‘Absurdistan’: meanings and origin

The suffix -istan occurs in the names of various countries (especially countries of Central Asia), such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

This suffix has come to be used as the second element in satirical names denoting, in particular, a country characterised by [the first element]. Two examples:
– When Nicolas Sarkozy (born 1955) was the President of the French Republic, from 2007 to 2012, France was nicknamed Sarkozistan—this nickname was popularised, if not coined, by the French journalist Daniel Schneidermann (born 1958).
– Post-Brexit Britain is nicknamed Brexitistan.

One of the names suffixed with -istan, Absurdistan denotes, in particular, a country characterised by absurdity. (It is likely that this name has, in the course of time, been coined on separate occasions by various persons, independently from one another.)

Absurdistan was apparently first coined by Czechoslovak dissidents to denote Communist Czechoslovakia, a former country in central Europe, now divided between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The earliest occurrence that I have found is from Czechs progress, but slowly, by Trudy Rubin, published in The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) of Friday 23rd June 1989:
—Jiří Dienstbier (1937-2011) was a Czech journalist:

The changes going on in the socialist bloc terrify the Czech leadership, most of whom came to power in 1968 and indorsed the Soviet invasion. Now they have to watch reforms in Warsaw, Budapest and Moscow that are even more dramatic than those of the “Prague spring.”
To endorse such reforms, the Czechoslovakian leaders would have to indict themselves. Instead, they have endorsed China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement and charged that reforms in Poland and Hungary have produced “economic and political chaos.”
“This country has become ‘Absurdistan,’” dissident journalist Jiri Dienstbier said. A graying veteran of the 1968 reform movement, he is only allowed to work at menial jobs like stoking boilers, but edits a flourishing underground newspaper after hours. “For this leadership the motto is ‘After us, the deluge.’”

Another early occurrence of Absurdistan, denoting Communist Russia, is from Sununu Tutors the Kremlin’s Staff, by Francis X. Clines, published in The New York Times (New York City, New York, USA) of Thursday 30th August 1990:

MOSCOW, Aug. 29—The Kremlin moved ever closer in spirit to the White House today as President Bush’s chief of staff worked within on the Soviet “paper flow,” and a tent city of disgruntled citizens maintained its encampment in a park just across the way.
The tent-city residents, remarkably akin to the year-round camp of aggrieved Americans who picket opposite the White House in Lafayette Park, kept their own flow of petition paper moving on the edge of Red Square.
They are in their second month of freely offering assorted complaints around the clock about a Soviet bureaucracy that not long ago swallowed dissidents whole.
[…] The 200 residents of the tent city […] vow to stay permanently as they complete their second month amid the flower bed and lawn of the Rossiya hotel just opposite the Kremlin.
The visible routine of their lives, from the old lady who walks her dog outside her plastic tent to the family glimpsed getting dressed in their cramped enclosure, only heightens the human wonder suggested by the striped domes and swirls of nearby St. Basil’s Cathedral.
“This is the capital of Absurdistan,” an approaching Muscovite said as he took the tent city in stride.

Absurdistan occurs, among other jocular names, in the following by Rick Horowitz, published in several newspapers in September 1991—for example in the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas, USA) of Wednesday the 4th:

Where are they all coming from?
You can’t blink without another piece of the formerly Soviet Union hopping out of the shadows and going into business for itself. Russia and a couple of the others, you’ve heard of. But Uzbekistan? Kirghizia? You couldn’t place them on a map within a thousand miles, and you couldn’t spell them if your life depended on it.
And you’ve only seen the half of it.
●Rantanravia—This tiny Slavic republic, known for the fervor of its tiny Slavic population, produces nearly half the country’s supply of lemons, prunes and plywood. Formerly a communist stronghold, Rantanravia declared its independence within hours of the failed coup and applied for membership in the Home Shopping Network.
●Amnhizia—As news of the coup reached this remote Central Asian republic, heart of the Soviet Naugahyde industry, thousands of people took to the streets. By the time they reached the capital, though, they couldn’t remember why they were there, and they were easily dispersed by riot police firing La-Z-Boy cushions.
●Gadzookistan—The site of recent unrest between the majority Gads and the minority Zooks, Gadzookistan has declared its independence and hopes to forge an alliance with some republic that has an excess of oil and a shortage of ventriloquist dummies.
●Amonia, Splatvia, Whatapainia—The so-called Frantic States, these three republics were acquired by Joseph Stalin at a yard sale back in 1940. They’ve been no fun ever since, and if it weren’t for the lack of principle involved, they’d have been cut free years ago. The Frantic States have now declared their own independence, and will open Northern Europe’s largest theme park in 1992.
●Makeanewplanstan—Hidden deep within the Caucasus, Makeanewplanstan has been largely insulated from the turmoil rocking the rest of the nation. Here, shepherds still tend their flocks as their ancestors did, and in the villages, they’ve only got basic cable. The question for the republic’s leaders: Will democracy mean polyester?
●The Migraine—Known as “the headbasket” of the Soviet Union, the Migraine produces more painkillers than all the other republics combined. The Migraine is expected to thrive as an independent republic, and trying to extend its influence beyond its borders, it’s already started building a prescription-pad plant in Rantanravia.
●Kleptomenia—Another troubled Central Asian republic, where violence has recently flared between the Kleps and the Tomeins. There is also a smattering of Splats, who’ve long felt suppressed by the Kleps, and Zooks, who hate the Tomeins and want to merge with Gadzookistan. The Gads are urging restraint, while the Kleps are grabbing everything that isn’t nailed down.
●Stanthemanistan—The breeding ground for the Soviet Union’s national beisbol team, Stanthemanistan’s lush fields and abundant breweries make it a natural for a Major League expansion franchise.
●Howzerbaiyou—“The friendly republic,” Howzerbaiyou was hesitant at first to declare its independence. But desperate for markets for its oat-bran muffins, Howzerbaiyou made the leap and has now signed trade agreements with the Migraine and the Frantic States.
●Depravia—The Depravians also reacted slowly to the failed coup, but soon got into the spirit of the thing. Statues of former party leaders were toppled, and the bodies of local officials were removed from their burial places for “special ceremonies.”
●Hiphooravia—Bordering Depravia but in many ways its political opposite, Hiphooravia quickly came out in support of the coup, and when the tide turned, just as quickly came out on the other side. This was no surprise to those who recalled Hiphooravia’s longtime motto, “Go-ski with the flow-ski.”
●Knickknackistan—The actual source of the famous “Russian” nesting dolls so popular with Western tourists, Knickknackistan declared its independence and immediately began producing a new line of nesting Yeltsin dolls: Each one is bigger than the last one.
And finally:
●Absurdistan—This oddly shaped republic spans 11 time zones; parts of Absurdistan were controlled by coup forces while others had already defeated the coup, and still others wouldn’t be starting the coup until the day before it happened. Absurdistan has just announced a new power-sharing arrangement that’s expected to be a model for the other republics. The Surds will get first crack at running the show, followed by the Abs, the Kurds, the Molds, the Gads, the Splats, the Zooks, the Knicks, the Knacks…

Absurdistan denotes any totalitarian state, and is used in the plural, in a letter about The Good Soldier Švejk, a novel by the Czech author Jaroslav Hašek (1883–1923)—letter by one Josef Skvorecky, published in The Daily Telegraph (London, England) of Tuesday 14th July 1992:

By doing all these absurd, unnatural and often impossible things he [i.e., Švejk] reveals the stupidity not of himself, but of the totalitarian system. The crippled man in a wheelchair urging healthy men to die for the glory of the throne, this model citizen of the various Absurdistans of history which demand such behaviour and pretend to believe its genuineness, is too good to be true; and, indeed, he is not true, because he is not an idiot. If anything, he is a cunning subversive.

The name Absurdistan has also been used to denote a person’s social environment characterised by absurdity. The following, for example, is from the review of Diana: Her True Story (1993), a television film telling the story of Diana, Princess of Wales—review by Martyn Harris, published in the Irish Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Wednesday 17th February 1993:
—David Threlfall (born 1953) interpreted Charles, Prince of Wales:

David Threlfall made the best job of his part with a battery of familiar mannerisms—the thumb outside the jacket pocket, of course, and the agonised upper lip that seems to struggle to engulf its owner’s chin—but also with subtler touches such as the wry, slightly abject droop of the head as Charles turns to field a question. More delicately still, with eye and hand and walk, he managed to suggest the Prince’s combination of vulnerability and rigidity—of a sensitive and intelligent man, marooned by circumstance in Absurdistan.

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