Source: D. Papallini / Wikimedia Commons
By K. Kusch
There are microstates, and then there are micronations. While a microstate is an internationally recognised sovereign entity (e.g., Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City), micronations are a bit fuzzier in their definition (as Micronation Central states it, ‘a micronation is any entity which purports to be or has the appearance of being a sovereign state but isn’t). Generally speaking, micronations are creations of a single person or small group wishing to declare themselves sovereign over an extremely small piece of territory: perhaps a building, a farm, a island, or a small village. After all, who wouldn’t want to rule their own country? Most micronation projects are frivolous, to be certain, but some have captured a fair bit of international attention. The most famous micronation, Sealand, located off the English North Sea coast, has actually created genuine international incidents.
Principality of Seborga
The village of Seborga lies in Italy’s Ligurian Alps, less than a 20 minutes’ drive from the French border and a half-hour northeast of the world’s most opulent microstate, Monaco. Seborga, however, is a modest, bucolic mountaintop village of just over 300 residents. Its claim to independence dates to 954, when the village was ceded by the counts of nearby Ventimiglia to the Benedictine Monks of Santo Onorato of Lerins. In 1079, the abbots in charge of the monastery were named princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the 17th century, the abbots even began printing coins in Seborga using the ‘Principality’ designation.
The loophole by which Seborgans claim their independence remains valid comes from the annexation of the region by the Kingdom of Sardinia under the House of Savoy in 1729. As it was a personal annexation of the crown not formally recorded in treaty, claimants state that the transfer was not valid since the transfer was not authorised by the Holy Roman Empire or the Holy See. As such, all subsequent territorial transfers are also invalid since they involve states that claimants maintain Seborga was never legally a part of (Sardinia, France, the Ligurian Republic, Sardinia again, and finally Italy). Furthermore, the claim states that any formal protectorate status that the Kingdom of Sardinia (and its direct successor, the Kingdom of Italy) would have had over Seborga based upon the annexation would have been extinguished with the end of the Italian monarchy in 1946, thus returning full sovereignty over Seborga to Seborga itself.
Flag of the Principality of Seborga. Source: Oren neu dag / Wikimedia Commons
The movement to reestablish the sovereignty of the principality dates to 1963 and a florist named Giorgio Carbone. Digging out historic documents from the Vatican archives to verify his village’s legal independence, he began a half-century-long campaign to obtain formal international recognition of Seborga’s sovereign status. A local election was even held to declare Carbone prince (he took 304 of the 308 votes), and he took the Seborgan throne as His Tremendousness Giorgio I (a 1995 election reaffirmed his status). Eventually, a constitution was adopted, and a Crown Council was formed. The Seborgan coin (the Luigino) reappeared briefly during the 1990s, now with Giorgio’s image upon it. While formal recognition of Seborga on the world stage never came, the whimsical campaign did help boost tourism numbers in the village, which was likely much of the point to begin with. By the time of his death in 2009, Giorgio’s independence campaign had become so well-known it warranted an obituary in the Telegraph’s royalty section. His successor, Marcello I, took office the following year. The principality’s website, while very basic in appearance, has plenty of information and pictures, and even features a Luigino currency convertor.
Seborgan flags on display in the town plaza.
Kingdom of EnenKio
Even a micronation movement as benign as Seborga’s can be co-opted; for a time in the late 2000s, a fraudulent online diploma mill attempted to pass itself off as the ‘SBC-Antico Principato di Seborga’s Council for Distance Education, Culture and Faith, the Council of Accreditation‘, which drew the ire of the actual Seborgans. Some micronations, however, were born outright to commit fraud.
Wake Island is an unincorporated territory of the United States located 560 km (348 mi) north of the Marshall Islands that has famously been used as a US military base since 1941. Although the US has ruled Wake since 1899, the Marshall Islands still maintain a claim to the atoll (called Ānen-kio or Enen-kio in Marshallese); it is certainly most likely that Wake received visitors from the Marshalls, but no evidence of permanent settlement have been found. Still, using the claim of first visitation, a group portraying themselves as descendants of those indigenous travelers laid claim to Wake Island in 1994 as the ‘Kingdom of EnenKio’, eventually setting up a network of websites and message forum spams (the micronation’s main website went offline in 2009, but the Internet Archive preserves it).
The Marshallese flag is on the left; the Enenkio flag is on the right.
While at first glance the site appeared to be that of an indigenous rights movement, it becomes clear upon exploration that the site was a front for a scam soliciting donations toward the construction of a spaceport, down payments on becoming an official dealer of EnenKio stamps (requiring US$2 850 in fees), and membership fees in exchange for ‘economic citizenship’ (despite being ostensibly a indigenous movement, citizenship could be purchased in exchange for a US$500 to $10 000 enrolment in Kio Royale, a ‘private independent service-oriented advocacy group that supports the efforts of the government of EnenKio to assist persons of Marshallese ancestry to regain occupation and jurisdiction over the lands and seas of Eneen-Kio Atoll and protect human rights to self-sufficiency’.
Wake Island, the territory claimed by the Kingdom of EnenKio.
Needless to say, both the Marshall Islands and the United States were unimpressed with the scam; a scam which culminated in its lead perpetrator, one Robert Moore of Hawaii purporting to represent an indigenous leader, attempting to offer US$1 billion worth of ‘Gold War Bonds’ to the public over the Internet (despite claims of gold reserves, fishing fleets, extensive infrastructure, and property holdings including a casino-hotel in the middle of Wake’s lagoon, naturally the bonds were backed by absolutely nothing). After receiving a restraining order from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Moore gradually faded away, only occasionally reappearing on message forums as his network of domain names faded away.
creations of a single person or small group wishing to declare themselves sovereign over an extremely small piece of territory: perhaps a building, a farm, a island, or a small village. After all, who wouldn’t want to rule their own country? Most micronation projects are frivolous, to be certain, but some have captured a fair bit of international attention. The most famous micronation, Sealand, located off the English North Sea coast, has actually created genuine international incidents.
Maharishi Vedic City
As shown on the Iowa League of Cities website, Maharishi Vedic City is a rural suburb of Fairfield in Jefferson County. Incorporated in 2001, it’s the newest municipality in the state. The listing, however, will not tell you of the city’s intended purpose: to serve as the capital of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s Global Country of World Peace (GCWP), a ‘a country without borders for peace-loving people everywhere’. Despite the borderless structure of the ‘country’, the GWCP began looking for a location to create a sovereign nation based upon the principles of Vedic law, the Maharishi’s transcendental meditation (TM) movement, and natural law almost immediately. Large monetary offers were made to both governments and landholders in Suriname, Tuvalu, Costa Rica, and the Northern Mariana Islands to purchase tracts of land in the hopes of creating a legitimate sovereign state; all offers were ultimately rebuked. In the meantime, the TM movement had already purchased farms on the outskirts of Fairfield in 1991, which had been home to Maharishi International University (now Maharishi University of Management) since 1973. After a decade of building houses and installing infrastructure, Vedic City was incorporated as Iowa’s 950th city in 2001. Adding the Maharishi prefix a few months later, the city was declared the capital of the GCWP in 2002.
Above, an overview of Maharishi Vedic City, which occupies 1 214 ha (3 000 acres). Zoom into the map to look at the rather rigid structure of housing – all houses are built to precise Maharishi Vedic proportions, and all building entrances face due east. Most of the city is occupied by organic farms alongside land parcels being reverted to their native state. At the east side of the city lies The Raj (a spa/hotel/retreat centre). The circular feature is the Vedic Observatory, consisting of ten concrete-and-marble astronomical instruments arranged in a circle that ‘align individual awareness with the intelligence expressed throughout the cosmos’ upon viewing. More houses are to be built in circular subdivisions framed around a new golf course.
A close-up view of some of the houses.
Flag of the Global Country of World Peace.
While the 2010 US Census originally placed the population of Maharishi Vedic City at 259, a later adjustment to reflect houses originally incorrectly listed as being outside the city limits placed the population at 1 294. These houses belong to approximately 1 050 Indian pandits brought to Iowa to create ‘Invincibility for America’. In the meantime, the GCWC continues to build numerous facilities and make other real estate purchases around the world, though Maharishi Vedic City is the only one to achieve a recognised form of self-government. It even has its own local currency, the RAAM (technically a form of bearer bond), equal to US$10 or €10 depending upon one’s location.
Source: Robbie, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1780521. / Creative Commons
Maps identify the small, 1 ha (2.5 acre) islet off the southeast coast of Shetland’s Papa Stour as Forewick Holm, but according to a man named Stuart Hill, it’s the Sovereign State of Forvik, a pilot project he hopes will eventually lead to Shetland’s independence from the United Kingdom.
Sovereign State of Forvik
Hill was already infamous in Britain before he began the Forvik project in 2008. Back in 2001, he became known as ‘Captain Calamity’ in the British press after having had to have been rescued seven separate times by the coast guard during a failed attempt at circumnavigating the British Isles in a dinghy (2008, oddly enough, saw him pulled out of the water again after trying to sail to Forewick Holm in a boat he made himself from plywood). After his journey ended in Shetland, Hill relocated there in 2001, where he became involved in the local independence movement. Eventually, Hill received stewardship of Forewick Holm from a landowner friend who was also involved in the movement. Predicating his argument on the stance that the entirety of Shetland exists in an ambiguous legal state because its 1469 transfer from Norway to Scotland was effectively Christian I pawning the islands as security against the payment of his daughter’s dowry in advance of her marriage to Scotland’s James III (the money was never paid, and so Shetland remained attached to Scotland, and thus the United Kingdom after the 1707 Act of Union with England – Hill views this as a personal arrangement as opposed to a legal parliamentary manoeuvre), Hill declared Forewick Holm a crown dependency outside of the UK proper as a challenge to the UK to prove legal sovereignty over Shetland.
Hill renamed the island ‘Forvik’ in an effort to link the island to its Norse heritage, introduced a currency called the gulde (an ATM card), and opened Forvik’s surrounding waters to oil exploration (‘Only those with a proven track record need apply’). He immediately stopped paying personal and business taxes in hopes that his refusal to do would bring attention to the cause. Hill even drove a van (his ‘consular vehicle’) with the licence plate FREE ZE1 (ZE1 being the postcode district for the area surrounding the towns of Lerwick and Scolloway on Shetland’s Mainland) and later a Land Rover with the plate FORVIK1 (it was impounded and eventually destroyed). Having refused to register or insure the van, he was arrested in 2011 and eventually spent 12 days in jail. Other acts of civil disobedience include building a house without council planning department permission and creating his own driver’s licence rather than applying for a conventional one. Hill sells honorary citizenships for £20 per year along and people can buy one of 8 000 rather tiny plots of Forvik land; however, whether he has actual legal control over the island is still in question.
Independent State of Rainbow Creek
We end our tour of micronations with a shortlived micronation in southeastern Victoria that began with the construction of a bridge over a river at the foot of the Victorian Alps near the town of Cowwarr. A bridge built across the Thomson River in 1938 did not provide enough clearance for debris during extreme floods. This was demonstrated in 1952 when that year’s annual flood washed massive amounts of debris from the mountains into the farmlands below. The debris became trapped by the bridge, creating a dam that directed much of the Thomson’s flow around the south end of the bridge and away from the established riverbed, creating a second channel for the water that eventually cut through numerous farms over a course of 15 km (9 mi) before finding its way back to the original channel. The construction of a weir in the area of the split combined with subsequent years’ floods only entrenched the new channel, thus permanently cutting the farms in two and causing large losses of land for owners.
The farmers persevered, however, and began using the new channel, called Rainbow Creek, for irrigation purposes. Much to their consternation, the Victorian government began charging farmers a water tax for using Thomson River water (keep in mind that the farmers were still paying land taxes on the land that was flooded since their title deeds didn’t show the new creek running through their properties, and were also paying a levy to the local improvement trust (ironically for erosion prevention). They also had to build their own bridges to connect the the two sides of their properties. No resolution was forthcoming, and the dispute heated up further in 1978 when another bad flood washed away the farmers’ private bridges. Again, the government refused to offer any compensation. One farmer, Thomas Barnes, decided to bring national attention to the farmers’ plight by issuing a declaration of war on the state government signed by the farmers. Travelling to Melbourne and armed with a crew of television cameras, Barnes served the state governor with declaration papers in January 1979. In July, Barnes declared that his property was seceeding from Victoria as the Indepedent State of Rainbow Creek. Keeping up the publicity campaign, Barnes began issuing his own stamps, currency, and passports. Eventually, Barnes’ health gave way and he relocated to warmer climes in Queensland, allowing the Indepedent State of Rainbow Creek to fade into history. No resolution was ever settled upon between the state government and the farmers of Rainbow Creek.
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