In the Swiss referendum of 2013, voters overwhelming approved a measure to limit executive compensation. Despite the fact that opponents outspent proponents 40 fold, and despite warning that the move would “undermine the country’s investor-friendly image,” 68 percent of voters approved the initiative.

As specified by the Wikipedia, the measure will:

  • require an annual vote by shareholders for the president and other members of the management board of directors, members of the remuneration committee, and any advisory board and executive officers of the organisation.
  • require the articles of association to include bonus schemes and pay plans for directors and executive officers, any loans granted to such employees, the number of mandates outside the organisation, and the duration of employment contracts of executive officers.
  • ban advance and severance packages.
  • ban corporate proxy and the representation of shareholders by depository banks.
  • requires pension funds to disclose the way it votes, and to vote in the interests of pension policyholders.

The geographical patterns revealed by the vote on this measure are not pronounced. All parts of the country voted in favor the measure, although support varied from tepid to overwhelming, as can be seen on the map. But unlike the family law issue, spatial generalization about the voting pattern are not easy to make, whether in regard to language or the degree of urbanization. Nor is there any correlation with religion, as can be seen in the map below. At the canton level, the central cantons that formed the original core of the Swiss state were slightly less inclined to support the measure than most of the rest of the country, but that is about all that one can conclude.

Switzerland Executive Compensation Election Map1This Electoral Politics map does, however, depict differences at the district level, unlike yesterday’s map of the family-law measure, which showed only the canton level. Here we can see profound disparities across Bern, Switzerland’s second-most populous canton. The French-speaking area in the north, Bernese Jura, overwhelmingly supported the measure, whereas Obersimmental-Saanen in the southwest barely gave it a majority of its votes. Intriguingly, Obersimmental-Saanen includes Gstaad, described by the Wikipedia as “a major ski resort and a popular destination amongst high-class society and the international Jet set” that also hosts “some of the world’s most prestigious and academically intensive boarding schools, such as Institute Le Rosey and Gstaad International School.”

Switzerland Bern Religion MapIn central Switzerland, Obwalden canton also saw a close contest. This area is noted for its fiscal conservatism. As the Wikipedia states, “In 2007 Obwalden replaced the former degressive income tax (lower tax rates for higher incomes) with a flat 1.8% income tax, which is the lowest in the country.”




Mapping the 2013 Swiss Referendum: Executive Compensation Read More »

Geographical Patterns in the 2013 Swiss Election, Part I

Swiss Family Law 2013 Election MapA three-part referendum held in Switzerland in early March received minimal press attention. Some media reports noted the passage of a measure to restrict executive compensation, but the family policy initiative was virtually ignored, as was the one on land-use planning. Today’s post briefly considers the family policy issue, whereas tomorrow’s will look at the executive compensation measure.

The Swiss election guide description of the family policy measure is not very specific:

Do you want the federal order of 15 June 2012 taken on family policy? The federal order would add an amendment to the federal constitution to require the federal government to take account of the needs of the family when performing its duties, and to work with the cantons to promote balance between family and work and to create more day-care facilities to complement schools.

Even though the measure sounds rather indistinct, it provoked strong reactions, with some parts of the country overwhelmingly favoring it, and others strongly opposing it. The general patterns are clear. I have modified the Electoral Politics map of the election results to highlight them. As can be seen on the first map, the French- and Italian-speaking areas of the country in general favored the initiative strongly, which received 54 percent of the vote nationwide. The more rural parts of the German-speaking zone, as well as the Romansh-speaking areas, opposed it. Such patterns would probably be even more clear-cut if the map showed voting behavior below the canton-level. I would not be surprised, for example, if the French-speaking part of Bern, Bernese Jura, actually voted for the measure, although the map would seeming indicate that it voted against it.  By the same token, I would not be surprised if the eastern, German-speaking portion of Valais actually voted against it.

Swiss Family Law 2013 Election Map2Generalization can also be made about the areas that voted strongly against the measure. The core “no” area in the center of the country corresponds closely with the original nucleolus of the Swiss state in the 14th century. The measure was most overwhelmingly rejected, however, in Appenzell Innerrhoden, a northeastern canton. Appenzell Innerrhoden is strongly conservative on social issues, not having given women the right to vote on local issues until 1991. The Wikipedia article on the canton includes some interesting information:

Somewhat before the early 2000s, the idyllic countryside of Appenzell Innerrhoden apparently became popular with nudists, and at the 2009 Landsgemeinde the canton’s residents voted to prohibit naked hiking. Violators would be fined. However nudists who appealed against their fines to the federal court have been reimbursed by the local authorities, as nudism is not a crime under Swiss federal law which takes precedence. It is common for cars rented in Switzerland to be registered in Appenzell Innerrhoden, and thus having license plates starting with “AI”, because of the reduced tax on cars in this canton.



Geographical Patterns in the 2013 Swiss Election, Part I Read More »

French Wine Consumption and Other Intriguing Maps from Vintage Printables

Wine Consumption France 1873 MapIn conducting a simple internet search for geopolitical maps, I was surprised to see multiple returns of a map of French wine consumption in 1873. The map in question is found on a site called “Vintage Printable,” which aims to:

provide free, public domain/out-of-copyright images for you to print or download. Most of the images are vintage naturalist or scientific illustration, but there are loads of other images, too. Navigate with the gallery buttons above for many more images. Images are free, downloadable and printable.

Cider Beer Consumption France 1873 MapThe site’s images are divided into a number of categories, including medieval, botanical, animal, and portrait. The maps are placed under the geopolitical label, even though most of them are not actually geopolitical in orientation.  Still, a number of handsome and useful maps are found on the site.

The French wine map of 1873 is one of a number of maps on Vintage Printable depicting alcohol consumption and abuse in the country at the time. As can be seen from the two maps presented here, France was strongly divided into wine-, cider-, and beer-drinking areas in the late 1800s. Wine consumption was correlated with wine production, as can be seen by looking at the Wikipedia inset map of wine production areas, which I added to the image, originally found here.





French Wine Consumption and Other Intriguing Maps from Vintage Printables Read More »

Election Returns and Economic Development in Italy

Italy Per Capita GDP by Region MapIn considering the recent Italian election, it might instructive to compare the regional returns with levels of economic development. In order to do so, I constructed a map of Italian per capita Gross Domestic Product by region. The information is dated: the most recent I could easily find is from 2008, courtesy of the Wikipedia. But as the Italian economy has been relatively stagnant over the past five years, an up-to-date GDP map would probably look much the same.

As mentioned in the yesterday’s GeoCurrents post, most of northern Italy has habitually voted for the right, central (or perhaps central-northern) Italy has opted for the left (especially Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna), whereas the rest of the country is more mixed, although several southern regions usually favor the right. Economically, as is well known and as can be seen in the map, northern Italy is much wealthier than southern Italy.  (Lazio, in the center, forms an exception to this pattern.) Yet there is no real correlation between level of economic development and voting behavior. The richest region (by this measurement), South Tyrol/Alto Adige, tends to vote for regionalist parties, the second richest region, Lombardy, usually opts for the right, and the third richest region, Emilia-Romagna, is a stalwart of the left. In the south, Basilicata tends to lean more to the left than neighboring regions, but it does not stand out on the electoral map.

Regional factors, rather than narrowly economic ones, seem to guide Italian electoral geography.

Election Returns and Economic Development in Italy Read More »

Changing Italian Voting Patterns?

Italy 2013 election Monti Vote MapThe recently completed 2013 Italian General Election has been avidly discussed in the international media. The contest failed to produce a clear winning coalition in the senate, resulting in a hung parliament. It also saw the eclipse of the centrist, technocratic, austerity-oriented party of Prime Minister Mario Monti, which received only about 10 percent of the vote nationwide, as well as the strong return of Silvio Berlusconi, whose coalition barely missed taking a plurality of votes. Perhaps most striking was the strong third-place showing of the new Five Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo. Grillo’s party is left-populist in orientation, advocating environmentalism, direct democracy, and free access to the internet. It has also been described as mildly Eurosceptical.

taly 2013 election Five Star Vote MapThe Wikipedia page on the election includes a regional breakdown of the vote for the senate, which I have mapped. I was curious to see how this contest would compare with other Italian elections, which generally follow a very clear regional pattern; central Italy, especially Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, usually votes strongly for the left, while the north, Sicily, and much of the southern peninsula usually favor the right (see the map of the 2008 legislative election below).

taly 2013 election Right-Colition Vote MapThe maps of the recent election reveal few surprises. Monti did relatively well in the more prosperous Po Valley in the north, although even here he received only about 15 percent of the vote (Monti actually did the best among Italians living abroad). In contrast, the new Five Star Movement performed poorly among expats, and did not do particularly well in the economic core-zone of Lombardy, but across most of the country it received roughly 20-25 percent of the vote. The center-right (Berlusconi) coalition slipped a bit in the Po Valley, although it performed well in the Veneto region, and it did relatively well across most of the south, particularly in Campania, the region that includes Naples. The Common Good, a left-leaning coalition, not surprisingly, did very well in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna and relatively poorly in the Po Valley. It had its best showing, however, in the far northern autonomous region of taly 2013 election Left Coalition Vote MapTrentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, a mountainous, relatively lightly populated area that includes a significant German-speaking minority. Unlike most other parts of northern Italy, this region often votes for candidates of the left, although it also gives support to regionalist candidates. Significantly, Trentino-Alto Adige gave almost 14 percent of its votes to “other” parties, by far the highest figure among all Italian regions—with one notable exception. The exception is another northern, autonomous region, Aosta Valley (Valle d’Aosta). Here almost 70 percent of voters opted for none of the top four groups, with roughly half of them favoring two regionalist parties.

Italy 2008 election mapAosta Valley is a culturally distinctive part of Italy, as both French and Italian have official status, while 58 percent of the people speak the local Franco-Provençal dialect called Valdôtain, which is in many respects closer to French than to Italian. Two German dialects are also found in the region. Aosta’s birthrate is extremely low, even by Italian standards, but the region’s population is expanding, as outsiders move in to take jobs in the tourism industry. Such features are lItalyRegionsMapikely linked to its strongly regionalist voting patterns.


Changing Italian Voting Patterns? Read More »

Geographical Patterns in the Czech Presidential Election

Czech Presidential Election MapThe president of the Czech Republic occupies a largely ceremonial position, with little real power. The country’s recent presidential election, however, was a hotly contested and closely watched contest, in part because it was the first time that the office was filled through a direct election. Also of significance was the issue of historical memory, focusing on Czech relations with Germany and ethnic Germans during and immediately after World War II. The victorious candidate, Miloš Zeman, of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, cast nationalistic aspersions against his opponent Karel Schwarzenberg, noting that Schwarzenberg’s Austrian wife does not speak Czech, and insinuating that his family had collaborated with the Nazis during the war. Schwarzenberg’s aristocratic German background—he is deemed both prince and duke, and is styled “His Serene Highness”—helped sustain such accusations. Significantly, the row began when Schwarzenberg declared that the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the war would be considered a war crime by today’s standards. Such a statement did not go over well among Czech nationalists, although it would probably be supported by most experts in the field.

Czeck Population Density MapIn the end, Zeman won the election handily, taking almost 55 percent of the vote. The geographical patterns of the election, however, were rather curious, at least if seen from the perspective of Western Europe or of the United States. The more economically conservative candidate, Schwarzenberg, did very well in the  more cosmopolitan cities, particularly Prague, whereas the socialist candidate, Zeman, triumphed not just in the industrial city of Ostrava, but also in smaller towns and in the more rural parts of the country. Such a pattern is understandable, however, if one looks at the two candidate’s social and cultural positions. Zeman may be a member of a vaguely socialist party, but he takes populist positions on a number of issues that would be regarded by many as highly conservative. He doubts, for example, that human activities could cause global warming, and he has referred to Islam as the “the enemy … anti-civilization.” The free-market TOP 09 party of Schwarzenberg, in contrast, has adopted a pro-EU position, and is relatively liberal on social and environmental issues. For these reasons, its ideology is sometimes described as one of “liberal conservatism.”

Czech Election Franz Vote MapThe first round of voting in the Czech presidential election, which featured nine candidates, revealed some interesting patterns as well. Particularly intriguing was the candidacy of Vladimír Franz, who came in fifth place, with 351,916 votes. Franz, a professor of dramatic arts and a noted composer and painter, was favored by many student groups. A colorful figure, Franz is noted not only for his avant-garde art, but also for his tattoos, which essentially cover his face. Oddly, Franz did particularly well in many rural areas of the country, particularly in the southwest, while he performed 445px-Prof._JUDr._Vladimír_Franzrelatively poorly in key urban areas such as Prague.


Geographical Patterns in the Czech Presidential Election Read More »

Military Conscription and Austrian Electoral Geography

Conscription World MapNote to Readers: The invaluable website Electoral Geography 2.0: Mapped Politics  has posted a number of interesting electoral maps over the past several months while GeoCurrents focused on linguistic issues. For the next week or two, we will examine several of these maps in detail, beginning with the portrayal of a seemingly minor but nonetheless intriguing election, the Austrian Conscription Referendum of 2013.

Conscription of Women MapAs the Wikipedia map posted to the left shows, roughly half of the world’s sovereign states staff their militaries at least in part through conscription, whereas most of the rest employ all-professional militaries (four sovereign states—Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti, and Iceland—are mapped as not having armed forces). A number of countries have moved toward professionalization in recent decades; according to the map, Ukraine and Georgia will do so “in the near future.” The accompanying Wikipedia article notes that, as of 2010, several countries drafted women as well as men to serve in their armed forces. I have indicated these states on the second map posted here.

Few clear geographical patterns are evident in these maps. Western and central Europe, however, does stand out as a region dominated by professional militaries, with only a handful of countries employing the draft. A recent referendum in Austria, had it passed, would have left Denmark, Finland, Estonia, and Greece as the only countries in the European Union without all-professional militaries. The Austrian voters, however, decisively turned down the measure, with almost 60 percent opting to retain conscription.

Austrian Conscription Election MapThe geographical patterns revealed by this election are clear. As can be seen in the map indicating the “yes” vote for professionalization, a clear urban-rural divide characterized the vote. All of Austria’s seven largest cities, noted on the map, either supported the measure or spit their votes, whereas most rural areas overwhelmingly opposed it. The one exception was the largely rural state (land) of Burgenland, located along the Hungarian border. Burgenland is a highly distinctive part of Austria, as it was historically linked to Hungary. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the German-speaking majority of the region opted to join Austria, while the new government of Hungary tried to retain the territory. Another proposal mooted at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was to turn Burgenland into a “Czech-Yugoslav Territorial Corridor” that would have linked the two Slavic-majority states carved out of the empire. In the end, the WWI victors insisted that the area be transferred to Austria, although several border districts, including the city of Sopron (Ödenburg), were returned to Hungary following a controversial plebiscite.

Following Burgenland’s union with Austria, most of the region’s Hungarian population departed for Hungary. The state is still relatively diverse, however, with some 30,000 to 45,000 Croatians and 5,000-15,000 Hungarians out of a total population of 285,000. Before the Holocaust, Burgenland had substantial Jewish and Roma populations. According to the Wikipedia, “After the war, Jews from Burgenland founded the Jerusalem haredi neighbourhood of Kiryat Mattersdorf, reminding of the original name of Mattersburg, once a centre of a famous yeshiva.”

On other electoral maps, Burgenland does not stand out so strongly from the rest of Austria, although it is noted as a bastion of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ). Intriguingly, the Green Party (Die Grünen) tends to get fewer votes in Burgenland than in other parts of the country. In the 2008 Austrian legislative election, for example, the Green’s received only 5.7 percent of the Burgenland vote, the lowest figure among Austria’s nine states by a substantial margin.


Military Conscription and Austrian Electoral Geography Read More »

Local Elections Conclude in Bosnia and Herzegonvina

Preliminary results are in for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s October 7th local elections. The elections went smoothly and without irregularities, but many fear that the results may fan the flames of ethno-nationalism and separatism in the fragile country’s political discourse. The big winner appears to be the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), which won 27 mayoral seats for a gain of 13 from the last such elections in 2008. The SDS’s gains come within Republika Srpska, one of two mostly independent political entities that together comprise Bosnia and Herzegovina (see map at right). Ethnic Serbs dominate Republika Srpska, whereas about three quarters of the inhabitants of its confusingly named counterpart—the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina—are Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats.

The success of the SDS has understandably raised eyebrows. SDS members played a leading role in the initiation of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, and have since been found guilty of numerous crimes against humanity in international courts related the indiscriminate killing of Bosniaks during the war. The SDS does not currently espouse violence, but it has positioned itself to the right of the relatively moderate Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)—the party of Republika Srpska’s president, Milorad Dodik. The SNSD was the main loser in October 7th’s elections, losing 26 mayoral positions.

Local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina are more closely associated with national politics than in most other countries. According to Bosnian political analysts, local issues like roads and schools were mostly ignored, as candidates tended to emphasize questions of sovereignty, such as whether and how Bosnia should be divided. According to university lecturer Dražen Pehar, the local media share some of the blame, as they “simply followed the election agenda as imposed by the parties and the candidates, rather than trying to steer it towards a proper set of issues.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sharp ethnic and political division means that the country essentially experienced two different elections, one in Republika Srpska and another in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the latter, the political landscape will remain relatively stable, with the dominant Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), winning 34 mayoral seats. The Croat Democratic Union, which represents the Federation’s Croat minority, won 14 seats.

The final results of the elections remain unclear in some municipalities, most notably Srebrenica. The then-majority Bosniak Srebrenica was the scene of a notorious mass-killing in 1995, where over 8,000 Bosniaks died at the hands of Republika Srpska troops and paramilitary organizations. The killings, along with the expulsion of 25,000-30,000 other Bosniaks, were ruled a genocide by The Hague in 2004. Since the end of the war, about 10,000 Bosniaks have returned to Srebrenica, where they now constitute a one-third minority. In the past, former Bosniak residents of Srebrenica driven from the city in the 1990s have been allowed to vote in local elections, electing Bosniak mayors and councilors. Beginning with the October 7th elections, that privilege no longer applied, prompting fears that Serb politicians will take power.

Serbs see the expiration of special voting rights for Bosniak ex-Srebrenica residents as a natural step towards normalcy. Their reasoning is that local elections require local expertise among voters. According to Srebrenica’s Serb SNSD mayoral candidate, Vesna Kocevic, “the citizens who live here should decide about Srebrenica and about what happens in the community.” SNSD politicians also tend to minimize the hardships of Srebrenica’s Bosniaks; Republika Srpska’s president recently claimed at a Srebrenica campaign event that “there was no genocide.”

Srebrenica’s Bosniak mayoral candidate, Camil Durakovic, sees the new political situation as a fulfillment of exactly what the perpetrators of the 1995 killings wanted. Srebrenica’s Bosniaks have responded by encouraging Bosniaks from around the country to register and vote in Srebrenica. The outcome of their efforts is not yet clear, but it appears that the election will be close. Republika Srpska may challenge the results.

In a more humorous yet perhaps ominous turn, a mayoral candidate in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s fourth-largest city—the majority Bosniak Zenica—was banned from the election in September for uploading pornographic videos to his official campaign website. According to the Boston Globe, mayoral candidate Mirad Hadziahmetovic  “said he uploaded porn clips after realizing that large numbers of people use the Web to peruse sexual content.”

Local Elections Conclude in Bosnia and Herzegonvina Read More »

Bavarian Separatism and the Franconian Issue

Bavarian separatism, a long-standing if still rather minor political movement, is finally getting some attention in the global media, thanks to the recent publication of Bayern kann es auch allein (or Bavaria Can Also Go It Alone), a book described by Canada’s Maclean’s as a191-page polemic covering a range of standard Bavarian complaints about the present German (and European) political order and a paean to the benefits and glories that await an unfettered Free State of Bavaria.” Framing the issue in Canadian terms, the Maclean’s article notes that Bavaria is a bit like a combination of Quebec and Alberta: culturally distinctive from the rest of the country (like Quebec), and also more prosperous and more conservative (like Alberta). The New York Times claims that “Bavarians, who have an independent streak akin to Texans in the United States, can handle marching orders ‘from Berlin or Brussels, but both together is too much…’” (quoting a local source).

The separatist Bavaria Party (Bayernpartei, BP), however, rarely gets as much as one percent of the vote in local elections in recent decades, although in the 1950s it occasionally scored in the double-digits and in 1949 it received over 20 percent of the vote in the Bundestag election. But the European economic crisis, coupled with the large fiscal equalization payments that Bavaria makes to other regions of Germany, could result in a certain resurgence.

The separatist movement, however, faces a distinct challenge in the fact that not all of Bavaria is culturally Bavarian. The Bavarian dialect (which many linguists regard as a separate language) is mostly limited to Altbayern, or Old Bavaria, composed of the Regierungsbezirks (“government districts”) of Upper Bavaria, Lower Bavaria, and Upper Palatinate. In the Napoleonic period, several historically and culturally non-Bavarian districts were appended to the state. These include the three Franconian districts, where the East Franconian dialect is found, and Bavarian Swabia, whose residents traditionally speak a variety of Alemannic German. Few residents of these areas have much use for Bavarian nationalism (or sub-nationalism) in any of its guises.

The actual geographical situation, however, is rather more complicated. As it turns, a few small areas in both Bavarian Franconia and Swabia do belong to Altbayern, as does the Austrian region of Innviertel.

Bavarian Separatism and the Franconian Issue Read More »

Catalan Secession Looming?

Fear are mounting that Spain will face a new secession crisis after the government of Catalonia called for a snap election on November 25, which is widely seen as a referendum on enhanced autonomy if not outright independence. The move came shortly after the Madrid government rejected Catalonia’s demand for greater autonomy on taxation issues. Desire for political separation is growing in the region, as evidenced by massive (600,000+) pro-independence demonstrations in Barcelona earlier this month. Catalonia is Spain’s most indebted region, and one of its wealthiest ones as well, and most Catalans believe that they pay a disproportionate share of taxes.

The Spanish constitution bans outright votes on secession, and it is unclear in any event if most Catalans want full independence or merely enhanced autonomy. The central government, however, is taking the current challenge very seriously. According to blogger Tyler Durden, “the Spanish Military Association (SMA) has warned Monday that those who cooperate or allow ‘fracture’ of Spain should ‘respond with all the utmost rigor’ in the courts in the field of military courts by the ‘serious charge high treason.’”

Catalan Secession Looming? Read More »

Diagramming the Area of French Sovereignty

In diagramming the area of French sovereignty, I was not sure what to call the region constituted by the regular departments of France (both those in “Metropolitan France” and those located overseas); in the end I opted for “France Proper,” but it seems that there must be a better term. Some sources, including Wikipedia, place Corsica within “l’Hexagone,” but such a classification seems geometrically incorrect to me.  

I am fond of the term “sui generis collectivity” for New Caledonia, which is scheduled to hold a referendum on independence between 2014 and 2018. New Caledonia now has a system of dual national symbols, with one set representing its position within the French Republic, and the other looking toward independence. As a result, I have placed it in the outermost layer of French sovereignty. I do not, however, expect independence to come easily to New Caledonia

Comments and criticisms are again welcome.

Diagramming the Area of French Sovereignty Read More »