1. Did you know that Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world?
The origins of Hinduism date back to 2300 – 1500 BCE – that’s up to over 4,000 years ago! (CNN)
2. The word "Hindu" derives from the name of the River Indus, which flows through northern India. (Thought Co).
3. Unlike many religions, Hinduism does not have a founder.
It grew out of cultural and religious changes in India. (CNN)
4. Hinduism is the 3rd largest religion in the world, after Christianity and Islam. (CNN).
5. Hinduism teaches reincarnation - the belief that all living organisms continue eternally in cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. This is where the term you’ve all heard – Karma- comes into play. Hindus believe that existence of this cycle is governed by Karma.
6. So what exactly is Karma?
Karma is the belief that all of life is governed by a system of cause and effect, action and reaction, in which one's deeds have corresponding effects on the future. Once the weight of all bad karma is removed, the karmic wheel of reincarnation ceases to turn, and the soul (Atman) is released and the seeker is reunited with Brahman, or the supreme existence or absolute reality – thereby achieving the goal of Moksha - the release of the Atman from the cycle of rebirth. (Religion Facts).
7. Contrary to popular belief, Hindus actually only believe in one God – Brahman.
Brahman is the eternal origin who is the cause and foundation of all existence. The other gods of the Hindu faith represent different forms of Brahman. The 3 most important Hindu gods (forms of Brahman) are: Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver), Shiva (Destroyer) (BBC).
8. Hindus can worship both male and female gods.
However, they also believe that the ultimate divine energy exists beyond these descriptions and categories – that the divine soul is present and active in all living things. Therefore, all living creatures are important to Hindus, especially cows.
9. A common misconception is that Hindus worship cows. They don’t.
“We respect, honor and adore the cow. By honoring this gentle animal, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creatures.” Hindus consider cows to be sacred, for they provide humans with life sustaining milk. To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. (NHSF).
10. Following up with #8 and # 9, most forms of Hinduism include the practice of vegetarianism.
The primary reason is the practice of ahimsa (nonviolence), which forbids violent actions against animals. (UUA).
11. Hindus do not usually proselytize (attempt to convert others to their religion). (CliffNotes).
12. Like Judaism, the Hindu place of communal worship is called a Temple.
13. In Hinduism, the dead are cremated.
It is believed that this will help their soul to escape quickly from the body. (BBC).
14. Like in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, pilgrimages are an important aspect of Hinduism. (Brittanica).
Popular pilgrimage sites are often located in spots of great natural beauty thought to be pleasing to deities as well as humans. Many are located within India.
15. It is no secret that yoga came out of India. However, did you know that the word Yoga first appears in the Vedas (sacred Hindu Script)?
In Hinduism, there are four paths or yogas that a Hindu can take to achieve Moksha. They are the paths of: Knowledge (Jnana-Yoga), Meditation (Dhyana-yoga), Devotion (Bhakti-yoga), and Good Works (Karma-yoga). (Sivananda Yoga).
NOW YOU KNOW!
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Human rights are a set of rights that are justifiably something everyone is entitled to. A right is the ability to be entitled to be treated in a just and moral way, along with legal entitlement to be protected physically and emotionally from outside forces. It is something that people need and also should have direct access to - as it supports life.
The United Nations published the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and created a guideline for what fundamental human rights were for the first time in history. These rights have been translated into 500 global languages.
Although this Declaration is universally recognized, it is not globally upheld. Below is the Declaration of Human Rights, as taken directly from the United Nations. In bold we have commented and given an explanation of what each article means. We have also included examples of how either human rights are not being carried out or how the Declaration has beneficially impacted the global community. There remains a long process ahead until what has been written on paper and enacted, is carried out universally amongst all nations and peoples. With more education and consequently, more people doing the right thing, we continue to progress.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.
Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
While this is the general idea it is a true rarity to find a nation where there is cohesive peace and “the spirit of brotherhood.” According to the Insider Monkey, there are 11 top countries when it comes to upholding Human Rights including: Slovenia, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium, Canada, San Marino and Norway as the number one.
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
The Declaration is enforced in several key ways. The first is the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which monitors how states abide by and fulfill their individual duties under the Declaration. Further, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner, the Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child are all entities that have been established to enforce the document and to carry out its mission.
Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
What is life, liberty and security of person? Claiming Human Rights explains that life is something that is inherent, that it cannot be taken by someone, and only in response to the highest criminal act can someone receive the death penalty.
Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Slavery and servitude still exists - despite it being illegal in every country in the world. Slavery may no longer look like it once was. In today’s world, slavery exists as forced labour, child slavery, marital and sex slavery and more. Today, due to population growth as well as extreme corruption and crime, there are more slaves in the world today than ever before. According to the Global Slavery Index there were an estimated 45.8 million people throughout 167 countries bound to some form of modern slavery in 2016.
Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
These past couple years there have been an extreme rise in conflicts - from the refugee crises to terrorism, from gun shootings to continuous internal conflict in unstable states. According to Foreign Policy, as of 2017 the top conflicts concerning human rights are: Syria and Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Lake Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, and Mexico. In each of these cases there are people who are raped, civilians who are hurt and then killed, and parties tortured. Check out this insightful article below to better understand the happenings of 2017 and just how dire the situations are.
Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
First and foremost, people are seen as people and ones with emotions, needs and desires. Across the world, there are people who are advocating on behalf of their fellow citizens in order to create a better world. Some of the best human rights advocates and advocates for change are Human Rights Watch, International Amnesty and Refugees International, among many more. To donate to any of these or to another NGO that is fighting to make a difference, follow this link: https://www.fundsforngos.org/featured-articles/worlds-top-ten-human-rights-organisations/
This was just a brief introduction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To see the additional 24 articles, visit:
If you live in Europe, you should know where Belgium is. If you don’t and don’t know where it is, we’ll forgive you. Belgium is such a small country after all and it is sometimes hard to find on a map. However, you probably have heard of Brussels- Belgium’s capital city as well as that of the European Union.
Belgium is divided into different regions, communities as well as provinces and its political system is incredibly complicated for such a small country! Belgium has three official languages, and “Belgian” isn’t one of them. Belgians speak French, Dutch (also called Flemish) and German. Belgium shares borders with France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany and has an access to the North Sea. As a matter of comparison, Belgium’s territory is almost as large as the state of Maryland (in the US) and hosts 11 million people. You probably have heard of Belgium’s waffles, chocolate, maybe some beers, and I bet you’ve heard one of Stromae’s songs before. In this article, I hope you will learn some more cool facts regarding Belgium. If you have any more, let us know!
1. “French” fries are actually Belgian.
This is very important. They are called “French” fries in English but they are just called “frites” in French. Of course, nowadays every country has its own way of making fries, but originally, it comes from Belgium. However, in the sake of honesty, I must admit that there is no official evidence of that, and my opinion is obviously biased. Several stories have emerged to explain the origin of the french fries; some claim it was invented in Belgium, others say it was invented in France. As no serious research has been carried out to investigate the case, it is still hard to know what actually happened. Either way, french fries are and will always remain a part of Belgium’s gastronomy, thanks to their unique way of double-cooking the fries. It is very common, in Belgium, to eat french fries on their own with mayonnaise or ketchup or basically any other kind of Devos Lemmens sauce. They can be eaten as a snack and very often they will be served in a big paper cone. “Moules-Frites”, in English “Mussels and French Fries”, is a typical dish found in Belgian gastronomy.
2. Belgium has over 1,000 different beers.
Beer is sacred in Belgium. In 2016, Belgian beer culture entered the UNESCO list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Belgium counts approximately 200 breweries, but there are in total more than 1,000 different beers. Actually different sources claim different numbers, some say 800, others 1,000, 1,500 or even 2,500. It is hard to tell, as trends move about. As of 2013, the Délirium Café in Brussels holds the world record for the most varieties of beers commercially available with 3,162 beers on their menu. The beers they offer come majoritarily from Belgium, but they also have a huge assortment of international beers.
3. Do you know Tintin and The Smurfs? They’re Belgian.
The Adventures of Tintin is a comic series from Belgian author and cartoonist Hergé. It was first released in 1929 and gained international recognition. Overall, Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 80 languages and more than 230 million albums have been sold across the world. Peyo, the author of The Smurfs (in French: Les Schtroumpfs - try to pronounce that in French) is from Schaerbeek, in Belgium. The Smurfs became world widely famous and even got several American movie adaptations. Comics strips are considered as an art in Belgium and we have so many more than these two. Actually if you ever go to Belgium you might see statues of comic characters in some cities and if you ever go to Brussels, pay attention to the walls. Gigantic murals representing comic strips heroes are all over the town.
4. Belgium was the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage on April 1st 2001. Belgium legalized it in 2003. It never struck me as unconventional but I think it is interesting to mention that Elio Di Rupo, our former Prime Minister was one of the rare heads of state in the world to be openly gay. He was in office as Prime Minister from 2011 to 2014 and has been the Mayor of Mons since 2000.
5. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium.
Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002 and became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill children without limit of age, in 2014. Euthanasia, or “Assisted Suicide” is often subject to great debate but it is important to remember that it is only applicable to dying people who are in great pain. As of 2016, only four countries allowed human euthanasia: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Colombia. Other countries in the world and some states of the US also legalized assisted suicide, which is slightly different.
6. Think your taxes are high? Belgium has some of the highest in the world.
It is hard to estimate which country has the highest taxes in the world because it is all relative and depends of the situation. There are a lot of rules that apply in different circumstances and therefore it is hard to compare. However, on average, taxes are usually as high as 50% and Belgium is often considered to be the country that has the highest tax burden in the world.
7. Voting is compulsory in Belgium.
Voting is a civic duty in Belgium and it is compulsory. Non-voters face a moderate fine. Usually 90% of the population goes to the polls. There are several options when voting and voting blank is one of them; in that case no one and no party receives the vote, proving that the most important aspect is that everybody participates in the election.
8. Did you know that Belgium didn't have a formal government for nearly two years?
In 2010-2011, Belgium spent 541 days without an official government, surpassing Iraq for the world record! The political failure to form a new coalition government led to endless negotiations; on top of regional issues regarding the outskirts of Brussels, it brought to light deep divisions between Flemish and Walloon political parties. Even if everyone was doing just fine, the country was not. I do not remember any big change or even a tense atmosphere at that time; the country continued to work just as it always did. A serious concern though, was that the country could implode if no solution was found. The northern part of Belgium was led by separatists and it was not too crazy to think that Flanders could just decide to leave and take its independence. Even if there are real problems and divisions between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians, I do not recall this crisis to be representative of what the population wanted. I have never met anyone who wanted the country to split (although I am aware that it certainly is what some people want). I believe it was more of a political disagreement that looked unsolvable.
9. Public TV pranked the people by fakely announcing the implosion of Belgium.
Divisions between the North and the South are not new. In 2006, amidst an economic crisis and political differences, the RTBF, one of the two main broadcasting channels of French-speaking Belgium, decided to unexpectedly prank the people. At around 9 pm, the ongoing programs suddenly stopped and a famous TV news anchor appeared on screen, apologizing for interrupting the TV show we were all watching. He announced that this was a special broadcast because of recent breaking news, namely “Flanders is unilaterally declaring independence”, meaning the end of Belgium as a country. The setting of the show was exactly like any other news broadcast, but of course, it was all fake. The program showed many politicians hurrying to the royal palace, then the King of Belgium stepping into a plane and fleeing the country. That night, every Belgian held to their screen puzzled and terrified at the same time. It was all a video montage and some hints had been dropped to make people understand that it was a prank. The opening of the show started with “This might not be a fiction,” and later changed to “This is a fiction,” then a small icon representing the symbol of a satirical TV program appeared on the screen. Later on, many more hints appeared. My family understood it was a prank right away, I did not. I was genuinely scared, and so were many people. The special TV show aimed at sending a shock wave to make the people and the politicians understand what could really happen if nothing changed and if problems got worse. Of course it triggered many critics and a majority of people called it a sick joke.
Link to the full TV broadcast.
10. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, cats helped during the police operations in Brussels.
How does this sentence make sense? On November 22, 2015 the Belgian national police service had asked the media and people on social media to remain silent during police operations in Brussels and to not spread the word on anything happening. Because terrorists also use social media, it was critical to remain quiet. So, during the raids of the police in Brussels, people started tweeting pictures of their cats to drown any information that terrorist could use, in a flow of cat memes. Soon enough, the whole country followed the trend, and even people from other countries started to do the same, for the sake of the success of the police operations. With the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown, cats helped keep the progress of the operations secret. The police publicly answered the next day on its Twitter account and thanked the cats for their help.
11. What do a saxophone, a pair of rollerblades and the Big Bang Theory have in common? Belgian origin of course!
Adolphe Sax, from Dinant in Belgium, invented the saxophone in 1846. The very idea of rollerblades comes from Jean-Joseph Merlin, from Huy in Belgium. Finally, Georges Lemaître who was a Belgian Catholic priest, an astronomer and professor of physics was the first person to propose the theory of the origin of the universe, called Big Bang or the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”.
12. Speaking of inventions, Belgium once presented a song at the Eurovision Song Contest performed in a completely made-up language.
In 2003, the band “Urban Trad” performed their song called “Sanomi” and eventually came in second! At that time it was mandatory for the participants to sing in the language of their country and in order to avoid having to choose between the three languages of Belgium, they decided to invent a new language that could represent everybody.
Belgium is often known as a country of surrealism; thanks to our famous painter René Magritte, but also because there is a kind of craziness in the air. Some situations mentioned above are the kinds of stories that are common in Belgium but are unlikely to happen anywhere else!
We hope that you have enjoyed learning more about Belgium. If you want to discover or rediscover cool Belgian music artists, follow this link.
And as always, be sure to let us know what you think and if you have any additions.
Credits for the pictures:
The Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 2, 1776.
German was almost the national language.
The U.S. technically consists of 46 states and 4 commonwealths (in addition to 16 territories).
Though presidents can only be in office for 2 terms, there has been only one who was in office for more than this. Can you guess who?
The current flag of the United States flag was designed by a high school student who initially received only a B- for design. - Today I Found Out Online
“Statistically, the deadliest job in America is being the President. Of the 45 men who’ve held the post, four have been assassinated in office-- a rate of roughly nine percent killed on the job.” - RD Online
“The seven rays on the crown of the Statue of Liberty represent the seven continents.” - List 25 Online
“The Library of Congress is keeping an archive of every tweet ever tweeted.” - Atlantic Online.
The tallest mountain in the world is actually located in the United States. Located in Hawaii, Mauna Kea is more than twice Mt. Everest’s (base-to-peak) height when measured from the seafloor. - US City Traveler
NYC’s Chinatown has the most Chinese residents in the Western Hemisphere. - US City Traveler
When the country South Africa comes to mind, what words other than ‘apartheid’ and ‘very far away’ come to mind? Probably not many. Before visiting the country myself, I admit that my knowledge of the country bordered on practically zero percent. I knew that Nelson Mandela came from South Africa, and that on its southern border was the Cape of Good Hope. As it turns out, you can learn something geographically useful from Shark Week.
Reaching both the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, South Africa has 2,798 kilometres of coastline. Known for its shark tanks, wine country and thriving cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, the country has around 56 million people. This makes it the 24th most populous nation in the world. Not bad for the “Rainbow Nation,” right?
Post-apartheid, South Africa has grown and thrived to become the seventh-highest per-capita income in Africa. Although the economy as a whole has grown, however, around one quarter of South Africans live on less than 1.25 USD per day. Despite this, South Africa is a regional power that continues to play a huge role in the power dynamics of the African continent.
South African cuisine is predominantly meat-based, with a few stand-out recipes, one of which you can find in our Recipes section. I encourage you to follow along and try Bobotie or Melktart at home (they are unbelievably delicious). If you’re interested in a brief history of Biltong, South Africa’s most famous snack - look for a brief article about it in our Discover section. Take a peek at some facts you might not have known about South Africa and add your own in the comments!
1. South Africa has the world’s most liberal constitution in the world.
First and foremost, South Africa is known for having the most progressive Constitution in the world. The Bill of Rights reaches very far, including the basics such as right to equality, freedom of expression and association, access to health care, housing, education, information, and to the courts - but also including the right to life and enshrining the discrimination based on sexual orientation as illegal. Even US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recommended that the Egyptian government look towards the South African Constitution for inspiration
2. South Africa is the only country that has adopted and since destroyed its capability to create nuclear weapons.
Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, the South African government tested and ultimately created around six fully-deployable nuclear weapons. They were created primarily with the purpose of driving back communism from their borders. However, it was decided that the weapons themselves were destabilizing. By 1991, they had destroyed all their weapons in favour of more peaceful initiatives.
3. South Africa has been both a republic and a union.
In 1877, the South African Republic was annexed by Britain. However, after the Anglo-Boer war of the late 1800s, four separate British colonies united and went on to become the independent dominion of the Union of South Africa on May 31, 1910. Fifty-one years later in 1961, the country became a republic again following a referendum.
4. Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in a Cape Town hospital.
South Africa is well-known for many medical breakthroughs including the first human-to-human heart transplant in Cape Town in December 1967. Another medical accomplishments is the development of a vaccine against yellow fever. Better known by its acronym, the CAT scan was also developed by South African physicist Allan Cormack and British scientist Godfrey Hounsfield. Together, this achievement won them the Novel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1979.
5. There are two sovereign nations that are located within territorial South Africa.
Lesotho and Swaziland are both countries that are completely surrounded by South African territory. Lesotho has a population of around 2 million, while Swaziland has around 1 million. Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, which means that country has both a King and Prime Minister. Ingwenyama Mswati III has ruled over Swaziland since 1986. Lesotho, on the other hand, is a constitutional monarchy - meaning that the king is largely ceremonial and does not possess any executive ability to rule.
6. There are 11 official languages in South Africa
Although the language of business and media is English, there are ten other official languages in South Africa. These include: Afrikaans, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
7. Each color on South African flag has a meaning.
Although the current South African flag was meant to only be temporary, the design has withstood the passing of time and remains the national flag of South Africa. It was first used on April 27, 1994, celebrated as Freedom Day. The yellow, black and green colors stand for the African National Congress party while the red, white and blue stand for the colors of the Boer Republics (a.k.a. European colonialists).
8. The largest gold rush in the world took place in South Africa… and more than 50 percent of all gold ever mined on Earth is from South Africa.
You may have thought it to be California or an such part of the Western United States but in fact the largest gold rush in the world took place in Witwatersrand. Starting in 1886, prospectors began to find massive quantities of gold throughout the area. This encouraged a large-scale migration towards the small town of Langlaagte, soon to be called Johannesburg. Due to the need for infrastructure, railways were formed that ultimately helped South Africa become the well-connected country it is today.
An even crazier statistic to imagine is that 50 percent of all gold ever mined comes from South Africa, particularly from the Witwatersrand Basin!
9. Traffic signals are called robots.
10. The largest diamond in the world was found in South Africa.
The Cullinan Diamond weighs 3,106.75 carats or around 621 grams. It was discovered in 1905 by Thomas Cullinan, eventually cut and divided into several gems, The largest piece of the original diamond was named the Great Star of Africa and placed on the Queen of England’s spectre. South African diamond mines actually account for around 9 percent of the international diamond production.
11. Eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites are within South Africa.
South Africa has some of the oldest and historically important sites in the world. Did you know that there are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Nelson Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island, along with other Freedom Struggle heroes. iSimangaliso Wetland Park has some of the world’s most incredible biodiversity both in flora and bird species (there are over 520). Near to Johannesburg, the Cradle of Humankind is where archaeologists have found some of the oldest remains of humans. Known for its mountain range, the ukhahlamba-drakensbezrg park has not only a variety of endangered birds and plants, but also historic rock art paintings. Assumed that intelligent life had its start in Europe? Think again. The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape shows evidence and artifacts of a highly advanced society being in existence far before their European descendants. The Cape Floral Region boasts certain flora and fauna, 70 percent of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The world’s largest meteor crater, the Vredefort Dome, is over two million years old. Lastly, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is a desert owned by and take care of the Nama communities.
12. South Africa is part of BRICS.
BRICS is an acronym that represents the five emerging world markets: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Not only is South Africa an essential part of BRICS, they also are a huge player in the G-20, an international market forum since 2011.
13. Nelson Mandela has six different names in South Africa.
Sure, Nelson Mandela is known to most people by simple “Nelson Mandela.” But there are another couple names for him. At birth, he was Rolihlahla Mandela. At school in the small town of Qunu, his teachers named him ‘Nelson.’ During his rites of passage ceremony at age 16, he was named Dalibhunga (‘creator of the council’). He is known by South Africans by the moniker Madiba, his clan name. In Xhosa, he is referred to by the words for ‘father’ (Tata) and ‘grandfather’ (Khulu). Do you want to know more about Nelson Mandela? Check out this article or commit to his autobiography!
There’s certainly more to learn about South Africa than can be explained in 13 facts. Hopefully, though, you’ve learned at least one thing about the Rainbow Nation that you didn’t know before. Take a not-so-quick trip down to Cape Town, visit the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sit on beaches watching penguins, learn about the history of apartheid and colonialism, all while eating delicious South African fare. You can only learn so much from our articles before giving into the urge to visit!
Share your favourite South African facts in the comments - I can’t wait to hear them!
How well do you know Uruguay? To be honest, before doing my exchange year there, all I knew was that they had a great national football team. In recent years, it made itself famous thanks to its peculiar president and the legalization of marijuana, among other things. So, let’s recapitulate the basics.
Nestled between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a small country in South America. Montevideo, its capital city, is located on the South coast, only a few hours away from Buenos Aires. The entire population of Uruguay is around 3 million people, half of them living in the capital city, and most of them on coastal towns, leaving the inner land countryside mostly populated by cows and sheep. If you are a football fan, you probably know who Luis Suárez, Diego Forlán or Edinson Cavani are. Just like many other countries in Latin America, football is the national sport. Although nationally speaking, the population is divided between two main soccer clubs, Nacional and Peñarol. Its cuisine is typical of the region and resembles the Argentine gastronomy. Check out our section “Discover”, under “Recipes” to learn about Uruguayan food and try the recipes at home!
Uruguay is a secular state, but most of its religious population is Catholic. Recently, the Uruguayan society has shown very liberal tendencies and is one of few Latin American countries to grant so many freedoms to its populace. Many changes took place under the government of former president Jose Mujica, who set himself apart by his peculiar way of life. If you already knew all the above, I hope that you will learn something new with the following twelve surprising facts about Uruguay.
1. Uruguay hosted and won the first FIFA World Cup
In 1930, Uruguay was selected by the international football organization to host the first FIFA World Cup. All events took place in Montevideo, mostly in the Estadio Centenario, which was built for the occasion. In the final, Uruguay defeated Argentina and became the first nation ever to win the World Cup. Uruguayans are generally very proud of this part of their history and like to remind everybody of it!
2. Uruguay is often seen as “The Switzerland of the Americas”
In the 1950s, Uruguay was considered as “The Switzerland of Latin America”, mostly thanks to its prosperity and democratic traditions. Generally speaking, Uruguay has good living conditions that are similar to European standards. It is one of the richest countries in South America and was one of the first countries in the world to legalize divorce and women’s suffrage. Its education is secular, free and compulsory, and its literacy rate is one of the highest of the region.
3. Uruguay is one of the least corrupt countries of the world
It is easy to understand why Uruguay is so often compared to Switzerland. In 2016, Uruguay ranked 21st out of 177 in the Index of the least corrupt countries by International Transparency, becoming one of the least corrupt countries in the world and the least corrupt country of all Latin America.
4. Jose Mujica, “the world’s humblest president”
Its former president, Jose Mujica is a living proof of the lack of corruption amongst politicians in Uruguay. “Pepe” Mujica, as Uruguayans call him was the 40th president of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and was in office from 2010 until 2015. He was called the world’s poorest president, due to the fact that he donated 90% of his salary to the State and to charities. He lives in the countryside in a modest farmhouse with his dog and used to appear in an old blue Beetle. Interestingly, even though he is widely seen as the coolest president of all time, his popularity amongst locals is not always as high as we would think. Besides his political values, some consider his atypical look as unprofessional and ridiculous. Under his presidency, many changes took place in the country, which, in a few years, became one of the most liberal in South America.
5. Abortion is legal in Uruguay
In 2012, the Uruguayan Senate passed a bill to legalize abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Uruguay became the first country in South America to allow women to request an abortion for any reason they consider valid.
6. Same-sex marriage is legal in Uruguay
In 2013, Uruguay became the second country in South America to legalize same-sex marriage, after Argentina, proving once again that it is one of the most progressive countries in the world. In that same year, Uruguay was named “Country of the Year” by The Economist.
7. Uruguay legalized the marijuana trade
That was in 2014. What a quinquennium under Pepe! Not only did the former president legalize marijuana consumption, but the entire production is also now ruled under the auspices of the State. This law, which the first of its kind on the worldwide level was passed in order to counter drug trafficking that has been devastating the whole continent for decades. Uruguayan citizens are now allowed to buy 10 grams of marijuana a week, at less than a euro per gram. Besides, each person is allowed to crop up to six plants for his own consumption.
8. Uruguay was the first country to recognize the Armenian Genocide
The Armenian Genocide is commonly referred to as the systematic massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between the years 1915 and 1923. Today, the events are recognized as genocide by 29 nations; most of them officially expressed their position in the years 1990 and 2000. Uruguay did it in 1965.
9. Uruguay hosts the largest colony of South American fur seals
As its name states, the South American fur seal is found on the southern coasts of Latin America and its biggest colony is found in Uruguay, on the shore of Punta del Este, on an island called “Isla de Lobos”. The area of Cabo Polonio is also highly populated by the specie. It is estimated that out of the approximately 250.000 seals identified, 200.000 live along the Uruguayan coast.
10. 95% of Uruguay’s electricity comes from renewable energy
Since 2015, renewable energy makes up 95% of the country’s electricity. In 10 years, Uruguay managed to shift its traditional oil-dominated energy plan to an eco-friendly model that all countries could learn from. It lowered its carbon footprint while lowering electricity costs. The green energy comes all-together from wind turbines, hydropower, biomass and solar power. The renewables account for 55% of the overall energy mix of the country, while the global average share only amounts to 12%.
11. Almost all native Uruguayans disappeared during the colonization
In the 1830s, almost all indigenous Uruguayan groups disappeared. Local indigenous populations, especially the Charrúa peoples, started to decline when the colonization started in the 16th century. Europeans brought diseases that native Uruguayans had never been in contact with before and to which they had no immunity. By the time of the independence in 1830, there were only 300 Charrúa people left in the country, and only 18 in 1840. The Guaraní were another tribe at the time who survived a bit longer but very little is known about them. Nowadays, almost 90% of Uruguayan people have European descent and only 2,4% are reported to have indigenous ancestry.
12. Uruguay was under a military dictatorship until 1985
Between the years 1973 and 1985, the country was under an authoritarian military dictatorship. In 1973, a conflict erupted between the president, the General Assembly and the armed forces. During that time, systematic repression was conducted by the Uruguayan military regime, many people were imprisoned, tortured or mysteriously disappeared. Jose Mujica, who was a guerilla fighter at that time, was imprisoned for 13 years in the 1970s and 1980s.
Uruguay doesn’t have a flawless history, but it certainly has shown some incredible improvements and worldwide advancements in recent years. Its liberal policies and progressive mentality raise Uruguay to the level of example from which many nations could learn from. But Uruguay remains a country that not so many people know about. That is why I thought it would be interesting to spend a few minutes discovering it a bit more. At least, I hope that you learnt something by reading this short article and don’t hesitate to leave us your thoughts and comments!
- My Knowledge
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