On Thursday, South Sudan celebrates four years of independence with a day of national festivities. Yet, while the country’s split from Sudan in 2011 was greeted with hope, both at home and abroad, the subsequent years have been marked by pessimism over a deteriorating economy – South Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries – and a devastating civil war. The conflict, which has pitted followers of President Salva Kiir against soldiers loyal to ousted vice president, Riek Machar, continues today, and with rebels attacking oil fields, the country’s most valuable resource is at risk. (Oil represents a staggering 98% of state revenues.) Sadly, four years after its triumphant debut, the world’s youngest country has yet to find its footing. Here, we look at other young states around the world to analyze the pitfalls and the admittedly rare successes.
The Free Republic of Liberland, 2015
So, Liberland is not officially a nation. Rather, this enclave on the border of Croatia and Serbia is a self-proclaimed micro-state. (Its founders claim that the three square mile parcel of land in question has never been properly claimed.) But Liberland has a leader, Czech politician and Eurosceptic Vit Jedlicka, a flag, and a national motto: “To live and let live.” Yet with hardly any citizens, no infrastructure, and no recognition from the international community – let alone Croatia and Serbia – Liberland looks to remain more of an oddity than a nation. This despite Jedlicka’s best efforts to convince national governments of Liberland’s legitimacy. Luckily, the aspiring nation has thus far aroused little controversy, unlike territories in eastern Ukraine and Georgia. Meaning that Liberland’s founders are free to pursue their chosen motto – for now, at least.
Like many of Europe’s newer states, Kosovo’s creation was precipitated by the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. It boasts the title of Europe’s youngest nation, as well as the continent’s youngest population. The country split from Serbia in 2008, buoyed by international support, but has yet to be officially recognized by Belgrade (and a few other stragglers). And while Kosovo has aspirations to join the E.U., accession is dependent on normalized relations with its neighbor and long-time enemy, Serbia. Pristina has yet to even obtain a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a precursor to the long climb to E.U. membership.
Its economy remains weak, and ethnic tensions persist, particularly in Serbian-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo. And now, the possibility of a Grexit could further destabilize the country. (See: Greek crisis, Balkan repercussions). At seven years old, Kosovo’s growing pains are far from over.
Montenegro and Serbia, 2006
Technically Montenegro and Serbia declared independence on different dates, albeit only a few days apart. But they were originally one joint state, formed in 2003 in the wake of the collapse of Yugoslavia. The nations split in 2006 following a national Montenegrin referendum that favored independence; Serbia declared its own independence on June 5, two days after Montenegro. Today, the latter state is, if not flourishing, at least stable thanks to its liberalized economy and political stability – both of which have boosted the country’s chances of joining the E.U.
Like Montenegro, Serbia is striving towards E.U. integration, which, as noted above, depends on improved relations with Kosovo. Belgrade is also struggling to balance its European aspirations with its loyalties to Moscow. The country looks to be on the path to reform, under the guiding hand of the E.U. However, like many Balkan states that have joined the bloc, there is always the potential for backsliding.
East Timor, 2002
Once a Portuguese colony, East Timor split from Indonesia in May 2002. The country has had a troubled history: widespread violence after Indonesia invaded in 1975 (over 100,000 East Timorese were reportedly killed during Indonesia’s military occupation), followed by internal strife between pro-Indonesia militias and activists supporting independence in the 1990s. Fighting broke out once again in 2006, prompting the United Nations to step in. While East Timor has made some progress since its rocky debut — violence has calmed in recent years, amid relative growth – it still struggles to address widespread corruption, a frail economy, and human rights violations. For now, East Timor’s future remains precarious.
This island nation gained its independence from the United States on October 1, 1994. For the previous five decades, Palau had been a United Nations Trust Territory under U.S. administration. (This after being passed around from Spain to Germany to Japan.) Following a peaceful transition to independence, wealth, a thriving tourist industry, and admission to the United Nations have ensured Palau stability and credibility. As has a generous partnership with the United States, which continues to offer the small country financial and military assistance. Today, Palau looks to be a success story — especially when compared to the other countries on this list.