When You Don’t Officially Exist

Word Count: 1743

I say tomato, you say tomato. I say Country X is a real country, you say it isn’t.

transnistriaI keep hearing “experts” throw the idea of Transnistria around quite a lot while at the same time being sure to emphasize its illegitimacy. But if you boil down all the treaties, debate and political maneuvers since the Treaty of Wesphalia into their pure essence, what determines a country’s “legitimacy” is just a popularity vote. The will of the people who live in a country means nothing, only how many of the “cool” countries like (recognize) you.

I currently live in Chisinau, just a few kilometers from the border of Transnistria, or the Pridnestroye Moldovan Republic (PMR), a country that has never been recognized by any nation. But official or not, Transnistria is definitely here and it’s a real place with a democratically-elected president, a parliament with 43 members, its own police force, an army, its own money, license plates for cars and passports for its citizens.

If you’re looking for an exotic destination for your next vacation, I hereby offer you 10 other similar countries that don’t “officially” exist:


Depending on how you measure it, some countries that we take for granted as being unequivocally countries don’t officially exist.

China has over a billion citizens, an arsenal of nuclear weapons and one of the biggest economies in the world. But 21 different nations today only recognize Taiwan (officially called the Republic of China – ROC) as the official government of all of China (the People’s Republic of China – PRC).

Tip: don’t get drunk at an airport and buy a ticket to the “capital of China”!


Of all the unrecognized countries on this list, Somaliland probably has the best “case” of proving and deserving to be recognized.

When the American-supported dictator Siad Barre’s regime in Somalia collapsed in 1991 and the country collapsed into chaos, the northern third of the country took that opportunity to declare their independence, naming their nation Somaliland.

In 1960, the British territory of Somaliland joined together with the Italian territory of Somalia to create the new nation of Somalia, with Mogadishu as its capital. As far as Somaliland is concerned, they are just reverting back to their former independence.

While most Americans are familiar with the events of Black Hawk Down, about the failed intervention in Mogadishu in 1993, and the widespread chaos, pirates and the rise of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism. But that’s Somalia.

Somaliland, on the other hand, has enjoyed peace and prosperity since 1991. From its capital of Hargeisa, the unrecognized country has held several successful and peaceful democratic elections, has its own judicial and legal system, and three separate political parties that vie for the 84 seats in the parliament.

A few years ago a group of libertarian university students from America attempted to lease a portion of Somaliland territory to create their own independent country, naming it The Principality of Freedonia, with a motto of “Kill or Die”.

bbcnorthkoreaNorth Korea

The isthmus of Korea has a long and troubled history, and for centuries the territory was a colony ruled by Japan. At the end of World War 2, when the Japanese Empire was defeated, the isthmus was partitioned by the Soviet Union and the United States.

In the north, Communist leader Kim Il Sung was backed by Soviet troops, while in the south, American soldiers installed a government in Seoul (now the capital of South Korea). In 1950, war broke out, with the North Korean forces initially making great headway and nearly defeating the South Korean and American forces.

The United States then pushed back, driving North Korean forces towards their capital of Pyongyang. Total victory seemed assured until China intervened, reversing the tide of the war. Ultimately, after the death of 2.5 million civilians, a stalemate was achieved in 1953 with the country being partitioned nearly identically as it had been in 1948. Officially, the two Koreas are under the agreement of a ceasefire only, and the border between them remains one of the most militarized zones on Earth.

The media has provided ample coverage over the years of the differences between the two Koreas – the south becoming “Westernized”, industrialized and very modern with a representative democracy while the north is called the “Hermit Kingdom”, under the control of a single family that rules with terror, propaganda and widespread starvation.

What few people know, however, is that officially South Korea considers itself the sole government over the entire isthmus. Japan also refuses to recognize the North Korean government and likewise considers the government in Seoul to be the only legitimate authority over the entire isthmus.

With a starving population, a madman policy of “Songun” or “military first”, the world’s fourth-largest standing army (9.5 million), an arsenal of nuclear weapons and a crazed, despotic dictator at the helm, it is only a matter of time before the issue of North Korea’s legitimacy is settled once and for all.

Principality of Outer Baldonia

At the end of World War 2, a rich lobbyist for the Pepsi-Cola corporation named Russell Arundel decided to take his favorite fishing spot in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and unilaterally declare it a sovereign nation.

In 1948, after an extensive drinking bout with his fishing buddies, Arundel arranged to buy the uninhabited island for 750 dollars. Under the influence of rum and grilled tuna steak, he quickly penned his new nation’s constitution, making it mandatory for all “citizens” to have caught at least one fish.

Baldonia’s principle claim to fame came in 1953, when it unilaterally declared war on the Soviet Union, an event that caused great consternation in Moscow and was reported on by official Communist newspapers.


Depending on your point of view, neither Palestine nor Israel officially exists as a country.

Israel, which declared independence in 1948, is not recognized by 32 members of the United Nations, but since 1993 has been recognized by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), then the leading Palestinian political faction.

Conversely, Palestine has official observer status at the United Nations, and is recognized by 135 countries as a country, but is generally considered by the west as just an autonomous government under thumb of the government of Israel.

bbcwesternsajaraWestern Sahara – Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

In the 1970s, Spain relinquished its colonies in what is now Morocco, keeping only the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Unfortunately for the people of Western Sahara, they immediately fell into the world’s worst bureaucratic nightmare.

After officially declaring independence in 1976 as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), no other nation recognized it. Morocco tried on numerous occasions to invade and annex the territory, but was unable to do so. Morocco then tried other tactics, such as shipping many of the people in Western Sahara to Algeria, and then building the world’s largest dirt wall to separate them from the rest of Morocco, but refused to recognize SADR’s independence.

Since the 1990s, the United Nations and other international bodies have continually delayed action on whether to recognize the SADR or not, saying that a referendum needs to be held. The only problem is that Morocco refuses to let the referendum take place, and so the people of Western Sahara have spent the past 40 years in legal limbo in the eyes of the world.


Imagine vanilla and chocolate ice cream, neatly separated by flavor in a carton. Now imagine spooning that ice cream into a blender. That’s the story of Armenia and Azerbaijan, two separate people who have the misfortune of living in non-contiguous communities. There’s a whole lot of Azerbaijan in Armenia, and a whole lot of Armenia in Azerbaijan, most significantly the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

An island of Armenians surrounded by a sea of Azerbaijanis, N-K is the continuation of centuries of hostility between these two groups. Currently, Nagorno-Karabakh is only recognized as a country by Armenia and by other unrecognized states (Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria).

Unfortunately, as the current fighting in Ukraine continues to escalate, so does the likelihood of an all-out war in Nagorno Karabakh, with Russia and Armenia on one side and the US/EU and Azerbaijan on the other.

bbcossetiaSouth Ossetia

Here’s a bad idea: have an ethnic group called Ossetians living half in one country, half in another. North Ossetia is part of Russia, but South Ossetia officially belongs to the Republic of Georgia.

In 2008, simultaneous with the Olympic Games in Beijing, fighting broke out between the Georgian Army and the South Ossetian military. Russia quickly intervened, pouring soldiers, tanks and fighter jets across the border, pushing the Georgian Army back to the capital of Tbilisi. After widespread condemnation from global leaders, the Russian army withdrew but left behind enough firepower, in the form of peacekeepers, to ensure the autonomy of South Ossetia.

Many in the west blamed Russia for starting the war, but international human rights organizations and an official report from the European Union placed the blame squarely on the Georgian military for beginning the conflict.

Five countries, including Russia, now officially recognize South Ossetia as a nation, but it is completely dependent on economic and financial support from Russia, and currently uses the Russian ruble for its currency.


The Soviet Union fell apart and Abkhazia tried – and almost succeeded – to get officially recognized in 1993 after a bitter war with its official titular master, the Republic of Georgia. When the fighting broke out in 2008 between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, Abkhazia benefited enormously from Russian support.

Although only 5 countries officially recognize Abkhazia as a nation today, passports issued to Abkhaz citizens are recognized by an additional 11 countries, including the United States and several member nations of the European Union.


Nobody quite knows what to make of Sealand, which began life as a single platform erected in the waters off of the coast of Britain during World War 2. As the platform was then beyond the territorial limit of the UK, some people felt that it could be constituted as being in international waters.

In 1967, a group of pirate radio broadcasters set up shop on the disused platform and in 1975 declared Sealand to be an independent country. While never recognized by the international community, Sealand today maintains a website where they sell citizenship rights to their “country” and other benefits.

These days, Sealand has evolved from a platform for pirate radio to the pirate internet. Big plans are underway to try to provide the world’s most secure data center, safe from the prying eyes of government spooks.


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