Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Country Formerly Known As A Mess

Today's fatwa goes out to the U.S. State Department, for hiring the Artist Formerly Known As Prince and putting him in charge of naming countries. Montenegro, if you haven't heard, has just become the 192nd nation to join the U.N. Whoo, hoo! Well, they think it's a big deal, at least.

I have a soft spot for Montenegro. Not only is one of my favorite fictional detectives from Montenegro (Nero Wolfe, whom I try to emulate in eating habits, since I can't in intellect). But also my first landlord was from Montenegro. He was a Montenegran Muslim (and therefore technically not supposed to drink alchohol), but that didn't stop him from bringing back some of the nastiest Albanian brandy from his visits to the Old Country! Hmmm, good times! Good blind-drunk times!

I’ve never visited Montenegro, though I have been to Serbia. Thankfully, I understand Montenegro is actually quite pretty. Serbia (or at least Belgrade)…how to put this delicately...isn’t.

But this isn’t about Montenegro. This is about its former fellow Yugoslav republic, Macedonia. Or, as Assistant Secretary of State
calls it, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. OK, I know, it’s not

’s fault. The whole world calls it that as part of the deal on international recognition. If they got to call themselves “Macedonia,” the Greeks would have a hissy-fit. Because, you know, if there is a "Republic of Macedonia" and a Greek province of Macedonia, people might get confused. They might start thinking Alexander the Great was from some former Yugoslav republic, and not from Ireland or wherever. It's much the same as how Americans get upset with Mexico for having a "Baja" California, and Mexicans get upset with the United States for having a "New" Mexico, and both the British and the Colombians hate Canada over Vancouver.

Macedonia, of course, isn't the only country which has a fake name applied over its real name so as to not offend somebody else. Taiwan officially calls itself the "Republic of China," but in the few international organizations Taiwan belongs to (the U.N. not being one of these), the country has to go by a silly moniker such as "Chinese Taipei." Thankfully, the U.S. State Department hasn't gone so far as to call Taiwan "The Island Formerly Known as Formosia" (though this might be a good idea, since it would probably offend everybody). However, official State Department memos to all U.S. government agencies state that the proper terms are "the people of Taiwan" (rather than the Taiwanese or Taiwanese people), "the authorities on Taiwan" (rather than the Taiwanese government), etc. etc.

Granted, the whole Taiwan thing is complicated by the fact that it is China who is getting pissed off, and China is (1) a country big enough to cause you problems if you live in the neighborhood, (2) a country that you hope to sell a lot of stuff to, or (3) a country willing to sell you a lot of military-type stuff so as to piss off the Americans. But Greece?? Why are we afraid to piss off the Greeks? What are they going to do, like us even less? And why are even the other Europeans afraid to piss off the Greeks? The only thing I can think of there is guilt. They have a crappy opinion of the Greeks, and they are worried that if they don't go along with them on this one, the Greeks might figure out that the rest of the EU looks at them the way the rest of the United States looks at West Virginia.

Well, sorry to break it to you, but they've already figured it out.

So, a fatwa on country name euphemisms. If they want to call themselves Macedonia, call them Macedonia. If they want to call themselves the Republic of China, call them the Republic of China (though you might want to add an "on Taiwan" or "slash Taiwan" or your mail might get lost).

But I draw the line at Burma. "Myanmar" is just stupid.

(By the way, I'm sure the symbol "
" is trademarked, but I call this one on a fair use exception. This blog is both educational and a parody, and I will put a fatwa on anyone who says otherwise.)

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