Countries that Don’t Exist (but Almost Did)

Recently, I have become quite fascinated by “alternative history” – speculative re-imaginings of historical events and how they could have played out differently. How would have history been reshaped if, for example, Alexander the Great’s empire didn’t fragment shortly after his death? Or if Napoleon had won his war against Russia? Or if electricity had never been discovered? There are all manner of ways the world as we know it could have ended up completely different if a few circumstances had changed.

There are all manner of sci-fi and speculative fiction books set in alternative “what if” worlds, and recently, the Amazon Prime series The Man In The High Castle has attempted to bring the genre into the mainstream. I have become a huge fan of Alternative History Hub, a YouTube channel that presents well-researched, realistic scenarios that answer the “what if” questions of history.

So, inspired by this fascinating genre, I’ve decided to take a look at several countries that never actually existed, but had a really good chance of existing if certain historical events had gone differently. A few circumstances lining up in another way than in our own timeline, and these countries might have ended up on our modern-day maps of the world.

The Republic of Vemerana

Where it would have been: The island of Espirito Santo, in our timeline’s Vanuatu

The proposal: In the 1970s, a U.S.-based, libertarian group known as the Phoenix Foundation was founded by a real estate magnate named Michael Oliver, who had come to America after spending four years in a Nazi concentration camp. Oliver believed that even the good ol’ freedom-loving U.S. of A. was sliding toward tyranny, and so he decided to try to set up a new society somewhere in the world based on his ideas about freedom and minimalist government.

Meanwhile, there was a group of islands in the Pacific known at the time as the New Hebrides that were governed as a joint British-French colony. The islanders wanted their independence, and the British were more than happy to give it to them, but the French objected because they didn’t want their own nearby colony of New Caledonia to get any ideas. As the political wrangling between these groups grew, a man on the island of Espirito Santo named Jimmy Stevens started a political movement called Nagriamel. The movement wanted to break free from everyone and have the island become its own country, and the Phoenix Foundation, seeing an opportunity, formed an alliance with Nagriamel. With the Foundation’s backing, Stevens and his followers seized control of the island in 1980 and declared its independence as “The Republic of Vemerana”. Stevens proclaimed himself Prime Minister, and plans were put in place to make the island the libertarian utopia that Oliver dreamed of.

Why it doesn’t exist: This rebellion took place literally weeks before the New Hebrides were due to gain their independence, and the last thing that the new nation’s soon-to-be leaders wanted was a secessionist crisis. They asked the British and French to move in and crush the rebels, but the colonial powers refused, largely because they were getting ready to evacuate the islands entirely.

Soon, the New Hebrides gained their independence as the Republic of Vanuatu, and one of the new nation’s first acts was to ask neighboring Papua New Guinea to invade the rebellious island. Papua New Guinea agreed, an in the very short “Coconut War”, the rebellion was suppressed and the island was annexed by Vanuatu. Stevens spent 11 years in prison for his rebellion. Yet the Nagriamel movement still exists, now contesting elections peacefully as a political party.

Międzymorze

Thankfully, this one has an alternative English name that is much easier to write and pronounce: Intermarium

Where it would have been: Central Europe, between Germany and the USSR

The proposal: In 1918, the new Bolshevik government that had just seized power in Russia made good in its promise to pull the country out of World War I, signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the treaty, Russia gave up a vast stretch of territory that included much of central Europe, including Finland, the Baltic Sea coast, Poland, and Ukraine. The Germans certainly wanted to dominate these regions, but they didn’t have the resources or infrastructure to outright annex them. Instead, their plan was to set up a string of pro-German puppet states.

Then, Germany lost the war, and the fate of central Europe was suddenly completely up in the air. Polish general Józef Piłsudski decided to fill the power vacuum with… himself.

Piłsudski romanticized the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which dominated this part of Europe from the 14th century until it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria in 1795. Inspired by its centuries of success, he wanted to create a new federation that incorporated all of these newly-independent countries in central Europe into a single union. The idea was that such a union would have enough people, land, and resources to be a major power in Europe and prevent either the Germans or the Russians from dominating them ever again. Piłsudski’s plan was taken seriously by the major powers negotiating the postwar peace settlement, and even had the official backing of the French.

Why it doesn’t exist: Unfortunately for Piłsudski, his plan was not very popular among the people who would have had to join this union for it to work. The Finns, Ukrainians, Hungarians, and others all basically said “We just won our independence, and now you’re asking us to give it back up? No way.”

The plan was also opposed by the British and Americans, who at the time thought the Bolsheviks were a passing fad and that once peace and democracy were restored in Russia, it would continue to be their ally in Europe. They didn’t want to kneecap the “new Russia” as it was being born. If only they knew, huh?

Kurdistan

Where it would have been: In the Middle East, in the northern part of Mesopotamia and the nearby mountains, incorporating parts of present-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

The proposal: The Kurds are an ethnic group living in a region that is divided between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. They claim to be descendants of the ancient Median Empire, they speak their own language, and they have their own unique culture. Just about the only thing they have in common with their neighbors is that the majority of them are Muslim, but even here there are many exceptions. Their identity is distinct enough that they could viably have an independent, stable, prosperous nation-state of their own.

Indeed, this was the original plan when the Ottoman Turkish Empire was defeated at the end of World War I. The Ottomans were forced to sign the Treaty of Sèvres, which carved up what little remained of the empire and left it with a tiny rump on a small hunk of Anatolia. The rest of the empire would be split between Britain, France, Italy, Greece, a newly-independent Armenia, and a sector corresponding to the lands inhabited by the Kurdish people that would get a referendum on whether to become an independent nation or not. There is little doubt that the Kurds would have voted for independence, as Kurdish nationalists had been fighting the Ottomans since the 19th century.

Why it doesn’t exist: The referendum never happened, because the Treaty of Sèvres was never put into effect. Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rejected the treaty and rose up in rebellion, leading to the Turkish War of Independence. The rebels deposed the last Ottoman sultan, set up a secular, Western-style republic, and forced the Allies to draw up a new treaty. The Treaty of Lausanne more or less gave Turkey and its Middle Eastern neighbors their modern borders, and as a consequence, hopes of Kurdish independence were snuffed out.

Kurds in Turkey were subjected to discrimination, forced to abandon their culture and assimilate into Turkish society. Even their language was banned. Since the 1970s, Kurds living in Turkey have fought an on-again-off-again rebellion against the Turkish authorities. Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria have also fought for their independence. Today, Iraqi Kurds are granted a high degree of autonomy by the post-Saddam Hussein 2005 Iraqi constitution, allowing them their own government and military, though they still are technically subordinate to Baghdad. Meanwhile, in Syria, the Kurdish community has taken advantage of the chaos and civil warring to set up their own “government”, called Rojava. It remains to be seen where these new developments will lead, but one has to wonder what would have happened if the Kurds had been able to win their independence peacefully in the 1920s as originally planned.

So there you have it, Cat Flaggers! A small sampling of the countless alternative countries that might have existed if history had taken a slightly different path. Let me know if you liked this topic; there are so many other almost-countries I could have picked from, and I’m curious to see if you want to hear some of their stories, too!