Sunday, May 2, 2010

Alternative Europe -- courtesy of The Economist

Over the past several months, I have noticed a growing interest in expanding the concept of imagi-nations, traditionally linked to 18th century Europe, to more contemporary settings, namely the 1920s and 1930s. Originally, at least on my radar, was the development of the "Very British Civil War" project -- I have not bought the booklets yet, but I am waiting for a review by Bob Cordery who recently took the plunge. More recently, a joint effort has culminated in the blog Interbellum, with its associated links to the imaginary nations of Borduria, Tradgardland, and the like.

I have to confess to remain tepid to the period. Call me an elitist, or an old school whig, but the age of mass ideology has little appeal on me. Past the early 1920s, I'd rather fast forward to the 1950s and pick it up from the de-colonization conflicts. But that's just me.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by a recent article in the magazine The Economist. It seems the editors did a good job in shuffling the cards, and coming up with an alternative map of Europe, more reflective, to their saying, to the current geo-political realities. What I like in the piece is that the new map is which is both "realistic" (whatever it means...) and stimulating for our hobby purposes. It does not create an imaginary geography from scratch, but it adjusts the continent in a way that is very stimulating for designing scenarios in the 1920s and 1930s. And, how cool, they even made room for Ruritania, Borduria and Vulgaria!

Here's the re-drawn map of Europe according to The Economist, and the article that I am copying in its entirety.

Redrawing the map -- The European map is outdated and illogical. Here's how it should look

Apr 29th 2010 | From The Economist online

PEOPLE who find their neighbours tiresome can move to another neighbourhood, whereas countries can’t. But suppose they could. Rejigging the map of Europe would make life more logical and friendlier.
Britain, which after its general election will have to confront its dire public finances, should move closer to the southern-European countries that find themselves in a similar position. It could be towed to a new position near the Azores. (If the journey proves a bumpy one, it might be a good opportunity to make Wales and Scotland into separate islands).
In Britain’s place should come Poland, which has suffered quite enough in its location between Russia and Germany and deserves a chance to enjoy the bracing winds of the North Atlantic and the security of sea water between it and any potential invaders.
Belgium’s incomprehensible Flemish-French language squabbles (which have just brought down a government) are redolent of central Europe at its worst, especially the nonsenses Slovakia thinks up for its Hungarian-speaking ethnic minority. So Belgium should swap places with the Czech Republic. The stolid, well-organised Czechs would get on splendidly with their new Dutch neighbours, and vice versa.
Belarus, currently landlocked and trying to wriggle out from under Russia’s thumb, would benefit greatly from exposure to the Nordic region, whose influence played a big role in helping the Baltics shed their Soviet legacy. So it should move northwards to the Baltic, taking the place of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These three countries should move to a new location somewhere near Ireland. Like the Emerald Isle, they have bitten the bullet of “internal devaluation”, regaining competitiveness by cutting wages and prices, rather than taking the easy option of depreciating the currency, or borrowing recklessly as Greece has. The Baltics would also be glad to be farther away from Russia and closer to America. Amid the other moves, Kaliningrad could shift up the coast towards Russia, ending its anomalous status as a legacy exclave of the second world war and removing any possibility of future Russian mischief-making about rail transit.
Into the slots vacated by Poland and Belarus should come the western and central parts of Ukraine. Germany, with the Ukrainian border now only 100km from Berlin, would start having to take the country’s European integration seriously. The Ukrainian shift would allow Russia to move west and south too, thus vacating Siberia for the Chinese, who will take it sooner or later anyway.
Next comes some reordering of the Balkans. Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo should rotate places, with Macedonia taking Kosovo’s place next to Serbia, Kosovo moving to Albania’s slot on the coast, and Albania shifting inland. Paranoid Greek fantasies about territorial claims from the deluded Slav irredentists from the north would evaporate. Bosnia is too fragile to move and will have to stay where it is.
Switzerland and Sweden are often confused. So it would make sense to move Switzerland north, where it would fit neatly into the Nordic countries. Its neutrality would go down well with the Finns and Swedes; Norway would be glad to have another non-EU country next door.
Germany can stay where it is, as can France. But Austria could shift westwards into Switzerland’s place, making room for Slovenia and Croatia to move north-west too.* They could join northern Italy in a new regional alliance (ideally it would run by a Doge, from Venice). The rest of Italy, from Rome downwards, would separate and join with Sicily to form a new country, officially called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (but nicknamed Bordello). It could form a currency union with Greece, but nobody else.

* A welcome side-effect of these changes will be to make space for previously fictional creations such as Anthony Hope's Ruritania, Hergé's Syldavia and Borduria, and Vulgaria, the backdrop for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

Lot of food for thought and dream, uh?