World's Newest Countries
With the exception of Antarctica, the entire world has been claimed and cut up into hundreds of nations -- currently 195 according to the U.S. State Department. Many times, the divisions are completely subjective -- simply lines sketched by politicians. So, on the surface, the creation of a "new" country is just a rearrangement of borders. But in the modern world, a lot must transpire for a population to carve out a new independent state. Sometimes, these nations separate peacefully like Serbia and Montenegro, while other nations emerge as a result of horrific violence like South Sudan.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, the global political trend has been toward fracture. Previously, a handful of Western powers like Spain and England had colonized much of the globe, establishing empires that swallowed many countries. Geographer Matt Rosenberg of About.com points out that in the early 1800s, only 10 percent of nations were independent, and a century later, that number had only increased to 25 percent or 49 countries. However, starting in the early 1900s, the world witnessed a growing urgency for national independence. The fragmentation of the USSR into more than 15 countries in the early 1990s best exemplifies this pattern of continual shattering.
Over the past 20 years, 10 countries have been successfully created. They are found everywhere from Africa to the South Pacific and vary in shape, size and population make-up. We decided to take a look at these newcomers to find out how they came to be and why you may or may not want to visit them today.
Population numbers are from the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
[See a photo recap of the World's Newest Countries]
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Independence Day: March 3, 1992
Bosnia and Herzegovina, or simply "Bosnia," formerly belonged to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the multi-ethnic population -- composed predominantly of Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats -- entered into a brutal civil war from April 1992 to December 1995. The conflict included such horrific atrocities as the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing and the Siege of Sarajevo. By the time the international community intervened and ended the Bosnian War, an estimated 100,000 citizens had died and more than 2.2 million had fled the country.
Since the bleak 90s, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been rebuilding and rebranding itself. The country now welcomes international visitors, advertising itself as "The Heart-Shaped Nation," a reference to its physical shape and an attempt to move on from its violent past. Although it's almost entirely landlocked, this Balkan state does offer a gorgeous 16-mile strip of Adriatic Sea coastline as well as access to the dramatic Dinaric Alps. And the architecture of Sarajevo's Old Town shows signs of prosperity since the 15th century. For more information about historical and natural sites, explore the country's tourism website.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
Independence Day: January 1, 1993
Population: Czech Republic -- 10,190,213; Slovakia -- 5,477,038
At the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles established a new sovereign state, Czechoslovakia, from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This aggregate country adopted a communist regime in 1948, which ruled for more than 40 years. Then, in 1989, without a single casualty, the Velvet Revolution brought an end to communist rule and the rise of a parliamentary democracy. Political rest didn't last long; tensions grew between two ethnic groups, the Czechs and the Slovaks. This social conflict persuaded the government to divide peacefully and, on January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia officially declared their independence.
Since 1993, the Czech Republic has undergone a tourism renaissance. According to the Czech Statistical Office, the enchanting capital city of Prague has lead the charge, welcoming 4,733,791 visitors in 2010 alone. The country boasts medieval castles, communist monuments and stunning national parks like the Czech Switzerland National Park. While Slovakia has not enjoyed such prosperity, it does have its charms, chief among them is the exceedingly low cost of visiting. Casual explorers come for the cafés in Old Town Bratislava, the nation's capital, and the alpine peaks of eastern Slovakia welcome intrepid adventurers. For more information, check out the Czech Republic and Slovakia's tourism websites.
Independence Day: May 24, 1993
Sometimes called the North Korea of Africa, Eritrea is a highly charged youngster. Located in northeast Africa, the country occupies a long stretch of Red Sea coastline, which has attracted several foreign rulers in the past. The Italians first colonized what is now Eritrea in 1885. After WWII, control passed to the British until 1952, when the UN joined Eritrea with its neighbor, Ethiopia. Beginning in late 1961 and ending in 1991, the Eritrean War of Independence brought constant ethnic and territorial fighting between the two regions. After the fall of Ethopia's Mengistu Regime in 1991, Eritreans were politically recognized by the transitional Ethiopian government and given the right to vote for independence in 1993. And, with 99.8 percent of voters in favor of secession, Eritrea became autonomous.
Since then, Eritrea's relationship with Ethiopia, as well as much of the international community, has been very strained. Fighting along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border has erupted sporadically, and the Eritrean government remains uncooperative with other nations. There is currently a travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State, urging all travelers to avoid the country. The Eritrean government doesn't make it easy to visit either, requiring permits to visit cities other than Asmara. For more information on Eritrea, you should look at the country's tourism website and the U.S. Department of State's website.
Independence Day: October 1, 1994
The beautiful island nation of Palau peacefully gained its independence from the United States in 1994. Entering World War II, Japan controlled Palau. However, after the war, the United Nations included the island in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Island. This decision involved the U.S. protecting and overseeing the small countries within the region. When the U.S. terminated the trusteeship in 1986, Palau and the U.S. maintained a loose association and trade agreement. This arrangement continued until 1994, when ties between the two were officially severed.
Now, about 21,000 lucky people inhabit this tropical paradise -- part of the Caroline Islands archipelago in the South Pacific -- with its verdant terrain and crystal blue waters. As news of the tiny nation spreads, more and more international visitors are coming. Some Americans will recognize Palau as the site of 2005's Survivor season. But you shouldn't worry about roughing it here. The country boasts several incredible luxury resorts like the Palau Pacific Resort. For some day-dreaming fodder and planning assistance, check out Palau's tourism website.
Independence Day: May 20, 2002
Stationed between Indonesia and Australia, Timor-Leste (more commonly known as "East Timor") endured several centuries of foreign occupation before becoming its own entity. The Portuguese first colonized the island in the 17th century and soon established the city of Dili. With the exception of a brief Japanese takeover during WWII, Portugal didn't relinquish its control of East Timor until 1975. Then, East Timor tasted independence for few months before Indonesia invaded, debilitating the small nation. Freedom protests -- like the Santa Cruz Massacre in 1991 -- resulted in severe retaliation that left hundreds dead. However, on the eve of the millennium, the United Nations (UN) persuaded Indonesia to give up its hold on East Timor. Two years later, East Timor formally announced its independence.
This island nation is still trying to reestablish a stable economic infrastructure after the Indonesians devastated its industries in the 90s. The U.S. Department of State now labels East Timor as "one of the poorest countries in the world, with basic income, health, and literacy levels similar to those of countries in sub-Saharan Africa." Although it is not a frequented traveler spot, you can certainly visit the island; recreational activities there include beach going, hiking and scuba diving. For more information, head to the nation's official tourism website.
Serbia and Montenegro
Independence Day: Serbia -- June 5, 2006; Montenegro -- June 3, 2006
Population: Serbia -- 7,311,555; Montenegro -- 661,807
On the Balkan Peninsula, Serbia and Montenegro split peacefully after a 2006 public referendum was passed. However, tiny Montenegro governed itself for centuries before that, all the way back to the Middle Ages. In 1878, the Ottoman Empire also acknowledged its independence. But, in 1918, the Kingdom of Serbia annexed Montenegro. Then, for almost a century, Serbia and Montenegro were intertwined. Despite the many years of political union, Montenegrins considered themselves ethnically different than Serbians and argued for independence. However, Serbia did not want to lose Montenegro's key economic position on the Adriatic Sea. The decision to separate was reached so narrowly that an estimated 2,300 votes determined the outcome. Both nations are now working to become members of the European Union.
For its cultural allure and beauty, Montenegro was chosen to be setting of the 2006 James Bond movie, Casino Royale. However, don't be fooled: Not a single scene was filmed there. Still, Montenegro bustles with tourists in the summer and has a relatively healthy economy. Neighboring Serbia has not enjoyed as much prosperity; political corruption and high unemployment continue to hamper the nation's progress. Additionally, Serbia's troubles with Kosovo (coming up next) have added extra strain to its relationships in the larger international community.
Independence Day: February 17, 2008
Originally part of the Ottoman Empire before World War I, Kosovo was incorporated into Yugoslavia as a semiautonomous state. Once Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 90's, Kosovo remained part of Serbia. With assistance from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Kosovo Liberation Army battled against the ruling Serbian government in 1998 and 1999. At the end of the conflict, a UN administration provided transitional support until 2008, when Kosovo formally declared its independence. However, Serbia (among others) still refuses to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty.
Bordering Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia and Albania in the Balkan Peninsula, Kosovo is home to approximately 1.8 million people, most of who are Albanian and live in rural poverty. The U.S. Department of State reports that "Kosovo's citizens are the poorest in Europe, with an average annual per capita income of approximately $2,750." With an unemployment rate of about 40 percent, the economy relies on subsidies from the international community. Most of Kosovo's cultural sites were demolished during the violence of the 20th century; however, visitors will still find ancient monasteries, lively bazaars and rugged scenery. The country is even working on strengthening its wine and ski industries. To see what Kosovo has to offer, check out the national tourism website.
Independence Day: July 9, 2011
The newest country in the world, South Sudan finally achieved its sought-after sovereignty with a vote. In January 2011's referendum, 98.83 percent of South Sudanese voters opted for separation from Sudan, and in July 2011, a new South Sudan government announced its autonomy. The South Sudanese fought hard for their nation's libration, entering into two long civil wars for over 50 years. Millions have been killed in the ethnic and religious warfare with northern Sudanese, and even after gaining independence, violence persists near the north-south border. Prospective oil rights in the region have further fueled the conflict.
The South Sudan Embassy expresses its desire to develop tourism, saying that it "could become the second leading industry after petroleum." However, the fledgling country currently lacks the proper infrastructure to make tourism a large economic force. But that's not to say that South Sudan is without attractions. On a safari, you can spot herds of antelope, gazelles and elephants roaming the savannas. And Juba, the nation's capital, has tons of bars and restaurants to introduce you to the culture. You should note that the U.S. Department of State warns travelers to steer clear of the disputed border region and to use extreme caution when touring the country.