Micronations are tiny, self-declared states with no international recognition. They differentiate themselves from clans, gangs, religious sects and local associations by striving to assemble the trappings of other nations, often above all else. Most micronations – some serious, some humorous – are ruled by self-styled royals, supreme rulers, dictators and presidents, most of whom are in reality, eccentric hobbyists or political activists. They all make land claims, but these vary in size – an old sea fort, a house, a farm, a boggy area on the banks of the Danube between Serbia and Croatia, a small rock which could fit in your pocket. Many establish currencies, some issue stamps and all have their own flags.
Despite their attempts to be taken seriously, micronations and their benign dictators are normally disappointed in their quest for acceptance.
Nerdy question: how can a new country become legally established? Why are tiny places like Andorra and San Marino accepted as countries while the Principality of Hutt River – 14km2 larger than San Marino – is left out in the cold? International law defines the criteria for statehood: “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.”
Theoretically, if you can demonstrate each then you can claim to be a country and apply for membership of the United Nations. The first three are quite easy to achieve on your own. (D) though tends to depend on the enthusiasm of other countries for entering into relations, rather than your own.
This isn’t only a problem for micronations. Somaliland in North East Africa, to all intents and purposes, is a proper country and has been since 1991. It controls a large area, has a democratic government, passports, army and consulates around the world. It is poor but functional and peaceful, unlike its neighbour Somalia, of which the rest of the world considers Somaliland a part. In the absence of attention from the formal international community, Somaliland accepted the invitation of Liberland – the micronation based on the banks of the Danube – to commence mutual recognition.
People start micronations for lots of different reasons. Often, they are borne of a feeling in their rulers that they could run things better than the current government, even if they only control an area the size of a postage stamp. Others, such as Asgardia, which is based in outer space, seek to promote a new way of conducting a society, free from the traditions and foolishness which infect conventional politics. Some micronation builders seek a sense of identity and belonging which their official country fails to give them. A few may just be suffering from inferiority complexes.
Liberland‘s ruler, President Vít Jedlička, is a right-wing libertarian activist, who planned to institute minimal taxation and regulations and create a cryptocurrency called Merit. Citizenship would be purchased or applied for. Rather than encouraging citizens to move to a marshy, wooded area on the Danube – which apart from anything else lacked the network infrastructure to allow a cryptocurrency to function – the nation would have mainly been internet-based.
His Royal Highness Prince Leonard I of Hutt River declared his farm’s independence from Australia over a dispute concerning wheat production quotas.
The Sovereign State of Forvik is a 1-hectare island in Shetland whose claim to independence is based on an interesting interpretation of an agreement struck between King James III of Scotland and King Christian I of Norway back in 1469 which, it is claimed, left the island in constitutional limbo. Forvik’s main champion, Stuart Hill, a pensioner, earned the nickname ‘Captain Calamity’ from the locals after he suffered repeated accidents while sailing to and from the island in his ramshackle boat and had to be rescued.
My favourite micronation is The Republic of Užupis, in Vilinus, Lithuania. It has four flags – one for each season – and a constitution which begins: ‘Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.’ In its 41 proclamations it goes on to say ‘Everyone has the right to understand’, ‘Everyone has the right to misunderstand’ and ‘Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat’. Some excellent rules for life.
The Constitution of Užupis
- Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
- Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
- Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
- Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
- Everyone has the right to be unique.
- Everyone has the right to love.
- Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
- Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
- Everyone has the right to idle.
- Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
- Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
- A dog has the right to be a dog.
- A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of nee[d].
- Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
- Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
- Everyone has the right to be happy.
- Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
- Everyone has the right to be silent.
- Everyone has the right to have faith.
- No one has the right to violence.
- Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance. [In Lithuanian this reads Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.]
- No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
- Everyone has the right to understand.
- Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
- Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
- Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
- Everyone shall remember their name.
- Everyone may share what they possess.
- No one can share what they do not possess.
- Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
- Everyone may be independent.
- Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
- Everyone has the right to cry.
- Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
- No one has the right to make another person guilty.
- Everyone has the right to be individual.
- Everyone has the right to have no rights.
- Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
- Do not defeat.
- Do not fight back.
- Do not surrender.