Escaping The Current System

By Gabrielė Gedvilaitė & Soyoun Park

Why do people form micronations

On April 13 a new nation was born in Europe. Vít Jedlička, a member of Czech far-right wing party, established Liberland in a 2.7-square-mile (7km2) land between Croatia and Serbia. Standing on the shore of the Danube with the sunset reflection on the water and green nature in the background, Jedlička was inviting to become first citizens and settlers of the ‘first truly free nation in the world’. However, it was not as easy as it seemed. Jedlička’s and his followers’ first attempts to enter the land were interrupted by the Croatian police. The founder and some of his companions were arrested for trying to enter the territory which is disputed by two neighbouring countries: Serbia and Croatia. What is more, so far Liberland has not received any diplomatic recognition by official countries or international organisations which implies that it is not recognised as a real country.

Such established but not recognised countries are usually called micronations, which is an entity that claims to be a sovereign and independent nation state, but is not officially recognised by world governments or international institutions. The main feature of micronations that distinguishes them from any other groups or communities is that they express a claim of sovereignty over physical territory, even if it is unrecognised by any authorities. They are formed as a result of many different factors. Just like in the case of Liberland, some micronations are founded because of territorial disputes, some — to avoid taxes or to create an alternative society with its political, economic, legislative and social system, others — just for self-entertainment and self-aggrandisement.

A rarely successful phenomenon

According to different sources, nowadays there are between 200 to 400 cases similar to Liberland all around the world. This data could be far from exact as there is no reliable organisation or institution which takes this phenomenon seriously and is willing to gather information about micronations. This is the reason why Steven F. Scharff, an expert of micronations who has studied the topic for more than 10 years and used to run a micronation called ‘the Principality of Nova Arcadia’, founded the website microfreedom.com as a listing of related websites. He says he saw a need of more coordination between micronations, that is why he created the website. “There is no central “hub” for the various micronations as well as independence movements, seditionist groups, new country projects, and governments in exile”, says Scharff.

This is confirmed by Thomas Frey, the executive director of DaVinci Institute which is an American futurist think tank. It is difficult to state how many micronations currently exist in the world as many of them rise and fall, not remaining active for substantial enough time. “I am not aware of any good stats on new micronations. But I do know that if it was an easy process, we would have thousands of them over night”, says Frey.

One of few successful examples is Sealand. This entity has been active for almost 50 years. It was founded in 1967 on an abandoned World War II gun platform in the North Sea. The fort was occupied by WWII veteran Major Paddy Roy Bates whose main intention was to broadcast a pirate radio station from the platform. However, the broadcast was never started and the platform, which is located 12 kilometers off the eastern coast of England, does not have a clear function until today. These days Sealand is ruled by the son of its founder who declared himself a Prince of the Principality of Sealand. This micronation has a constitution, passports, flag, stamps, coins, anthem and it claims to have a population of around 50 people.

More often micronations do not last. One of such cases is the Republic of Rose Island which was built off the coast of Rimini in 1968, by Italian engineer Georgio Rosa. It was complete with a bar, general store, post office and observation deck. After only 55 days, the platform was boarded by Italian authorities and Rosa was arrested on tax evasion charges, many of which were later dismissed. Shortly afterwards, the platform was destroyed with explosives by the Italian navy.

There are many more similar examples of micronations all around the world. Representatives of some active self proclaimed countries gather to yearly conferences of micronations in London and Sydney in order to promote their self claimed sovereignty and independence internationally.

Map of Micronations from Daily Infographics, available at:http://dailyinfographics.eu/map-of-micronations/

‘Weird’ ideas, but serious intentions

When presenting the idea of creating a new nation, people might think that the founders of such entities are ‘hippies’ who just want to grow their own cannabis and dream of never paying taxes again. However, the founder and President of Liberland has a different profile. Vit Jedlička is an active politician in Czech Republic, a graduate of University of Economics in Prague and his working experience includes not only political activities, but also involvement in business and financial markets’ fields. It also seems that he (or someone on his team) is a great public relations professional. Before even entering the territory between Croatia and Serbia, the founders presented a website where future citizens can discuss how they want the country to function in more than 14 foreign languages.

“I have a wide knowledge of finance and accounting. I feel that I could be instrumental in Liberland’s banking industry, treasury department, or simply in drawing up a legal code for Liberland tax”, a female future citizen posted in the forum when suggesting how the members could contribute to the new country.

“I have a Bachelor degree in computer science. With 8 years of professional experience from different companies with different cultures. Main skills: Developing Enterprise applications and programming” , another post from Egyptian man.

There is also a Liberland’s facebook page which offers updates on the development of micronation. In one of the last facebook posts Jedlička poses in a picture wearing a suit and holding a paper where he asks to ‘let Liberland live’. Another post asks for financial donations so the founders could buy a boat which could bring the citizens of Liberland to its territory through Danube. Finally, constant updates provides information on how media around the world is covering the case. As all the communication is provided in English, there is no wonder why it attracted more than 270 000 people to apply for the citizenship.

Such attention, as well as the statements of Jedlička, leaves many sceptics dazed. In the interview with JutarnjiLIST, a leading Croatian media outlet, the leader Vít Jedlička said that the creation of a new country is not a joke as many people think. The founding members have serious intentions and future plans for the development of Liberland. “I am convinced that the establishment of Liberland can help to improve the Czech version of capitalism, much faster than only political activities in the Czech Republic could do. This is how I’m going to show everyone how it really should be”, says Jedlička.

A sign of flaws in the current systems

There are also a lot of other initiators of new countries who feel the need for a transformation of the established system. The participants of Seasteading Conference, a conference for aquatic micronations, are skeptical about their ‘ex-’government’s taxation, laws and policies in general. According to Mother Jones, the conference envisions autonomous floating city-states as incubators for alternative political and economic models. In addition to this, the members of the Baltic Steading group, a group for people interested in pioneering seasteading lifestyle as an extension of forming micronations, told Metro World News that they cannot live the way they want on the land.

The problem with micronations is that they are too serious to be overlooked. As seen from some discussion on the Liberland case, people found it strange at first but soon they became interested in it when it started to get more grave. Then what makes them so serious? There are some people who are born to be ‘weird’ enough to set up their own nation just ‘for fun’, imaginative enough to create their own lucrative business model, and nerd enough to test the possibility of new technology. For example, some online based micronations were conceived during the dot-com boom in the early 2000s, following the invention of the Internet. However, the main and most common reason of building up micronations, which gives food for thought, is that the founders are convinced that the current system should be changed.

As Aristoteles put, man is a gregarious(social) being, having existed as a son as well as a father of society. Society has developed its system as man has evolved but the system has become so intertwined and complex that it is inevitable to spawn conflicts between the members, even leaving social misfits. To top that off, issues like social inequality, injustice, unemployment and economic recession have aggravated the conflicts. Frey observes six ways in which countries are becoming dysfunctional which are dysfunctional laws, technology exceeds competence of government, the complexity of privacy, multi-national workforce, lack of checks and balance, technological unemployment and a declining middle class. These indicators along with countless more are pointing to massive failures in global governance and the prospects of civil breakdowns on the horizon.

No wonder people are willing to establish new territory to protest politically and experiment their idea, and followers sign up for citizenships of micronations wishing their dream come true. In the case of Liberland, around 270,000 people have voluntarily registered for citizenship to seek for an opportunity for new business, job, policy and values such as freedom and love and this number is growing daily.

Many obstacles in the way of establishing a new country

Still, it seems that micronations have a long way to go. Simply put, it is because of the fact that micronations present alternatives which are against the existing nations’ systems, from social to legislative including taxation, laws, policies and social regulations. When Liberland’s leader and his followers wanted to enter the claimed territory, they were arrested by the Croatian police. The Croatian Embassy in New York City told FoxNews that they do not consider Liberland to be a nation and assume their activity as violating the law. Hence, it is ambiguous whether Zagreb and Belgrade officially approve a diplomatic request from Liberpolis, the capital of Liberland.

In order to be officially recognised, micronations try to figure out compromises in their own way. Some sea-based micronations admit that they will stay closer to the shore of dry lands and have some relations with the continental governments. Kevin Baugh’s ‘Republic of Molossia’ which consists of 5,000 square meters of land in Dayton, Nevada, USA, is run as if it was a sovereign nation, but is still a subject to the municipal, county, state, and federal laws, and Mr. Baugh still pays his appropriate taxes, according to Scharff.

Even the residents of FreeTown Christiania, a hippy micronation founded in 1971 at an abandoned military base in Copenhagen, negotiated for months to reach an agreement with Danish politicians and finally have legal rights to run their own affairs. Likewise, the president of Liberland expects to join European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and obey its rules.

Though, those micronations including Liberland failed to be recognised by the existing authorities. Scharff says that the nations are often disregarded as the work of harmless eccentrics. In his research, he discovered that the US Department of State has established a protocol for those who seek some form of recognition by the US Government for their micronations. Requests are answered with a polite and diplomatic refusal, and the correspondence is archived in the ‘Ephemeral Nations File’. In this context, the significance of forming micronations which connotes the flaws of the current economic, political, social and legislative system has been also missing in the erstwhile media coverages. So far, the media have reflected micronations nothing but an Alice in Wonderland.

Future perspectives — from experimental communities to highly automated fractals

What needs to be addressed, however, is that micronations will not stop appearing regardless of UN’s recognition or constitutional definitions. Hoping that technology would further their frontier, the current founders and wannabes of micronations will not stop drawing public’s’ attention and claiming their sovereignty.

Thomas Frey from DaVinci Institute says that new alternatives for current established systems is a near future. “Since technology is exceeding governments’ ability to manage it, new global systems, or fractals, will emerge to offer a solution. Each fractal will be highly automated, and come with its own management structure. I refer to them as fractals because each of them represents a tiny bit of order in an ocean of chaos. As fractals catch on we will begin to see new patterns of governance emerge.”

As such idea sounds quite futurist, it is already coming into practice nowadays. A non-profit research organization Startup Cities Institute (Guatemala) offers a new approach of reforming a country. The Institute suggests that governments should try new economic, political, legislative or social reforms first in the small communities or special governance zones. Such Startup Cities can test new policies before they are scaled to the city or national level. The members of the Institute claim that governments gamble the fate of the entire nation with a reform designed in a traditional way. “If the reform is not well designed, the entire nation suffers. Citizens have no choice but to comply, whether reform helps or harms them.” According to the initiators, small, highly autonomous municipalities created by host nations could be an option for improving the current system with smaller risk of expensive mistakes and possible protests or violence from the citizens.

Scharff, an enthusiast of micronations, sees the future in the similar way. He believes, that micronations is a sign of dissatisfaction with the present status quo, with people preferring to follow a different form of government than the one they are under at the time, and may take efforts to rectify such problems. “I would think that governments could take notice to micronation activity and learn what is inspiring their participants to take such actions; A yearning for a historical past, the desire for a change in governmental systems, or even a call for progressive change”, says Scharff.

All this means that more micronations will be established in the future with customised interests for their citizens. However, this might be seen from a positive angle. “There are many benefits of having separate countries around the world. They can preserve cultures, help spawn new industries, but the biggest benefit is the competition that takes place between countries. This competition is pushing our standard to living to increasingly higher levels”, says Frey.

The biggest problem though is that the potential of micronations is seen only by a small group of innovative futurists and it is very possible that soon it will be too late for the established governments to be concerned about the impact of micronations after great migration of their citizens. So here is a suggestion: why not giving micronations a voice?

Frey, Thomas et al. “Own Your Own Island Nation.” The Futurist May-June (2009): 30–35.

Gilson, Dave. “Naval Gazing: a Brief, Quixotic History of DIY Aquatic Micro Nation” Mother Jones 37(5) (2009): 9–10.

Brew, Elisabeth. “Unhappy with the government? Follow the lead of ‘Sealand’” in Metro World News, June 29, 2010, accessed May 14, 2015, 
http://metronews.ca/news/185992/unhappy-with-the-government-follow-the-lead-of-sealand/

Holligan, Anna. “Denmark’s Christiania: New Challenges for Copenhagen’s Hippy Zone” in BBC, August 15, 2011, accessed May 5, 2015,http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14496193
Prnjak, Hrvoje. “OSNIVAČ LIBERLANDA ‘Poslao sam zahtjev za priznanje, idućeg tjedna dolazim u diplomatski posjet RH’” in JutarnjiList, 27 April, 2015, accessed 13 May, 2015, http://www.jutarnji.hr/vit-jedlicka–u-liberlandu-imam-270-000-zahtjeva-za-drzavljanstvo/1338158.