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King of your castle

1 May 2019

Bored with your country’s politics – why not make your own? This is the truly eccentric world of micronations

The world we live in is a fascinating and eccentric place, but one of the oddities that we seemingly accept without question is the idea of countries and nationhood. Yet it was only in 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia came into effect that borders were formally delineated and nations ossified.

For every huge country like Russia or Canada, there are countless tiny countries that have the same voting rights at the United Nations and the same organs of state – just in miniature. A visit to a small nation such as Andorra or Bahrain is always high up on any travel bucket list, especially for travellers, looking to tick off the world’s 195 official countries.

For some regions, even a degree of self-determination isn’t enough. Transnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia in Georgia, Somaliland in East Africa and Western Sahara in West Africa all view themselves as breakaway territories, albeit receiving limited international recognition.

There are even smaller breakaway countries– they number about a dozen worldwide, are created by one person or a handful of residents, and often have a territory that encompasses no more than one house and a garden. Their name? Micronations. Whether politically potent or just tongue-in-cheek, you’ve probably never heard of Amethonia, Briarcliff, Redonda, Sandus or Obsidia, and you wouldn’t be alone. Micronations are the smallest of the small – and you won’t find them on any map.

What’s the point of this weird undertaking? “Micronations are attractive to those seeking an alternative to the socio-political status quo for various reasons,” says Georgius II, Imperator et Primus Inter Pares of The Empire of Atlantium (known to his friends as George Cruickshank). “Some are purely fictional personal entertainments; some are crackpot libertarian attempts at founding actual new sovereign states that always – without exception – fail; some are art projects that interrogate the nature of citizenship and statehood; and some are undoubtedly the products of megalomania and mental instability.”

The best, he says, are “essentially coherent, internally-consistent, multi-pronged performance art projects of many years duration that possess both single-mindedness of vision and professionalism in execution.”

Cruickshank is the man behind The Empire of Atlantium. This “country” is 300km southwest of Sydney, comprising some farmland and a house. Since it began in the 1980s in Sydney’s suburbs, it has created its own flag, issued its own stamps, and also collectied 3000 citizens who have signed up from all around the globe.

“Atlantium was founded in 1981 amidst the tail end of the Cold War as an exemplar of how a future globalist, secular, progressive world polity could feasibly function – and, more importantly, what it should represent. At its most fundamental that is to enable every human being (and potentially every self-aware natural living entity) the means to achieving their personal potential within a broadly equitable society,” explains Cruikshank.

“Thirty-seven years later, Atlantium is perhaps a more pertinent and acute voice for reason and for the advancement of civilisation and the rule of ethical law than at any time in its history – the literal embodiment of our motto E tenebris lux – ‘a light in the darkness’.”

Sealand was a sea fort built in the 1940s to protect Britain from German naval attack during the Second World War. Sitting a few miles off the beaches of Essex, the highly strategic spot underwent somewhat of a makeover in the sixties, setting the standard for a new wave of micronations.

“I believe the word ‘micronation’ was first penned to describe Sealand,” says Prince Michael of Sealand (known to his friends as Michael Bates).

“Since the Principality’s conception in 1967 literally hundreds of others have climbed on the bandwagon in their own little way. None of them have the unique legal situation and status that Sealand has, but we respect their enthusiasm.”

“Many of the 1970s communes that appeared went on the same principles [as Sealand],” says Prince Michael, who has a book on his own micronation – Holding the Fort.

It may be too on-the-nose to accuse these leaders of egotism – and however accurate, it is a description that most understandably reject. “The biggest misunderstanding is that self-declared head of states are out for self-glorification,” says Niels Vermeersch of the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis.

Based in Belgium, Versmeerch oversees a virtual micronation that has staked a claim on several islands off the coast of Antarctica. Starting as a temporary hobby, ten years later it has almost 500 citizens from 54 countries.

“When people have an ideal they can create a non-profit, a company or a political party,” he says. “But micronationalists are the creative ones; they bring their message in the concept of a country. Flandrensis is an ecological micronation and our mission is to raise awareness of climate change. We are the only country in the world that doesn’t want our land inhabited by people; our message is more important than our self-declared sovereignty.”

Since 2015, many of these individual leaders have chosen to congregate at MicroCon – micronations’ answer to Davos, perhaps.

“Molossia is also an expression of sovereignty, creativity and imagination, with a little political satire added in,” explains His Excellency, President of the Republic of Molossia (Kevin Baugh).

“I think that micronations are popular because they can be an expression of personal sovereignty, creativity and imagination.”

Molossia was founded in 1977, inspired by satirical comedy The Mouse That Roared. “I was inspired, along with my best friend James, to start a country after watching it – it was essentially an extension of the idea of declaring one’s bedroom a sovereign nation, something many kids do,” says Baugh. Whilst his friend moved on to other pursuits, Baugh doggedly pursued the idea, obtaining land in Northern Nevada in 1988.

These micronations are obviously extended ego trips – but then, isn’t any country? Nations are an undeniable part of our world, taking on significance despite being nebulous, sometimes arbitrary constructs.

If countries like Belgium can be created – a country made of two nations, speaking two languages – then why can’t eccentrics create their own backyard micronations that try to solve problems, despite the unusual optics? If we have to be in thrall to nations – shouldn’t we have some fun with it? Which is why you should not discount North Dumpling Island, Saugeais, Liberland or Seborga. Or better still, just start your own country and see how it goes. If you like to be the king of a castle, then ruling your own embryonic country could work perfectly.

Words: Christopher Beanland
Illustrations: Finn Dean