Beyond the reach of maps and borders, a treasure-trove of quirky, independent micro-nations await discovery. Since the 1970s, the term ‘micronation’ has been used to refer to an entity that claims independence without being officially recognised by world governments or major international organisations. Micronations pop up in a range of unexpected locations across the world – some of them even span a multitude of locations. Far from being imaginary worlds, they formally and persistently claim sovereignty over a physical territory.
Though some micronations may seem eccentric, and are dismissed as bouts of escapism taken to the extreme, often they are established in protest against the absolute power of the nation-state. In a world where government institutions at times seem abstract and disconnected from their people, it is interesting to take into account these examples of miniature governments, where the every-man tries and tests small scale governments of his own. Micronations offer alternate lifestyles and strive to give their citizens an enhanced sense of freedom. On occasion, they have even attracted enough attention to be perceived not as a joke, but as a threat to conventional order and ideology by home countries. Some falter, but others persist, attracting a significant body of support.
The rulers of micronations take their self-appointed roles seriously. Indeed, several micronations have issued their own currency, stamps, flags and even passports. There is also often recognition between micronations, allowing for a system of international communication between rulers. The following list ranks five tiny micronations from the biggest to the smallest area of territory. From a physical island to old military barracks, a Second World War sea fortress, and a micronation orchestrated from a man’s own living room, these havens of alternate lifestyle are a sample of the multitude of micronations in existence that come in all shapes and sizes.
5. Kingdom of Sark – 5, 4km2
Until recently, Sark was the last remaining feudal state in Europe. Similarly to Guernsey it is a crown dependency, but independent from the UK. Prior to 2009, the kingdom was run by a Lord, or ‘Seigneur’, who granted his people land in exchange for military service. No social benefits were available, but no taxes were imposed either. Since 2009 a constitutional monarchy has been introduced, and King Oli I reigns over the kingdom.
The land is unique in its customs. For example, it is completely car free – instead its inhabitants use horse-drawn carriages – and it imposes a total smoking-ban. It even has its own language: Sarkese draws on German, English, French and Welsh and was invented by King Oli when he was in school. Tourists are drawn to Sark for the experience of going back in time – it is an idyllic, secluded place, cut off from the chaos of modern life.
4. Kingdom of Redonda – 2km2
The tiny Caribbean island of Redonda is an uninhabited territory which rises to a 971 foot peak. Shrouded in legend, the kingdom’s true history is unclear. However, according to the micro nation’s website, the kingdom was founded in 1865 and a series of kings have reigned over it ever since.
Adventure and fantasy writer M.P. Shiel was the first person to give an account of the Kingdom of Redonda in 1929. According to tradition, it was M.P. Shiel’s father M.D. Shiel who claimed the island when his son was born. He argued that this was a legitimate act as the islet had not been claimed by any other country. M.P. Shiel claimed that he was crowned as his father’s successor on Redonda at the age of 15 by a bishop from Antigua. Late on in life, Shiel passed the title to London poet and editor John Gawsworth. Since then, however, the monarchy had been at the basis of a controversy: John Gawsworth promised his title to a number of peers, and to add to the confusion, a number of self-appointed monarchs emerged.
In 2007 an English pub, The Wellington Arms, endeavoured to become the embassy of Redonda to gain diplomatic immunity from the nationwide ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces, including pubs. However, as Redonda is now a territory of Antigua and Barbuda, it was not entitled to an embassy in the UK.
3. Freetown Christiania – 0, 34 km2
Located in Copenhagen, Freetown Christiania was set up in former military barracks and parts of the city ramparts. After the military moved out, homeless people trespassed into the barracks, and in 1971 inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood began to break down fences to take over parts of the unused area as a playground for their children. It is claimed that this happened in protest against the Danish government because there was a lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen at the time. In September of 1971, Freetown Christiania was declared open by Jacob Ludvigsen, the well-known journalist and provo activist (a Danish counter-culture movement).
The micronation functions with the positivist ideology of being a self-governing, self-sustaining society wherein every citizen is responsible for the well being of the entire community. This strives towards a tight-knit community where physical and psychological destitution may be averted. The spirit of this community developed into one idealised by the hippy, squatter, collectivist and anarchist movements. It is a hub for yoga, meditation, creativity and theatre. With half a million visitors annually, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Copenhagen. However, although the micronation is praised as a successful social experiment in integrating addicts and the homeless, the Danish government has incessantly been trying to remove the Christianites. This is largely due to an association with drugs. While hard drugs have been made illegal in the micronation, the area has an open cannabis trade market which the government has had difficulty cracking down on. Nonetheless, since 1994 residents have been paying taxes and in 2011 Christiania bought the whole area from the state for DKK 76.5 million, finally making the micronation legal.
2. Principality of Sealand – 0, 025 km2
The Principality of Sealand is the world’s second smallest micronation. Located six miles off the East coast of England, the micronation is a former Second World War Sea Fort named HM Fort Roughs. During the war, the British government built a series of fortress islands illegally, in the North Sea, to defend its coasts from German invaders. All but this one were later pulled down during the late 1960s. Paddy Roy Bates saw a golden opportunity and in 1967, seized the remaining fort from a group of pirate radio broadcasters with the intention of broadcasting his own radio station – Radio Essex – from the site. He had been having legal trouble with the British government for having a Pirate radio station with UK jurisdiction so he set up the same radio station again but just outside of British waters. Ever since, Sealand has struggled for recognition from both England and Germany. Currently it is only recognised de facto.
Bates established Sealand on the principle that any group of people dissatisfied with oppressive laws and restrictions of their nation state may declare independence at any location unclaimed by the jurisdiction of another sovereign entity. Sealand’s official language is English, its currency is the Sealand Dollar, and it has stamps and passports in circulation. It is also possible to buy individual nobility titles of Lord, Lady, Baron, Baroness and Knight. In 2012, at the age of 91, Paddy Roy Bates passed away, leaving his son, Michael, as regent of the micronation to carry out his legacy.
1. Republic of Molossia – 0, 0053 km2
Kevin Baugh’s childhood dream of founding his own nation became reality when in 1999, he founded a territorial entity under the name The Republic of Molossia, and declared himself its president. The micronation is indeed ‘microscopic’ consisting of two small locations: Baugh’s own home and land in Dayton, Nevada (which is the Republic’s capital, Baughston), and a piece of land in Southern California which Baugh inherited from his grandfather. This piece of territory has been named Desert Homestead Province, and is a national monument to the deceased grandfather.
Though small, The Republic of Molossia claims to have its own postal service, bank, tourist services, navy, space program, railroad, measurement system, timezone, holidays, and even an online movie theatre. Since 2008, the Republic has attracted around 14 tourists a year, that Baugh takes on tours himself in exchange for the small change in their pockets. In 2012, Baugh created a petition on the We the People on Whitehouse.gov in the hope of collecting enough signatures for his micronation to be formally recognised. Unfortunately, too few signatures were collected and the Republic continues to exist unrecognised by the US government.