Country Reviews – Week 2

New week, new list. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

ZIMBABWE
What I found most interesting about Zimbabwe was the Lancaster House Agreement – a deal between the Brits, Americans, and Zimbabweans that was signed as a prerequisite to full independence in 1980. It specified that after a 10-year period, the UK and America would pay white farmers in Zimbabwe to leave their land, so it could be redistributed among the black population. That’s because under colonialism, the 3% white population held about 80% of the fertile land. Thing is, in typical colonizer fashion, the Brits and Americans reneged on that deal when 1990 rolled around. And without the extra capital, Mugabe and his government couldn’t buy the farms from the white landowners. In their frustration, they began to just seize land instead, leading to falls in production and food shortages and consequently, a disastrous economic spiral. Inflation rose to 500 BILLION percent, and Zimbabwe’s currency became virtually unusable. They now use a ‘world currency basket’ (exactly what it sounds like – a mix of many world currencies), including most recently, the Chinese Yuan. It was adopted into the basket last year, but is just now being made available for everyday use, which is what led me to studying Zimbabwe last week!

On a positive note – Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in sub-saharan Africa, and the largest waterfall in the world (Victoria Falls).

 

HAITI
It was the first black-led republic in the world, having won independence in 1804, and that in itself is super cool. What’s more, it won that independence as a result of a slave revolt.

But what I found absolutely fascinating was a few centuries later – the 29-year father-son dictatorship of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier – also known as Papa Doc and Baby Doc. Francois was elected in 1957, and then just held on to power through ruthless violence and oppression. He created a terrifying gang called the Bogeymen to carry out his demands, and ruled until his death, after which, his son took over. When Baby Doc took the ‘throne,’ he was only 19 years old, making him the youngest president in history.

Another fun fact, they were huge believers in Vodou, which is an official religion in Haiti to date.

 

SRI LANKA
When I first think of Sri Lanka, I think of the decades long civil war between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil Tigers. It left 70,000-80,000 dead.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself instead reading about the culture of multi-faith celebrations across the country. There’s Adam’s Peak – at the top of which, there’s a gold-encased footprint. Interestingly, almost every religion claims that footprint belonged to someone in its history. Which leads to multi-faith pilgrimages there every year, mostly from December to May. People climb the mountain in throngs in the dead of night, stopping at cute little tea shops along the way. I also read about a multi-faith village called Kataragama, which has a Hindu temple, Buddhist temple, and mosque all side-by-side, living happily in coexistence.

 

TURKEY
So I’ve been reading about Turkey quite a bit for work this year, so I already knew a bit about the Kurdish issue, Erdogan’s iron hold on the country, Erdogan and Gollum (lol), Turkey and the EUTurkey v. Russia, and Turkey fighting ISIL. Which are the main things that pop up when you do a general search.

I also knew that Turkey is seen by many as a combination of East and West. But I never realized that only 5% of Turkey is in Europe. That said, Istanbul is still the third most populated city in all of Europe!

I also knew nothing about Turkey’s relationship with Cyprus. It’s been occupying the northern part of Cyprus since 1983, in what it (but no other country or international body) recognizes as the ‘Turkish Republic of Cyprus’. The rest of the world sees that settlement as illegal occupation.

 

BHUTAN
Honestly, it sounds like a mysterious fantasy world. It’s local name (Druk Yul) means ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon, and it’s near impossible to visit. The government sets a quota of tourists each year and must individually approve each one. And before 1970, no outsiders were allowed to visit at all. TV and internet didn’t arrive until 1999. Bhutanese locals are required to wear the national dress whenever they’re in public.

I’d imagine part of their insulation comes from the fact that they were never colonized, which is so rare for that region of the world. Both India and Britain handled Bhutan’s foreign affairs for a while, and India’s influence in that regard remains extensive, but given the Bhutanese’s insular nature, they weren’t too concerned about external politics.

And even their concern about internal politics is rather interesting – they monitor progress using ‘Gross National Happiness’ instead of GDP, which is just bizarre.

On a darker note, in the 1980s and 1990s there was an ethnic cleansing of Nepali Hindus who had been living in Bhutan for generations. Many fled back to Nepal, and the Bhutanese refugee centers there partake in the one of the biggest resettlement programs in the world.

 

TAJIKISTAN
Ok lightning round:

  • A third of the population is under the age of 14, in a striking contrast to the many aging populations around Europe (and in Japan).
  • The Moscow-backed President has been in power since 1952. He weathered a five-year civil war right after national independence in 1991, but he held on to the office. High insecurity ever since means the country relies heavily on Russia for security assistance. So it’s no surprise that Moscow’s influence remains high.
  • Poverty fell from 80% to 32% in the past 15(ish) years. But despite that, high unemployment and economic troubles make Tajikistan youth highly susceptible to radicalisation. That’s furthered along by the crackdown on practicing Muslims (i.e. forced beard shaving), despite the fact that the country is majority muslim. The secular government is just scared of the Islamist opposition party, against whom the aforementioned civil war took place.

 

SLOVENIA
First country to leave Yugoslavia, in an almost bloodless, 10-day revolutionary ‘war.’ It was the most liberal and prosperous region of Yugoslavia before it left, which made its transition easier than the other Yugoslav nations. But independence has still been difficult. Slovenia’s export-dependent economy was hit hard by the 2012 recession, and its reputation for liberal politics took a hit when they started revoking residency rights for non-Slovenes. Also, their populations is declining. Eep.

But! This is pretty cool: 60% of the country is forested, which sounds beautiful. They have about 10,000 caves. And the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was filmed in a Slovenian valley!

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