Ramblings & ephemera

Micro-nations

From George Pendle’s “New Foundlands” (Cabinet: Summer 2005):

Call them micro-nations, model countries, ephemeral states, or new country projects, the world is surprisingly full of entities that display all the trappings of established independent states, yet garner none of the respect. The Republic of Counani, Furstentum Castellania, Palmyra, the Hutt River Province, and the Empire of Randania may sound fantastical, but they are a far cry from authorial inventions, like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia or Swift’s Laputa. …

Such idiosyncratic nation-building can trace its roots back to the early nineteenth century, when even the mightiest empire had yet to consolidate its grip on the more far-flung regions of the world. The swampland of the Mosquito Coast was just such an untouched area, and it was here that the Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor decided to found his new kingdom – the Territory of Poyais.

The Territory of Poyais displayed many of the themes that would appear in micro-nations for the next century-and-a-half: Firstly, that the love of money is usually a significant incentive in a micro-nation’s foundation. Secondly, that a micro-nation’s founders will always bestow upon themselves thoroughly dramatic titles. Thirdly, that since all the world’s good spots have been taken, micro-nations are usually gifted with dire and hazardous geography. And finally, should any other country enquire into the status of a micro-nation, it is liable to collapse.

For example, take the Republic of Indian Stream, a self-declared republic in North America that existed from 1832 to 1835. An ambiguous border treaty between Britain and the U.S. had created a 500-square mile legal loophole between Canada and the state of New Hampshire. Three hundred enterprising American citizens, all hoping to avoid federal taxes, quickly established a government and constitution and declared Indian Stream a sovereign state. The Republic went unchallenged, but when one of its members was arrested for unpaid debts and taken to serve time in a debtors’ prison in Canada, the Republic of Indian Stream swiftly planned a counterstrike. Crossing the border into Canada, they shot up a local judge’s house, broke their fellow “Streamer” out of prison, and returned triumphantly home. This bravado did not last for long. By the next morning, doubts about the attack were mustering, British retaliation was feared, and before long the Republic voted to be annexed by the New Hampshire militia. Indian Stream was soon incorporated into the state where its libertarian longing would continue to be nurtured for years to come.

One of the major problems in founding a new country, second only to being ignored, is the threat of invasion by a more legitimate nation. As a result, when a group of Ayn Rand disciples tried, in 1969, to set up a new country named Oceana, defense of the realm was paramount. Even though the exact location for Oceana had not been definitely fixed, boot camps were organized for all those who wanted to live there. Most ominously of all, plans were made to steal a nuclear missile, the ultimate deterrent should another country come knocking on their door. Fortunately the group was disorganized and lacking in funds, and when the ringleaders decided to rob a bar to fund their project, the hapless group was promptly arrested and their startling story discovered.

The United States Office of the Geographer stresses that five factors are needed to become a country: space, population, economic activity, government structure, and recognition from other countries. Of these, it is the last factor that has always been the hardest to attain. However, one micro-nation has perhaps come closer to fulfilling these requirements than any other. Founded by a former “pirate” radio operator, Paddy Roy Bates, Sealand is situated on an abandoned World War II anti-aircraft tower, seven miles off the British coast. Consisting of 550 square meters of solid steel, it was declared independent by “Prince” Roy in 1967. (The country’s initial economic activity consisted largely of selling passports and minted coins – both common practices amongst modern micro-nations out to make a quick buck).

Just as Sealand now plays host to the Internet, it is the Internet that has revealed itself as the host for a whole new generation of fictional state projects. As the libertarian fetish for micro-nations weakens, the virtual geography of the Internet grants a modicum of affordable tangibility to new micro-nations, without any of the traditional perils associated with abandoned anti-aircraft platforms or disputed South Pacific atolls.

In comparison, the Royal Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV) has no pull on believability. Although it claims physical territory, it insanely suggests that this consists of all the border frontier areas between all countries on earth. In doing so, the joint kings of KREV (for even these post-modern micro-nations can rarely resist the traditional attraction of a royal title) seem to be taking the artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake Estates” project – in which Matta-Clark bought small, inaccessible, and unusable lots of land, situated between buildings – to its furthest logical extension. KREV is a country made up of the intersections between real countries, a nation of negative space – a micro-nation that is best to debate rather than to visit.

Micro-nations listed in the article:

  •   the Republic of Counani  
  •   Furstentum Castellania  
  •   Palmyra  
  •   the Hutt River Province  
  •   the Empire of Randania  
  •   the Territory of Poyais  
  •   the Territory of Poyais  
  •   the Republic of Indian Stream  
  •   the Principality of Outer Baldonia  
  •   Oceana  
  •   Sealand  
  •   the Republic of Howland, Baker and Jarvis  
  •   the Royal Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV)  

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