What is Listenbourg? Why is it going viral on Twitter? Why did the meme become so big in Europe?

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By Aleksandar Brezar
The map showing the Republic of Listenbourg, highlighted with a red arrow
The map showing the Republic of Listenbourg, highlighted with a red arrow   -   Copyright  @gaspardooo Twitter account

It only took three days after a photoshopped map showing Listenbourg — a fictional country haphazardly tacked onto the Iberian peninsula — appeared on social media for the joke to take the world by storm.

At first, it was nothing more than a jab at Americans and their supposed lack of knowledge of geography.

“I’m sure Americans don’t even know the name of this country,” Twitter user Gaspardo said on 30 October, accompanying a map with a red arrow pointing at the slab of land liberally added to Spain and Portugal and coloured green, implying this was an EU member state.

Another user instantly replied: “Who does not know Listenbourg?” — and the meme was born.

What happened next?

At the time of writing, the post gathered more than 95,000 likes and thousands of shares on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, some decided to take the trolling to another level, claiming the place was actually real.

A high-definition satellite map replaced the original one, while on Reddit, a channel quickly sprung up, claiming that Listenbourg has its own Formula 1 Grand Prix and that its astronauts were a part of a mission to the Moon.

Others quickly organised around what they claim is an “extreme-centre party,” whose leader pledged to “improve Listenbourg’s image abroad,” while its alleged Ministry of Interior already offered to answer any questions regarding its identity documents and visas.

Another post on Twitter claimed that Listenbourg’s king Listen XV was, in fact, the first Sun King, going to war against Louis XIV for the prestigious title in 1661.

A national anthem together with a red-and-white flag sporting a golden eagle appeared on YouTube almost instantaneously on a purportedly official Listenbourg government account.

The French Wikipedia entry for the Republic of Listenbourg, further elaborating on its supposed history, has since been taken down.

Although all of it is fictional, users on social media are not letting up, and big, professional accounts such as that of Toulouse Football Club got fully involved in the meme.

The Formula 1 race joke has been picked up on and supported by Julien Febreau, a well-known French sports commentator for Canal+, and others, such as the French national hockey team, are making tongue-in-cheek demands for Listenbourg to join international competitions.

Why did the joke become so big in France and Europe?

Like many other European countries and regions, France has been the victim of geographical bad takes by US-based outlets.

Famously, in 2005, CNN mistakenly placed Toulouse and Strasbourg in Switzerland and Germany.

CNN has also placed the Ukrainian region of the Donbas in Pakistan — an entire continent away — after the war first broke out in the Eastern European country in 2014.

Slovakia and Slovenia get mistaken for each other so commonly that the latter considered redesigning its flag in 2004 to aid in preventing any future mix-ups.

And after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing suspects were identified as being of Chechen background, a slew of comments from those mistaking Chechnya for the Czech Republic forced the Czech ambassador to the US to clarify the difference between the two places publicly.

What are other famous fake countries?

Molvania is a prime example of another completely made-up state created to highlight the lack of awareness — and tact — when it comes to less-commonly known parts of the world.

The imaginary post-Soviet state described as the “birthplace of the whooping cough” was an on-the-nose creation by a group of Australian comedians known as The D-Generation, published as a travel guide in order to mock colonial and imperial approaches to the genre.

Likewise, Yugoslovakia — a non-existent country that came out of a misnomer for both Yugoslavia and Slovakia — is used as a joking dismissal of those with a flawed knowledge of central and eastern Europe, getting an occasional chuckle out of the in-the-know on social media.

Borduria and Syldavia, both fictional Balkan countries appearing in the Adventures of Tintin graphic novel, also merit a mention as places used to highlight the stereotypes about the southeastern parts of the continent.

And then there is Absurdistan, a term used by Soviet dissidents to describe parts or all of the USSR and its satellite states, most notably by the former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Some unrecognised microstates also merit inclusion, like the tongue-in-cheek Kingdom of Wallachia in the Czech Republic, the result of an elaborate practical joke in 1997.

A well-known example of similar countries includes Lithuania’s Republic of Užupis in Vilnius, where the residents of the neighbourhood declared their own state, together with a flag, currency, constitution and president.

There is also the Free Republic of Liberland, created by Czech politician and activist Vít Jedlička after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Said to be situated on a parcel of land on the Danube between Croatia and Serbia, Liberland has its own flag, anthem and constitution, while Jedlička has been issuing citizenships and passports of the micronation since 2015.