A Brief History of the Shortest-Lived Country on Earth

Saturday March 30, 2019 Written by Toby

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In around the time it takes you to read this sentence, the Independent State of Catalonia managed to come into existence, do something approximating statehood, and then swiftly vanish into non-existence.

This curious fact comes care of a short video essay from Half as Interesting, which explains how the so-called eight-second country came to be (and then, just as suddenly, not be).

The video also pays heed to some other short-lived contenders. The Sultanate of Zanzibar, for example, racked up a total of 33 days between U.N. recognition and its replacement by the People’s Republic of Zanzibar on January 12, 1964. But things get way shorter once you look beyond countries recognised by the U.N. Take, for example, the Republic of Crimea, which was recognised by Russia, only to be then annexed by Russia one day after it declared independence on March 17, 2014.

If you’re a little confused about what it actually takes to declare yourself a country, the video outlines the four criteria you need to meet (at least from an international law perspective): a permanent population, a defined territory, the existence of a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. By this metric, the shortest-lived state is the Russian Federative Democratic Republic, which was established around lunchtime on 19 January 1918 and dissolved in time for dinner that same day.

But if you move beyond the rather strict definition of statehood as defined by the Montevideo Convention, things get even shorter. Which gets us to the eight-second country. On October 10, 2017, the leader of the Catalonia region of Spain announced that he would “assume the mandate of the people for Catalonia to become an independent state in the shape of a republic,” before immediately suspending this declaration of independence eight seconds later. According to a survey conducted by Microsoft, this is about as long as our average attention span.

With this dismal attention span in mind, we’d like to remind you, in case you didn’t read the headline properly, that these are the shortest-lived countries. The shortest country in the world is Indonesia, where the average height of a person is 1.58 metres. Or if you’re really struggling to follow along, the Short-est country in the world  – that is, the country with the most people whose surname is Short – is the United States, with a total of around 72,473 Shorts. Don’t say we don’t teach you anything useful.