A micronation sometimes referred to as a model country or new country project is a political entity that intends to replace, resemble, mock, or exist on equal footing with a recognised and/or sovereign state.
Some micronations are created with serious intent, while others exist as a hobby or stunt.
The term micronation, which literally means small nation, is a neologism. The first reference in English to the word micronation in a popular book appears in the 1978 edition of The People’s Almanac #2, where David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace write:
“Established in 1972 by a declaration of sovereignty by a group of Californians, the Republic of Minerva has more claim to authenticity than most micronations because it actually has some land, although it disappears at high tide. The republic consists of two coral reefs 17 miles apart in the South Pacific Ocean some 3,400 miles southwest of Honolulu and 915 miles northeast of Auckland, New Zealand.”
The term has since come to be used also retrospectively to refer to earlier unrecognised entities, some of which date to as far back as the 17th century. Micronations should not be confused with internationally recognised but geographically tiny nations such as Fiji, Monaco, and San Marino, for which the term microstate is more commonly used.
Micronations generally have a number of common features:
A criterion which distinguishes micronations from imaginary countries, eco-villages, campuses, tribes, clans, sects, and residential community associations, is that these latter entities do not usually seek to be recognised as sovereign.
The Montevideo Convention was one attempt to create a legal definition distinguishing between states and non-states. Some micronations meet this definition, while some do not. The academic study of micronations and microstates is termed ‘micropatrology’, and the hobby or activity of establishing and operating micronations is known as micronationalism.
The Principality of Sealand is one of the more recognised micronations in the world.
The 17th century saw the rise to prominence of a world order dominated by the existing concept of the nation-state, following the Treaty of Westphalia. However, the earliest recognisable micronations can be dated to the 18th Century. Most were founded by eccentric adventurers or business speculators, and several were remarkably successful. These include the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, ruled by the Clunies-Ross family, and Sarawak, ruled by the “White Rajas” of the Brooke family. Both were independent personal fiefdoms in all but name, and survived until well into the 20th Century.
Less successful were the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia (1860-1862) in southern Chile and Argentina, and the Kingdom of Sedang (1888-1890) in French Indochina. The oldest extant micronation to arise in modern times is the Kingdom of Redonda, founded in 1865 in the Caribbean. It failed to establish itself as a sovereign nation-state, but has nonetheless managed to survive into the present day as a unique literary foundation with its own king and aristocracy although it is not without its controversies; there are presently at least four competing claimants to the Redondan throne.
M. C. Harman, owner of the UK island of Lundy in the early decades of the 20th century, issued private coinage and postage stamps for local use. Although the island was ruled as a virtual fiefdom, its owner never claimed to be independent of the United Kingdom. Thus, Lundy can at best be described as a precursor to later territorial micronations.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a ‘micronational renaissance’, with the foundation of a number of territorial micronations, some of which still persist to this day. The first of these, the Principality of Sealand, was founded in 1967 on an abandoned World War II gun platform in the North Sea, and has endured a military coup, court rulings and rough weather throughout its existence. Others were based on schemes requiring the construction of artificial islands, but only two are known to have risen above sea level.
The Republic of Rose Island was a 400 square metre platform built in international waters off the Italian town of Rimini, in the Adriatic Sea in 1968. It is reported to have issued stamps, minted currency, and declared Esperanto to be its official language. Shortly after completion, however, it was destroyed by the Italian Navy.
The Republic of Minerva was set up in 1972 as a libertarian new country project by Nevada businessman Michael Oliver. Oliver’s group conducted dredging operations at the Minerva Reefs, a shoal located in the Pacific Ocean south of Fiji. They succeeded in creating a small artificial island, but their efforts at securing international recognition met with little success, and near-neighbour Tonga sent a military force to the area and annexed it.
On April 1, 1977, bibliophile Richard Booth, declared the UK town of Hay-on-Wye an “independent republic” with himself as its king. The town has subsequently developed a healthy tourism industry based literary interests, and “King Richard” (whose sceptre consists of a recycled toilet plunger) continues to dole out Hay-on-Wye peerages and honours to anyone prepared to pay for them. The official website for Hay-on-Wye, however, admits that the declaration of independence, along with the later claim to have annexed the USA and renaming it the “US of Hay” were all merely publicity stunts.
Micronationalism has since evolved mainly into hobbies, and with younger participants. Although no all-compassing authority on micronations exists, nor any comprehensive listing, it is known that a number of widely diverse communities and sectors persist throughout the micronational world, often on the internet.
The internet provided micronationalism with a new outlet, and the number of entities able to be termed as ‘micronations’ skyrocketed from around 2000 onwards as a result. Exact figures may never be known, but it is thought that many thousands of micronations now exist throughout the world. However, with this new outlet of the internet came a large anomaly between micronationalists and micronations. Before the advent of micronationalism on the internet, micronations were few and far between, and were able to coax many hundreds of people in their citizenry. At present, many micronations are ‘One-man micronations’ or ‘Egostans’, with only one or two people being citizens of the micronation. The majority are based in English-speaking countries, but a significant minority arose elsewhere in other countries as well.
Micronational activities were disproportionately common throughout Australia in the final three decades of the 20th century. The Principality of Hutt River started the ball rolling in 1970, when Prince Leonard (born Leonard George Casley) declared his farming property independent after a dispute over wheat quotas. 1976 witnessed the creation of the Province of Bumbunga on a rural property near Snowtown, South Australia, by an eccentric British monarchist named Alex Brackstone, and a dispute over flood damage to farm properties led to the creation of the Independent State of Rainbow Creek in northeastern Victoria by Tom Barnes in 1979. In New South Wales, a political protest by a group of Sydney teenagers led to the 1981 creation of the Empire of Atlantium, and a mortgage foreclosure dispute led George and Stephanie Muirhead of Rockhampton, Queensland to secede as the Principality of Marlborough in 1993. Although some newer micronations, like Ding Dong, were created purely for the experience of forming and running a micronation.
Yet another Australian secessionist state came into existence on May 1, 2003, when Peter Gillies declared the independence of his 66 hectare northern New South Wales farm as the Principality of United Oceania after an unresolved year-long dispute with Port Stephens Council over Gillies’ plans to construct a private residence on the property.
In the present day, the following categories are generally accepted as being standard:
Micronations of the first type tend to be fairly serious in outlook, involve sometimes significant numbers of relatively mature participants, and often engage in highly sophisticated, structured activities that emulate the operations of real-world nations. A few examples of these include:
These micronations also tend to be fairly serious, and involve significant numbers of people interested in recreating the past, especially the Roman or Mediaeval past, and living it in a vicarious way. Examples of these include:
With literally thousands in existence, micronations of this type are by far the most common. They are ephemeral, and tend to be Internet-based, rarely surviving more than a few months, although there are notable exceptions. They generally involve a handful of people, and are concerned primarily with arrogating to their founders the outward symbols of statehood. The use of grand-sounding titles, awards, honours, and heraldic symbols derived from European feudal traditions, and the conduct of ‘wars’ with other micronations, are common manifestations of their activities. Examples include:
Micronations of this type include stand-alone artistic projects, deliberate exercises in creative online and offline fiction, artistic creations, and even popular films. Examples include:
These types of micronations are typically associated with a political or social reform agenda. Some are maintained as media and public relations exercises. Examples of this type include:
A number of micronations have been established for fraudulent purposes, by seeking to link questionable or illegal financial actions with seemingly legitimate nations. Some examples of these are:
A small number of micronations are founded with genuine aspirations to be sovereign states. Many are based on historical anomalies or eccentric interpretations of law, and tend to be easily confused with established states. These types of micronations are usually located in small (usually disputed) territorial enclaves, generate limited economic activity founded on tourism, philatelic and numismatic sales, and are at best tolerated or at worst ignored by other nations. This category includes:
New-country projects are attempts to found completely new nation-states. They typically involve plans to construct artificial islands (few of which are ever realised), and a large percentage have embraced or purported to embrace libertarian or democratic principles. Examples include:
Seasteading is a lifestyle of making the oceans, or at least water-borne craft, one’s home. Most seasteads historically have been sailing craft, whether perhaps demonstrated by the the Chinese Junk, modified canoes of Oceania, or even the famous Pirates of Libertaria. In modern times in the west the cruising sailboat has begun to be used in the same manner. The term seasteading is of uncertain origin, used at least as early as the turn of the century by Uffa Fox, and others; many feel that catamaran designer and historian James Wharram and his designs represent ideal seasteads. More recently, American sailor and ecological philosopher Jerome FitzGerald has been a leading and effective proponent of seasteading, mostly teaching the concept through the environmental/sailing organisation “The Oar Club”. The Seasteader’s Institute in Hilo, Hawaii offers classes, boat-building opportunities, education in forage foods, diving, and other aspects of a Seasteading lifestyle.
Some theoretical seasteads are floating platforms which could be used to create sovereign micronations, or otherwise serve the ends of ocean colonisation. The concept is introduced in a paper by Wayne Gramlich, and later in a book by Gramlich, Patri Friedman and Andy House, which is available for free online. Their research aims at a more practical approach to developing micronations, based on currently available technology and a pragmatic approach to financial aspects.
The authors argue that seasteading has the potential to drastically lower the barrier to entry to the governing industry. This allows for more experimentation and innovation with varying social, political, and economic systems. Potential business opportunities include data havens, offshore aquaculture, and casinos, as well as the gamut of typical business endeavours.
There has been a small but growing amount of attention paid to the micronation phenomenon in recent years. Most interest in academic circles has been concerned with studying the apparently anomalous legal situations affecting such entities as Sealand and the Hutt River Province, in exploring how some micronations represent grassroots political ideas, and in the creation of role-playing entities for instructional purposes.
In 2000, Professor Fabrice O’Driscoll, of the University Aix-Marseille University, published a book about micronations: Ils ne sigent pas l’ONU (“They are not in the United Nations”), with more than 300 pages dedicated to the subject.
Several recent publications have dealt with the subject of particular historic micronations, including Republic of Indian Stream (University Press), by Dartmouth College geographer Daniel Doan, The Land that Never Was, about Gregor MacGregor, and the Principality of Poyais, by David Sinclair (ISBN 0-7553-1080-2).
In May 2000, an article in the New York Times entitled “Utopian Rulers, and Spoofs, Stake Out Territory Online” brought the phenomenon to a wider audience for the first time. Similar articles were published by newspapers such as the French Liberation, the Italian La Repubblica, the Greek “Ta Nea”, by O Estado de So Paulo in Brazil, and Portugal’s Viso at around the same time.
The Democratic Empire of Sunda, which claims to be the Government of the Kingdom of Sunda (an ancient kingdom, in present-day Indonesia) in exile in Switzerland, made media headlines when two so-called princesses, Lamia Roro Wiranatadikusumah Siliwangi Al Misri, 21, and Fathia Reza Wiranatadikusumah Siliwangi Al Misiri, 23, were detained by Malaysian authorities at the border with Brunei, on 13 July 2007, and are charged for entering the country without a valid pass.
In August 2003 a Summit of Micronations took place in Helsinki at Finlandia Hall, the site of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). The summit was attended by delegations such as the Principality of Sealand, Neue Slowenische Kunst|NSK, Ladonia, the Transnational Republic, and by scholars from various academic institutions.
From November 7 through December 17, 2004, the Reg Vardy Gallery at the University of Sunderland (UK) hosted an exhibition on the subject of micronational group identity and symbolism. The exhibition focused on numismatic, philatelic and vexillological artefacts, as well as other symbols and instruments created and used by a number of micronations from the 1950s through to the present day. A summit of micronations conducted as part of this exhibition was attended by representatives of Sealand, Elgaland-Vargaland, New Utopia, Atlantium, Frestonia and Fusa. The exhibition was reprised at the Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York City from 24 June29 July of the following year. Another exhibition about micronations opened at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo in early 2007.
The Sunderland summit was later featured in a 5-part BBC light entertainment television series called “How to Start Your Own Country” presented by Danny Wallace. The series told the story of Wallace’s experience of founding a micronation, Lovely, located in his London flat. It screened in the UK in August 2005. Similar programs have also aired on television networks in other parts of Europe.
On 9 September 2006, The Guardian newspaper reported that the travel guide company Lonely Planet had published the world’s first travel guide devoted to micronations, the Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations (ISBN 1741047307).
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