Happy 53rd Birthday!

In our little red dot, getting close to being 55 years of age was considered to be a very important milestone. For those who are not aware (our dear non red dotter audience that is), being 55 entitles a red dotter to pull money out of his/her retirement account. Whatever is left in there after a whole life of paying for the mortgage and who knows what else. Plus some restrictions here and there… not the scope of this post though.

We’ve heard many stories though not necessarily representative, of folks who plan extensively on how they will “manage” the monies they can get out of the retirement account. Some dream of stopping work and traveling the world. Others want to use the money to help their kids… you get the picture no?

So now that the country itself is close to 55, are the same symptoms manifesting themselves albeit at the national level? Are there folks out there who eye the national reserves for use? Remember, someone said (ancient Greek we think) democracies start to fail when the electorate vote for themselves monies from state coffers.

Heheh… but today is a national day of celebrations, so let’s not ‘pour cold water’ – local expression for dampening the mood. As our little island looks back over these last 5+ decades, there is much more to thank than to complain. Nothing’s ever perfect and having lived in a few other countries helped us adjust to that reality.

Remember to put on your red and white today and wear it proud!

The Lux in Benelux

Happy Boxing day!

No. Today’s not a day when two men get into a ring and spar with huge gloves… heheh. But we are sure you know that.

Well if you thought this was about Luxe, then you are not very far off the mark. The largest of the small and micro states we’ve visited at 2586km², it is also one of the wealthiest if one looks at the measurement indexes spewed by the world’s statistics agencies.

The country was considered strategic in medieval times and the fortress city from which the nation gained its name was a prized asset for many a foreign conqueror. So it would not be surprising that despite its size, it was mentioned a lot in history. You can see how coveted real estate change hands more frequently huh? Sort of like having your home sold enbloc here in our little red dot… only in this case it was taken by force…

It might have been some time ago, but take a look at our little drive in the tiny country here. For there is more than the EU institutions and financial powerhouses that grace the capital city.

So this concludes our series on micro and small states in Europe, at least the ones we’ve touched anyway. What is our conclusion about the “state of affairs” for micro states? If one really delve into this subject, it is that within Europe there had been long historical relations that set these small states up for independence.

This contrasts with the bunch of states (both large and small) emerging from colonial rule in Asia with little precedent, with histories and ties that transcend across present day borders (since they were drawn up by the colonial powers in the 19th century). It is the same for Africa too. Fascinating isn’t it all?

Well this ends our ‘little’ series. Next up, we are heading back to stories in Europe. Can you guess which one it will be?

Still the jewel of the Mediterranean

At 316km², this is the fourth in the series of small states that we are introducing in our handprint story series.

Actually we had written about the island state a year back (here). And this is not so much a reminisce or repost. And being in the Mediterranean, the islands pack a real punch too as we said. Despite being a small country of two main islands, it packs so much to see and do.

And do you know why?

Did you know that St Paul is said to have been shipwrecked on the islands while on his way to Rome? Or that the islands retain vestiges of civilizations that were in existence more than 4000 years ago? Yeah, like same time as the Egyptians… Wow. Imagine that the specks of land in the middle of a vast sea were inhabited by advanced societies back then. At the time the pyramids were being built. See how much we are rediscovering about ourselves as a species?

That was part of the exploration we did.

Our main objective if you will was to meet with our friends made during our travels in Eastern Europe a number of years earlier (well 17 years from now). It was a time to catch up and also for them to introduce us to their wonderful country. It was a very memorable journey.

Read about our week in the jewel of the Mediterranean here. And we hope this will inspire you to explore them too!

Family business country

Heheh… well we are not referring to the little red dot in case you think it… The third in our little series on micro and small states in Europe, we train our focus on the tiny little nation that sits between Switzerland and Austria.

Yep, Liechtenstein.

This little nation is 160km², but like the little red dot, this landlocked country is also a financial powerhouse. While it WAS under (and still in a way) the private ownership of a family who literally bought the place, it is now a constitutional monarchy. It is one of the countries in the world that does not have a military, since its size and population probably inhibits it.

But it is not part of the EU and that is the interesting situation. Because it still participates in the European economic area and is a party to the Schengen treaty effectively making its borders open. But then it uses the Swiss Franc in a monetary union. Our little red dot has an interchangeability agreement with Brunei, which effectively means both countries’ currencies are equal and can circulate in each others country. Different strokes for different folks!

It was just a restroom stop, but we crafted a little story out of it with help from many sources on the web. Add a dash of our own seasoning, this little essay here tells how a medieval noble family’s fortune ebbed and flowed with the times. Have you been to Liechtenstein?

Encircled! But independent

If you read our story here, you will know that it is the local favourite of the Italians living around the city to get into the little country and come out with daily necessities… well as far as our guide told us. Not sure if that still works today.

All of San Marino is just 61km². Founded in the year 301 as an independent monastic community, it claims to be the world’s oldest republic. Actually it is very unique. And being in Italy; history had a lot to do with it. The tiny republic began on Mount Titano and only expanded in the mid 1400s. It came under the protection of the Papal states too and that flowed on through to 1861 when Italy was reunited – ie the new nation recognized San Marino’s independence!

Well, again it is a little challenging to explain the politics behind why this tiny state was not simply incorporated into Italy, but literature suggests that it was because the unifier of Italy had sought refuge in San Marino during his earlier days of revolutionary war to unify Italy. And there are sources citing the republic’s links with France, a powerful neighbour to the newly formed Italian nation. Whatever the case, that independence was affirmed and today aside from defence, the most serene republic of San Marino conducts all local government and foreign relations on its own.

Anyway.

The unique thing about the country is that it has two heads of state – like the two consuls of the Roman republic. Every 6 months two are appointed from opposing parties to ensure a balance of power. The council which is democratically elected every 5 years performs this act and is essentially like the Roman senate! Wow.

Does this make you want to visit San Marino too?

World’s tiniest country

Yep. It is officially the world’s smallest country. At 0.44km², it beats all the other recognized states in the world. With the nearest competitor Monaco trailing at 2km²… This is the first of our series on micro and small European states as we Segway from the US for a while. We will continue with 4 others that we have touched in the weeks to come.

This is about survival. Its an interesting thing even to this day that international politics still pit small nations at the mercy of large ones. The sovereign equality of all states as equal partners despite size. Hmm… will that work? Our little red dot is perhaps an example of how that can be. But there are also different operating principles elsewhere that works too. Such as in Europe. Perhaps some of the examples that we cite in the coming posts like this one might prompt you to think about it.

For the Vatican was not always this tiny. In fact it was the centre of the Papal states in medieval times. A political power as well back in the day. Today it does not exert hegemony over territory, but instead hold leadership of the world’s Catholic faithful. And by agreement with the Italian government it has remained independent and conducts its own foreign relations (as the Holy See). Obviously this relationship is more complex to be described here but it works!

Yes it is encapsulated within Rome. And it should have been part of the Italian handprint story series. But that will have to wait. We want to show all the micro states of Europe that we’ve touched first! Read all about our little story on the Vatican here.

Yes we know that there are actually quite a few other micro states in Europe and we will also skipped Monaco, but that’s because we’ve not touched it yet. Someday we will.