"Micronation" is one of those words whose meaning is easy to derive- it means a "small nation". "Nation" is a familiar word, with several related meanings. In this writeup, I'm using it in the sense of a politically-independent territory with all of the trappings of statehood, rather than a culturally-homogeneous group who wish they had one.
When you think of a modern nation, you might imagine a member of the UN, with embassies, a currency and so forth. But another definition is provided by the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. Signed on Boxing Day by the USA and many Central and South American countries; it requires only that a state have
- a permanent population;
- a defined territory;
- a government; and
- capacity to enter into relations with other states.
This is a fairly liberal definition, and so almost anyone can get it together to form a nation
. But points (a) and (b) should keep nation status out of the hands of mere dabblers- determination is required.
While few of these statelets will be troubling the pages of the CIA World Factbook any time soon, it's interesting to see how they've come about, and to fun to dream about setting up a country of one's own. After sniggering at the example micronations that follow, notice that their founders all had in mind a freedom they wanted to win- whether a freedom to use the airwaves, freedom from discrimination, or from injustice. These lofty ideals may be applied here in self-serving ways, but they still evoke the example of the European settlers of North America, and their eventual independence and statehood. In their size and petty pageantry, they are also a mirror to the patchwork quilt of principalities, earldoms and dukedoms that once filled Europe.
Principality of Hutt River
The Principality of Hutt River was formed in 1970 by a Australian farmer who became disgruntled by the imposition of grain quotas by his erstwhile government. Although this type of restriction was fairly normal, the two clauses in the law, declaring that there would be no compensation and no appeals irked the Sovereign-to-be. He declared his farm an independent nation, and telegrammed the Prime Minister of Australia using the terms laid out in the first, second, third and fourth Geneva Conventions.
The Hutt Riverians boast a written constitution (more than can be said for some well-established countries), which defines a hereditary constitutional monarchy, a sovereign prince and Royal Council who together form the legislature; High Court and Courts of law, separation of the church and state, and sets out the rights of the population. The permanent population seems to be be limited to the Royal Family.
They've had a few disputes with their encircling neighbour, notably over postage arrangements; they eventually found a way to send their missives via Canada. Their economy is based on agriculture and tourism, and appears to be doing tolerably well, under the circumstances.
Ruled by Emperor Dale (nee Dale Anderson), the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands was founded in disgust at the lack of appropriate same-sex marriage arrangements in many countries, including Australia. His merry band of activists from Queensland seized Cato Island in the Coral Sea, and established a micronation there, where gay marriage is the norm. They first hoisted the Rainbow Flag in June 2004. Soon after they declared war on Australia, in writing to the Prime Minister. Apparently, by bringing about a state of war, they conferred for themselves rights to govern the lands they claimed as occupiers, under the Geneva Conventions. Since then they have also feuded with other gay separatist movements.
They now have all the trappings of a state- so they are a state. They have 183 citizens, and a permanent population (admittedly only 7-strong), a government, and a territory. So far they have not been able to enter into any international arrangements, but they are a young land. Interestingly, their currency is the Euro rather than the Australian Dollar.
Economic activity is limited to tourism, fishing and sales of their recently-minted stamps. They even have a National Anthem, "I Am What I Am", which was a 1983 hit for Gloria Gaynor, and sounds it.
The Grand Duchy of Westarctica
Westarctica a territory based in Marie Byrd Land, Western Antarctica, the only part of that continent not allocated to an established state. Founded in November 2001, they have already endured the deployment of their Consul-General to Operation Iraqi Freedom, several changes of head of state (some of which were highly contentious), the establishment of a central bank and the foundation of a News Agency; they also found time to annex the Balleny Islands from New Zealand.
The Principality of Sealand
Sealand's territory is a World War II anti-aircraft emplacement about 7 miles from Felixstowe. It was known to the defense establishment as Roughs Naval Tower, and resembleds a monopod oil platform. Built to defend the Thames estuary, it was de-militarised and fell into disuse at the end of hostilities. In 1967, it was seized by Paddy Roy Bates, a pirate radio operator.
In the late 1960s, they enjoyed a brief war with Radio Caroline. The more-famous pirate station attacked, but were repelled by the proud Sealanders, who toted guns, Molotov cocktails and a flamethrower. The Royal Navy intervened and drove off the invaders. In the ensuing court case (1968), Sealand was ruled to be outside British territorial waters. Several other battles with invaders ensued.
Initially the UK viewed its neighbour with suspicion, and plans were drawn up to retake Sealand by force. However, relations with the UK have now advanced to the point where the Royal Mail now offer a post bag service for Sealand mail with the Ipswich postcode IP11 9SZ. The UK government generally declines to comment on Sealand and is unlikely to ever do so. Other nations are more certain- a German ruling of 1978 says that Sealand is not a valid nation on the grounds that it is entirely man-made; and US courts agreed in 1990 and 1991. Undeterred, Sealand set up a constitution in 1995. It is a hereditary monarchy, with an appointed advisory Senate.
Sealand has recently been badly damaged by a fire; before that, they operated a data haven and web host under the name HavenCo. They've also raised money by sales of stamps and passports, which have caused chaos at border crossings around the world. Now the territory is for sale, and is being eyed-up by copyright-infringement enthusiasts The Pirate Bay.
TV comedian and presenter Danny Wallace had a BBC2 programme called "How to Start Your Own Country". His initial attempt at a landgrab was an invasion of Eel Pie Island. He was soon chased off residents wielding metaphorical pitchforks, and established his own flat in Bow, East London as a micronation, called "Lovely". Although many of his fans are "citizens", there is limited capacity for permanent residents. Nevertheless, his show dealt with establishing a security service, a currency, a flag and other stately accoutrements.
- Tom Hall, on "Excess Baggage", BBC Radio 4, 16th September 2006
- Official Home Site of the Principality of Hutt River (warning- garish) - www.hutt-river-province.com
- The Principality of Sealand - http://www.sealandgov.org/
- Welcome to Sealand, Now Bugger Off - http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.07/haven_pr.html
- Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States - http://www.taiwandocuments.org/montevideo01.htm
- Grand Duchy of Westarctica Official Government Web Site - http://westarctica.com/