On Saturday, South Sudan declared its independence, becoming the brand-spanking newest nation in the world. While peace and prosperity is still a good way off for this newborn, Texas-sized country—ethnic tensions are high, the economy is in shambles, and a half-dozen rebel groups have already vowed to take down the new government—the South Sudanese people have spent the weekend celebrating in the streets.
So with that, we thought we’d give you a list of eight wannabe countries that would, for one reason or another, love to become the next newest nation in the world.
This tiny breakaway region in northern Somalia has its own de facto president, flag and national anthem, and its seventeen year-old government functions both peacefully and fairly democratically—a staggering accomplishment, considering the spectacular collapse of Somalia next door. It even has its own currency, the Somaliland Shilling, which is so devalued a wheelbarrow’s worth will barely buy you a tuna sandwich. Desperately clinging to democracy in a very un-democratic part of the world, Somaliland remains top on the list of wannabe nations.
This little slice of paradise is best known for sex trafficking, corruption, poverty, money laundering and weapons. Did I mention weapons? According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the gangs of Transdniester have transported something like 20,000 metric tons of illicit arms—that’s 2,500 full-grown elephants worth of Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades—helping to fuel wars from Nepal to Libya. While Transdniester declared independence from Moldova in 1990, it has little else to show in the way of nationhood. Its economy, governmental structure and mentality remains today frozen two decades in time, leaving its “citizens” to party like it’s 19…89.
3. Northern Cyprus
Not to be confused with either a cypress, the conical tree, or Cypress Hill, the ‘90s rap group you may remember from such hits as “Insane in the Membrane,” the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus occupies a portion of the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus. Almost
fifty forty years ago, ethnically Turkish Cypriots declared independence from the rest of mostly Greek Cyprus, but no one in the international community—except Turkey (which keeps 30,000 troops there)—recognizes Northern Cyprus as anything but a wannabe nation.
Home to more land mines than anywhere else in the former Soviet Union—how’s that for a water tower slogan?—this wannabe nation has been fighting an on-again, off-again war with Azerbaijan for more than two decades. Long story short? After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabagh’s ethnic Armenians declared they would become a new nation of their own, but Azerbaijan, which had controlled Nagorno-Karabagh during Soviet times, was going to have none of it. Cue a brutal three-year war from 1991 to 1994, wherein Karabagh rebels (backed by Armenia) squared off against Azerbaijan. Both sides massacred a fair share of each other’s civilians before hostilities fizzled out. Nowadays, an entrenched ceasefire line snakes down the border between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, which not even Armenia recognizes as a real state.
5. Western Sahara
If the entire population of Albuquerque lived in a region the size of Colorado, it would be about as crowded as Western Sahara—one of the most sparsely populated places on earth. The step ladder-shaped piece of land between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria in northwest Africa is the bastard child of Spanish colonialism. When the Spaniards left town in the ‘70s, Western Sahara-ites declared their independence, while Morocco claimed the swath of desert as part of its territory. Thirty years later, the Organization of African States recognizes Western Sahara—known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic—as an independent state; the Arab League remains squarely on Morocco’s side.
This Puerto Rico-sized region, wedged between Russia and Georgia on Black Sea, has its own de facto president, parliament, flag and national anthem, but Georgians still claim it’s merely a rebellious region within Georgia proper. The conflict goes back to Soviet times, when Abkhazia was an autonomous region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Abkhazia fought a horrific civil war with Georgia, leaving neither side clearly victorious. Afterward, Georgia went on treating Abkhazia as part of its territory, and Abkhazia went on acting as if it were independent. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru—the tiniest country—recognize it as anything more than one of the loudest wannabe nations in the world.
7. South Ossetia
Nestled between Russia and Georgia, and claimed by Georgia, this Rhode Island-sized territory shares a similar history with Abkhazia. During Soviet times, it was an autonomous region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia, but when the Soviet Union combusted, the Ossetians wanted their own country. Georgia said no. In 2008, South Ossetia was the flashpoint for a six-day war between Georgia and Russia, which went on to recognize South Ossetia as an independent state—the diplomatic equivalent of flipping Georgia the bird.
As one of the hottest of the hot button issues today, we’re all familiar with the concept of a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but many Palestinians argue that two states already exist. While the Israelis say that the Palestinian territories are just that, territories, the Palestinians say that’s bogus, arguing Palestine is already a country in its own right. Palestinian leadership plans to force the issue with the United Nations this September, when member states may be asked to formally vote on whether Palestine is already an independent country—or whether it belongs on this list of wannabe states.