The world is full of countries, but what makes a country a country? It’s a question that has puzzled people for a long time. We’ve all heard about short-lived countries, but what is the shortest-lived country in history? That’s a difficult question to answer, as it depends on what is considered a country. In this article, we’ll explore the theories of country recognition and the examples of some of the shortest-lived countries in history.
The Two Theories of Country Recognition
There are two theories of country recognition – the constitutive theory and the declarative theory. The constitutive theory states that being a country is based on international recognition. This means that a country is only a country when other countries say it is. However, there is no consensus on how many countries have to recognize a country for it to be a country. There are many countries that are not recognized by all other countries, such as South Korea.
On the other hand, the declarative theory sets out four criteria for a country: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter relations with other states. According to this theory, a country is a country when it meets these criteria, regardless of whether it is recognized by other countries.
Short-Lived Countries Based on the Constitutive Theory
If we consider membership in the United Nations as the mark of real international recognition, then the shortest-lived country is the Sultanate of Zanzibar. The Zanzibar Archipelago had been a protectorate of the British, but on December 10, 1963, it was declared independent and was recognized by the UN on December 16 as its own independent country. However, only about a month later, the two major political parties in Zanzibar came together to overthrow the Sultan and on January 12, 1964, they declared a new nation – The People’s Republic of Zanzibar, giving the country a total of 33 days as a UN-recognized country.
If we consider one country’s formal recognition to be enough, then the shortest-lived country is the Republic of Crimea, which existed from March 17, 2014, to March 18 of 2014. Crimea held a referendum and declared its independence on March 17, 2014, and Russia immediately recognized it as a sovereign nation. However, the next day, Russia annexed Crimea and made it part of the Russian Federation, thus ending the reign of the Republic of Crimea about 24 hours after it began.
Short-Lived Countries Based on the Declarative Theory
According to the declarative theory, the actual shortest-lived country in history is The Russian Federative Democratic Republic. It was formed around noon on January 19th, 1918, when the democratically elected Russian Constituent Assembly drafted and adopted a resolution that declared the Russian Republic was no more and that they were now a cool new, democratic country. They had a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter relations with other states. However, around 6 pm that same day, Vladimir Lenin dissolved the Assembly and formed instead the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, giving the Russian Federative Democratic Republic a total existence time of 6 hours.
The Declarative Theory – What are the four criteria for a country?
The declarative theory, unlike the constitutive theory, is an approach to determining what makes a country a country that doesn’t rely on international recognition. Instead, it outlines four basic criteria that a territory must meet to be considered a sovereign nation.
- A Permanent Population – A sovereign state must have a defined group of people who inhabit the territory that it claims.
- A Defined Territory – A sovereign state must have clearly defined borders or territory that it occupies.
- A Government – A sovereign state must have a functional government that is able to enforce laws, maintain order, and provide basic services to its citizens.
- The Capacity to Enter Relations with Other States – A sovereign state must have the ability to enter into relations with other states and must have a foreign policy that is recognized by the international community.
Using these criteria, we can identify the actual shortest-lived country in history – the Russian Federative Democratic Republic. The Russian Federative Democratic Republic was formed on January 19th, 1918, by the democratically elected Russian Constituent Assembly. The Assembly declared the Russian Republic no more and instead declared themselves as a new, democratic country. The Russian Federative Democratic Republic met all four criteria for a sovereign state:
- A Permanent Population: The people of Russia.
- A Defined Territory: The territory of Russia.
- A Government: The Russian Constituent Assembly.
- The Capacity to Enter Relations with Other States: They could have sent letters and other forms of communication to other states.
However, Vladimir Lenin dissolved the Assembly the same day and formed the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which means the Russian Federative Democratic Republic only existed for six hours.
Catalonia – The Shortest-Lived Independent Country
The most recent example of a short-lived country is Catalonia. Catalonia is an autonomous community in northeastern Spain with a unique culture and language. On October 1, 2017, Catalonia held a referendum in which the people overwhelmingly voted for independence from Spain. Ten days later, on October 10, the Catalan leader declared independence, saying, “I assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the shape of a republic.”
However, right after declaring independence, he asked Parliament to suspend the declaration so that he could negotiate with Spain, effectively ending the independent nation of Catalonia’s existence in just eight seconds.
Catalonia’s independence was not recognized by any other country, but the people of Catalonia had spoken, and their desire for independence demonstrated the unique complexities of defining what makes a country a country.
In conclusion, the concept of what constitutes a country is a complex issue that is subject to interpretation. There are different theories, each with its own set of criteria, and these criteria are not always universally recognized.
The constitutive theory suggests that a country is only a country when it is recognized as such by other nations, while the declarative theory argues that a country is a country based on four specific criteria: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
When it comes to the shortest-lived country in history, the answer depends on which theory is used to define a country. According to the constitutive theory, the Sultanate of Zanzibar holds the title with only 33 days as a UN-recognized country. But if the declarative theory is applied, then the Russian Federative Democratic Republic is the shortest-lived country, existing for just six hours.
Whatever theory you subscribe to, it’s clear that the concept of what makes a country a country is a fascinating and complex issue that is open to interpretation and debate.