The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (commonly referred to as the Soviet Union for short) lasted from 1922, following the Bolshevik and February Revolutions, until its collapse in 1991.
Assuming power in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev’s lauded reforms gave the republics more control, but this came after decades of totalitarian governing that pressed industrialization at all costs and formed a severe divide between social classes. The wealthy lived like kings, while the majority of the population were on the verge of starvation. Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness/transparency) initiative prompted the release of political prisoners and lifted the heavy hand of the totalitarian regime. His perestroika (restructuring) policy relaxed central economic control, too.
But, as Gorbachev noted in his 1991 resignation speech, “…the old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working,” and most member states of the U.S.S.R. declared their independence to salvage what remained.
A series of peaceful political revolutions were occurring across Eastern Europe fueled by a younger generation that refused to follow the political systems their parents were forced into. The Soviet Union’s gas and oil revenue was dropping drastically and 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall. The U.S.S.R.—once a single country that covered nearly one-sixth of the planet—was not immune to the momentum of change: it now stands as 16 separate nations.
Source: The Collapse of the Soviet Union
Yugoslavia officially existed under a variety of governmental banners and names from 1929 until 2003, when it was split into seven different countries. It started as a federation of six republics that each retained their linguistic, ethnic and cultural identities while maintaining separate parliaments and individual presidents:
- Slovenia (Catholic Slovenes)
- Croatia (Catholic Croats)
- Serbia (Orthodox Serbs)
- Bosnia Herzegovina (Muslim Bosniaks mixed with Serbs and Croats)
- Montenegro (an even split of Orthodox Serb and Croats)
- Macedonia (with a 25/75 blend of Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Macedonians)
After a complicated history of deadly ethnic battling and regional disputes, Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the Yugoslav federation in 1991, which began the final slow demise of the former Yugoslavia in 2003.
After the Austrian Empire was defeated in the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, Franz Joseph I, the Emperor of Austria, turned to Hungary and its nobility for support. The signing of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 united the two countries.
Despite Franz Joseph’s death in November of 1916, and the succession of his nephew Charles who attempted to withdraw peacefully from the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (and Germany) ultimately were defeated; by 1918, the Dual Monarchy was no more.
Source: The collapse of Austria-Hungary
East and West Germany
When the Soviets implemented the Berlin Blockade on June 24, 1948, less than 24 hours after it was announced that the Western-controlled zones of Germany would have one single currency. Communism took the East, democracy took the West.
After Hungary opened its borders with Austria in 1989, thousands of East Germans flew the coop. The Berlin Wall collapsed (along with relations with the Soviet Union) soon afterward, and the rest is history.
Source: Berlin Wall
Spanning six centuries from 1299-1922, the Ottoman Empire was comprised of what is now Turkey, parts of Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Macedonia, Romania, Syria, parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa.
This powerhouse even joined its former enemy the Habsburgs on the same side in the First World War. Although the Ottoman Empire made it out of the war, beaten, but relatively in one piece, it was dismantled by the victorious Allied powers.
Tibet existed peacefully under the Republic of China from 1912-1950 with plenty of autonomy. But when the Communist Party of China formed in 1921 and Mao Zedong took over party leadership in 1927, Tibet and its young leader, the Dalai Lama, had every reason to start feeling nervous.
After months of failed negotiations and a tense build-up of armed forces along their borders, the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet to claim the territory for its own.
Source: Tibet’s History
The Ethiopian Empire was known as Abyssinia up until the 20th century and its most recent Emperor was Haile Selassie I, a notable figure in Rastafarian culture, ruling as head of the Solomonic dynasty from 1930-1974.
Surviving the Abyssinia Crisis/Wal Wal incident, the Mussolini-coordinated occupation during World War II and the colonization of Eastern Africa, the monarchy of Abyssinia was eventually ousted in a coup d’état by the Derg, or Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army, in 1974.
Source: Manchuria and Abyssinia
Officially known as the Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam was short-lived as far as countries go. From 1955 to 1975, as you would expect from its name, this country could be found in what is now the south half of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell without much resistance to North Vietnam in April of 1975 and the city and country unconditionally surrendered, effectively ending South Vietnam. The unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was declared on July 2, 1976.
Source: The Fall Of South Vietnam
Located in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and France, Corsica is an island that has passed in ownership between the two nations over the years. While the island has been around and occupied since the time of the Ancient Greeks (and before), it is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Corsica is now considered a “single territorial collectivity of France,” meaning that it is officially ruled by the French government but it does have a certain amount of autonomy for self-governance.
Originally given the name Ceilão by the Portuguese in 1505, this South Asia island 31 kilometers (19 miles) off the southern coast of India came under the control of the British in 1802. The new name bestowed upon this Commonwealth republic was Ceylon.
Ceylon gained independence from Britain on February 4, 1948, not unlike other former British colonies (for example, Canada and Australia). Seven years later, the Dominion of Ceylon was admitted to the United Nations, changing its name to Sri Lanka in 1972.
Source: A Brief History of Sri Lanka
Myanmar is a sovereign state in the region of Southeast Asia. Made up of over 130 ethnic groups, Burma was once part of British India, The country but went on to declare official independence from Britain in 1948.
Since the beginning of Burma’s independent parliament, there have been problems. The country has been witness to countless human rights conflicts and violations. This included systematic sexual violence and human trafficking, child, forced and slave labor.
In 550 BC, the Achaemenid Empire (also known as the First Persian Empire) conquered wide swaths of territory including areas of the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The center of the empire remained in the Middle East (around modern Iran), and it most recently existed between 1501 and 1925.
The government was overthrown by a coup d’état in 1921 and a legislative body was convened to vote and officially exclude the Qajar dynasty from any further control of Persia, which became modern Iran.
Source: Persian Empire
At times one of the most powerful empires in Southeast Asia, the Bengal Empire covered modern-day Bangladesh and much of the surrounding area.
Bengalis played a large part in the Indian Independence movement, and while some wished for the British to leave a reunited Bengal when they departed, the region was partitioned according to religious and ethnic groups. The area remains as one of the most densely populated regions in the world and is home to more than a quarter of a billion people.
Source: Rise and Fall Of Bengal
Siam was an absolute monarchy for seven centuries, from 1238 to 1932, until an internal revolution backed by the Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party) occurred—then it became a constitutional monarchy.
In 1939, Siam came under the fascist military rule and sided with Japan in World War II. When the tide turned in favor of the Allied forces, it made peace with the West, while carefully trying not to snub Japan. Siam officially became Thailand in 1949.
Source: History of Thailand
After the Congo gained independence from Belgium, there ensued the Congo Crisis, from 1960-65. This formed the perfect backdrop for the totalitarian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and his Popular Movement of the Revolution Party to seize power via a military coup in 1965.
On October 27, 1971, the country officially became the Republic of Zaire. Mobutu fled Zaire after the rebellion against him, and the name the Democratic Republic of the Congo was restored to the country on May 17, 1997.
The United Arab Republic
Although it didn’t last for long, the United Arab Republic’s (UAR) formation in 1958 represented a celebration of Arab culture, nationalism, solidarity and its contributions to the world.
Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Syrian president Shukri al-Kuwatli embraced this upswing of Pan-Arabism and became political allies. The idea of a united Arab nation lost any momentum it initially carried when oil-rich countries such as Iraq, decided to pass. Syria seceded in 1961, three years after the formation of the UAR.
Source: United Arab Republic
In the long list of countries changing “hands” repeatedly, and eventually merging with other nations, our catalog would be incomplete were we not to mention present-day Tanzania.
From 1961 until 1964, an even shorter run than Texas, Tanganyika was a sovereign state, gaining independence from the United Kingdom on December 9, 1961, and become a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations one year later.
Zanzibar (then, and as it is still known) was comprised of the series of islands less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean.
The archipelago is a semi-autonomous region now but it switched hands from Arab rule and became a British Protectorate in 1890, and much like it’s neighbor Tanganyika, gained its independence shortly thereafter on December 19, 1963.
Source: History Of Zanzibar
United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar
Alas, only one year later, the Sultan was overthrown, and the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba joined Tanganyika officially as the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar on April 26, 1964.
If you think one year is short, consider that only seven months later, on October 29, the country changed its name once more, this time combining the “Tan” from Tanganyika and the “Zan” from Zanzibar. That’s right: The United Republic of Tanzania.
From 1918 to 1935, Czechoslovakia was a peacefully functioning parliamentary democracy, while at the same time becoming Eastern Europe’s leading example of industrial advancement. Following World War Two, the Communist system got its foot in the door when U.S.S.R. troops liberated Czechoslovakia from Axis control.
The Velvet Revolution of 1989 prompted the Communist Party to step down. Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two nations: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic — and aimed to keep a common currency with open trade.
Source: Dissolution of Czechoslovakia
In 1890 Rhodesia was settled by the British and the area became a war zone between the white minority and locals. For 100 years, Rhodesia was a British colony that gradually evolved into a country fighting both within itself while at the same time battling to gain its independence from Britain.
In 1980, Rhodesia held elections to decide its fate as a colony in the Commonwealth. It was decided by voters that Rhodesia would declare its independence and call itself Zimbabwe.
Sikkim has a population of only 619,000 people — and they speak 11 official languages. It sits nestled in the Himalayas with Nepal, Tibet and West Bengal as neighbors.
By the mid-1970s, the Sikkimese were fed up with the monarchy that had ruled the country for over 300 years. After a rebellion against the monarchy in 1973, a referendum was held in 1975 that saw the majority of voters casting a ballot in favor of Sikkim becoming one of India’s 29 states instead.
Source: History of Sikkim
The Kingdom of Hawaii became a nation under one government and was guaranteed independence by Great Britain and France in 1843. The United States were Hawaii’s principal trading partner, and they feared someone like Japan or Britain would take control of something they wanted. Hawaii’s King Kalākaua was forced at gunpoint to adopt a new constitution in 1887.
1898 saw the annexation of Hawaii, it’s conversion to a republic, followed by the creation of the Territory of Hawaii by Congress. Hawaii became America’s 50th state on August 21, 1959.
Source: Hawaii becomes 50th state
Republic of Texas
Another eventual annexation to the United States in December of 1845, Texas was once a republic. It gained independence from Mexico in 1836, only 15 years after Mexico won its war of independence from Spain in 1821.
The Republic of Texas enjoyed a decade under its new flag, before joining 10 other states in the Confederacy, and eventually the Union, due to the American Civil War.
Source: The Republic of Texas
Catalonia is a separate cultural and linguistic group within the Spanish Republic and has been lobbying for independence for years, but it hasn’t quite achieved it completely.
As it stands, Catalonians have tried several times in the last four years to hold referendums in an attempt to gain their independence from Spain; most recently in October of 2017 when violence erupted. At the time, the Spanish courts blocked the vote due to its unconstitutionality.
Source: Catalonia profile – Timeline