Many people have set up their own laws and proclaimed their independence as kings and queens
All you need is a DIY spirit and a lack of formal recognition from established nations and United Nations
Dr. Judy Lattas defines the self-declared entity as "micronation"
When most territories decide to go it alone as an independent country, it usually involves at best a referendum, at worst a messy war.
But for some, starting a nation is a far simpler affair.
Earth is dotted with dozens of self-proclaimed kings, emperors, presidents and princesses presiding over a quirky collection of homemade empires known as “micronations.”
Many claim their own borders and laws, fashion their own currency and regalia and boast a growing number of “citizens” from around the world.
Dr. Judy Lattas of Macquarie University in Sydney is one of only a handful of academics studying the micronation phenomenon.
She defines a micronation as a self-declared entity that’s either virtual or very small (though some are actually quite large when compared with microstates such as Monaco or the Vatican).
What they share in common are characteristics of earlier utopian movements, a DIY spirit and a lack of formal recognition from established nations and global bodies like the United Nations. But that’s where the similarities end.
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“There are incredible differences among them and no clear sense of unity at all,” Dr. Lattas explains.
“Many reject the notion of micronations outright. Some are secessionists and some aren’t. Some are more like virtual game-playing, some are art projects, some are very cyberpunk and others are quite serious political protests or indigenous sovereignty movements.”
From dissent to ‘independence’
Many of the non-virtual micronations, or those with territorial claims, are built out of a gripe with local authorities.
These generally follow a secession model and take inspiration from the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (signed in 1933 by the United States and numerous Latin American countries).
There must be a grievance, members and some sort of declaration against a perceived wrong.
And if that claim goes unanswered – you don’t, for example, receive any kind of formal rejection – then it’s assumed by default that you’ve succeeded in seceding.
There’s also the national sovereignty model in which you simply refuse to secede from a country you don’t recognize exists.
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Challenging legal parameters
Dr. Lattas believes micronations pose interesting questions regarding law and history.
Take Prince Leonard of the Principality of Hutt River.
His departure from Western Australia under the national sovereignty model is featured in legal and sociology textbooks around the world, while his idea galvanized scores of other Australians to draw up constitutions and paint invisible borders around their properties.
George Cruickshank is one of them.
He drew a dotted line around his yard and became the Emperor of Atlantium in 1981.
He’s also one of the quirky geopolitical phenomenon’s top researchers, creating a micronation wiki, maintaining the most popular Facebook group for micronationalists and coordinating the biannual PoliNation Conferences. (The next one will be July 11-12, 2015).
“The whole idea is to share information and make it easier for people to achieve success in their individual projects,” Cruickshank says.
His online forums attract thousands of participants – including many “bedroom kingdom kids” – and explore the roughly 250 micronations of historical merit.
Many like Cruickshank credit Ernest Hemingway’s younger brother Leicester with popularizing the concept in the mid-1960s when he towed an 8x30-foot bamboo raft to a spot 12 nautical miles off the southwest coast of Jamaica and declared it New Atlantis under the obscure Guano Islands Act of 1856.
This spawned the Principality of Sealand, built on an abandoned World War II sea fort off the coast of Britain in 1967, and could be seen as a precursor to PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s new Seasteading Institute.
Dr. Lattas says that while she takes the micronationalist movement seriously, she doesn’t think they’ll actually set up bona fide countries that will one day get recognized and thrive.
“I don’t really believe all that. But I do find them interesting as a social phenomenon that has enough spread that it really deserves a serious focus.
“Anthropologists write on cargo cults, which are very quirky, small, not very effective movements, but they’re interesting politically because of the kind of rhetoric they produce and the way they galvanize people to express ideas about freedom, sovereignty and protest against inequality. That’s the way I approach micronations.”
For anyone who’s ever wanted to tap in to the man who would be king within, here’s a look at eight micronations you can visit.
The Republic of Molossia
The Republic of Molossia is the befuddling outcome of one man’s childhood project that got entirely out of hand.
His Excellency, President Kevin Baugh, first dreamed up his own kingdom in 1977 and it evolved in the late 1990s into a territorial claim within the U.S. state of Nevada.
Baugh’s edicts (no products from Texas, no walruses) are as bizarre as his further territorial declarations (a large chunk of the planet Venus, a spot named Neptune Deep in the Pacific Ocean) and while passports aren’t required to enter Molossia from the United States, they’re recommended and will be stamped upon entry.
Location: Within the U.S. state of Nevada on the outskirts of Dayton.
Fee: Free, though an appointment is required.
What to see and do: Take a one-hour tour of the property with President Baugh between April 15 and October 15, weather permitting.
Highlights include a garden, post office, trading company, peace pole and tiki bar.
The Republic of Kugelmugel
What do you do when the government isn’t pleased with your ball-shaped house?
If you’re Austrian artist Edwin Lipburger, you declare independence, refuse to pay taxes and begin printing your own stamps.
And when you receive a prison sentence in court for your actions, you persuade the Austrian president to issue a pardon on your behalf.
The artist died in 2015 and while the Republic of Kugelmugel is closed off behind a foreboding barbed wire fence, its spherical centerpiece remains a popular tourist attraction in Vienna’s Prater Park.
Location: Within Prater Park in Vienna, Austria’s 2nd district.
What to see and do: Take pictures, gaze in awe at the architecture and read about one man’s struggle to “beat the system.”
Website: Republik-kugelmugel.com (in German)
The Free Republic of Alcatraz
The Free Republic of Alcatraz is not only a quixotic eco-resort, it’s a “utopia in progress” with its own artfully crafted banknotes, passports, flags and stamps.
Italian writer, actor and director Jacopo Fo (son of Nobel laureate Dario Fo) founded Alcatraz in the woodlands between Gubbio and Perugia in 2009 as a protest against what he saw as the degradation of Italian society at the hands of then-leader Silvio Berlusconi.
It’s since blossomed into a haven for free thinkers with its own museum, restaurant and education center with workshops on everything from yoga to permaculture.
Location: Within Italy on 4 million square feet of land between Gubbio and Perugia.
Fee: Rates start at €35 ($47) for an overnight stay.
What to see and do: Get a water massage in the pool, enroll in a cooking class, visit Queen Eleonora Albanese’s Fantastic Wood Museum and take in one of the regular concerts.
This self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen arose out of squatted military barracks in 1971 and became infamous the world over for its cannabis trade until Danish authorities stopped turning a blind eye in 2004.
Today, it boasts 1,000 peace-loving residents who pay rent to the community and have turned the reclaimed barracks into self-designed schools, houses and small businesses.
The social experiment finally became legal after 40 turbulent years when citizens purchased the land from the Danish government in April 2011 for a sobering DKK 76 million ($13.9 million).
Location: Within the neighborhood of Christianshavn in Copenhagen, Denmark.
What to see and do: Down some vegetarian cuisine with a strong drink on Pusher Street, purchase a handcrafted bicycle and get lost in the commune’s quirky backstreets.
The Principality of Hutt River
Prince Leonard founded the Principality of Hutt River in 1970 as part of an agricultural protest writ large.
This “sovereign state” – which claims not to pay taxes to the Australian government, even though it does donate a “gift” of equivalent value – occupies a swath of arid land roughly the size of Hong Kong and subsists largely on wildflower exports, tourism and the sales of its coins, stamps and trinkets.
Even though the UN doesn’t recognize Hutt River’s presence, there’s one powerful entity that does: Google.
The Principality of Hutt River is one of the few micronations that actually shows up on Google Maps.
Location: Within the Australian state of West Australia about two hours north of Geraldton.
Fee: Passports must be stamped on arrival for a fee of A$2 ($1.85), but there’s no departure tax.
What to see and do: Check out the royal art collection, play putt putt golf and spend the night in the rustic campground.
There’s only one “country” in the Middle East that’s never engaged in military conflict, and it’s ruled by an Iranian-born Jew named Eli Avivi.
Avivi set up camp in the ruined village of Akhziv on Israel’s northern coastline in 1952 and proclaimed it the independent state of Akhzivland after the government intervened in 1970 to destroy his illegal structures.
Avivi won the ensuing court case, became a local folk hero and went on to extol his ideals of pacifism and freedom to all who’d listen.
The octogenarian’s 2.5-acre nation remains a popular tourist destination more than 40 years later with guest rooms, a campground and alluring views of Lebanon (to the north), Galilee (to the east) and the Mediterranean (to the west).
Location: Within Israel 2.5 miles north of Nahariya.
Fee: About $25 per night
What to see and do: Lounge on the private beach, get your passport stamped and check out the artifacts in the State Museum of Agriculture, Archaeology and Navigation.
The Naminara Republic
The West may house a preponderance of micronations, but it’s Asia that boasts the most visited of them all: The Naminara Republic.
President Kang Woo-hyon declared “cultural independence” from South Korea in 2006 and turned his half-moon shaped island into a popular eco-resort with art galleries, museums, performance venues and a hotel.
Each of the more than 2 million annual visitors must acquire a Naminara passport to enter and, once citizens, can purchase stamps, coins and telephone cards to get by.
Location: Within South Korea on a private island in the Han River near Chuncheon.
Fee: Approximately $10 in “visa fees” to enter the island.
What to see and do: Visit the Song Museum of ethnic musical instruments and attend events like the annual International Children’s Book Festival and YoPeFe, a festival of traditional dance.
The Republic of Uzupis
If only Frank Zappa lived to see the day he became the inspiration for a tiny micronation within Lithuania.
Sadly, he died two years before a group of artists and intellectuals erected a statue in his honor in a bohemian corner of the capital Vilnius and four years before he became the patron saint of that neighborhood when it seceded to become the Republic of Uzupis.
Some 1,000 of the Republic’s 7,000 inhabitants are artists, so artistic endeavors are, naturally, on the top of current president Roman Lileikis’ agenda.
Location: Within Vilnius’ Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to see and do: Check out the art galleries and visit the Constitution Wall of Uz where you can read up on the edicts, including this one: “A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.”
Mark Johanson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Santiago, Chile. You can follow his adventures at www.markjohanson.com.