Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Big Little Countries

1. In Portugal there is always this feeling that we deserve to be as well known and appreciated in the international arena as France or England. We are thaught of the importance of our country: the Portuguese Discoveries, of course, the beginning of globalization and Europe centrism, the use of experience and observation as the best way to legitimate knowledge and so on.

However, real life is present life, it is TODAY and today the world's important countries are the USA, United Kingdom, Germany and still, to a lesser extent, France, whose May 68 culture still impacts so much in the Portuguese intelectuality.

Eventhough I realize how today's realpolitik determines the importance of countries and how much attention they can draw from the world's eyes, I have an ever growing sense of injustice regarding the situation of the lesser publicized countries.

For instances, travel adverts, travel agents, prizes in quizshows always put forward London and Paris, Paris and London, but never, say, a Vienna or a Lisbon. I accept that London and Paris are bigger and offer "more to see", a bigger quantity to see. But I also believe anyone would recognize the astonishing beauty of, again and for example, Lisbon and Vienna.

Why the most publicized cities and countries are always the same? And why those same countries must coincide with the most powerful countries?

As a consequence of this, there is a handful of countries and cities whose beauty, culture, history remain basically unknown, or at least, remain unknown to the people that do not seek knowledge in a non-passive way. For those who sit paying attention to tv, hoardings and advertising in general, a Latvia or a Vilnius will never arise.

It is of course not cities and countries the ones who loose with this lack of publicity.

2. Some years ago I wrote a text in which there was a paragraph for each European country (and I think I counted 46 countries in that time). In each paragraph I wrote what I deemed to be the most important things I knew, or believed I knew, about a specific country. In some cases, I had nothing to say except that "Latvia is the country whose capital is Riga".

Later, a certain course of life, which beginning was "of course" Lisbon, took me to Estonia. In a very short time I learned the main aspects of the history of Estonia, the empires that dominated Tallinn (or Reval), the singing culture and, naturally, the Singing Revolution, Eduard Wiiralt and Kalevipoeg, Suku and Kohuke and... And I became extremely surprised not because of the extreme beauty and interest of Estonia's culture and history, of its political past and the present ethnic (im)balance but because all of these were absolutely unknown to me, absolutely unknown to most people, those people who know so much of Paris and London even when they have never visited them.

For instance, yesterday I learned that the countries that had the highest proportion and highest absolute number of civil population killed during the Second World War were Belarus and Ukraine, respectively. Some of the biggest battles of the WWII were fought in their territories. However, whenever one listens or reads about the Second World War, only those worldly important countries like USA or UK are mentioned.

3. The main idea of this post is: there is plenty of histories, cultures, politics, economies (too!) that eventhough don't get as much attention as the ones from the world's big-big countries, are no less interesting than theirs. There is a lot of beauty and interesting ideas to appreciate and benefit from the little countries and the little cities of the world.

Little countries and little cities are, after all, big in interest and beauty.


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