Odds and Ends

With President Putin saying that "In peoples' hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia," the swift annexation of the peninsula of Crimea is a fait accompli and by a stroke of the pen the nationality of its residents has been changed. With Crimea being part of Ukraine and yet the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet it was rather an odd situation in the first place. It might be interesting to look at some of the other odd arrangements around the world that we human beings and local politics have got ourselves into over the years.

Within the orbit of Russia's interests and what Russians refer to as "the near abroad," there are the entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which broke away from Georgia and have the "benefits" of Russian military presence to guard against them being recovered by the Georgian army. Then there is Transniestria, which is a sliver of land between Moldova and western Ukraine some 450 miles from the nearest point of Russian territory. It was left behind when the Soviet Union collapsed and has the presence of about 1,000 Russian soldiers to bolster its claimed independence from Moldova. Also a leftover from the former Soviet Union is the dispute over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh which is physically within the borders of Azerbaijan but since 1988 has been occupied and administered by Armenia.

But before we smugly assume that these oddities are confined to the collapse of the Soviet empire we should look further afield. Greenland is the world's largest island and an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Although it has its own government for domestic matters, since 1814 Denmark has controlled its foreign affairs, defense and monetary policy. In the northern Baltic closer to Sweden than to Finland there are the Aaland Islands, an autonomous demilitarized entity which has been part of Finland since 1921 but with its own flag and whose population speaks Swedish. Homeschooling is not allowed in Sweden but is permitted in Finland, so in recent years a number of Swedish families keen on home education have moved to the Aaland Islands.

The British have their own oddities. The Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark are Crown Dependencies off the coast of France. They recognize Queen Elizabeth as the head of state, not as the monarch of the United Kingdom but as the inheritor of the Duchy of Normandy since the 10th century. They have their own flags, banknotes, coins and postage stamps and do not belong to the European Union. Odder still is the Isle of Man, an island of some 220 square miles situated between England, Scotland and Ireland. As another Crown Dependency Queen Elizabeth is the head of state in her capacity as the Lord of Mann (yes, two "n"s). Although Britain is responsible for defense and foreign policy, the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom, is not a member of the European Union, issues its own passports, has its own currency - the Manx pound, a top rate of 20 percent income tax and no capital gains or wealth tax. And Manx cats are a breed that have no tails.

Further afield there are yet more unique situations. Gibraltar is a peninsula attached to Spain that was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and has been administered from Britain ever since, much to the annoyance of the Spanish. Then there are the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the South Atlantic, ruled by the British since 1833 but hotly claimed by Argentina which unsuccessfully invaded the islands in 1982. Closer to home there is Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory that, but for the ships of the Royal Navy, after the American War of Independence might have been an early colony of the new United States. While Britain remains responsible for its foreign and defense policy, Bermuda has its own currency (the Bermuda dollar on a par with the US dollar), has its own government and has developed a thriving international finance and reinsurance center. A large number of American businesses are incorporated in Bermuda happily outside the reach of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Then there is/are Saint Pierre and Miquelon with the legal status of a territorial collectivity of France. Situated only 12 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and some 2,300 miles from the nearest part of France, the 6,000 or so residents have French citizenship and suffrage and the euro as the currency.

This list of oddities is far from complete but in practice one needs look no further than Washington DC. The District of Columbia is not a part of any U. S. state but is under the jurisdiction of Congress itself. It has three electoral votes in presidential elections, but only an at-large delegate to the House of Representatives and no representation in the Senate at all. For a country that fought for its independence with the cry "No taxation without representation," it is odd indeed.

Altogether, in the ways that we human beings organize our affairs, we are an odd lot.

Derek Boothby is a resident of Manchester.


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