Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
"Scotland is about to vote on whether to secede from the UK. There are solid arguments on both sides."
Admittedly, this video is filled with stereotypes, bad words and a strong political bias all delivered in John Oliver's trademark style--it's also filled with incorrect statements which I hope most people can recognize as humor, but it captures college students' attention. If, however, you are looking for a more insightful piece, I recommend Jeffrey Sach's article titled "The Price of Scottish Independence," or this summary of the 9 issues that would confront an independent Scotland. Independence in Europe today doesn't mean what it used to, and this vote will be fascinating regardless of the outcome.
Members of the Flag Institute have created designs for what the Union Flag could look like in the event of independence
I've already posted various links this week on Scottish independence and what it might mean, but I think these two are also worth considering. Flags are the great icons of state identity, and a UK without Scotland might reconsider it iconography. This links to an article from the Telegraph and a photogallery with 12 'candidate flags' for a UK that does not include Scotland. Why might some resist the idea of creating a new national symbol?
From Catalonia to Kurdistan, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely.
This issue reverberates on many different scales. As the video embedded in this article demonstrates, Scotland's choice on September 18th would obviously impact the local region as some seek to use Scottish history as a rationale to reshape the current political and cultural identity of the region. Some of the votes are already in and Scottish independence would not only have the potential to reshape the UK and EU, but it could also add some fervor to the various other separatist movements around the world, such as Catalonia.
"Weak and failing states pose a challenge to the international community. In today’s world, with its highly globalized economy, information systems and interlaced security, pressures on one fragile state can have serious repercussions not only for that state and its people, but also for its neighbors and other states halfway across the globe. The Fragile States Index (FSI), produced by The Fund for Peace, is a critical tool in highlighting not only the normal pressures that all states experience, but also in identifying when those pressures are pushing a state towards the brink of failure."
How can political stability and security be measured? What constitutes effective governance? The Fragile States Index (formerly known as the Failed States Index) is a statistical ranking designed to measure the effective political institutions across the globe. There are 12 social, economic, and political/military categories that are a part of the overall rankings and various indicators are parts of the metrics that are a part of this index are:
•Human Flight and Brain Drain
•Uneven Economic Development
•Poverty and Economic Decline
•Human Rights and Rule of Law
"Nothing unites different nations quite like mutual enemies. But the 'Auld Alliance' between Scotland and France - both historic rivals of England - doesn't mean that the French government favours Scottish independence. Far from it."
Historically, France has supported greater autonomy or independence as a way to limit English political power and influence. However in the era of the E.U. and greater regional integration, modern geopolitics makes this old alliance untenable as some in Scotland are seeking independence from the United Kingdom.
"Islamic State's capture of the Mosul dam gives it control over the water and electricity supply in northern Iraq."
There is a geography to insurgency. This dam controls both the energy and water resources in the region, which gives the insurgents/rebels/terrorists greater local power. On a related noted, this op-ed entitled, "How America Lost the Middle East" has plenty of foreign policy and geopolitical material worth discussing.
These maps are crucial for understanding the region's history, its present, and some of the most important stories there today.
Titles like the one for this article, 40 maps that explain the Middle East, are becoming increasingly common for internet articles. They helps us feel that we can explain all of the world's complexities and make sense of highly dynamic situations. While we can all agree that maps are great analytical tools that can be very persuasive, sometimes we can pretend that they are the end all, be all for any situation. Maps can also be used to show how something that we thought was simple can be much complex and nuanced than we had previously imagined, as demonstrated by this article, 15 Maps that Don't Explain the Middle East at All. Both perspectives have their place (and both articles are quite insightful). Not connected to the Middle East, but East Asia, this article entitled Lies, Damned Lies and Maps continues the discussion of maps, truth and perception.
As the likelihood of an independent Kurdish state on Turkey’s eastern border grows, Ankara is losing its historical resistance to the idea.
Developments in Iraq have left Turkey facing the prospect of an independent Kurdish state on its eastern border. Such an idea would have been abhorrent for Turkey a mere decade ago for fear that its existence would incite separation among its own restive Kurds. The standard Turkish narrative at the time was that an independent Kurdistan was a Western project aimed at destroying Turkey, an age-old ambition. Even the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was viewed in this context by many. The picture is no longer so black and white.
"A radical fringe Islamic group names ISIS is fighting to establish a extremist Islamic state in Iraq and Syria...and beyond. They control eastern Syria, western Iraq, just took control of Iraq's 2nd largest city of Mosul and are advancing on the capital Baghdad. In this podcast, the professor John Boyer outlines just a few of the contributing factors to why this significant event is taking place, the geographic/historic background of the state, and the consequences for the future of the region."
If you haven't yet discovered John Boyer, a.k.a. the Plaid Avenger, I recommend exploring his site. He has numerous resources for world regional geography and current global affairs. His colorful persona is highly entertaining for college age-students as his class attracts over 3,000 students each semester (you can decide for yourself whether that personality works for you and your classroom). This particular 'plaidcast' discussion focuses on Iraq's current devolution and possible total collapse.
|Suggested by Kara Charboneau|
VENICE, Italy – Venice, renowned for incomparable Gothic architecture and placid canals plied by gondolas that make it one of the most recognizable cities in the world, may have had enough of Italy.
Some of the wealthiest regions of the poorest countries of the European Union are seeking for greater regional autonomy and even independence. As one resident said, "I have always felt as a Venetian first, and Italian second." The scale at which people construct their primary identities and political loyalties play a key role to the political geographic concept of devolution, where power shifts from a central authority to more local control. So independence moves are to start negotiating. As another Venetian said, "I think we'll end up with a little more autonomy and a little more pride in our city" and not actual independence.
"Quebec voters gave a resounding no to the prospects of holding a third referendum on independence from Canada, handing the main separatist party in the French-speaking province one of its worst electoral defeats ever."
Quebec, which is 80 percent French-speaking, has plenty of autonomy already. The province of 8.1 million sets its own income tax, has its own immigration policy favoring French speakers, and has legislation prioritizing French over English. But many Quebecois have long dreamed of an independent Quebec, as they at times haven't felt respected and have worried about the survival of their language in English-speaking North America.
"In symbolic terms, it's a huge loss. The Crimean Peninsula holds an important place in the region's history, and the inability to prevent the region from joining Russia is a serious test of leadership for the new Ukrainian government in Kiev.
In practical terms, however, what Crimea means for Ukraine is less clear. In an article last week, The Post's Will Englund noted that Crimea may end up costing Russia more than it might like. And what does Ukraine really lose?"
We often view global affairs through our own little prism, considering how it affects us. So much of the discussion has revolved around Russia and the West in general (and the U.S. specifically), that Ukraine almost gets lost in the shuffle. All this amid news that the acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister has said that the possibility of war "is growing."
10 places that would welcome a Putin landgrab, and 10 parts of Russia that want the hell out.
One of the ideological weaknesses in the idea that Russia should annex Crimea because of the large number of ethnic Russians that want to join the Russian Federation, is that there are many places within the Russian Federation without a majority of ethnic Russians that would want out of the Russian Federation. This list from Foreign Policy is pretty intriguing and they provide insight about the geographic context for each place on the list.
Top 10 looking for a way into Russia (abbreviated)
Top 10 look for a way out of Russia:
"Protests have centered on the capital's Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, where protesters had set up camp over a number of months. The stand-off turned violent this week as riot police moved in to clear the protest camp. Security forces had given protesters a deadline of Tuesday 18 February to leave the square, but instead, violence took hold and battles between the demonstrators and police left a number of people dead. Independence Square, which for weeks was the setting for a mostly peaceful protest camp, now more closely resembles a siege, as the remaining protesters attempt to hold their ground."
"Images of toppled statues notwithstanding, 'revolution' has never been the right word to describe recent events in Kiev. Ukraine, after all, has been here before. At the heart of the country’s present struggle is its resistance to any 'strategic partnership' with Russia and its understanding of Europe as a potential economic and political savior from corrupt government. But the tensions between East and West -- both psychological and geographic -- are deeply rooted in Ukraine's national identity. Those Ukrainians most concerned about their country’s future would do well to recognize that identity’s inherent fragility. The original generation of Ukrainian nationalists suffered precisely for their failure to do so."
The current Ukrainian conflict is typically viewed in stark East-West terms: a pro-Russian East versus a pro-European West, with the threat of Ukraine splitting down the middle.
Ukraine’s divisions are indeed pronounced and the forging of a coherent national identity has remained very much a work in progress since independence.
Nonetheless, far from pointing to its unraveling, polling indicates that support for the Ukrainian state has been on the rise over the past decade – even in the Russian-speaking East and South. This is true despite the often polarizing and dysfunctional policies of successive Ukrainian leaders.
As the violence between police and protesters escalate (hundreds of riot police descended on the main square and the protestors set Independence Square ablaze), it is easy to see the country's irreconcilable differences. The United States and the EU advocated for a peaceful resolution, but this crackdown comes on the heels of Russia buying $2 billion of Ukrainian government bonds and securing their financial future. This other article is a reminder that while there are divisions, it's not inevitable that the centrifugal forces will pull the country apart.
LONDON – Escalating the fight against secession, the British government warned Thursday that Scotland would lose the right to continue using the pound as its currency if voters there say yes to a historic referendum on independence this fall.
Osborne’s stark warning, delivered in a speech in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, represented a new willingness by unionists to take a hard line in persuading Scottish voters to shun independence in a September plebiscite. A thumbs-up would end Scotland’s 307-year-old marriage to England and Wales and cause the biggest political shakeup in the British Isles since Ireland split from the British crown nearly a century ago.
Sturgeon predicted that “what the Treasury says now in the heat of the campaign would be very different to what they say after a democratic vote for independence, when common sense would trump the campaign rhetoric.”
This is an intriguing strategic move by the UK as Scotland considers independence. Some have argued that this move will backfire and push more Scottish voters into the "yes" camp. In related news, the BBC reports that EU officials say that an independent Scotland would have a hard time joining the European Union.
Why would Vladimir Putin want to host the Olympics in an underdeveloped place where terrorists lurk nearby? The answer is not as complicated as it may seem.
This article is an excellent explanation of the geopolitical significance of holding the Olympic Games in Sochi. Geographer Carole McGranahan writes critically about the location of the Olympics given Putin's policies in the Caucasus Mountains (especially in regard to the 2008 invasion of Georgia to protect Russian interests in South Ossetia). Additionally, here is a link from Stratfor discussing the shifting foreign policy concerns of the United States towards Russia.
ESPN Video: Jeremy Schaap details the threats to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
It's not everyday that ESPN will use terms like insurgency, region, state, suicide bombs, attacks, threats, heightened security, terrorists and black widows during a video clip, but when they do it's worth paying attention to the geographic context of their story. Here is an additional NY Times interactive, also on the geopolitical context of Sochi.
Mapping the war in Congo: mineral wealth, militias and an epic march
To understand much of the political situation in Central Africa, a short history of the recent political and ethnic turmoil in Rwanda and Congo are helpful. This particular videographic from the Economist is a few years old, but the historical context is still incredibly relevant This series provides a wealth of information and several will be added to the place-based geography videos interactive map.
|Suggested by Thomas Schmeling|
Voters in five Colorado counties said on Tuesday they want to form their own state. But the breakaway regions face almost impossible constitutional and political obstacles. The North Colorado movement supporters claim that their counties have little in common with more urbanized parts of the state, and they are unhappy with state-wide laws about gun control and energy standards.
Residents of rural areas feel shut out of their states' politics, so why not create their own?
One county commission discribed these political movements thus: "It's grounded in the legitimate feeling that if you're marginalized by geography, it's easy to feel neglected by the central government." The political division between urban and rural citizens can lead to pockets of the population feeling as though the state government ignores your and the surrounding communities. It took the Civil War to separate West Virginia from Virginia, and while many may want to be in a different state, it's not happening simply because there is grassroots support for greater local autonomy. Hypothetically, let's say that many new states are generated; what consequences might come of this? Would it leading to further gerrymandering?
More than 1 million flag-draped and face-painted Catalans held hands and formed a 250-mile human chain across the northeastern Spanish region Wednesday in a demonstration of their desires for independence.
September 11th means different things is different places. While many Americans were remembering the terrorist attacks of 2001, it was Catalonian National Day. In addition to the festivities, they organized a massive public demonstration to support independence and to garner international attention. They created a 'human border' that sretched across the region to apply pressure on the Spanish government to allow a vote that would let Catalonia break away and form their own country. While this energy and enthusiasm swept Barcelona, the Spanish government stopped the protest from spreading into neighboring Valencia (many Valencians speak Catalan).
Questions to Ponder: How do events such as this in public places impact the political process? Is it significant that the link about the Spanish government stopping Valencia comes from a Scottish newspaper? Why? How can social media and technology (such as the hastags
#CatalanWay #ViaCatalana) impact social movements?
|Suggested by Allison Anthony|
"Mr Füzes had voiced support for the Székler people, a group of ethnic Hungarians who live in Transylvania, after two Romanian counties banned the display of the Székler flag (pictured above with men in hussar uniform) on public buildings. Zsolt Nemeth, Hungary’s state secretary for foreign affairs, described the ban as an act of “symbolic aggression” and called for local councils in Hungary to show solidarity by flying the Székler flag from town halls. The Hungarian government then raised the Székler flag above Parliament, further enraging Bucharest..."
Flags are important symbols of cultural identity and displaying them can be a strong political statement. For Hungarians, displaying symbols of a "Greater Hungary" shows some desire for irredentism--to redeem Hungarians of the 'wrong' side of the border. For those Hungarians in Romania this is an act of defiance that show that they want greater autonomy.
For sports fans, ESPN did a "30 for 30" documentary on the early 90's Yugoslavian basketball team that was a major talent (1990 World Champions) but was torn apart as devolutionary forces fractured the countries and the once-teammates were estranged after what some perceived as disrespectful acts to the Croatian national flag. Vlade Divac (a Serbian) was pitted against some of his best friends from Croatia as the civil war was playing itself out on the court as well. This is a great way to get a sports fan to learn about ethnic conflict and about the importance of cultural symbols ("Once Brothers"--$1.99, free for Amazon Prime users).