5 Countries We Think We Know, But Don't

A few months ago if you asked people about Ukraine the majority would probably say something vague about it being in Eastern Europe, now the same question will spark heated political debate. But did you know that, since it gained independence over 20 years ago, Ukraine has participated in almost all international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations through the UN, NATO and the EU? On New Year’s Eve Ukraine broke the Guinness World Record for the most people singing a national anthem as at least 100, 000 citizens sang in Kiev’s main square.

Too often countries such as Ukraine go unmentioned until something dramatic - and usually negative - happens within their borders. Perhaps it's easier to assign a certain image to a foreign country based on a few sensationalist reports, instead of considering each nation in the light of the myriad of both good and bad which invariably exists in every society. Sadly ‘good news’ has been reduced to a gimmick at the end of the evening bulletin whilst images of war, famine and hardship abroad dominate our viewing. It seems that good news is no news, and frequently the media appears keen to either ignore or enforce a certain biased, dramatic view of a country, rather than show a real, all-round perspective.

Countries which lack drama are often forgotten or passed over on the international news front, perhaps because next to their higher-profile neighbours they appear mundane. For example, when we hear ‘America’ we immediately think of the USA but of course, there are 35 countries in ‘the Americas’ and North America contains over 20 of these. Perhaps because America is the most powerful, or has the highest population, we forget that these nations also hold their share of the free world.

Our perceptions of the following countries are founded on the most commonly-reported, sensationalized or one-sided news stories.  This is a list of the top five countries which are commonly misrepresented by the media, ordered by their GDP. These are, of course, merely a sample of the potentially endless misconceptions or incomplete images we commonly hold of countries outside our own.

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5 Finland, GDP $0.25 trillion

What they are known for: A wintery climate

What they should be known for: Olympic prowess

This country has a small population of only 5.3 million and is known for its cold climate and love of winter sports. Each year Finland uses its wintery landscape to its advantage by providing Christmas-themed getaways in Lapland (complete with reindeer and elves).

However, much more impressively, it holds the accolade for the highest number of Olympic medals won per capita. Since the beginning of the modern games, Finland has won 302 medals (including 101 gold) in the Summer Games and a further 161 in the Winter Games (including 42 gold). Along with Sweden it is one of only 2 countries to win medals in every Olympic Games (summer and winter) since 1908. The highest number of Finnish athletes thus far to compete in the games is 258, when Finland hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952.

4 Norway, GDP $0.5 trillion

What they are known for: 2011 mass shooting and the setting of Disney’s Frozen

What they should be known for: The highest cost of living and oil reserves

In 2011 the world was shocked as news broke of a violent, large-scale attack in Norway at a politically-run summer camp near Oslo. Suddenly a country previously unmentioned by the media was correlated with issues of neo-Nazism, and the ‘Norway massacre’ is still one of the most searched terms concerning the country.

Recently Disney’s box-office hit ‘Frozen’ has brought Norway to the world’s attention for a new reason. The reboot of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale (set in Norway) animated the dramatic Norwegian landscape, and the Nordic character Oaken provided comic relief.

However this year Norway may become famous for a new reason as it has been ranked as having the #1 highest consumer price index (144.45) in the world. This indicates that the country now has one of the highest costs of living in the world, ranking close to other countries in Northern Europe including Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark.

This is hardly surprising considering the country was hardly touched by the recession as Western Europe’s largest oil exporter. Instead of squandering its oil wealth, the country has saved much of its income into an investment fund valued at $800 billion (or over $150,000 for each citizen).

3 Indonesia, GDP $0.89 trillion

What they are known for: Natural beauty and the 2004 tsunami

What they should be known for: The world’s highest Muslim population and contributions to world trade.

Almost 10 years on, photographs of the 2004 tsunami are, for some, the enduring image of Indonesia (one of the worst-hit regions). The country is also a world-famous luxury travel destination, comprised of over 17,000 islands (only 6,000 of these are inhabited) drawing on the exotic mystery of the region. Although its economy is largely built on tourism, this is hardly the whole story.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, with 88% of civilians identifying themselves as Muslim. However, this overwhelming majority does not infringe on  the rights of other religious practices (extending official status to Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism). The Indonesian constitution provides "all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief".

In addition, it's a member of the G-20 (in 2012 it even edged out India to emerge as the second-fastest G-20 economy, behind China). Indonesia has been an important trade region since the 7th century utilising its vast natural resources (including fuel and metals such as tin copper and gold).

2 South Korea, GDP $1.16 trillion

What they are known for: Not being North Korea

What they should be known for: Contributions to international security and best broadband.

South Korea has been overshadowed by its controversial neighbour North Korea for generations. There are constant tensions along the border between the two countries and only 4% of South Koreans view North Korea’s influence positively. This February there was a dispute between the nations as a North Korean warship repeatedly crossed South Korean waters.

Yet, unlike North Korea, its contributions to international security should stand for themselves as newsworthy (this year South Korea will be one of the rotating members of the UN Security Council). This month the US company Carlyle agreed to buy South Korea’s fire and security business Tyco international for almost $2 billion.

The country also holds the the Guinness World Record for best broadband service in the world with an average download throughput of 33.5 megabits per second. It has the highest number of DSL connections (which provide internet) per head worldwide. It was announced in January that the government was investing in providing a 5G service for its citizens by 2020, allowing an 800MB movie file to be downloaded in 1 second.

1 Brazil, GDP $2.4 trillion

What they are known for: Sport and Carnivals

What they should be known for: Contributions to world economy - and lots of airports

Brazil is currently known mainly for its soccer prowess and exotic Carnivals; in 2012 it was estimated that the Carnival generated revenues of $850 million for Rio de Janeiro. However, they're probably hoping to use the Rio 2016 Olympics to show that the country has a lot more to offer, utilising the opening ceremony as a showcase of the nation’s achievements.

Brazil holds the #7 spot in GDP rankings, making it a key contributor to the world economy. Over 30 Brazilian companies are now listed in the Forbes Global 2000 list; and its oil and gas company Petrobas (based in Rio de Janeiro) is currently the world’s fourth largest company.

Covering 3 time-zones the country contains around 60% of the Amazon Rainforest, so it's unsurprising that this vast land relies on air transport links to keep its economy moving. It has the second highest number of airports of any country in the world (after the US). With a population approaching 200 million spread across 8.5 million km2 there is certainly a high demand for travel.

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