by Max Barry

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The Loquacious Lipograms of
Left-wing Utopia

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1

After the lines were drawn...

Previously: early history

The Consolidation had created an entity still unsure of its direction and future. The newborn country lacked such important features as a head of state, a deficit which became clear within days of Parliament beginning to meet. After a few days of discussion mixed with utter chaos, a coalition of representatives was able to gain an absolute majority just long enough to force a debate on the government's original purpose; improving intercity roads. With this secured, however, the coalition fell apart and none arose to take its place. (The Consolidators had not originally planned on having sixty electoral districts as they eventually did; from the beginning, some wished they'd pressed harder for an odd number.)

None of the representatives were popular enough to take control, nor any rotating system both fair and comprehensible, so Parliament decided to hold elections for an independently-elected head of state. With such an individual outside any parliamentary coalitions that might form, the office was dubbed that of the "Composite Minister". With the actual effects of the government invisible everywhere but the capital and cities just beyond it, awareness of the election was not high across the country except where effort was made to get out the vote. This allowed Darren Coriolis, the mayor of Zwangzug's largest city, to win handily.

With patriotism still running as high as ever, Coriolis took advantage of the momentum to define Zwangzug's borders as aggressively as possible. Though the Alai Mountains formed the natural border with Unkerlantum (later Travda), the exact boundary was relatively far north (i.e. leaving less territory in Zwangzug). There were relatively few outlets for Zwangzug to demonstrate superiority over its neighbors, who had been unified longer and were more militarized. But many of Zwangzug's disparate cities had independent traditions of scientific research, and new technology made one contest both possible and fair; a space race.

Zwangzug's west, somewhat less densely-populated than the rest of the country, seemed a natural outlet for future expansion. The spaceport began some distance outside Hadiln, with an influx of population and technology requiring more settlement. The result was Spenson, while the population also grew in northwestern cities like Belpub and Twineur. The scientific establishment was also resettled, with researchers from an abandoned institution back in the capital relocating to the new Glune Institute of Natural Sciences or Stoal Institute of Science, which oversaw the theoretical aspects of the space program.

Political parties had not yet developed; the overwhelming majority of preexisting politics had been at a citywide level, which didn't need them. At the beginning of Coriolis' term, his supporters didn't need parties either; they backed whatever proposal was on the table. The first true party to emerge, then, was the Centrist Front, a loosely-aligned group of politicians who thought the government needed to return to its original goals and no further. The independents who comprised the bulk of the parliament did have factions, though, and single-issue groups crystallized into parties a year or two later. The Liberal Conservatives were, at least then, most concerned with keeping government interference limited to that necessary to protect the environment--in particular, the Namiri rainforest. The Grammarian Writers party promoted education, but quickly merged with the National Socialists (so named because they preferred reformism in one country to worldwide revolution in order to achieve economic parity), who had formed in contrast to more radical communist groups. At last, Coriolis' most fervent supporters decided they needed to have some way to tell each other apart from everyone else, and became known as the Pragmatic Radicals.

In context, the Radicals supported economic freedom less than their modern counterparts. With statewide taxes being introduced for the first time, the economy necessarily took a hit, and research related to the space program was subsidized. Still, despite the Centrist Front's gains, the wave of nationalism continued. When Zwangzug declared victory in the Space Race in 1974, it seemed as if all the investment had paid off. Yet though the scientists and astronauts had made great strides, they'd done it in a rush at the cost of being thorough. Several days later, Zwangzug conceded that Unkerlantum had really won a moral victory. Support for the administration crumbled, and Coriolis resigned alongside several parliament members.

Parliament took that as a sign to codify the Composite Minister's term to an eight-year stint; at that point, it seemed a formality, as the Parliament had until then been relatively united behind Coriolis and seemingly able to manage itself if necessary. There was little to do in the months leading up to the election for his replacement, though, short of telling Spenson to go and manage on its own. The ensuing years would see continued antinationalist sentiment in various forms, from The Ballad of Rhyme and Reason published in Danhy in 1978 to spurts of regional pride in smaller areas such as Keppal that the Consolidators had attempted to prevent.

The eventual winner was from a party that had come along later than the others, presumably because its members had never seen the need for such things. The Progressive Traditionalists picked up seat after seat in the parliament in the special elections, and Progressive Traditionalist Terrence Eaton was elected Composite Minister. Pledging a more ethical, responsible government, Eaton nevertheless sought to make his mark early, and did so by spurring the parliament to outlaw anything and everything smacking of vice. A populist movement was on their side as industry after industry was wiped out, and Zwangzug's citizens stoically endured the unemployment peak of 1979.

They were bolstered, no doubt, by the ever-tighter government safety net. The Progressive Traditionalist majority, assembled by early 1977, didn't seek to reduce the size of government so much as redirect its attentions. It was under their leadership that a statewide educational system was instituted; this had been a local responsibility previously, but the universally-minded Traditionalists felt that some minimum standards of living were necessary, and made it the statewide government's responsibility to provide them when all else failed. With plenty of industries failing, however, all else failed quite a bit.

Nevertheless, that was not what drove them from office. Economic leftists and social conservatives had joined forces behind Eaton, but when the economy finally seemed to be stabilizing, he turned his attentions elsewhere--specifically, to combating social "wrongs". The Parliament cracked down on some things without incident, but a proposed slander law was seen as clamping down on freedom of speech. Those who supported it were increasingly unpopular. When Progressive Traditionalist Joanne Mingtel lost her 1980 reelection campaign to Liberal Conservative Matthew Hart, the Progressive Traditionalists dropped to twenty-nine seats; still a comfortable plurality, but no longer an effective majority (with Eaton able to break ties). No party has gained an absolute majority since.

The Liberal Conservative tide sweeping into Parliament acted early to promote themselves as a party of freedom. An early achievement was instituting a "sunshine policy" giving citizens more access to government records. It didn't take long before they discovered a heavily redacted file about "tappers". After rampant rumor, newly-elected representative Bert Rosenthal admitted to beginning a project to subsidize urban dance groups. Neither he nor the sunshine policy stayed in the parliament much longer.

The 1982 election of Liberal Conservative Larissa Stewart was still unsurprising, as she was still seen as a figurehead. The "gender gap" from Eaton to Kajsa Halladay, with Composite Ministers alternating in party as well as gender, was never particularly noteworthy at the time; Composite Ministers were relatively powerless, most people were sick of the previous party by then, and the LibCons had always made gender equality more of a plank. That said, they were hardly the only two parties in town; the Conservative Liberals had risen as the early opponents of the Progressive Traditionalists. Much like the Centrist Front, however, by the time people realized they might have been right all along, they had faded into obscurity. The Liberals at least had a very good excuse, though; while they could have formed a coalition to stop the Traditionalists earlier, it would have been far too confusing explaining which party was which.

Preferential voting systems were becoming more popular by then, though Stewart did secure a plurality of votes and could presumably have won any runoff necessary. The parliament scarcely needed her support to roll back recent laws. As surprising as it seems today, the LibCons were at the time the party of economic freedom, at least for those business that weren't deemed too environmentally invasive. But while it was very good at getting rid of old laws, the government found relatively few new ones to pass. This stemmed partly from true weariness of the Traditionalist moralizing, but partly from disorganization even with Stewart at the helm.

Even at their "peak" in late 1982, the LibCons only had twenty-four representatives, and while seven others could usually be corralled together from the smaller parties, it got to be a hassle. This may actually have underestimated their true support; term limits differed by district, and those that had previously elected Progressive Traditionalists often had relatively long ones. Still, the cabinet became increasingly responsible for directing day-to-day debate, with each department's secretary controlling the floor debate for bills falling under that department's jurisdiction. (The corresponding officials had been "ministers" under Eaton. This was too antidisestablishmentarian for the LibCons' tastes.) This required even more discussion about the order of bills to be discussed, mirroring the larger turn towards bureaucracy.

Zwangzug's citizens had adjusted to life in the united state relatively well. Despite the early nationalism's disappearance, those who considered the alternatives felt relatively fortunate if nothing else to be living in a republic that would provide for its population if the need arose. There was certainly some resentment in places like Canbix that had not experienced greater freedoms under the LibCons, and those with crime problems the government simply hoped the local governments would sort out. Still, most citizens took to the increasingly-ubiquitous bureaucracy.

Towards the end of her term, Stewart was actually able to be a little more active; the parliament was by the end of the eighties so divided that the ability to break ties became an intimidating weapon. As her last major act, Stewart forced through a bill to establish a statewide health care service. It didn't cause any political ripples; with the lowest turnout rates yet, Zwangzug elected its least effective head of state, Progressive Traditionalist Stanley Worthington, in 1990.

Parliament was by then increasingly fragmented, with regions of the country having recognizable political trends; the southeast was a Progressive Traditionalist stronghold, with bureaucratic leftism more common in the northeast and decentralized communism appealing in the southwest. Libertarianism was most popular in the northwest and south, while central cities like Canbix and Keppal City were ready for a return to rightism. Worthington's election was anything but a mandate; citizens still expected parliament to run the show, but were disappointed by the results.

Worthington took some "executive power" upon himself, providing alternative readings of recent administrations' laws in an attempt to form loopholes. Language became a statewide political issue for the first time; while different languages predominated in different small cities, even relatively close ones, English was the de facto consensus for larger cities. A 1993 proposed bill to establish it as the official language was soundly rejected, though--not because it would alienate the many native speakers of other languages, but rather because it would alienate the speakers of whichever dialect was not made official!

While the bulk of the population might have viewed the government with rolled eyes, the nineties were relatively prosperous years for them. The fruits of the space race had at last trickled down into exciting electronics, and computers became more popular. Zwangzug had not been united when television was invented elsewhere, and hadn't exactly caught on to that mode of communication; only a state-run channel existed, and it was a sign of apathy towards the medium that nobody protested the fact that the government was running a communications channel. (Any other medium would almost surely have caused such an uproar.) Computers filled the niche, and--along with book publishing and radio broadcasting--were a decidedly government-free zone. So long as the environment was relatively preserved, competition was encouraged for "luxury" goods to be bought and sold freely. Only things like food and shelter, considered necessary for all, were tightly regulated. The nineties saw apartments become more common as residences.

Another use of electronics was to establish the ID card system. While always optional, the cards quickly became pervasive due to their ease in logging transactions. The original currency, the tynu, had been printed by the government somewhat dubiously even during the Consolidation. By the time the modern state got going, they were already popularly known as "checks" rather than truly trustworthy currency. While bills and coins continued to circulate, few were attached to the money enough to mind its near-disappearance from daily life.

Those hungry for a more effective head of state got one in 1999--but not quite what they expected. Kajsa Halladay, a Liberal Conservative, attempted to steer her party back to its original roots of environmentalism. While they had envisioned themselves as the equivalent to other countries' Green Parties back in the sixties, the LibCons had rather accidentally found themselves the most popular leftist party. While Rudolph Puckett, secretary of transportation, quietly hammered through the bills that created a large train network, Halladay was seen establishing the zebra and morning glory as the country's official animal and flower, and creating national parks. She also advocated, though toothlessly, for intervention on behalf of oppressed Bigtopians around the world. Reluctantly, the parliament earmarked some money for foreign aid--but it would take an even more unlikely head of state to give the process a jolt.

With Halladay, perhaps deservingly, mocked as a weak leader who could only pass "fluff" legislation, the general expectation was for a Progressive Traditionalist with a stronger hand to be elected in 2006. What that hadn't considered was the power of the instant runoff ballot. The big parties were increasingly sick of each other, and attack ads were getting angrier. With the secular state sort of but not really behind them, the Liberal Conservatives attempted to paint potential theocrats and run-of-the-mill moral objectivists with the same brush. They hadn't counted on how many of the latter were holding up the left. With both LibCons and Traditionalists ready for anyone but the opposition, the time was right for a minor party to step in.

Unfortunately, no one had told the minor parties. The National Socialist Grammarian Writers' Party was still getting eyebrows from most of the country, and hadn't bothered to take the nomination process very seriously. The resultant nominee, "Ember Nickel," was apparently unwilling to provide an actual name and did not demonstrate any political record whatsoever. Presumably still better than the alternative, Nickel won on the instant runoff and then appeared to take charge.

Parliament was not entirely helping matters, with the parties by then split so closely that the tiebreaking authority really was significant. The socialist consensus, whether from Traditionalist morals or LibCon general policy, was the one thing that stayed intact. Capitalism came under more fire than ever; the economy lurched from mostly-out socialism to all-out socialism and back.

Just as importantly, the late 2000s marked an end to the isolationism the country had been self-imposing since the Space Race. At first noted by the influx of Bigtopians, Lilliputians, et al., and later by the exchange of ambassadors with other countries, this process also involved the international participation of private organizations such as sports teams. While government officials were certainly able to interact with such teams as private citizens, the government shied away from explicit entanglement with the sports teams when possible, if only because they were afraid they'd wake up one morning and find themselves in the future, out of office.

The ever-divided parliament pressed on, unable to come to a consensus, and things grew to a head in the summer of 2007 when the government was unable to agree on a budget. It was a mark of how entrenched the government bureaucracy had become that most of the country was shut down for weeks until language pleasing to all sides was established. The demands of internationalism proved more than Nickel had anticipated; the Composite Minister announced new elections for the position in early 2008, and all sides agreed that an actually-competent head of state would be nice.

On a strictly policy front, however, the grammarians seemed pleased with how things were going. Party officials dug up Felix Wainwright, governor of Stuvals, to stand for election. Wainwright was not considered likely to compete for such an office; perhaps said officials were hoping to control him from behind the scenes and/or let the parliament continue the way things were going. At any rate, the population seemed not to mind current trends too much, and elected Wainwright.

He was put to the test very quickly, when Tasmanian terrorists bombed Zwischen. The government was unsure what to do except invite them over for a diplomatic rejection. They did not respond to the invitation. Neither did the Lilliputian copycat bombers of two weeks later. The Zebra Isles emerged into the spotlight in 2009, when Wezeltonian troops occupied them, claiming them as Wezeltonian, on multiple occasions. They eventually left in all such cases, though diplomatic talks to determine the isles' long-term future are not progressing. In summer 2012, Sarah Li County in Dauclem briefly threatened secession; this threat was quickly resolved, however, as part of an unusual compromise that also included the end of Zwangzug Public Radio. A few months later, a meteorite known as "Big Max" landed in the suburbs of Zwischen, which was probably rather unfortunate.

On October 19, 2014--8 years to the day after emerging into the international community--Zwangzug abruptly cut off communications. Due to the noted "28 days later" timelag common to many countries that fly the infamous gray and white, it took some time for contact to be completely lost, but it eventually faded into a chaotic and poorly-documented era known as the gray times. Approximately five months later, it returned, though at a weakened internal capacity with a more isolationist foreign policy. This also heralded the country's contemporary flag, the color-reversed image of its predecessor.

Most national sports teams were not able to resume international play. Surprisingly, football had become entrenched enough in the country (thanks to various grassroots efforts) that the 1./ football league was able to pick up where it left off and resume sending teams to the UICA. Other sporting events that have taken place were:

  • a friendly football match between Stvoto latoli and a confused attempt to wrangle together a national Zwangzug baseball team

  • Eintracht Trink and Excelsior Slogda competed in the Randoil Diamond Challenge, won by Trink

  • a national football team competed in and won the sixth Eagles Cup

  • hosting the Green Cup

The country would eventually relocate to the region of forest.

The greyness' challenges and their aftermath brought new forms of local "culture"--and inconveniences to Zwangzug's cities big and small. An incomplete list of some of these can be found below, with reporting from contemporary news articles. (In many cases, there is lots of follow-up, but only the first description will be quoted.)

  • 102d: ""Hey, wait a minute, 'DEAT' isn't a word!"

  • Arlington: "people feared the spread of four contagious epidemics, which could spread from city to city and wipe out the population"

  • Bassabook: "conservative language pundits were dumbstruck by the sudden appearance of banana trees, flourishing where the climate had never been welcoming"

  • Canbix: "dealing with new-time Canbix is like sulking under the shadows, where people occasionally hunt you down and attack you...No clear good guys or bad guys with, heck, even the capital or the FTC's "moral clarity" (they're both completely crazy, all right, but at least they're the heroes of their own story). Canbix is just perched on the edge, as usual."

  • FTC: "supposedly brought to its knees when half of the surviving population turned into werewolves and preyed upon the others (we're thinking it was the eastern half)"

  • Guariday: "There are still trees, though like Bassabook, the emphasis is not on the rainforest it once was but rather new crops--apples, or pears, anyone? Trick question, many residents seem to have taken to a life of crime and stealing from their neighbors, which in a more capitalistic society could actually be a drag. Since it's Zwangzug, meh."

  • Hope City: "fires that destroyed part of the city (how much depends on your source), believed to be caused by overstoking household fires with dangerous pokers."

  • Keppal City: "But just like a house can be haunted, so can a much grander edifice, in much quieter ways. Showers that are always too hot, or too cold, or with the feeling that unseen eyes are watching you. Seats that collapse--not killing their occupants, but spilling someone's brunch or crashing you out of view just before the big play. Turnstiles that never quite click, embarrased customers being rerouted somewhere else. Toilets that backfire. Broken sidewalks in the two blocks between the stadium and the train station."

  • Kerlagrad: "just as divided [as Noh Weir], with rumors about secret encrypted messages and double agents spreading every which way."

  • Logrove:"engrossed in risky speculation on boats moving along the [former Pinual] river"

  • (Noh Weir), Bingness District: "everyone was lost for words--five at a time--as they were rendered moot trying to describe everyday items (except for the lipogrammers, who apparently carried on as normal)"

  • Nuel: "like Bassabook, seemed to have gotten the better of it, its shining domes as resplendent as ever. Yet fates could change quickly. One minute you were a high-ranking politician; the next, a meager criminal struggling to eke out a living."

  • Sharag: "Could it really have been beset by dragons and unicorns, or is it more likely a couple of stray dogs got loose and caused havoc?"

  • Spenson: "hearts were broken constantly, and disillusioned astronauts went out to try and shoot the moon (with a crossbow)"

  • Trink: "there was news of violent explosions wrought by out-of-control fireworks"

  • Weegham: "also had to work together to fend off, er, several different diseases all at once. But that totally shouldn't be confused with Arlington's issues because poor Weegham suffered long-term damage from it!"

  • Zwischen: "anti-government sentiment was high, and underground resistance movements began trying to root out spies who had allegedly been covering up evidence of the paranormal"

Meanwhile, the massive Supercentro (in the restabilizing, isolationist country of the Shell Shock Troop Clan, known for its sporting ties to Zwangzug) opened up a new train station only to find it had been mislabeled as the city of Grisolon.

The anti-government feelings alluded to in the capital came to a head following the country's tenth anniversary, with the escapades of seven parliamentarians who distributed anti-government propaganda and caused a temporary power outage (not to be confused with the temporary power outage that calmed secessionist sentiment in Uncarg a few months prior). They did not, however, hack the finance AI Sal 9000, interrupt train service at Republican Station, or blow up the Ziggurat. Future implications for ongoing conspiracies and the country's direction have yet to unfold.

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