I’m a life-long travel enthusiast, travel writer and a history major. I consider myself well equipped to travel the world and speak intelligently about it to others. However, recently I started questioning exactly how well informed I actually am. It happened when I realized that the many places I was reading about, were completely new countries to me.
Why do I know so little about them? Where are these countries coming from? Are they new or is there more to this?
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As I started thinking about this, I realized that my knowledge wasn’t the problem. The world has simply changed. A lot has happened in the last few decades. It has directly influenced what we know about all the countries in the world. While some countries seem like they came out of nowhere, many of them are actually old countries with new names.
Much of what has happened during the 20th century has directly influenced the world we live in today. Two World Wars, numerous other wars and changes in our social and cultural values have directly impacted how we view other countries.
We saw new countries emerge, some disappear and other re-emerge again. The fall of the British Empire, breakdown of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, led to many countries re-gaining independence.
Why is that important? Well, it provides context and insight into the places you might be visiting.
Let’s say you were born when the Soviet Union was around. For decades, the countries that were part of that umbrella were unknown to many. It might seem that the countries coming out of its collapse are totally new countries. The reality is that many of them are actually old countries with new names for the current traveller.
What’s the deal with the “stan” countries?
One of the biggest “hmmm” moments for me has definitely to do with the awareness of the “stan” countries. All of a sudden, hard to pronounces countries with the word “stan” embedded in them seem to be everywhere. It confused me and made me realize that I don’t know a whole lot about them.
There are so many images of the “stan” countries showing up online lately. I marvel at the intricate and clearly old architecture, gorgeous mountains and stunningly clear lakes. Clearly, there is way more history there and these countries didn’t just appear out of nowhere. So, what’s the story?
The “stan” suffix, refers to a place or a settlement or where one comes from. Depending on the language you are using – Persian, Urdu, or Russian. Most of the “stan” countries are located in central Asia and offer a blend of stunning landscapes, architecture and cuisine. Five out of the seven “stan” countries were once part of the Soviet Union. Not much has been known about them to the average folks across the world.
So, what exactly are the “stan” countries that we can now explore? Well, they are:
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan also fall under “stan” countries. I think most people know more about these nations than the “stans” that were part of the Soviet Union. I have now added “stan” countries to my list as I find them so fascinating, mysterious and definitely alluring.
Countries with new names, again
After the fall of Czechoslovakia, two new countries emerged, finally regaining their independence. We now have Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Both with long histories and cultures that go way back.
But that wasn’t the end of that transformation.
While the Czech Republic seems to have been replaced with Czechia, you might wonder what’s behind the change. Has it become another country? Not exactly. Czechia also isn’t the Czech pronunciation of the country’s name. The name was created by the Czech government in 2016. It was done to make the name easier to pronounce to English speakers.
The change was met with mixed feelings. Not all Czechs are on board and the foreigners are confused as well. So has the experiment become a success? Not sure, but you might be hearing the name Czechia a lot more in the years to come. Or maybe not. Time will tell.
The old, new countries
The fall of the Soviet Union gave us 15 new countries. However, while these might seem like new countries to us, they are in fact old countries with new names. Or at least new names to us. Five of these include the above mentioned “stan” countries. But the fallout also brought back on the scene the following:
Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. You can read more about the state of these countries here.
The fall of Yugoslavia gave us a number of new countries that are really not that new. The amazing countries that we are discovering as new generations have been around for a long time. From Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo to Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro. They all have a lot to offer for everyone.
The Baltic States
If you have never heard of the Baltic States and are not sure where they are, you’re not alone. They are located on the eastern shore of the Baltic sea in north-east Europe. The Baltic states refer to the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the three emerged as independent new countries, filled with a long history, culture and traditions.
Here you can learn about the Teutonic Knights, admire the stunning architecture and partake in the centuries-old tradition of saunas. Despite the centuries of Scandinavian, German, Polish and Russian influence and dominance, all three retain their individual national identities. You can explore all of that with a visit to one of the many manors, palaces and charming towns.
The thousands of lakes, swamps, forests, marshes and peat bogs, make the Baltic States an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Add in the sandy shores and expansive forests, and you got yourself a vacation spot for every taste.
The Balkans are another area filled with interesting countries with superior vistas, complicated histories and interesting people. The Balkans get their names from the Balkan Peninsula on the southeastern edge of Europe, meaning “mountains” in Turkish.
True to the name, there are numerous mountain ranges covering the area. There are the Carpathian Mountains, the Dinaric Mountain range, the Balkan Mountains and the Pindus Mountains. The Adriatic, Black, Ionian and the Aegean Seas also surround the area, creating breathtaking views.
It is generally accepted that the Balkans are made up of 12 countries. These include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. It’s important to note that not all countries recognize Kosovo as an independent country. Parts of Greece and Turkey are often included in this list.
If you need more reasons to check out the Balkans, this post breaks it down for you.
New countries beyond Europe
Europe isn’t the only continent where new countries appeared on the map. Africa has definitely had its own share of conflict over the years. Out of that we now have new countries to add to any traveller’s wish list.
The early 1990s saw Namibia gain independence from South Africa, while Eritrea parted ways with Ethiopia to become its own country. It took another couple of decades for South Sudan to split from Sudan in 2011.
Across the Gulf, North and south Yemen merged into unified Yemen. In the Pacific, the Marshall Islands gained independence from the United States’ administration. The Caroline Islands followed suit and gave us Micronesia and Palau.
Just imagine all the interesting stories you can learn by visiting all these countries! The fact that they are beautiful places doesn’t hurt either.
Final thoughts on new countries
I have been hearing a lot more lately about Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. I am tempted by the images of Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro. The wild beauty of Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Namibia calls to me. Some of these new countries I know very little about while others are totally unknown to me.
This post only covers a small part of the world. There are countless stories of cultures lost and rediscovered all over the globe. That leaves a lot of learning and exploration to be done. It’s definitely a topic that could take up a book.
Discovering these wonderful places for the first time is an adventure in itself. I think it’s important to learn the histories of these places you visit, to fully appreciate them. It makes for a more enriching experience. Plus, you’ll have plenty of things to talk about when you get home.