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Microstates Around the World Part-1

There are 197 UN recognized countries in the world, and these countries are in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some are huge like Russia and Canada, some have overseas territories like France and the UK, some are landlocked like Kazakhstan and Bolivia, and some are tiny. In this article, you will learn some interesting facts about microstates and understand why they exist.

Microstates are independent states that have very small populations and/or land areas. They are mostly found in the continents of Europe and Oceania. In this blog, we will be examining the ones that are in Oceania. Our first example, Nauru is a nation located in the east of Papua New Guinea and southwest of the Marshall Islands. It’s the smallest microstate in Oceania and it has a land area of 21 km². The first Westerner to report sighting Nauru is a British sea captain, John Fearn who saw the island in 1798 and called the island Pleasant Island due to its pleasant appearance. The Europeans and Nauruans had regular contact via trading drinking water, food, firearms, and palm wine throughout the 19th century. Between the years 1878 and 1888, Nauru experienced a civil war that decreased its population from 1400 to 900 with the king, its loyalists, and a supporting German Empire on one side, and the people that are against the king on the other. For almost a decade, neither side made any progress but finally, the German Empire shipped lots of weapons to the island resulting in the victory of the king and its loyalists. After the civil war, in 1888, Germany annexed Nauru after an agreement with Great Britain. In 1900, phosphate was discovered in Nauru, and this made the nation one of the richest countries especially during the 1970-80s. Turns out that the local birds of the island have dropped lots of feces for thousands of years and these feces have eventually formed rich phosphate reserves. Phosphate is the key ingredient for agriculture, so it became the main export of Nauru. Since the 20th century, Nauru’s phosphate has been mined by different countries, but this resulted in the destruction of the whole country. This ruined almost all of Nauru’s arable land and the reserves were almost finished. Thus, they lost their main source of GDP*, became one of the poorest countries in the world and started importing almost all their food. Since, fruits and vegetables won’t stay fresh until they reach to this isolated island, they had to import mostly processed and canned foods, and this resulted in them being the most obese country in the world with almost 90% of their population being overweight. Back to their history, in WW1 (World War 1), Nauru was annexed by the Allies and became a British colony. However, in WW2, it was occupied by Japanese troops. In September 1945, Nauru was liberated by the Australian Army and Navy. After that, an agreement was signed between the UK, Australia, and New Zealand making them the joint administering authority of Nauru. Finally, Nauru became self-governing in 1966 and independent in 1968.

Our second example (also my favourite) is Tuvalu. Tuvalu has a population of 12.000 people, a land area of 26 km² and it’s located in the south of the Marshall Islands and northeast of Fiji. The Europeans first sighted the islands in 1568 and named the islands Ellice Islands. Similarly, the Europeans started visiting the Gilbert Islands in the 17th century. From 1892 to 1916, Gilbert and Ellice Islands (today known as Kiribati and Tuvalu) were administered as a part of the British Western Pacific Territories. In 1916, the colony of Gilbert and Ellice Islands was established and existed until 1975. During WW2, Tuvalu’s capital, Funafuti was used as a military base for the United States to prepare for the attacks on Kiribati which was occupied by Japan at that time. After WW2, as a part of the process of decolonization a referendum was held to determine whether the two will be separated or not. After the referendum, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were separated and were given their own administrations. They were still under the British Empire though. Finally, in 1978, Tuvalu became an independent nation and in 2000, became a member of the United Nations. The funny fact about Tuvalu is that a huge part of their income depends on their international code “.tv” because tv channels have to pay Tuvalu to use that abbreviation and this makes the nation slightly richer compared to other countries around it.

The Tuvalu Airport is used so rarely that children play on it in the evenings:

And our last country is Palau. Palau is a slightly bigger microstate covering a land area of 459 km² and has a population of 18.000. Additionally, it’s located in the southeast of Philippines and west of (US overseas territory) Guam. Sonsorol, which is a state of Palau and part of the Southwest Islands approximately 600 kilometers away from the main island chain, was first sighted by the Spanish in 1522 during the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan. After about a century later, in 1697, a group of Palauans shipwrecked on the island of Samar (a part of Philippines) and there, they were interviewed by Paul Klein, and he was able to draw the first European map of Palau based on the Palauans’ description of their homeland. After the drawing of this map, Europeans started to be interested in these new islands and the Spanish tried to visit the islands three times from the Spanish Philippines (the Philippines was a colony of Spain at that time) but failed due to the islands’ isolation and uncertain location. However, in 1710, they managed to reach the coast of Sonsorol. After this visit, they failed a couple more times, so they named the islands “Islas Encantadas” which means Enchanted Islands. During the 18th century, British traders visited Palau regularly. Nevertheless, the islands were highly influenced by the Spanish throughout the 19th century and became a part of the Spanish East Indies (Spanish overseas territories that are in Asia and Oceania). In 1899, Palau was sold to the German Empire along with the archipelago it’s located in. During WW1, the Japanese Empire invaded the islands after capturing them from Germany, and Palau remained under Japanese administration until 1944 when the United States seized Palau from Japan during WW2. The United States managed Palau through Manila (the Philippines’ capital)** until Philippines gained full independence in 1946 and the US Far West Pacific capital was shifted to Guam. However, in 1947, Palau was formally passed to the United States under UN auspices as a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). In 1979, four of the TTPI districts united and became the Federated States of Micronesia. But the other two districts (Palau and the Marshall Islands) voted against the proposed constitution. Palau decided to become independent in 1978 and this was supported by the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan. Finally, in 1981, the Republic of Palau was established. Today, Palau’s capital, Ngerulmud is the least populated capital city in the world with a population of a little less than 400 people but it’s not the most populated city of Palau which is Koror with a population of 11,500 people.

Koror:

In conclusion, countries aren’t always as big as we expect them to be and islands with a population of less than 20.000 people can form a fully functioning nation that has its own culture, currency, flag, and national anthem.


*Nowadays, Nauru’s biggest sources of income are selling other countries the right to fish in their territorial waters and allowing Australia to send some of their refugees and prisoners to their detention center.

**The Philippines was under American rule at that time.

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