Top 10: History’s Strangest Micronations

Written by Grant Mills on . Posted in Art, History, Politics, Society, Top List, Travel

What is a country? Why is it that kings and queens have more right to lay claim to land and sea than you or I do? Yet there is an alternative globe of the world, one that not only includes ‘macro-nations’ such as Australia and the US, but also the ‘micronations’ of the world, like Molossia or the Grand Duchy of Avram.

The term ‘micro-nation’ was coined toward the end of the 60’s to describe the localized attempts of people to declare independence from their country of inhabitance.

Though they lack the diplomatic recognition of the world’s larger nations, it has not stopped backyard sovereigns from undertaking their own diplomatic missions to fellow micro-nations or setting up such services as the Micronational Professional Registry (MPR) – a serious unrecognized government organisation (SUGO) – and organising the Microvision Song Contest.

Yet to consider them all ‘joke countries’ or the provinces of eccentrics, crackpots and part-time megalomaniacs, does disservice to the often-serious act of political protest that they stand for.

10. The Republic of Rose Island

Just as history has seen the countries on our maps be born and die in the fires of conquest, so too is it true for one micronation in particular.

In 1968 an Italian architect and real-estate investor, Giorgio Rosa built his own nation – a 400 square metre platform seven miles out to sea from the Italian coast. He gave the hulking monstrosity the misleadingly romantic title of the Republic of Rose Island.

Republic of Rose IslandHe envisioned the nation as a tourist attraction, with its own souvenir shop and radio station. He, like many micronations before and after him, intended to print his own currency.

Yet the existence of the platform irked the Italian government and they worried that the tiny nation was intended as a tax haven. They were having none of it.

The government evicted Rosa and his employees and, leaving nothing to chance, had the Italian Navy blow up the platform with explosives. Though numerous micronations have been quelled forcefully by their government the Italians take the cake for their dedication and sense of the dramatic. The Republic of Rose Island may also be the only nation to have wholly become a reef, the Atlantis of the micronation globe.

9. Celestia

Arms_Celestia_02Many micronations have made outrageous claims as to the extent of their territories, but the Nation of Celestial Space, otherwise known as Celestia, may just win hands down. The territory of Celestia encompasses the whole of the universe, minus the earth.

Declared on January 1st 1949, by US resident James Mangan, Celestia was born out of several real concerns for the wellbeing of humanity. The raging Cold War and the USA and Soviet Union’s space programs were seeing man’s grasp reach into the heavens. Mangan foresaw a situation where countries might begin laying claim to parts of space, and he feared a single country achieving a political stranglehold.

So in order to pre-empt (the political equivalent of the hungry-hungry hippp consumption of space) political machinations he declared the whole of Outer Space to the territory of Celestia and henceforth the property of all mankind.

Mangan was also active in policing his dominion for the greater good. He formally notified the US, the UK, the UN and the Soviet Union that Celestia had banned atmospheric nuclear testing.

Though ignored by the major powers, Celestia did receive an admirable level of awareness of its cause. Unfortunately the nation faded from history with the death of its founder. Yet Celestia remains the only micronation in history to have its flag unfurled above the United Nations in New York, right alongside all of the standards of the UN member states…even if it was for only one day.

Mangan wasn’t the only person to establish an extra-terrestrial micronation before the Outer Space Treaty was signed in 1967 forbidding territorial claims in outer space. Others included the “Other World Nation” claiming the other planets of the solar system and the “Celestial Solar Kingdom” claiming the surface of the sun.

8. Spiral Island/Joyxee Island

Joyxee Island - www.letsbenomads.com

Joyxee Island – www.letsbenomads.com

This one might technically not belong on this list (as it has not declared itself an independent nation) but British artist Richart ‘Rishi’ Sowa not only built the house in which he lives, he built the very land upon which the house rests. And that sounds more deserving of ‘nation’ status than planting a flag in the ground and locking up the natives.

In 1998 Sowa began building Spiral Island, a floating structure made out of bamboo, plywood and nets filled with plastic bottles. He then covered the island in dirt, planted mangroves and other plants and made his floating home completely sustainable.

Spiral IslandEventually the island sported a two-story house, several beaches a solar oven, composting toilet. Prior to the island being destroyed by a hurricane in 2005, several of the mangroves had grown to over 4 metres tall!

Yet the setback was only temporary as Sowa began construction of version 2.0 in 2007, creating what is now known as Joyxee Island and that rests in Isla Mujeras Bay new Cancun, Mexico.

Joyxee Island now includes a solar-powered waterfall, wave-driven washing machine, two ponds, three beaches and a house, all built on its base of recycled plastic bottles. The island is open for tours.

7. Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands

If you wanted to choose your future micronation home on the basis of how good the parties would be, then there is no going past the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands.

Credit: Johan Willemsen

Credit: Johan Willemsen

Encompassing a number of small, uninhabited sand islands on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Kingdom sports fabulous weather, a peerless location and whose only qualifier for citizenship is to be either gay or lesbian.

Declared in 2004 as a protest against the sexuality ‘apartheid’ that gay and lesbian people were suffering at the hands of the Australian government, Emperor Dale Anderson I planted the rainbow flag in the sandy soil of Catu island to create a “as homeland for the gay and lesbian peoples of the world.”  The Kingdom created its own Declaration of Independence and even released a series of stamps

Despite the claims on the islands, they were infrequently inhabited and the micronation thought defunct. Yet it appears that the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands has emerged on Facebook, so there is still hope of a rainbow nation.

6. The Conch Republic

One of the better known micronations is the Conch Republic, and their motto of ‘The Mitigation of World Tension through the Exercise of Humor” (sic) typifies the underlying goal of many of the nations I’ve mentioned. Humorously , the nation’s OTHER motto is that “We seceded where others failed.”

Established on April 23 1982 the Conch Republic encompassed the islands of the Florida Keys. Begun as a protest against the establishment of a US border checkpoint between the keys and the mainland, the Mayor of Key West, Denis Wardlow declared himself Prime Minister.

Conch Republic

He promptly declared war on the US by breaking a stale loaf of Cuban bread (the nation’s weapon of choice) over the head of a man dressed in a US Navy uniform. The war was short lived with the Conch Republic capitulating and immediately applying for one billion dollars of foreign aid from the United States.

Proving the power of smart humour the nation’s protest was successful in removing the border checkpoint and in 1994 the nation banded together to re-open a national park that had been closed by the federal government.

You can Conch-tact the nation through their website.

5. North Dumpling

Would you like to live in the only nation in the world with Ministers of Ice Cream (Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s, no less) as well as a Minister for Brunch and for Nepotism?

North DumplingWelcome to The Kingdom of North Dumpling, the high tech island nation owned by the eccentric inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen. That’s right, the guy who made the two wheel, standing scooters is the master of his own nation!

Located off the coast of Connecticut, Kamen jokingly seceded from the United States after he was denied the right to build a wind turbine on the island. The even signed a non-aggression pact with this friend, and then President, George W. Bush…

www.ecofriend.com

www.ecofriend.com

The eccentric genius then went on to turn his entire nation ‘carbon-negative’, converting all lights on the island to LEDs and producing more energy via renewable sources than he uses. Living up to the eccentric epithet the island also has a scale Stonehenge at one end of the island.

Though his secession may have been a joke he’s definitely run with it, writing the nations constitution, creating a flag, national anthem and visas. The kingdom also maintains a navy consisting of a lone amphibious vehicle. Not surprisingly the official vehicle of the nation is the Segway.

Kamen hopes that the lure of one day owning your own island will inspire kids into science and encourage to sort of innovation that made him rich and (unofficially) a king.

4. The Principality of Hutt River

Hutt River, in Western Australia, is perhaps the world’s biggest terrestrial micronation consisting of 75 square kms of farmland – approximately the size of Hong Kong, its website proudly boasts.

‘Prince’ Leonard Casley seceded from the Australian Commonwealth in April 1970, after an ongoing dispute with the government over ‘draconian’ wheat quota laws. He delivered formal notes of secession to WA’s Premier, the Australian Prime Minister – he even notified the Queen.

Hutt RiverAustralia’s oldest micronation, The Principality has survived and flourished for over 40 years due to the political and legal nous of its leader Prince Leonard. Casley has deftly manoeuvred against state and federal governments that have challenged him, managing to occupy a constitutional and legal grey zone that has been debated by Governors and Prime Ministers. Yet Hutt River remains.

The micronation has also managed to get away with declared war against Australia, was recognised by Pope John Paul II as a king of Hutt River, has dined as a dignitary at the Vatican and was only nation in the world that the Vatican has given permission for their sovereign (Prince Leonard) to appear on the same stamp as the Pope.

The Prince (who is now technically a King, following a recent referendum on whether the Principality should be upgraded to a Kingdom) welcomes visitors, offering them the unique chance to buy coins, stamps, or have their passports. The nation receives an estimated 50,000 visitors a year – billed as the second largest Nation on the Australian continent.

3. Sealand

Proving that life as a micronation is not all lordly titles and extravagant decrees, is Sealand, perhaps the first of the modern ‘New Country Projects’, with a history as long and tempestuous as many larger nations.

Sealand exists on an old WW11 anti-aircraft fortress, 7 miles off the coast of England. It was abandoned until the 60s when it was occupied by an ex-Army major by the name of Roy Bates, with the intention of turning the platform – which sat beyond Britain’s territorial jurisdiction – into the base for his pirate radio station.

SealandThought the radio station was short-lived, Roy and his family stayed on the remote platform, renaming it the Independent Principality of Sealand. And that’s where the fun began.

Alive and kicking for almost 50 years now, Sealand has:

–       Seen invasion by foreign forces

–       Maintained a government in exile

–       Seen the kidnapping of one of its royals

–       Was subject of a helicopter counter-offensive to retake Sealand

–       Harboured a hostage/prisoner-of-war situation

–       Undertaken diplomatic negotiations with Germany regarding the release of the hostage

–       Become a safehaven for information during the dot.com boom

–       Has incited the British Crown to change several naval laws to try and subjugate the nation

–       Have fielded their own football team of honorary Sealand citizens

–       And may soon be the subject of a movie with Liam Neeson

For a fantastic article on Sealand, and the ins-and-outs of its stormy history, see the recent article in The Independent.

2. Molossia

The Republic of Molossia, situated in the Nevada desert, may be the world’s most active current micronation, maintaining a website, monthly ‘radio’ broadcasts, Facebook group and Twitter account, as well as receiving a handful of visitors every year.

The ‘dictatorial banana-republic’ was originally established in 1977 as a school project by 2 students, James Spielman and Kevin Baugh. For many years Molossia had no fixed territory until President Baugh purchased a house and land in Nevada in 1998.

MolossiaThe nation sports a Ministry for Air and Space Exploration, a Bank, a telephone and telegraph service, an Navy and a War Office. Indeed, Mollosia assisted in the creation of another micronation, Mustachistan – led by Sultan Ali-Ali Achsenfree – but after a territorial dispute, went to war with it.

Molossia is still formally at war with East Germany and has been so for the last 30 years. You can support the war effort by buying War Bonds via the Molossia website.

Curious about what it’s like to rule your own country? Interested in finding out what it takes to secede from the greater world? Then look out next month when I’ll be personally interviewing President Kevin Baugh of Molossia and finding out whether life really is better as a dictator.

1. NOWHEREISLAND

Nowhereisland was an ambitious art project, by artist Alex Hartley, for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad that ran concurrent with the Olympics.

Alex discovered the land that would become Nowhereisland on an expedition to the Arctic. There he found a tiny island of rock and shale that had been revealed by the retreating glaciers. Having been locked under ice for millions of years, Alex’s was the first human footstep on the island.

Nowhere IslandIn 2011 he and a team returned to transpose a large portion of the island onto a barge so that it could be towed out into international water. There they declared the floating island the micronation of Nowhereisland.

For the duration of the Olympics, Nowhereisland visited the port towns of England’s South coast, accompanied by trucks that formed its mobile embassy.

NowhereislandIts constitution was crowd-sourced, its citizenship open to everyone on the planet. The little island, which had only become possible because of global warming, was a valiant attempt to raise issues of environmentalism, land ownership and resource exploitation.

When the island’s journey finally came to an end the island was broken up and the pieces offered to the 23,003 registered citizens from over 135 countries. And as a lasting memorial to the disappeared nation a small piece of the rock was sent to the edge of space, where it will forever remain in the upper-stratosphere.

Read more about Nowhereisland’s amazing, if short, life here.

Honourable Mention:

The Grand Duchy of Avram: Founded in the 1980s on Australia’s island state of Tasmania, the Grand Duchy of Avram is ostensibly a banking operation where Australian dollars can be exchanged for Avram coinage.

The Australian government took the Grand Duke, John Charlton Rudge, to court no less than six times, in an effort to get him to cease his activities.

The Australian government lost, at a cost of over over AUD$22 million. The Duchy continues to this day.

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