Travel – and particularly, travel to weird countries – have always been a passion of mine. But another background passion is my love of all things micronations. So much, in fact, that I’ve written two previous articles on the subject – what constitutes a micronation and how to build a micronation.
Now why the obsession? I think it started when I first moved away from the UK, and whilst the Internet is older than that, it was around the time that home access to the Internet was becoming more common.
Micronations do, of course, predate Al Gore’s invention of the Internet as a way for ugly people to have sex. Rose Island, Sealand and the Republic of Minerva all existed before the advent of the world-wide web, for example. But it was the interwebz that really gave all of us nation-building crazies a platform. This something that I wanted to be a part of right away.
The micronational community can be separated into a bunch of different variants of crazy, all of which one can garner some lessons from.
The Principality of Hutt River (Hutt River Province)
This country came about when a guy that owned a big farm in Australia fell out with the government about tax. He decided to proclaim his own nation, citing some obscure British law that purportedly said it was OK to secede as long as you were a principality. Not sure exactly where they got this from, but that was their angle.
When I originally wanted to start my own micronation ten years ago, I mailed them about my project. They laughed at me, and said I was not a ‘real’ country like them. They also demanded I remove any links related to them (I had linked to them citing them as my inspiration). I was a bit sad at their reaction, but I did learn that as private land, provided they didn’t take the proverbial piss, they were largely left alone to do their own thing. This was my first lesson.
The Principality of Sealand
If you have even the most fleeting interest in micronations, weird countries, or simply have the internet, then you will probably have heard of Sealand. If not I’ll give you a quick refresher. Roy Bates was into pirate radio. He found an abandoned WW2 fort in the French channel in international waters, and decided to declare it a principality. Roy Bates thus because Prince Roy (following his death, his son is now in charge).
Since its occupation in the 70s lots has happened, but the micronation has largely been left to its own devices (so long as it doesn’t take the piss). The main lesson here, however, is that Sealand is sadly the exception that proves the rule. Nations in general are not keen on occupied man-made structures (check out Rose Island and Republic of Minerva for fur further proof).
Randomly claiming land
Most micronations worth their salt (most of which laughed at me for not being a “real country”) claim some land somewhere. Popular locations are the bits of Antarctica that no one claims (although the Antarctic treaty says no one can have a claim), the moon, and the piece of land between Sudan and Egypt that is the only place in the world considered Terra Nullius (unclaimed land). That’s right, the world in general has claimed every piece of bloody land there is. Lesson here? It’s pointless claiming land.
Christiana is an autonomous region of Copenhagen that was taken over by squatters pretty much and have been allowed to stay open pretty much because the Danish are so chilled, and it makes it easier if you know exactly where the weed is being sold. Lessons learned? If you want to make a poor man’s Amsterdam, pick Scandinavia.
The Republic of Lomar, and Wirtland
The Republic of Lomar (I once paid $20 to be a citizen), and later on Wirtland were both examples of cybernations/micronations that planned to exist as online countries, countries without land that would do their politics and exist. Both of which worked for a time and got press. They had more citizens than many UN member nations – so what went wrong? Lomar turned out to be not much better than a fraud, and Wirtland was doing really well (and even got media attention), until people just seemed to lose interest. The lesson here? Online experiments in democracy are good and garner interest, but without a final product they naturally just die a death.
Remember the guys that crowd sourced buying their own football club? The plan was that they would vote on everything from new signings, season ticket pricing, and squad selection. This was another project that went gangbusters at first, but with the reality of a football club being what it is, it was impossible for this model to actually work. Members were supposed to pay a yearly fee, but no power meant no interest, and no interest meant no one renewed their membership. Lesson here? Goals (no pun) have to be realistic.
www.letsbuyanisland.com (the original)
My original idea for crowd sourcing buying an island (which is how and why I originally was bitch slapped by many a micronational prince) was to get around 10,000 people to invest 20 dollars each, or how ever much they wanted to invest. The masses would then vote on the island, like the football club thing. It didn’t work. The lessons here? It was a great theory, but even if it had worked, with that many people it would have been almost impossible to organize to any kind of professional level. It was not scaled the right way.
I had been given lots of lessons on how not to do things, but what I needed was HOW to do it. Something I was to spend the next nine years pondering…..
If you would like to see where the project is at today, check out the link.