Your memory is failing you, this has nothing to do with Borat. And don’t bother looking it up on Google Maps, it is not hiding between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Shkupistan, you see, is more of a concept, a state of mind than an actual physical state. Yet, its consequences are very real, and over the past few years, many Algerians have become convinced it is the only fitting description when commiserating about the situation of their country.
Ten years ago Harry G. Frankfurt published a delectable little book “On Bullshit” in which he announced that his aim was “simply to give a rough account of what bullshit is and how it differs from what it is not-or (putting it somewhat differently) to articulate more or less sketchily, the structure of its concept.” I don’t pretend to be able to follow such gigantic footsteps, and I certainly do not intend for this post to be book-length. I just want to try to help Anglophone readers get a feel for a word (and its derivatives) that is bound to emerge out of the confines of Algerian slang.
First, a quick comment about notation. Search engines are more likely to give you reliable hits for “chkoupi” or “chkoupistan” than for “shkupi” or “shupistan” (although “shkupi” will get you lots of hits, but more on that later.) For historical reasons, transliteration from Algerian is usually based on French sounds so the “sh” sound of “shkupi” is rendered as “ch” and the “u” (which should be pronounced as in “stupid”) is rendered as “ou”.
Nowadays, most people think “shkupi” is a dirty word, basically synonymous of “penis,” that should not be used in public. The original meaning is quite different. Mehdi, host of the show (Yadès) on Algerian radio devoted to the origin of words and popular expressions, traces it back to the Spanish “Escupir” (to spit) as in whatever was spit out by the sea. When returning with nothing but seaweed and froth in their nets, fishermen in Algiers would say they only fished “الشكوبي و الرغاوي” “shkupi and froth.” The word evolved to mean something like “worthless crap” or “bullshit” and it became common to refer to junk or to anything poorly done as being “te3 shkupi” (of shkupi) or “ki shkupi” (like shkupi), or to say “teddi shkupi” to mean “you will get diddly squat”. The phrase “bled shkupi” (shkupi country) became a favorite expression to capture nonsense , the dysfunctional state of affairs in the country and the general zeitgeist. The word also became a reference for artists. Bahia Allouache made a movie entitled “Cinéma chkoupi“, and Mustapha Benfodil gave us the “Manifesto of shkupism” in his “Archéologie du chaos(Amoureux)” . It would be too long to describe the novel here, but the manifesto is a document found by the police on the body of the main character of the story, a writer, who’s death is deemed suspicious. Taking the meaning of “shkupism” into a different direction, the manifesto blends serious political issues with a surrealist avant-garde artistic demands. A sort of Karl Marx meets André Breton. The manifesto was staged in France and was used in a public reading to commemorate the events of October 5th 1988 in Algeria. It also became a focus of attention during the Arab Spring in Tunisia.
In parallel, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the emergence of new countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc. and the war in Afghanistan, “stan” became a very convenient shorthand for country. Algerian self-deprecating sense of humor quickly picked up on that and new word plays such as “Absurdistan” and “Ahuristan” were invented (the latter refers to the French “Ahurissant”) as the country sunk in the dark era of the 90’s.
It was inevitable that “shkupi” and “stan” would eventually meet and merge to give us the now common “Shkupistan” or “the land of shkupi”. Rappers quicky picked this up
The channel recently posted a video that clearly captured the whole concept of “shkupi”.
Most hilarious, however, is the fact that “F.C. Shkupi” is also the name of the soccer team of the city of Skopje in Macedonia and their anthem is sure to delight all the devotees of the “shkupi” way of life.
I am not sure what pushed me to write this post, but if you find in the end that it is a “post te3 shkupi” feel free to say that in the comments. I’ll wear that as a badge of honor.