Do you know what ‘autochthonous’ means? If you’re an avid follower of the singer Dua Lipa, you probably do. That’s because she tweeted out a dictionary definition over the weekend — “indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists.”
(of an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists pic.twitter.com/OD9bNmLcZ4
— DUA LIPA (@DUALIPA) July 19, 2020
I like the idea of pop stars explaining big words to their fans. Perhaps Taylor Swift could define ‘sesquipedalian’ for us, while Justin Bieber takes a stab at ‘discombobulation’. If schools don’t reopen in September, then social media may be the new classroom.
However, Lipa’s purpose was not purely educational. Though born in Britain, her parents are Kosovar Albanians and her tweet was illustrated with the Albanian flag — a black double-headed eagle on a red background. Furthermore, the flag was cut into the shape of a map. A map of what though? Albania itself? The neighbouring Republic of Kosovo (in which ethnic Albanians constitute the majority population)?
Er, not quite — the borders depicted appear to extend further than either of those sovereign states. Chunks of other Balkan countries seem to be included. Now it may be that the graphic was simply intended to show where ethnic Albanians have lived for generations upon generations. But in the online reaction, it has been condemned as promoting the nationalist idea of a Greater Albania.
You don’t have to look very hard on the internet to find maps showing ‘Greater’ versions of many different nations. The big word for thinking bits of neighbouring countries ought to belong to one’s own country is ‘irredentism’, which is derived from the Italian for ‘unredeemed’. Though there are examples the world over, the Balkans — plus the surrounding nations — are a notorious hotspot for territorial claims and counter-claims.
We’d be complacent to assume that irredentist movements are a thing of the past. Resentments continue to simmer and there’s no doubt that some nationalities have had a tougher deal from history than others. For instance, millions of ethnic Hungarians found themselves living outside Hungary when the borders were redrawn after the First World War. A hundred years later, Viktor Orban has made a point of offering Hungarian citizenship to their descendants.
Then there’s the matter of Macedonia, a former Yugoslavian republic whose very name was taken as an affront to the territorial and cultural integrity of Greece. A compromise was eventually found — last year, the country renamed itself North Macedonia so as not to imply a claim on the Greek region of Macedonia which lies to the south.
I guess we Brits should be grateful to have our borders defined by the sea, not war and diplomacy. But, then again, we’re hardly strangers to territorial conflict. There’s the land border with the Republic of Ireland, of course — which only last year came close to derailing Brexit. In turn, Brexit may yet derail the Union, if the Scots vote for independence. That would open all sorts of complications, though not I hope over the location of the land border with England, which these days is a settled issue. It didn’t used to be, however. It was fought over for centuries.
The same goes for the Anglo-Welsh border. The idea of Cymru (Wales) and Cymry (the Welsh) used to extend much further than it does now (where do you think the name Cumbria comes from?).
Perhaps we’re no so different from the Balkans as we might think we are.