Exploring John’s ‘In-Continents’
One thing that that the hot war between Russia and Ukraine has reminded me — aside from the stupidity and savagery of human destruction, and the utter hubris of tyrants –– is of my less than ideal knowledge of world geography.
Now, I’m no Vasco da Gama, but I’ve always been able to hold my own when finding my way ‘round a world map or globe.
For my younger readers, a globe is like Google™ Maps, glued to a cardboard sphere, suspended by a metal frame at the Earth’s axes. We could spin the globe to locate countries, much like you scroll up and down your smart phone. It was stationary, and primarily used in the classroom, because for some reason the popularity of the pocket globe never took off.
Anyway, when Russia invaded Ukraine, I became curious. I was wondering if this might be the first time Asians invaded Europe since the Huns made their run in 370 AD.
Little did I know when I asked myself this question that I would be upsetting my entire world view worldview.
You see, for my entire life, I thought of Russia as an Asian nation. Although the vast majority of Russia’s land mass lies east of the Ural Mountains –– the traditional dividing line between Europe and Asia –– most of the Russian Federation population is situated to the west. European Russia has a 2020 population of 113 million people, making it the most populous country in Europe.
There’s even a hunk of land west of Latvia and Lithuania that belongs to Russia.
That’s because a shrewd real estate developer named Joseph Stalin convinced the United Kingdom and the United States after defeating the Nazis in World War II that he needed another seaport. The USSR (Soviet Union) was given the German port city of Königsberg, renamed Kaliningrad after being resettled by Stalin with Russians.
This split personality makes Russia one of only two truly transcontinental nations … depending on who you ask.
The other transcontinental nation is Turkey. Remember from grade school? Turkey was called the “Bridge to Asia”. It’s even more true, today, since the nation just opened a new multi-billion dollar actual “mega bridge” crossing the Turkish Strait, the southern continental dividing line.
My confusion lies in the fact that boundaries between continents are somewhat a matter of geographical convention, and not by means of scientific measurement.
For instance, some consider the United States to be a transcontinental nation. To my knowledge, aside from an alien abduction in 2008, I’ve never been off of the North American continent. Yet, some believe that, although the USA’s largest land mass resides in North America, tiny Hawaii belongs to the geographical sub-region of Oceania.
Oceania is a sub-region because you need a submarine to get there easily. Oceania consist of Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Hawaii, and the -nesia sisters “Mela,” “Micro,” and “Poly”.
French Polynesia is why some consider France to be a transcontinental nation. France also claims French Guiana (Africa), Guadeloupe and Martinique (North America), and Indian Ocean islands Mayotte and Réunion (Africa).
Easter Island (Oceania) belongs to Chilé. Panama (North and South America) makes sense. Even China is claiming holdings in Antarctica. Sixteen other nations are considered transcontinental by borders or treaties.
Plus, there are the subcontinents like Greenland and India, and the geopolitical regions, such as the Middle East or the Caucasus.
I’m telling you, I’m becoming quite lost. The other day, on a cooking show, the host wanted to explain to us after the commercial, where we get Bulgar wheat. “That’s easy,” I said. “We get it from Ramen-ia!”
For the curious, I count seven invasions of Europe by Asians: Persians (492 BC), Huns (370 AD), Avars (562 AD), Alans (600 AD), Bulgars (700 AD), Magyars (892 AD), Mongolians (1220 AD).
– John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.