Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bit players

As I explore my options of going to Canada for New Year's Eve, I assume nothing about the country. All I know about the country is that it has a bright red maple leaf on its flag! Canada belongs to an entire group of developed nations like the Scandinavian countries and others in Western Europe which appear to take special pains to stay out of the news. None of them come to mind first when we think of the so-called "first world" countries. All we pay attention is what is happening in the USA, Russia, the UK, China or France and these should be enough if we were to think of the countries of consequence. There are times when I feel that these are probably the good guys who take care of their own development and do not go poking their noses around to spread 'democracy and freedom' and for all such nefarious motives. At other times, I try to comprehend how they manage to keep their wheels of efficiency turning without even causing a ripple in the muddy waters of international politics.

Take Switzerland for example. Swiss banks, Swiss watches and Roger Federer are probably the most famous symbols of this country. Sure, millions of tourists go up the Swiss Alps and marvel at their beauty but this is a country that sat out of two World Wars while the world around them was going to pieces. How can they afford to be so uninvolved? Their neighbour Germany on the other hand tried to take over the world not once but twice, besides doing an awesome job of making the best cars in the world. Now that's a country with presence, Germany: active, prosperous and forever stamped on the world's consciousness for good reasons as well as bad. 

Or take Finland for that matter. Now there's a joke that Finnish boys grow up playing only two games. If they live in towns they take up track racing and if they live in villages, they while their time away by rally racing. We know that they manufacture F1 drivers and World Rally Championship winners on an hourly basis, and that it is the home of India's favourite cell phone company, the super user friendly Nokia. But for a country that once was home to the marauding Viking tribes, they are a tad too quiet now.

So on and forth for a number of countries that we know are going forward in their quiet, super-efficient humming ways. They represent the real unknown to me. For all other countries, there are certain stereotypical images of their lifestyle and people borrowed right out of pop culture which I can summon at an instant's notice. Now pop culture is hardly the most authentic source, but at least it's a starting point. I am sure each of these reticent countries has a vibrant history which is as interesting as their more well known brethren. But the real problem is that these bit players on the world map are doing a very bad job of promoting themselves. Or is it because they have had the better sense not to?

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