Define “country”?

When speaking of a “country”, what do we mean? By “we” I mean the people that live in small European countries, of course, since that’s the topic of this weblog. Well, the simple thing to say would be, that everyone knows what a country is, so its a silly question. And that, of course, is true. But nevertheless, for the purposes of this weblog I would like to define what a country is, so that the object of the weblog is clear.

According to Wikipedia, a country is “a geographical region”, that may or may not be the territory of a sovereign state. The term “sovereign state” is where things get juridicial. If you’re really interested, look it up, for me its too much. Lets just say that whether Kosovo or Abkhazia is a sovereign state, a country or something else is open for multiple interpretations.

Other people have tried to define a country before me. So there’s a bunch of lists of “countries” out there, none of which I find completely satisfactory. Usually the lists define a “country” as something that is a member of the UN, but include the Vatican (not a member), and don’t include “doubtful” countries such as Kosovo. Some lists though go as far as including Greenland and Svalbard as a country.

One option would be to ask the people themselves where they are from, and most would name the member of UN they live in as their country. But what about Scotland? When you ask a Scottish person, where he or she is from, do they say “UK”? Most Scots I know say “Scotland”. The Scottish parliament considers Scotland to be a country. Wikipedia lists Scotland as a country, that is part of the United Kingdom, similar to the way Aruba is a country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. But Scotland is not a member of the UN. Yet as we see from the example of the Vatican, you don’t need to be a full-fledged member of the UN to be a country. Scotland does not have an embassy, one might say, and countries usually do. But the existence or abscence of embassies does not prove whethere something is a country or not. The EU, for example, has embassies (sort of) and its not a country.

It's murky on the top of Ben Nevis - am I in Scotland or the UK?

The definition of a country is clearly a bit murky. To straighten things out I will use a very clear definition in this weblog. What is most commonly used by people in small European countries when they come to define their country to the world? Once upon a time the army was a means of distinguishing yourself from the other (small European) countries. Nowadays football provides a substitute for the armed forces. And by football I mean the game you play with your feet, not American Football you play mostly with your hands. If you’re American and are reading this – what you know as soccer is actually the proper football, and what you call football is rugby for wooses.

Summing things up, for the purposes of this weblog I shall define a country as something that has a football team, that is recognised by FIFA, the world football association. This will get us rid of the Vatican which has no football association (god bless), and of entities such as Abkhazia or Kosovo, that don’t get to play the World Cup Qualifications (yet). On the other hand, Faroe Islands and Wales get to be counted as a country. Good for them.

There – a country has to be a member of FIFA to be a country.

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