The Belgian Congo and Yugoslavia

During the Vietnam war, it was widely reported – I don’t remember if it was apocryphal or true – that most Americans could not find Vietnam on a map. Likewise, today’s students might be challenged to find Afghanistan or Iraq on the globe.

By contrast, I was a bit of a cartology fanatic when I was a child. My paternal grandfather, who lived upstairs, would give me maps from his National Geographic, which I would study at length. I still have some of them in the attic, BTW.

Unfortunately for my recall, the world kept changing. French West Africa and British East Africa became a slew of independent countries. What was once Belgian Congo became Zaire, but is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes referred to as Congo-Kinshasa; this not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of the Congo, also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, which used to be under French control.

Later, Germany merged. Czechoslovakia, Sudan, Yugoslavia, and the USSR broke up; fortunately, the former two only broke into a couple countries each. But Yugoslavia… One of my co-workers came up to me and asked how many of the five former Yugoslav republics I could name; I remembered four. Then I looked it up and there are SIX:

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatia (which I forgot)
Macedonia (which I remembered because the Greeks got all bent out of shape)
Montenegro (which I remembered from WWI)
Serbia (which has two autonomous regions, Vojvodina – which I had never heard of; and Kosovo, which I had)
Slovenia (not be confused with Slovakia, part of the former Czechoslovakia; I forgot it)

It SHOULD be easy to remember: BCMMSS

Now the former Soviet Union is tougher, and I have developed a bizarre way to remember, roughly from northwest to southeast:

Baltic states-ELL
Estonia
Latvia
Lithuania

Eastern Europe-BUM
Belarus
Ukraine
Moldova

Southern Caucasus, Russia-RAGA
Russia
Armenia
Georgia
Azerbaijan

Central Asia-KKUTT
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan
Uzbekistan
Tajikistan
Turkmenistan

ELL-BUM-RAGA-KKUTT? Well, it worked for me; sounds like a musical selection.

World, stop changing. I’m kidding; change is inevitable.

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