Have you ever wanted to be king of your own nation? Do you want to test out a political experiment with a few dozen of your closest friends? Consider setting up your own micronation for fun, social experiments, and profit.
Photograph: His Excellency President Kevin Baugh of the Republic of Molossia. Photo by J. Stephen Conn.
Now, there are new country projects that are quite serious. There are secessionist movements that earnestly seek to establish cultural and political independence from the country whose borders they live within. But let's say you don't want to get into a war with a larger country and just want to carve out your own slice of world and act as its leader or get together with your friends and act out your political ideals. What do you do?
In How to Start Your Own Country (which is currently outdated, but still a rather interesting, if sometimes tongue-in-cheek, read), Erwin S. Strauss notes that, if you're simply looking to avoid government rule, you've got a few options. You can live in international waters on a ship under a flag of convenience, whose nation won't have much interest in your activities. You can live off the grid in a sort of "out of site, out of mind" lifestyle. Or, if you just want to style yourself as a leader or live out your political ideals, you can set up a model country.
While there are dozens of micronations around the world (of varying degrees of seriousness), Dr. Judy Lattas, a sociologist and professor at Macquarie University who studies micronations, she told CNN earlier this year that she doubts they will grow into full-fledged nations. (In fact, the word "ephemeral" is often applied to micronations.) Still, these micronations are ways that people express their political ideals, live out their dreams of sovereignty, or protest the governments of their host nations.
What Makes a Nation?
There are a couple of different theories as to what makes a nation. Under the constitutive theory of statehood, a nation is a nation if other states recognize it as such. By under the declarative theory, outlined in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, "The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states."
So keep that in mind when setting up your nation. You can't just say that you are the Republic of Horsefeathers; you need to establish where the Republic exists, who is considered a citizen, and what kind of government it has. If your country is a political simulation, chances are that setting up a government is an important part of your micronational endeavor. But if you're setting up a micronation just for the sake of having a micronation, a monarchy is an easy (and self-aggrandizing) way to go. But if you want to opt for a relatively simple democracy, the How to Start a Micronation website, operated by Kevin Baugh, President of the Republic of Molossia (located near Dayton, Nevada), recommends this Model Constitution Code.
Baugh also points out that, if you want to hold yourself out as a nation, you better be willing to act like one. On the How to Start a Micronation website, he recommends conducting yourself with formality, even if your approach to statehood is rather casual:
Remember, you represent your nation at all times. NATION. Not a cute little website that you call a nation. If you are going to play the game, play it right. Your purpose, whether serious or not, is to have your own country. Behave that way at all times, as if your nation were real. In this way, you will gain respect from your peers and gain greater standing in the micronational world.
Declare That Your Property Is a Nation
One thing that your fledgling nation will have to deal with is claiming territory. One way that individuals or small groups have tried to claim territory for a new nation is by staking their claim on politically disputed land. Earlier this year, Greenpeace exploited a loophole in laws regarding glaciers along the border between Chile and Argentina by establishing the Glacier Republic. This wasn't so that Greenpeace could have it's own country; it's so that it could draw attention to the lack of laws protecting glaciers and the mining operations threatening them.
Other micronationalists look back to history. One particularly fascinating micronation case is that of the Sovereign State of Forvik. Englishman Stuart Hill (also known as "Captain Calamity") declared Forewick Holm, one of the Shetland Islands, to be a British Crown Dependency in 2008. His justification? In 1469, King Christian I pledged Shetland to Scotland's King James III against the payment of the dowry of Christian I's daughter Margaret. Since the loan of the territory was never repaid, Hill claims, Shetland should enjoy the status of a Crown Dependency. The UK, thus far, has not recognized any such status.
You don't need to go off and find a brand-new territory, however. You can simply declare the property that you own is the territory of your new country. Various micronations have opted for various strategies when it comes to these declarations. Strauss suggests that the agent of a new nation within the boundaries of the United States may file their request for recognition with the Office of the Geographer of the United States. Baugh created a petition on Whitehouse.gov for federal recognition of the Republic of Molossia. Leonard George Casley, who founded the Principality of Hutt River and kicked off a micronation movement in Australia, sent a formal notice of secession to the Western Australian government.
But there are other ways to hold yourself out as a nation. Baugh recommends setting up a website for your new country, designing a flag, establishing national symbols, and determining what your national activities are, in other words, creating a national identity. Lattas noted in a 2005 paper that there is a "peculiar concentration on the signs of sovereignty and citizenship (flags, appointments, declarations)" in micronation endeavors, especially in Australia.
For some entrepreneurial folk, this focus on the markings of a nation is a grand money-making opportunity. They offer to sell noble titles, entrance fees into their countries (complete with passport stamps), passports, bar association certificates, stamps, currency, and other memorabilia. After all, a cheeky Conch Republic flag makes a great gift.
What About Taxes?
If your micronation exists inside the boundaries of another country, chances are that, at some point, the taxman will come a-calling. If you're paying taxes to another country, are you really your own nation?
Well, it might depend on your sense of perspective. Strauss suggests that you might think of it as money your country pays to another country in order to exist under that country's protection and utilize that country's services.
Engaging in Foreign Relations
Even if other countries don't recognize your micronation, there are still cases in which micronations do interact with the governments of recognized countries. The Principality of Sealand, one of the most famous micronations, was established in 1967 when Paddy Roy Bates seized a former sea fort in the North Sea, eventually introducing a constitution and national symbols in 1975. Sealand sat there quietly until 1968, when British workmen entered what Bates considered Sealand's territorial waters and were scared off with warning shots from the platform. A British court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the case, since Sealand was, at the time, outside its territorial waters. In 1978, a rebel government tried to take control of Sealand, and Alexander Achenbach, a German lawyer, was held on the platform under charges of treason. The German government ended up sending a diplomat to Sealand to negotiate for Achenbach's release. Because of these two incidents, Sealand claims it has been de facto recognized as a sovereign entity by both the UK and Germany.
It's also worth noting, that you might end up brushing up against your surrounding nation, whether you want to or not, if you're violating that country's laws. Freetown Christiania, which has proclaimed itself an autonomous neighborhood within Copenhagen, was more or less unhindered in its cannabis trade until 2004, when police began cracking down on the cannabis distribution. The neighborhood increasingly saw clashes with the police and raids. It might be better for the longevity of your fledgling nation not to flaunt the local criminal laws.
Even if you're not involved in relations with more established countries, you can participate in the micronational community. You can interact with other micronations online (there is even an established message board etiquette) and attend the International Conference on Micronations, which in 2015 will be held in an actual micronation, the Free Republic of Alcatraz, located near Perugia, Italy.
Since most of the world's land has been claimed, some would-be nation builders have been looking toward the oceans. The Seasteading Institute, for example, founded by Patri Friedman and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, is working toward the creation of autonomous seasteads.
The idea of venturing out into the sea to create one's own nation isn't a new idea. In the 1960s, Leicester Hemingway, brother of author Ernest Hemingway, tried to establish his own micronation, New Atlantis, aboard a barge off the coast of Jamaica. In 1966, the micronation sank in a tropical storm.
Despite the relative success of Sealand, other off-shore mircronations have run into difficulty. The Republic of Rose island constructed a platform off the coast of Rimini, Italy, and declared independence. The Italian government quickly seized control of the platform and, after less than a year of self-proclaimed independence, the Republic of Rose's platform was destroyed by the Italian Navy. In 1971, real estate millionaire Michael Oliver funded the creation of artificial islands in Minerva Reefs, establishing the Republic of Minerva. Mere months after the republic declared independence, Tonga made claim to the islands and sent an expedition there to raise their flag. The moral of the story is to place your seasted in a spot that another nation isn't likely to claim — and be willing to fight for it if your claim is challenged.