List of Extremely Different European Countries

Many European countries are actually quite similar to each other. Their demographics, culture, government, infrastructure, and geography are not far different. However, there are a few pairs of nations that are extremely different in some of these aspects.

One way to answer this difficult question is by analyzing the data from the Country Similarity Index. The index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries, using a variety of statistics. An analysis of the data gives the following suggestions for what pairs of European countries have the least similar aspects in regards to demographics, culture, government, infrastructure, and geography.

Government: Ireland – Belarus

Ireland and Belarus represent two ends of the political spectrum in Europe. Ireland is known for its vibrant democracy. It has a parliamentary system of government. Its President is the ceremonial head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The country’s political landscape is characterized by competitive multiparty elections.

On the other hand, Belarus is an authoritarian regime. It is often referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe. President Alexander Lukashenko has maintained an iron grip on power for decades, stifling opposition, suppressing dissent, and controlling the media. Belarus has faced criticism for electoral irregularities.

In Ireland, a robust legal framework protects human rights and civil liberties, including freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and association. In contrast, Belarus suppresses the liberties of its people. It tightly controls media, limiting access to unbiased information. There is significantly less rule of law in Belarus, due to high levels of government corruption.

Another difference is that Ireland’s laws tend to be more liberal. Ireland allows same sex marriage, with legal protections, while Belarus does not allow same sex marriages and actively hinders LGBT activism. Furthermore, Ireland abolished the death penalty for all offenses in 1990, while the death penalty is allowed in Belarus.

European Countries with the Least Similar Governments

Demographics: Finland – Albania

Due to a variety of different demographic factors, the populations of Albania and Finland are especially different. One of the most striking disparities between these countries lies in their average age. Finland, with a median age of approximately 43 years, has a significantly older population compared to Albania, at just 32 years. This is because Finland has many elderly people.

Albania and Finland’s ethnic groups are significantly different as well. Finland’s population is predominantly composed of people that speak Finno-Ugric languages. The country is also predominately Protestant Christian. In contrast, most Albanians speak Indo-European languages and are Muslim. Their genetics are significantly different as well. Most people in Finland are blonde and have blue eyes, unlike most other countries.

Another big difference is that people in Finland tend to have more years of schooling than Albanians. A much higher percentage of people in Finland have completed college. As a result, Finland has relatively higher income levels compared to Albania. The average wage in Finland is more than 3,800 euros per month. In stark contrast, Albanians make less than 650 per month on average.

European Countries with the Least Similar Demographics

Geography: Iceland – Moldova

The pairing of Iceland and Moldova presents a large difference in geographical attributes. Iceland is an island situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. On opposite end of the spectrum, Moldova is a landlocked country in southeastern Europe.

Iceland is a land of unparalleled natural beauty, characterized by its rugged terrain, active volcanoes, and breathtaking glaciers. The country has an array of geological wonders, such as geysers, hot springs, and towering waterfalls. In contrast, Moldova is defined by its relatively flat monotonous landscape with a lack of significant natural elevations.

Another difference is that Moldova has a significantly drier climate. It also has a milder and more temperate climate, thanks to its proximity to the Black Sea. The country’s fertile soil has contributed to its agriculture-based economy, with vineyards and wheat fields dominating its landscape.

Due to the cold temperatures, there is little farming done in Iceland. In contrast, the vast majority of Moldova’s land is used for farming. Furthermore, Moldova is also much more densely populated than Iceland. It has over 100 people per square kilometer. Iceland has less than 4 people per square kilometer.

European Countries with the Least Similar Geography

Culture: Finland – North Macedonia

North Macedonia, a small country in the southeastern Europe, boasts a rich history influenced by various civilizations, including the Roman and Ottoman Empires. On the other hand, Finland, a sparsely populated country located on the Baltic Sea, was under Swedish rule for several centuries before becoming independent.

Finnish culture emphasizes egalitarianism and simplicity. Finns are known for their reserved nature, value for personal space, and respect for privacy. In contrast, Macedonians are known for their warmth, hospitality, and strong family bonds. Due to their traditional values, they also have a much higher rate of marriage and a much lower rate of divorce.

Their languages are not part of the same family as well. Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language, so it has complex grammar and extensive use of vowel harmony. In contrast, most countries in Europe primarily speak Indo-European languages. Another big difference is that Macedonians use the Cyrillic alphabet, while Finland uses the Latin alphabet.

Another significant difference is that North Macedonia is more religious than Finland. Furthermore, most of their people are Orthodox Christian. However, due to their significant Albanian population, Islam is widespread as well. In contrast, the Protestant denomination has the most followers in Finland.

Their food is quite different as well, in part due to their extremely different geography and climate. Since North Macedonia is landlocked, far less seafood is eaten there than in Finland. Furthermore, grapes are a much bigger part of the Macedonian diet, due to their abundant vineyards. Finland has a colder climate, so rye and barley are more commonly consumed.

European Countries with the Least Similar Culture

Infrastructure: Ireland – Bosnia & Herzegovina

One of the reasons for the differences in infrastructure between Ireland and Bosnia can be traced back to their historical backgrounds. Ireland has seen significant investments in infrastructure over the years. Its development started in the 19th century with the expansion of railways, roads, and ports. Bosnia, on the other hand, faced severe infrastructural challenges due to the scars of war during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The conflicts left behind extensive damage to buildings, roads, and utilities.

Ireland boasts a well-developed and extensive transportation network. Its road system is modern and efficiently connects major cities and towns. The country has also invested significantly in public transportation, including buses and trains, providing reliable options for both commuters and tourists. In contrast, Bosnia’s transportation network is less developed, especially in rural and mountainous regions. Roads are often in need of repair. Furthermore, the railroad in Bosnia is not widely used. Ireland’s airports tend to be much busier as well.

Another big difference is their infrastructure standards. Ireland drives on the left side of the road, while Bosnia drives on the right, like the rest of continental Europe. Moreover, they have different railroad track gauges as well. Their electrical outlets are not the same too. Ireland uses Type I, while Bosnia & Herzegovina uses Type C, F. However, they do have the same electrical voltage and frequency. Yet another difference is that Bosnia has not fulled transitioned to digital television broadcasting.

European Countries with the Least Similar Infrastructure

Overall: Iceland – Moldova

There are many cultural differences between Iceland and Moldova. Although both countries speak Indo-European languages, Icelandic and Romanian are quite different. Furthermore, Iceland is mostly Protestant, while Moldova is mostly Orthodox Christian. Their food is far different as well. Iceland consumes far more meat, especially more seafood, than Moldova.

Iceland is known for its stable democratic government and high level of political transparency. Moldova, on the other hand, has experienced political turbulence since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. Corruption is extremely common. Their laws are different as well. Iceland allows same-sex marriage unlike Moldova. Moreover, casinos are illegal in Iceland, but Moldova has legalized gambling.

Infrastructure development is another area where Iceland and Moldova have substantial differences. Iceland boasts modern and efficient infrastructure. An abundance of geothermal and hydroelectric energy sources power the country. Conversely, Moldova’s infrastructure is not well developed. It is dependent on natural gas to create electricity. One reason is that Moldova is not nearly as wealthy as Iceland.

The geographical contrast between Iceland and Moldova is perhaps the most apparent difference. Iceland is a geological marvel with dramatic landscapes, including volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, and hot springs. Moldova, a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, is relatively flat and a high percentage of its land is used for farmland.

The Least Similar European Countries

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