Countries That Don't Exist Anymore (But Did In The '60s & '70s)

Culture | February 23, 2019

Soviet gymnasts in 1975, from left: Lyudmila Tourischeva, the 23-year old world gymnast champion, Olga Koval, 13, and Elvira Saadi, 23. Source: (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Got an old globe in your house? If it's from the 1950s, '60s or '70s, you'll see a lot of countries that don't exist anymore. Two of the most powerful historical forces of the 20th century, post-colonialism and the rise of communism, conspired to redraw some regions and rename others. Farewell Rhodesia, farewell U.S.S.R., farewell North Yemen -- it was nice knowing ya.

The funny thing about countries that don't exist anymore is that thanks to political or military turmoil, they go out in a flurry of discussion and news coverage, but are quickly forgotten. Yugoslavia, for instance, was a major topic of concern in the late '80s and early '90s. But once it fell apart we all got to work learning the new names, and now we're challenged to remember which six or seven current countries used to be Yugo. (Read on to find out.)

Even though these countries that don't exist anymore have disappeared from maps and globes you studied in school, they're still there -- the land is, anyway, as is the history and the culture. Political divisions and place names are human designations. So if you've always wanted to see the breathtaking sights of the beautiful island realm of Ceylon, you still can. Just make sure your plane ticket says Sri Lanka.

The Soviet Union

The Russian Kremlin. Source: (thehill.com)

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or U.S.S.R., one of the world’s greatest superpowers and largest country on the planet, broke apart on December 26, 1991. For decades, beginning with the end of World War II, schoolchildren in the U.S. learned all about how the Soviets were trying to prove their might in the Cold War and best the United States at technology, science, and engineering. But the U.S.S.R. was really a conglomerate made up of like-minded, yet diverse regions. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant its erasure from maps and globes, but in its place, we got 14 new counties: Uzbekistan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Estonia, and Georgia. 


Source: (legacy.lib.utexas.edu)

Following World War II, the country of Yugoslavia was set up as an umbrella federal government to six smaller republics. This system seemed to be working for a while, but economic unrest and the death of the country’s strong president in the 1980s led to the republics seeking more autonomy. The religiously and ethnically diverse Yugoslavia experienced a series of internal wars and conflicts. In the early 1990s, several of the republics declared their independence from Yugoslavia. The political, social, and economic unrest that had plagued the country since the late 1980s finally resulted in the dissolution of Yugoslavia on April 28, 1992. Later, some of the republics splintered even more. Today, in place of Yugoslavia, we have Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Additionally, the region of Kosovo claims independence from Serbia and is recognized as its own country by over half of the United Nations member states, though Serbia is not one of them. 

East Germany and West Germany

Tearing down the Berlin Wall. Source: (smithsonianmag.com)

Students in the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s learned that there were two Germanies: East Germany and West Germany. After the surrender of Nazi Germany, a unified country, at the end of World War II, the country was divided into zones occupied by the Allied nations. The zones under British, French and U.S. control formed West Germany, a democracy with more freedoms for its citizens. The Soviet-Union-occupied zone became East Germany. Cold War tensions between the two areas were regular news features, so students in the sixties and seventies knew all about Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. That ended on October 3, 1990, Germany’s Reunification Day, when the two broken pieces of the country came back together again.


Source: (pragueadventures.com)

The central European country of Czechoslovakia had been an independent nation since it split from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. During World War II, it was annexed by Nazi Germany, but its government continued to operate in exile until after the war. Even then, Czechoslovakia’s economy was tied to the Soviet Union's communist regime. Then, in 1993, a very peaceful coup called the Velvet Revolution removed the then-current government from power and the country amicably split into two independent countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. 


Source: Christies.com

Rhodesia, formally known as Southern Rhodesia, officially formed in 1965 from a self-governing British colony that derived its name from the 19th-century businessman Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company. ("Rhodesia" had been a general name for a region in southern Africa that also included, by the mid-20th century, the protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.) In the 1960s, colonization of Africa had halted and the white-ruled government of Rhodesia feared that they would be usurped by black leaders, so they were granted independence from England in 1965 and established Rhodesia as an independent country. That didn’t help the situation. In fact, it made things worse. The Rhodesian Bush Wars of the 1970s were fought between the Rhodesian military and nationalist groups. In April of 1980, an agreement was reached to remove the white colonial governments and hand the country back over to the nationalists. Among the first moves the new government made was to remove the colonial name of Rhodesia and rename the country a name that reflected its great African pride, Zimbabwe. 


Source: Colonial Ceyon. Source: (pintrest.com)

The island nation of Ceylon, located in the Indian Ocean, went by that name since its colonization by the British in the 1700s. In the 20th century, many areas of the globe that fell under British colonial rule were seeking to oust the British and regain their sovereignty, and Ceylon was one of these places. In the 1940s, it sought its independence from British rule and formed a republic. In 1972, Ceylon officially changed its name to Sri Lanka, the name we see on maps today.

North Yemen And South Yemen

Source: (lawfareblog.com)

The country of Yemen was once divided into two, North Yemen and South Yemen. Schoolchildren in the groovy era would have learned that South Yemen fell under British protectorate while North Yemen (actually known as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, then the Yemen Arab Republic) established a tribal government. An oil-rich region, North Yemen was allied with Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s while South Yemen was allied with the Soviets. The two areas clashed in a series of civil wars and internal conflict until the leaders of North Yemen and South Yemen came together to discuss the conflicts. It was determined that the in-fighting could be resolved if the two countries merged as one. On May 22, 1990, North Yemen and South Yemen ceased to exist and the country simply called Yemen was born. 

Tags: Education | Geography | Germany | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Russia | School

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.