Driving on the "good side" of the fence, in a then-divided Germany, I was able to take a look at the infamous Iron Curtain. The sand below the fence wasn't there to make landings easier for those fleeing from East to West Germany. No, it made it easier for border patrols to track them down.
A journey through the unlikely phenomenon of microstates, which have been founded on nothing more than a personal whim or nothing less than a diehard political stance.
Taiwanese businessman James Chang has been mired in a long battle with municipal authorities over what he sees as "excessive" taxes on the hotel he owns on the eastern coast of Australia.
So when all traditional legal and political means have been exhausted, what do you do?
Chang's idea, according to the Brisbane-based Courier Mail daily, is to try to turn his Rockhampton Plaza Hotel into a country of its own.
Welcome to the far-out world of micronations, mini-states that range from a personal hobby to a political stance. This unusual designation has sprung up over the decades as a solution for everything from protesting your government to wanting to issue your own banknotes to even simply being able to sing your very own self-acclaiming national anthem. A variable count suggests there are currently around 100 active micronations around the world, with more than 400 recorded in recent history.
It's unclear the chances that Chang will join the ranks, but he's vowed to write for permission to the Queen of England (Australia is part of the British Commonwealth) and/or take his case to international courts. His bid is not so surprising as estimates suggest that one-third of all micronations are located in Australia, earning the vast country a reputation as the micronations central.
But there have been others spread out across the world over the years from the Principality of Sealand, a platform floating on the North Sea to the Republic of Rose Island which was once bombed by the Italian government. Worldcrunch takes you on a tour around some of the world's more peculiar micronations.
The flag of the Republic of Parva Domus
Republic of Parva Domus, Fishing For Pleasure
The self-proclaimed micronation is easy to miss: with a territory of just 0.2 km² nestled in a Punta Carretas neighborhood of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. We know the history of the Pilgrims who first sailed the Atlantic to escape religious persecutions, and Liberia was created as a place for former African slaves to live freely … The Republic of Parva Domus? Well, 140 years ago, it was established by amateur Uruguayan fishermen who wanted to have their own, handy storage unit for their fishing rods.
The Latin inscription on the house's front, Parva Domus Magna Quies, encapsulates the nation's motto: "small house, big rest." Like any other country in the world, those who enter its grounds have to abide by the nation's Constitution. Among the centuries-old rules, citizens are forbidden to talk about touchy subjects such as politics, religion, and, yes, sports. The nation's mission is "pleasure and happiness," as proclaimed in their national anthem.
The male-only democracy also punishes any member who gets angry, by sending him in a cage before holding a trial. The defendant is allowed to have a lawyer, which isn't too hard to find. While women aren't allowed, many of the Parva citizens are lawyers, doctors or politicians.
As of today, 843,297 citizenships have been granted since Parva Domus' date of foundation, in 1878. The "day of independence", as they call it, is celebrated every year with a parade of its citizens wearing goofy costumes in the streets of Punta Carretas. At this point, if this sounds more like an odd private club or a fraternity than a micronation to you, you're not the only one.
The long platform was constructed in 1968
Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj, a small and short-lived "alternative" nation
Floating in the Adriatic Sea, between Cesenatico and Rimini, Italy, the Republic of Rose Island was a 400 square-meter-long platform that served mostly as a tourist attraction 11 kilometers off the Rimini coast. Constructed in 1968 in the middle of the Atlantic sea, the long platform of Bologna-born engineer Giorgio Rosa became a real republic in only 55 days, from getting its own flag and national language — the Esperanto — to writing an official constitution.
Take a European climate of anti-conformism in the late 1960s, add an innovative Italian engineer, and you end up with the short-lived Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj.
Sadly, it took the Italian government 55 days to decide and organize the island's destruction. After this episode, the UN changed Italy's maritime delimitation rules from 9.6 km to to 17.7 km. The small micronation was assembled on a platform that used an innovative technique that Rosa later patented.
Paddy Roy Bates claimed the platform in 1967
Principality of Sealand (North Sea), Freedom From the sea
The tiny platform of 4,000 m² is located in the North Sea approximately 12 kilometers off the coast of Suffolk. Paddy Roy Bates, a British citizen & pirate radio broadcaster, ejected the radio members and claimed the platform as its own from 1967 onwards.
This unrecognized man-made structure, has hereditary royal rulers, fantasy passports, a flag and a national anthem. It is located on a platform that was constructed during World War II as a defense emplacement, then occupied by a pirate radio station.
In August 1978, German-born Alexander Achenbach, self-proclaimed Prime Minister of Sealand, hired mercenaries to attack the micronation and took Bates's son hostage. However, he was able to retake Sealand, captured Achenbach and charged him with "treason against Sealand". He would stay imprisoned unless he paid close to $35,000. Germany had to send people to negotiate Achenbach's liberation. After the negotiation, the Bates family claimed that the diplomat's visit meant a facto recognition of Sealand by Germany.
Sealand sells "fantasy passports," not valid for international travel and in 1997, the Bates family revoked all Sealand passports issued for 22 years. This came to dismantle the international money laundering ring that had appeared by using the sale of fake Sealand passports to finance drug trafficking and money laundering. In 1987, the United Kingdom extended its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles. Sealand is now part of British territorial waters.
Georgette Bertin-Pourchet, presidente of the République and daughter of Georges Pourchet
La République du Saugeais, born from a joke
In the département of Doubs, in eastern France, the Republic of 128 km² extends for 11 municipalities. In 1947, the prefect of the department of Doubs came to Montbenoît and had lunch in the Hôtel de l'Abbaye, owned by Georges Pourchet. Jokingly, Pourchet asked the Prefect if he had a permit to enter the Republic of Saugeais. After inventing details about the fantasy republic, the prefect responded by naming Pourchet president of the Free Republic of Saugeais.
Widow of George, president Gabrielle Pourchet took the micronation to another level by appointing a prime minister, a general secretary, twelve ambassadors and over 300 honorary citizens. Langue Saugette, a Franco-Provençal dialect, was the language of the song adopted as the national anthem, written in 1910. As what could seem a kind of recognition, the French Postal Service created a postal stamp to commemorate the Republic in 1987.
George II of Atlantium
Atlantium, secular humanist utopia
Established in 1981 by three Sydney teenagers, they claimed a 10 m² provisional territory in the suburb of Narwee, Australia, as Atlantium's first capital. In 1999, the founder's 61-square-meter apartment became the second capital of and Concordia became the third capital of Atlantium on 2008, when the rural 0.76 km² Province of Aurora, was created. In 2015, the micronation had almost 3,000 "citizens", most of whom signed up online from more than 100 countries, and have never been to Atlantium.
Atlantium was described as a refreshing antidote to the reactionary self-aggrandizement of so many micronations by The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations in 2006. The book highlights the micronation's progressive, liberal policies and describes it as a "secular humanist utopia."
The micronation sold stamps, coins and banknotes online and claimed to use the profit for the Empire's ongoing operations and charitable causes. Some of the political stances of Atlantium are for unrestricted international freedom of movement, the right to abortion and euthanasia. The microstate insists their citizens should be active in the political process no matter where they live.
A set of stamps from the Gay & Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands
Gay & Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands
In 2004, a group of gay rights activists from Australia established the micronation as a symbolic political protest, after the government of Australia's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. It was located in Australia's external overseas territory of the Coral Sea Islands, uninhabited islets east of the Great Barrier Reef.
Matthew Briggs came up with the initiative to establish the "gay kingdom" during Brisbane Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival in 2003. On June 14, 2004, the activists arrived at Cato island on the Gayflower ship, raised the rainbow pride flag and declared the Coral Sea Islands an independent gay and lesbian state. A campsite at Cato named Heaven was claimed to be the capital of the micronation. The Kingdom was dissolved in November 2017 after Australia legalized gay marriage.
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