Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Bougainville: Islanders vote on becoming the world’s newest country

In world cup of would-be states, Pacific islands are poised for the biggest prize

Bougainville women attend a reconciliation ceremony between Papua New Guinea military and separatist fighters on November 6, 2019 ahead of an independence referendum. AFP
Bougainville women attend a reconciliation ceremony between Papua New Guinea military and separatist fighters on November 6, 2019 ahead of an independence referendum. AFP

The world’s newest country could rise shimmering from the Pacific Ocean on Saturday. And what a prettily named addition Bougainville would be to the family of nations.

A Yes vote is highly likely in a referendum among the 240,000 people of islands that want to cede from Papua New Guinea and hold their heads up beside the Solomon Islands.

Hundreds of Bougainvilleans went to the polls amid singing and dancing. They included President John Momis, who praised officials in both Papua New Guinea and Bougainville for upholding a peace process that allowed the vote to proceed without issue.

In the past, the region might have been created as the North Solomons, but the name of its largest island has prevailed.

In little more than a century, the islands have basked beneath the flags of Germany – fringed by Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, New Pomerania and the Bismarck Archipelago – Britain, Australia, Japan, and PNG, having been discovered and named by French explorer Louis de Bougainville before being bagged by American whalers.

Rich in copper and not much else, the new state would be exciting news for philatelists, flag collectors, speculators and junior diplomats fancying a Pacific posting. Atlases would need to be reprinted. Not least, it would be hot news for the small community of country collectors, who spend their lives in pursuit of setting foot on every independent nation on the planet.

Former Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighters hug Papua New Guinea policemen at a reconciliation ceremony held in Kokopo in East New Britain ahead of an indepence referendum on November 23, 2019. AFP
Former Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighters hug Papua New Guinea policemen at a reconciliation ceremony held in Kokopo in East New Britain before an independence referendum on November 23, 2019. AFP

The number of nations seeking self-determination is considerable. Like Bougainville, there are some particularly fragrant buds waiting to bloom.

The best known are Scotland, Catalonia and the Basque country. Venice too has long wished to clear off from Italy and take off as Venezia, land of liquid boulevards.

The prettiest-named, and the biggest bar one – more about that later – is Cascadia. It brings together the states of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, with bits of northern California and southern Alaska, Montana and Wyoming. Its flag bears a handsome Douglas fir. It would be the 19th-biggest country in the world by area and about the tenth richest. Its capital would be Seattle. Its borders also take in Portland and Vancouver.

The US will hold on to this jewel tenaciously, but you never know.

The best place to bone up on potential new nations is the football body Conifa, a subsidiary of Fifa that brings together stateless peoples or regions of Fifa nations with a dream or a grudge, and more often both.

This weird and wonderful sub-planet even has its own World Cup. The 2014 tournament was won by Contea de Nissa, a hoped-for Riviera state currently known as Nice. The Isle of Man sent a team. So did Lapland and Assyria, Franconia and Occitania.

The 2016 tournament was won by mysterious Abkhazia, who beat Panjab in the final. Other competitors included the Roman Province of Raetia in Switzerland, which has a unique grey flag, plus Gozo, Banawa and Matabeleland. South America was represented by Aymara, Inca descendants.

One of the newest lambs in the pen is Szekelyfold, Hungarians in a corner of Transylvania, who had their first international with the Chagossians. They in turn were moved out of their Indian Ocean island to make way for a US Navy base.

Monaco is in there. So is Heligoland, little Zanzibar, big Quebec and mysterious Padonia.

Conifa fixes up games for the Tamils, the Romani, the Ossetians and the Sorbs – hemmed in between Germany and Poland.

Last year’s World Cup was won by yet another Ruritanian corner of Hungary called Karpatalya, who were invited at the last minute and won the trophy.

Those going home empty-handed included Felvidek and Kabylia.

Asia can boast potential new states such as Inner Mongolia, Artsakh, Jumma, Cantonia, Lahu, South Ossetia, Karbistan, Kalimantan, Khuzestan, Kachinland, Cordillera and Buryatia.

But for now, Bougainville holds the centre stage of independence movements.

Updated: November 24, 2019 02:51 PM

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