States, Peoples, and Partition

In class two weeks ago, one of my professors confronted us with an intriguing question: how many states should there be? It’s a question I’ve not really considered.  I’ve put lots of thought into how many there are but I never thought seriously about my ideal map of the world.  If you were starting from the current world map, what would be the criteria you could use to break off a piece of state? To deal with the question of how many there should be, we should probably establish how many there currently are.  This is no easy feat – … Continue reading States, Peoples, and Partition

Schrödinger’s Election

April 2014 seems to be election month: presidential elections in Afghanistan and parliamentary elections in Hungary have already taken place, and the staggeringly vast Indian elections are in progress (and will be for the next month).  Yesterday, Guinea-Bissau went to the polls (finally), as did Macedonia.  Finally, on the 30th of April, to everyone’s trepidation, Nouri al-Maliki will probably manage to wring another term as Prime Minister from the Iraqi people.  All of these votes have received or will receive a lot of publicity, but there is another country whose election process this month has been resolutely out of the … Continue reading Schrödinger’s Election

Albania, Bahrain, and Autocratic Popular Geography

The Black Hole of Tirana The Albanian capital of Tirana will never be able to fully purge itself of totalitarian urban planning.  The city centre was designed by the Fascists during the Italian occupation of Albania in the 1930s, and they installed wide streets and open squares, perfect venues for holding military parades.  After the war, during the Communist period, this design was augmented with angular Stalinist constructions (the Palace of Culture and the National Museum) in the centre and high-rise concrete residence blocks in the outskirts.  Enver Hoxha [pronuncation] was a man who understood the propagandist potential of space: … Continue reading Albania, Bahrain, and Autocratic Popular Geography


I’ve decided to restart the blog with the New Year, hopefully for good this time, and what better way to inaugurate 2014 than to set down a (slightly late) list of wildly inaccurate predictions about the next 12 months? 2013 was in many respects a disastrous year for the Middle East; in discussions with my colleagues and professors we have singularly failed to come up with any major positive stories other than the potential lightening of relations between Iran and the United States.  The prospects for things being better regionally this year are good, but only because 2013 was so … Continue reading 2014

Too Many Syrias – Why You Should Be More Confused

If anyone tells you that they understand Syria, don’t listen to them.  Actually, no, that isn’t strong enough – hit them.  People who claim to understand what’s going on with piercing clarity usually look at Syria through one of a limited number of binary paradigms, all of them hopelessly inadequate for a situation as complex as Syria’s.  Almost without exception, their relevance to Syria is the result of pre-packaged opinions being applied to the country rather than an honest look at what’s going on – people who look at the facts in Syria tend to be thoroughly perplexed (and more … Continue reading Too Many Syrias – Why You Should Be More Confused

Adventures in the Unnamed Country

In this installment of the increasingly irregular summary of my now distant Balkan tour, we turn to the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia.  No article about Macedonia could be complete without addressing what Wikipedia, in its unbiased wisdom, calls the Macedonia Naming Dispute. When Yugoslavia broke apart in 1991, Macedonia was the Republic Which Got Away.  Its separation from Belgrade was painless, and the Yugoslavs were glad to move their army out – they were going to need it in Croatia.  But almost immediately, a rather large problem arose: the Greeks, to the south, didn’t like the name of the new country because they already had … Continue reading Adventures in the Unnamed Country

Pour Décourager Les Autres

I was intending to write something about Macedonia, as it’s the next country on the Balkan List, but something rather more interesting is blowing up back home in London which makes me so furious that I can’t resist commenting on: the same-sex marriage bill currently being discussed in Parliament. Now, the main problem with same-sex marriage is that most politicians seem to regard it as a way of getting votes rather than an issue of principle.  Because of this, same-sex marriage bills often get dragged into the middle of pre-existing political squabbles: this happened in France, where the UMP decided … Continue reading Pour Décourager Les Autres