- This article is about small "nations" that are not recognized by any world government. For information on countries that are legitimately recognized, but are geographically tiny such as Nauru, Monaco and San Marino, see microstate.
Micronations - which are sometimes also referred to as cybernations, fantasy countries, model countries, new country projects, and online nations - are entities that resemble independent states, but for the most part exist only on paper, on the Internet, or in the minds of their creators; a small number have also managed to extend some of their operations into the real world. When they do touch on the real world, they converge to some degree with other organizing paradigms that offer, or seem to offer, political or infrastructural independence of some sort.
The term micronation, which literally means "small nation", is a neologism originating in the 1990s to describe the many thousands of small unrecognized statelike entities that have mostly arisen since that time. The term has since also come to be used retrospectively to refer to earlier unrecognized entities, some of which date to as far back as the 19th century. Supporters of micronations use the term "Macronation" for any "real" sovereign nation-state.
What is a Micronation?
Micronations generally have a number of common features:
- Many micronations assert that they wish to be widely recognised as sovereign states - but they are not so recognised by established states.
- Micronations are quite small, both geographically and in terms of membership. They rarely have more than a few thousand members - and the vast majority have no more than one or two active participants.
- Micronations typically issue formal instruments such as passports, stamps and currency, and confer titles and awards - but these are rarely recognised as having any form of validity outside their own communities of interest.
These criteria distinguish micronations from imaginary countries, eco-villages, campuses, tribes, clans, sects, and residential community associations, which do not usually seek to be recognized as sovereign.
Evolution of Micronationalism
The micronation phenomenon is tied closely to the rise to prominence of the nation-state concept in the 19th century, and the earliest recognizable micronations can be dated to that period. Most were founded by eccentric adventurers or business speculators, and several were remarkably successful. These include the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, ruled by the Clunies-Ross family, and Sarawak, ruled by the "White Rajahs" of the Brooke family; both were independent personal fiefdoms in all but name, and survived until well into the 20th century.
Less successful were the Long Republic (1819–1820), in what is now the US state of Texas, the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia (1860–62) in southern Chile and Argentina, and the Kingdom of Sedang (1888–90) in French Indochina. The oldest extant micronation to arise in modern times is the Kingdom of Redonda, founded in 1865 in the Caribbean. It failed to establish itself as a "real" country, but has nonetheless managed to survive into the present day as a unique literary foundation with its own king and aristocracy — although it is not without its controversies; there are presently at least four competing claimants to the Redondan throne.
M. C. Harman, owner of the UK island of Lundy in the early decades of the 20th century, issued private coinage and postage stamps for local use. Although the island was ruled as a virtual fiefdom, its owner never claimed to be independent of the United Kingdom, so Lundy can at best be described as a precursor to later territorial micronations.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a micronational renaissance, with the foundation of a number of territorial micronations. The first of these, Sealand, was founded in 1967 on an abandoned World War II gun platform in the North Sea, and has survived into the present day. Others were based on schemes requiring the construction of artificial islands, but only two are known to have risen above sea level.
Rose Island was a 400-sq-metre platform built in international waters off the Italian town of Rimini, in the Adriatic Sea in 1968. It is reported to have issued stamps, minted currency and declared Esperanto to be its official language. Shortly after completion, however, it was destroyed by the Italian Navy.
The Republic of Minerva was set up in 1972 as a libertarian new country project by Nevada businessman Michael Oliver. Oliver's group conducted dredging operations at the Minerva Reefs , a shoal located in the Pacific Ocean south of Fiji. They succeeded in creating a small artificial island but their efforts at securing international recognition met with little success and near-neighbour Tonga sent a military force to the area and annexed it.
On April 1, 1977, Censored page Richard Booth declared the UK town of Hay-on-Wye an "independent republic" with himself as its king. The town has subsequently developed a healthy tourism industry based on literary interests, and "King Richard" (whose sceptre consists of a recycled toilet plunger) continues to dole out Hay-on-Wye peerages and honours to anyone prepared to pay for them.
Micronational activities were disproportionately common throughout Australia in the final three decades of the 20th century. The Hutt River Province Principality was the first manifestation of the phenomenon; it was founded in 1970, when Prince Leonard (born Leonard George Casley ) declared his farming property independent after a dispute over wheat quotas. 1976 witnessed the creation of the Province of Bumbunga on a rural property near Snowtown, South Australia , by an eccentric British monarchist named Alex Brackstone , while a German immigrant named Robert Neuman created the Sovereign State of Aeterna Lucina in 1978 in a hamlet on the New South Wales north coast, before later relocating to a large rural property near Cooma. At around the same time an eccentric anti-taxation campaigner named John Charlton Rudge founded the Duchy of Avram in western Tasmania; "His Grace the Duke of Avram" later went on to become an elected member of the Tasmanian Parliament. In Victoria, a long-running dispute over flood damage to farm properties led to the creation of the Independent State of Rainbow Creek in the state's northeast by Tom Barnes in 1979, and mortgage foreclosure dispute led George and Stephanie Muirhead of Rockhampton, Queensland, to secede as the Principality of Marlborough in 1993.
Another Australian secessionist state came into existence on 1 May 2003, when Peter Gillies declared the independence of his 66-hectare northern New South Wales farm as the Principality of United Oceania after an unresolved year-long dispute with Port Stephens Council over Gillies's plans to construct a private residence on the property Ref United Oceania. Also in the Oceanian region is the Republic of Talayan , declared independent by 'A', which claims that it has occupied more than 50 hectares of land, all of which are in the Philippines.
Micronationalist activity shed much of its traditional eccentric anti-establishment mantle and took on a distinctly hobbyist perspective from the mid-1990s when the emerging popularity of the Internet made it possible to create and promote statelike entities in an entirely electronic medium, with relative ease. As a result the number of exclusively online, fantasy or simulation-based micronations expanded dramatically. Many thousands of ephemeral micronations are thought to have been created in this manner.
Categories of Micronations
In the present day six main types of micronations are prevalent:
- Social, economic, or political simulations.
- Exercises in personal entertainment or self-aggrandizement.
- Exercises in fantasy or creative fiction.
- Vehicles for the promotion of an agenda.
- Entities created for fraudulent purposes.
- Historical anomalies and aspirant states.
Social, economic, or political simulations
These micronations also tend to be fairly serious, and often involve significant numbers of people interested in recreating the past or simulating political or social processes. Examples of these include:
- Nova Roma, a group claiming a worldwide membership of several thousand that has minted its own coins, and which engages in real life Roman-themed re-enactments.
- Talossa, a 2-decade old political simulation with several dozen members and a complex invented culture and language.
Exercises in personal entertainment or self-aggrandizement
With literally thousands in existence, micronations of the second type are by far the most common. They exist "for fun", have few participants, are ephemeral, exclusively internet-based, and rarely survive more than a few months - although there are notable exceptions. They are usually concerned solely with arrogating to their founders the outward symbols of statehood. The use of grand-sounding titles, awards, honours and heraldic symbols derived from European feudal traditions, the conduct of "wars" and "diplomacy" with other micronations, and claims of being located on fantasy continents or planets are common manifestations of their activities. Examples include:
Aerican Empire, a Monty Pythonesque "interplanetary empire", complete with silly salutes, a smiley-faced flag and a range of national holidays that includes "Snappy Comeback Day" amongst others.
- Tarsicia, a project that has undergone a mind-boggling series of reinventions by its teenage creator and currently claims to be a proto-undersea kingdom.
- Madland, a two-person kingdom "ruled" by "His Imperial Most Gracious, Glorious and Holy Majesty, King/Emperor Edgard II".
These types of micronations are almost exclusively the domain of male adolescents.
Exercises in fantasy or creative fiction
Micronations of the third type include stand-alone artistic projects, deliberate exercises in creative online fiction and artistamp creations. Examples include:
- Lizbekistan a popular internet-based project created by Australian artist Liz Stirling.
Upper Yafa, one of an extraordinarily diverse and entertaining array of micronations invented by prolific New Zealand-based artistamp producer Bruce Henderson since the early 1970s.
- The Republic of Howland, Baker and Jarvis, a highly developed web-based alternative reality project.
- The nation of NSK - Neue Slowenische Kunst, a nation created by a number of Slovene artists who satirically claim to be part of a voluntary totalitarian collective, among them Laibach.
- In the 1948 Margaret Rutherford / Stanley Holloway movie Passport to Pimlico, the London Borough of Pimlico supposedly declares independence from Britain and becomes a micronation.
- The Republic of Kugelmugel, founded by an Austrian artist and based in a ball-shaped house in Vienna, which quickly became a tourist attraction.
Vehicles for the promotion of an agenda
These types of micronations are typically associated with a political or social reform agenda. Some are maintained as media and public relations exercises, and examples of this type include:
Entities created for allegedly fraudulent purposes
A number of micronations have been established for fraudulent purposes, by seeking to link questionable or illegal financial actions with seemingly legitimate nations.
By far the most successful of these was the Territory of Poyais, invented by Scottish adventurer and South American independence hero Gregor MacGregor in the early 19th Century. On the basis of a land grant made to him by the Anglophile native King of the Mosquito people in what is present-day Honduras, MacGregor wove one of history's most elaborate hoaxes, managing to charm the highest levels of London's political and financial establishment with tales of the bucolic, resource-rich country he claimed to rule as a benevolent sovereign prince, or "Cazique", when he arrived in the UK in 1822. MacGregor's appointed diplomatic representatives were even received at the Court of St James, and thousands of investors subsequently parted with hundreds of thousands of pounds (equivalent to many millions today) in exchange for Poyaisian bonds, land grants, and official government appointments and commissions. The hoax was exposed when several shiploads of immigrants arrived at "Poyais" to find a fetid, uninhabited swamp instead of the thriving European-style metropolis that MacGregor's guidebooks and maps had led them to expect. Hundreds died of disease, and the remainder relocated to Belize - yet amazingly, MacGregor escaped prosecution, lived out his days in Venezuela, and was honoured with a state funeral upon his demise.
Another well-known micronation fraud, the Dominion of Melchizedek, was created in 1986 by a father and son team of confidence tricksters named Evan David Pedley and Ben David Pedley (the latter also known as David Korem) to sell fraudulent banking licenses. Melchizedek which is supposedly an "ecclesiastical constitutional sovereignty" claims a number of territories, including Taongi Atoll, Malpelo Island , Karitane Shoal , Solkope Island , Clipperton Island and a large slab of Antarctica. Some of these are underwater, while others are territories administered by legitimate nations, amongst them France and Fiji. According to John Shockey, former special assistant, U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, in an address to the 4th International Financial Fraud Convention in London, May 27, 1999: "The Dominion of Melchizedek is a fraud, a major fraud, and not a legitimate sovereign entity. Persons associated with the Dominion of Melchizedek have been indicted and convicted of a variety of crimes."  http://www.quatloos.com/groups/melchiz.htm The "government" of Melchizedek is allegedly based in the Australian capital city of Canberra, where it maintains a post office box address.
Another micronation called New Utopia, operated by an Oklahoma City longevity promoter named Prince Lazarus R. Long (b. Howard Turney) - and ostensibly a libertarian new country project - was stopped by a United States federal court temporary restraining order from selling bonds and bank licenses. New Utopia has claimed for a number of years to be on the verge of commencing construction of an artificial island territory located approximately midway between Honduras and Cuba, however the selected location continues to remain resolutely submerged by the waters of the Caribbean.
The Kingdom of EnenKio , which claims Wake Atoll in the Marshall Islands, has been deemed a scam for selling passports and diplomatic papers by the governments of the Marshall Islands and of the United States.  http://www.lecour.net/richard/archives/000206.html
Historical anomalies and aspirant states
A small number of micronations are founded on historical anomalies or eccentric interpretations of law. This category includes:
Seborga, a town in the Italian region of Liguria, near the southern end of the border with France, which traces its history back to the middle ages.
- the Hutt River Province, a farm in Western Australia which claims to have seceded from Australia to become an independent principality with a worldwide population numbered in the tens of thousands
Sealand, a World War II-era anti-aircraft platform built in the English Channel beyond Britain's nautical limit, seized by a pirate radio group in 1967 as a base for their operations, and currently used as the site of a secure web-hosting facility.
These types of micronations are usually located on small (usually disputed) territorial enclaves, generate limited economic activity founded on tourism and philatelic and numismatic sales, and are at best tolerated or at worst ignored by the nations from which they allege to have seceded.
Despite its prevalence there has been only limited academic attention paid to the micronation phenomenon; such attention that has been given has for the most part been concerned with the apparently anomalous legal situations affecting such entities as Sealand and the Hutt River Province, or in the creation of role-playing entities for instructional purposes.
In August 2004, the Reg Vardy Gallery at the University of Sunderland (UK) announced the impending launch of an exhibition on the subject of group identity and symbolism, with specific reference to historic micronations. The exhibition — which ran from November 7 through December 17 — focused on numismatic, philatelic and vexillological artifacts, as well as other symbols and instruments created and used by a number of micronations from the 1950s through to the present day.
- Footnotes to History http://www.buckyogi.com/footnotes/ - Comprehensive list of failed secessionist states, alternative governments and other historical oddities.
- Micronational News Network http://www.micronations.net/news/ - English-language micronational news portal
- Micronations.net http://www.micronations.net/ - Online micronational portal and resources
- Micro-nations.org http://www.micro-nations.org/ - Online micronational directory & message board
- MicroWiki http://www.microwiki.tk/ - Micronational Open Content Encyclopedia
- North American Araucanian Royalist Society http://www.anchorpresbyterian.com/
- Imperial Collection http://www.imperial-collection.net/index2.html - Comprehensive online catalogue of stamps, coins, banknotes, awards and ephemera issued by various secessionist states, including some micronations.
Open Directory Project: Micronations http://www.dmoz.org/Society/Issues/Micronations/
- New Country Projects http://www.angelfire.com/nv/micronations/newcountry.html
- Ref United Oceania: Australian Daily Telegraph http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au , Thursday, July 24, 2003, page 20, "Prince finds if all else fails, secede".
- E. S. Strauss: How to start your own country, ISBN 0915179016, ISBN 1893626156
- It's Good to Be King http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.03/kingdoms.html Wired 8.03 March 2000
Last updated: 02-03-2005 11:02:31