Monday, October 10, 2005

Nationalism's Nine Lives

Last month, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers--ICANN--created for the first time ever a top-level domain (TLD) for a cultural region. Except for the descriptive TLDs such as .com, .edu, .net, and so on, TLDs are generally abbreviations of the name of the country in which the web site is based. (A complete list of TLDs--although without interpretive information--is available here.) Catalonia (or Catalunya in Catalan, the language of the region) has become the first subnational region (or cultural community) to receive a TLD. Its TLD is, of course, .cat.

Catalonia is, depending on one' s perspective, either the Autonomous Community of Catalonia--one of the regional units of Spain--or a stateless nation of Catalan-speaking peoples in an area straddling the Pyrenees in northeastern Spain and southern France. ICANN took no position on the matter, but one can't help but wonder whether someday the TLD might be regarded as an essential element of statehood--or, in the case of Catalonia and future non-state TLD-holders, a precursor of statehood. One can imagine a future version of Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States looking like this: "The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states; and e) a top-level domain name."