A micronation, sometimes referred to as a model country or new country project, is an entity that claims to be an independent nation or state but is not generally recognized by world governments or major international organizations.
Micronations are distinguished from imaginary countries and from other kinds of social groups (such as eco-villages, campuses, tribes, clans, and sects) by expressing a formal and persistent, even if unrecognized, claim of sovereignty over some physical territory. Micronations are also distinct from true secessionist movements; micronations' activities are almost always peaceful enough to be ignored rather than challenged by the established nations whose territory they claim.
Several micronations have issued coins, flags, postage stamps, passports, and other items. These items are rarely accepted outside their own community, but may be sold as novelties to help raise money or collected by enthusiasts.
The earliest known micronations date from the beginning of the 19th century. The advent of the Internet provided the means for people to create many new micronations, whose members are scattered all over the world and interact mostly by electronic means, often calling their nations "nomadic countries". The differences between such Internet micronations, other kinds of social networking groups, and role-playing games are sometimes difficult to define.
The term "micronation" to describe those entities dates at least to the 1970s. The term micropatriology is sometimes used to describe the study of both micronations and microstates by micronationalists, some of whom refer to sovereign nation-states as "macronations."
The term 'micronation' literally means "small nation." It is a neologism originating in the mid-1970s to describe the many thousands of small unrecognised state-like 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. Amongst supporters of micronations ("micronationalists") the term "macronation" is in common use to refer to any internationally recognised sovereign nation-state.
Not all micronations are small; some can be rather large, like Westarctica, or those with claims on other planets.
Micronations generally have a number of common features, although these may vary widely. They may have a structure similar to established sovereign states, including territorial claims, government institutions, official symbols and citizens, albeit on a much smaller scale. Micronations are often quite small, in both their claimed territory and claimed populations — although there are some exceptions to this rule, with different micronations having different methods of citizenship. Micronations may also issue formal instruments such as postage stamps, coins, banknotes and passports, and bestow honors and titles of nobility.
The Montevideo Convention on the Right and Duties of States was one attempt to create a legal definition distinguishing between states and non-states. Some micronations like Sealand or Hutt River reject the term "micronation" and consider themselves fully sovereign states (feigning ignorance of the political reality of their condition); other micronations like Flandrensis or Molossia have no desire to be recognized as sovereign to the same degree as UN member states.
- Operation Atlantis: an early 1970s New York–based libertarian group, built a concrete-hulled ship called Freedom, which they sailed to the Caribbean, intending to permanently anchor it as their territory. The ship sank in a hurricane and the project was then abandoned.
- Republic of Minerva: a libertarian project that succeeded in building a small man-made island on the Minerva Reefs south of Fiji in 1972 before being invaded by troops from Tonga, who annexed it before destroying the island.
- Principality of Freedonia: a libertarian project that supported the Awdal Road Company's attempts to lease land from the Sultan of Awdal in Somaliland in 2001. If the Awdal Road Company is able to build a road, then the Sultan of Awdal will give land to allow the ARC to create an economic free zone, and some of that territory will then be handed over to the Principality of Freedonia. After the men from Awdal Roads Company were deported following false allegations about the lease, resulting public dissatisfaction led to rioting, and the reported death of a Somali.
- Republic of Rose Island: an artificial island constructed in 1968 by Italian architect Giorgio Rosa in the Adriatic Sea. The structure was built as a tourist attraction, but soon after it was finished, Rosa declared sovereignty.
- Oceania: a libertarian artificial island project that raised US $400,000 before going bankrupt in 1994.
Micronations based on historical claims
A small number of micronations are founded based on historical anomalies or on legal anomalies (deriving from disputed interpretations of law). 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 tolerated or ignored by the nations from which they claim to have seceded. This category includes:
- Principality of Seborga: a town in the region of Liguria, Italy, near the southern end of the border with France, which traces its history back to the Middle Ages.
- Crown Dependency of Forvik: is an island in Shetland, currently recognized as part of the UK. Stuart Hill claims that independence comes from an arrangement struck in 1468 between King Christian I of Denmark/Norway and Scotland's James III, whereby Christian pawned the Shetland Islands to James in order to raise money for his daughter's dowry. Hill claims that the dowry was never paid and therefore it is not part of the UK and should be a crown dependency like the Isle of Man. Hill has also encouraged the rest of Shetland to declare independence.
Early history and evolution
The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the foundation of a number of territorial micronations. The first of these, Sealand, was established in 1967 on an abandoned World War II gun platform in the North Sea just off the coast of England, and has survived into the present day. Others were founded on libertarian principles and involved schemes to construct artificial islands, but only a few are known to have had even limited success in realizing that goal.
- In the late 1960s, Leicester Hemingway, brother of author Ernest Hemingway, was involved in another such project—a small timber platform in international waters off the west coast of Jamaica. This territory, consisting of an 8 foot by 30 foot barge, he called "New Atlantis". Hemingway was an honorary citizen and President; however, the structure was damaged by storms and finally pillaged by Mexican fishermen. In 1973, Hemingway was reported to have moved on from New Atlantis to promoting a 1000 square yard platform near the Bahamas. The new country was called "Tierra del Mar" (Land of the Sea). (Ernest Hemingway's adopted hometown of Key West was later itself part of another micronation, the Conch Republic.)
- 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 the Kingdom of Tonga sent a military force to the area and annexed it.
- On 1 April 1977, bibliophile Richard Booth declared the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye an independent kingdom with himself as its monarch. The town subsequently developed a healthy tourism industry based on literary interests, and "King Richard" (whose scepter is a recycled toilet plunger) continues to award Hay-on-Wye peerages and honors to anyone prepared to pay for them.
Effects of the Internet
Micronationalism shed much of its traditionally eccentric anti-establishment mantle and took on a distinctly hobbyist perspective in 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. An early example is the Kingdom of Talossa, a micronation created in 1979 by then-14-year-old Robert Ben Madison, which went online in November 1995, and was reported in the New York Times and other print media in 2000.
The activities of these types of micronations are almost exclusively limited to simulations of diplomatic activity (including the signing of treaties" and participation in inter-micronational organizations such as the League of Micronations) and contribution to wikis. With the introduction of the Internet, many articles on how to create micronations were made available on such wikis, which serve as a hub of online activity for micronations. The most notable wiki for the forum, MicroWiki, was created in 2005.
A number of traditional territorial micronations, including the Hutt River Province, Seborga, and Sealand, maintain websites that serve largely to promote their claims and sell merchandise. In 1999, the MicroFreedom Index, an academic list of micronations created by Mr. Steven Scharff, went online and has served as a resource for the micronational community for nearly twenty years.
In international law, the Montevideo Convention on the Right and Duties of States sets down the criteria for statehood in article 1.
The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:
- (a) a permanent population
- (b) a defined territory
- (c) government
- (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states
The first sentence of article 3 of the Montevideo Convention explicitly states that "The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states."
Under these guidelines, any entity which meets all of the criteria set forth in article 1 can be regarded as sovereign under international law, whether or not other states have recognized it.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as an independent subject of international law does not meet all the criteria for recognition as a State (however it does not claim itself a State either), but is and has been recognized as a sovereign nation for centuries.
The doctrine of territorial integrity does not effectively prohibit unilateral secession from established states in international law, per the relevant section from the text of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Final Act, Helsinki Accords or Helsinki Declaration:
IV. Territorial integrity of States
The participating States will respect the territorial integrity of each of the participating States.
Accordingly, they will refrain from any action inconsistent with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations against the territorial integrity, political independence or the unity of any participating State, and in particular from any such action constituting a threat or use of force.
The participating States will likewise refrain from making each other's territory the object of military occupation or other direct or indirect measures of force in contravention of international law, or the object of acquisition by means of such measures or the threat of them. No such occupation or acquisition will be recognized as legal.
In effect, this states that other states (i.e., third parties), may not encourage secession in a state. This does not make any statement as regards persons within a state electing to secede of their own accord.
Academic, literary, and media attention
There has been a small but growing amount of attention paid to the micronation phenomenon in recent years. Most interest in academic circles has been concerned with studying the apparently anomalous legal situations affecting such entities as Sealand and Hutt River, in exploring how some micronations represent grassroots political ideas, and in the creation of role-playing entities for instructional purposes.
- The Sunderland summit was later featured in the 5-part BBC light entertainment television series How to Start Your Own Country presented by Danny Wallace. The series told the story of Wallace's experience of founding a micronation, the Kingdom of Lovely, located in his London flat. It screened in the UK in 2005.
- In 2006 the travel guide company Lonely Planet published a light-hearted guide micronations named Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations.
- In 2010, a documentary film by Jody Shapiro entitled How to Start Your Own Country was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary explored various micronations around the world, and included an analysis of the concept of statehood and citizenship. Erwin Strauss, author of the eponymous book, was interviewed as part of the film.
- In 2012, a conference of micronations (PoliNation 2012) was held in London. Micronations with representatives in attendance included the Empire of Atlantium, the Republic of Molossia, the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis, Ladonia, and the Empire of Austenasia.
- The Australian television comedy series Micro Nation is set on the fictional island micronation of Pullamawang, which remained independent from Australia because they "forgot to mail in their paperwork" at the Federation of Australia in 1901.
- Since 2015, the MicroCon event has occurred in various cities around North America. As the largest gathering of its kind in the world, it attracts large amounts of media attention.