This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

The Daily Need

The Kingdom of Zarahemla, and other ‘micronations’

Updated | March 11 There’s a reason the United Nations refers to its constituent states as “members” and not “nations,” apparently: The organization’s leaders aren’t actually sure how many nations there really are.

That’s because the world also has hundreds of so-called “micronations,” unofficial nation-states that for various reasons have not been recognized by world governments or legitimate international organizations. The U.N. does not keep a registry of all the nations in the world, nor do U.N. officials consider it within their purview to decide what constitutes a legitimate country and what doesn’t.

When Canadian filmmaker Jody Shapiro asked the U.N. how many countries there are, officials there told him, “We are not an authority on the topic. Please consult your local library or world almanac.” Shapiro, who’s debuting a new film called “How to Start Your Own Country,” told Mother Jones in an interview that the U.N. doesn’t actually keep track.

Most “micronations” are tiny tracts of land or even backyards. Their governments are just a handful of people — or one single head of state, in some cases — who have decided for one reason or another to declare independence from the countries their territories are located in. There’s Sealand, for example — a former World War II sea fort off the coast of England — and the Republic of Molossia, which has its headquarters in Dayton, Nevada.

President Kevin Baugh of Molossia. Photo: howtostartyourowncountry.com

As Shapiro told Mother Jones, these “micronations” are case-studies in do-it-yourself democracy (although some are not actually democracies at all). They have political institutions, diplomatic relations with other “micronations,” even flags and national anthems. The Kingdom of Zarahemla — a self-described “kingdom-in-exile” waiting until its rightful home, the planet Mars, is inhabitable — is a “parliamentary democracy” with a royal family, a House of Commons and a constitution, according to its website.

When Shapiro visited some of these unrecognized states, he found that they often had substantive reasons for founding their own countries, as in the case of Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Principality in Australia:

I take Prince Leonard very seriously when he said he did it for survival. He formed a self-preservation government, which he claims was his right to do under the constitution, because his livelihood was threatened, and he felt that the only way to survive was to secede. Everybody’s sort of got their reasons for doing it, I feel.

Of course, not every micronation takes its obligations as a sovereign state as seriously. Some micronations simply exist online, as figments in the imaginations of their self-declared regents. A popular registry for micronations, www.listofmicronations.com, divides the community into “physical micronations” and “virtual micronations.” The virtual micronations, according to the site, are those that “exist solely in an electronic context,” or that are “comprised of entirely fictional elements.”

That’s not to say that micronations aren’t sometimes forced to grapple with the dilemmas of other, more legitimate governments. As Shapiro found in the course of making his film, micronations occasionally get asylum requests from refugees escaping war-torn countries. As Shapiro put it: “If you take yourself seriously, there are other people in the world who are going to take you very seriously.”

[via Mother Jones]

This post initially attributed the site www.listofmicronations.com to Claudio de Castro.

SUGGESTED STORIES
  • thumb
    Drone politics
    NTK's Joshua Foust talks to the Council on Foreign Relations about the still-fraught relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
  • thumb
    A rumble in the stacks
    Controversial plans to renovate the New York Public Library's research headquarters have prompted many bibliophiles to ask what role libraries should play in the digital age.
  • thumb
    Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012
    The science fiction writer passed away last night in Los Angeles at the age of 91. Libros Schmibros founder and NTK contributor David Kipen remembers his career.