Jan 27, 2018
This week I continue the discussion about the definition of a “dead country.” In Issue #2 of the DCStamps Investigator, I provided my “very loose” definition of a country:
“Any governmental, political, colonial, military or revolutionary entity which had control (or legitimately attempted to have control) over a region of land and it’s people.”
This week we move to the second part of the definition – what makes it “dead.”
What Makes a Country Dead?
For a country to cease to exist, one must be able to identify two things.
1) what event or situation caused the country to end, and
2) what new country did it become.
This is where a good understanding of history and geography is needed. If you read through my articles at DCStamps, you can see that I always try to include the answer to both of these questions.
To help me with my determination, I put together a list of the major events which would signify the death of a country. Although not exhaustive, here the list:
- Annexation of a country into a another. – Examples include Danzig into Germany, Crete into Greece, and the Far Eastern Republic into the U.S.S.R.
- Countries joining together to form a new single entity. – Examples include the entities which formed Yugoslavia and the Republic of India.
- Overthrow or withdrawal of colonial or external rule. – examples include the Grand Duchy of Finland, British Ceylon, Portuguese Mozambique, and French Indochina.
- Defeat or withdrawal of occupational forces. – Examples include the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Chilean occupation of Peru, and the British occupation of Batum.
- Overthrow or elimination of an absolute monarchy such as an empire or a kingdom. This does not include a change in dynasty or a constitutional monarchy. – Examples include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Kingdom of Hejaz.
- Major changes in colonies, territories or provinces which expanded, shrunk, or combined them to form new distinct entities. – Examples include the British colony of Lagos, French Cochin China, Nyassa Company and Zululand.
- Major territorial changes caused by colonial restructuring in a region. – Examples include Upper Senegal and Niger splitting into the French Colonies of Upper Volta, Niger and French Sudan. The separate colonies of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria joining together to become the British Colony of Nigeria.
- Change of the controlling country of a colony. – Examples include German Togo to French Togoland and German Kamerun to French Cameroun and British Cameroons.
- End of a revolutionary entity (either success or failure.) – Examples include the General Wrangel’s White Army in South Russia, the Theriso revolution in Crete, the Confederate States of America, and the Carlist revolution in Spain.
- Reinstatement or loss of legitimacy of a Government in Exile. – Examples include Vichy France, Polish Government in Exile and the Philippine Commonwealth in exile.
The ones I continue to wrestle with on this list, are Revolutionary Entities and Governments in Exile. Both are important in the history of a nation. Many are obvious ones which need to be included in any dead country list, such as the Confederate States of America, Vichy France or a multitude of the entities which cropped up during the Russian Civil War. However, there are also more subtle, but no less interesting entities like the Autonomous Republic of Epirus or the Theriso revolution in Crete. Maybe I will include a discussion on this topic in a later post.
A Rose By Any Other Name …
First of all – a fun trivia question. There are two countries in the world that have “the” as the first word in their official name. What are they?
Ok, now for the point. For many philatelists, there is one obvious omission to the list given in the previous section. The change of the name of a country. There are many reasons that a country changes its name, but not all of them were because a country ended. Here are a few examples of both:
New Countries which Changed their Names
There are certainly county name changes that were due to a the end of one entity, and the beginning of another. Examples include:
- Cambodia to Khymer Republic to Kampuchea back to Cambodia – all of the changes were due to country shattering events, such as revolutions.
- Burma to Myanmar – after a takeover by a military junta the name was changed. The name change is still controversial today.
- Transjordan to Jordan – Jordan changed its name when it received full autonomy after the end of the British mandate.
- Bechuanaland to Botswana – The country of Botswana was born at its independence from British colonial rule.
Name Changes not Related to the End of a Country
Many times, countries changed their name for political purposes or to promote national pride. These were not as a result of a major change in the country. Examples include:
- Siam to Thailand – this name change is interesting with a complicated political history. The name Siam was changed to Thailand in 1939, back to Siam in 1944, and back to Thailand in 1948.
- Persia to Iran – Iran is merely the Farsi word for Persia. In 1935, the Iranian government begin requesting that countries refer to the country by its Farsi name rather than the English. Diplomatically the name change was gradual, but the country changed the name on its stamps in 1936.
- Ceylon to Sri Lanka – Ceylon gained independence from Britain in 1948. In 1972, the legislature decided to rename the country to Sri Lanka to remove the last remnants of its colonial history.
- Upper Volta to Burkina Faso – Upper Volta gained independence in 1960. In 1984. it was renamed to express it’s African, rather than colonial roots. Burkina Faso means “Land of Incorruptible People.”
- Dahomey to Benin – The name was changed by 1975, by its military leader Mathieu Kerekou, fifteen years after its independence.
I fully understand that stamp collectors who are entirely philatelically minded, consider the contents on the stamp as most important aspect of their collection organization. However, as a dead country collector, it’s the stamps place in history that takes precedence. A name change is certainly historically interesting, but that alone doesn’t constitute the death of a country and the formation of a new one.
I hope that this post was helpful in your understanding of the primary differentiation between a dead country collector like me, who views stamps in the context of their history, as compared to a philatelic stamp collector, who views the stamp entirely on its own. Neither is right or wrong, and I believe both perspectives are important to the hobby.
Next time, I will discuss some interesting aspects of identifying stamp issuing entities by their overprints. But until then, whether you agree with my thinking or not, I would love to hear from you.