According to the United Nations, there are 193 countries on earth. However, there is no rule to say what exactly makes a state. A permanent population, a defined territory, a government? In the international system, the determinant factor seems to be the formal recognition by other states.
In reality, however, there are many places that officially don't exist. De jure, they may be part of another country, but de facto, they operate as an independent entity. Or they live in the minds of a group of people, in an attempt to claim their autonomy. Furthermore, there are borders that at first seem to be represented by clearly defined lines, but in reality, are highly contested and blurred.
If you look closely at the map of the world, you’ll find a number of unrecognized states, many micronations and curious border zones. These places exist in a kind of limbo, in the shadows of international relations. Often, the history of these territories is complex, and geopolitics play a large role in the determination of their future. Sometimes the conflicts about these areas get to the news headlines, but mostly they don’t.
De Facto explores this realm of unrecognized states, micronations and curious border zones. Journalist Jorie Horsthuis and graphic designer Floor Koomen expose how these places put themselves on the map, how geopolitics penetrates daily life, and how personal stories and peculiar details shed light on global developments.
Floor Koomen (1972) is a graphic designer. She loves tiny maps on stamps and has been collecting them and other peculiar items from these places since many years. It started when she stumbled upon the exclave of Cabinda, north of Angola, where they simply overprinted the existing stamps with the autograph of the exiled president. The most curious item in the collection is perhaps a Chinese 3d puzzle of the Senkaku Islands or else the giftset with composite money from Transnistria. The collection is ever growing and can be seen on De Facto. She teaches at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, the university of applied sciences for Fine Arts and Design in Amsterdam.
Jorie Horsthuis (1981) is a journalist and a political scientist. She is crazy about borderzones and has been traveling to unrecognized states like Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and Northern-Cyprus since she started journalism. For several months, she has lived in Mitrovica, the divided town on the unofficial border between Serbia and Kosovo. Her fascination lies foremost with the people who live on these curious pieces of land: how does geopolitics penetrate their daily lives? When Jorie is not traveling or writing, she is teaching at the Political Sciences Department of the University of Amsterdam.
We are based in Amsterdam.
How we work
De Facto is a hub where articles, analyses and features from a broad range of direct sources, journalists, artists and academics are collected and shared. It is a continuous work in progress, as we cannot keep up with the pace of changing borders and new disputes over land. Furthermore, we are broadening our knowledge and network day by day, which means the website will grow with new stories as we speak. We hope you’ll join us in this attempt.
To make a clear distinction between the status of these places, we have determined three categories:
- Unrecognized states: state-like entities that have achieved de facto independence, but violate the principle of territorial integrity.
- Territorial disputes: pieces of land that are either claimed by several countries, or are so peculiar that they deserve our attention.
- Micronations: entities that are founded in an attempt to claim autonomy, but are not recognized as such in the international system.
The allocation of the territories to these categories might seem fixed, but is as fluid as the borders that are the subject of our website—and so is the selection of the territories. Every choice can and will be contested, by us and hopefully also by you. The content of our website is part of an ongoing debate. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to catch up with the latest developments and discussions.
With this website, we do not take a political stance, and we do not choose sides. We want to share stories from all kind of sources and thereby provide an intriguing insight into the de facto situation of these particular places in the world. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the articles and images belong solely to the original authors, and not to De Facto.
De Facto assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an ‘as is’ basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness.
We did our uttermost best to find the sources of all images on this site. If you have any complaints, please let us know.
We are open to any remarks, questions or suggestions. Please send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text edits & corrections
Olaf van Muijden
This project is supported by Creative Industries Fund NL.