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world wide wednesdays :: the itty bitty nation committee

lesser known richard scarry
some of you may have heard some news from north sudan this week. not the northern part of the country of sudan [although maybe you heard news from there too, it's certainly possible]; i mean north sudan. if you don't know about that nation, you might be seeing its story on the big screen, courtesy of disney. it had people excited at first, until they followed links to the project and discovered that disney's first african princess is going to be a white girl from virginia.


you see, the kingdom of north sudan is a micronation. that word isn't accepted by spell-check, which is fitting, since micronations aren't accepted by larger, established nations either. but that doesn't stop people from founding them, in the same way it won't stop me from using the word micronations to talk about this peculiar and fascinating movement.

to continue with the brief history of north sudan, it is a kingdom founded by a farmer from virginia and it is indeed located along the border between sudan and egypt. you see, there's a parcel of land 800 square miles that neither country wants. it's been officially terra nullius [fancy talk for literal no man's land] since 1902, which technically means that it's up for grabs. so jeremiah heaton has started the process of grabbing it. thus far, north sudan meets two of the conditions laid down in international law for statehood: they have defined their territory [including planting a flag on that territory] and established a government, in this case a monarchy. they do not yet have the capacity to enter into relations with other states, nor do they have a permanent population, which are the other two criteria. yes, that's right. not only does no one claim this land, but there isn't even anyone living there.

so how does a piece of land come to be available when it's sitting right between two perfectly viable countries? as you probably guessed, the answer lies in a bit of an administrative "oops". in 1899, the british drew a sharp line along the 22nd parallel, declaring everything to the north to be egypt and everything to the south to be sudan. three years later, someone had the bright idea to draw the border according to which people actually lived there, which was much more, well, freehand. the british didn't really care which boundary was followed, since they controlled both places, but, predictably, the egyptians and sudanese really did.

fredonia: texas has been grumpy since 1826
principally, they cared about an area known as the hala'ib triangle, which rests on the coast of the red sea. this pleasant corner of the world features lush arable soil, a unique ecosystem, a protected natural reserve [according to egypt] and a couple of small towns. it also may have some offshore oil reserves and when a canadian company went to egypt to get permission to investigate that potential, the territorial shit hit the fan.

according to the 1899 boundary, hala'ib is part of egypt. according to the 1902 boundary, it belongs to sudan. both sides claim that space and, in order that they don't seem all piggy about the land, each side has ceded their claim on the adjacent bir tawil territory to the other. of course, bir tawil is 800 square miles of arid desert fuck all, so it doesn't really seem like a fair trade for hala'ib, which is why both sides have said they're not interested.

that last point is important, because it clearly establishes that, not only is the territory unclaimed by any existing nation, but the two nations to which it might belong have actively rejected it. enter jeremiah heaton, who wants to make his daughter a princess and establish a sort of ecological paradise [in an area that even plants don't inhabit] with progressive/ libertarian policies [kind of inconsistent with a monarchy, but someone needs to be in charge and there sure as hell isn't anyone there who wants to assume that job] of digital freedom and food security [not that any type of food is grown there now].

there is something deeply uncomfortable about the spectacle of a white guy taking over a stretch of land in africa, even one that nobody wants. it's hard to find fault with his aims for the nation, but it definitely smacks of modern-day colonialism. thus far, no nations have recognised his claim to statehood, but that's hardly surprising. no one ever recognises micronations. [side note :: well, mostly. the sovereign military hospitaller order of saint john of jerusalem of rhodes and of malta- just imagine singing that national anthem- is a micronation that's very broadly recognized. despite not controlling a defined territory since 1798, when they were forced to surrender the island of malta- a gift from emperor charles v, who apparently knew how to shop for presents- to the french, the sovereign military order of malta has diplomatic relations with a large number of countries and permanent observer status at the united nations. no one recognises them as a nation, but they don't claim to be one either. they just insist that they are governed only by international law and, hence, can operate outside the laws of any individual nations. and everyone seems cool with this. so apparently, the keys to forming a successful micronation are being vague about the status you're claiming, cosying up to the church and offering medical assistance.]

wallachia: micronation, practical joke, tourist attraction
the colonial controversy over north sudan notwithstanding, there are actually dozens of micronations that have or claim to exist. here's a list of them. and here's a google map of of them. none of them are officially recognized and most of them rest on land that is already claimed by a recognised nation. many others do not make a territorial claim, or make one that is difficult to enforce [e.g., the kingdoms of elgaland-vargaland, which claim "all border territories: geographical, mental and digital", begun by artists c.m. von hausswolff and leif elgren in 1992]. others attempt to re-establish previous states, such as the duchy of bohemia, the dominion of british west florida [which includes large chunks of adjacent states, just to show how arbitrary borders really are] or the state of araucania- patagonia, which claims lands traditionally held by the mapuche people of argentina and chile.[side note :: araucania and patagonia is another state that has some discomfiting colonial ties, since it's actually operated by a frenchman arguing that the french sovereign never relinquished control of these territories. yes, the intention is to give the lands back to the mapuche, but at the same time...]

the ability of a micronation to survive depends largely on how much its citizens are willing to fight for recognition. territories that are part of larger countries have certainly ceded to form their own states- one need only look at the former yugoslavia to see a large-scale version of this. however, the micronations that exist now lack a lot of the elements required to make a claim for legal secession. as a result, it's highly unlikely that any of these will exist as anything but a web page at any time in the near future.

most interesting are the micronations that claim the last remaining unaccounted for land on the planet. tar biwal/ north sudan is one, but there are two others:

amidst the carving of the former yugoslavia into smaller and smaller pieces, a border dispute between croatia and serbia has created a few weird pockets of terra nullius in the contested territory. enter czech politician vit jedlička, who proclaimed the nation of liberland in the largest of those pockets. although it was only declared last month, the nation of liberland seems like a pretty serious venture, with a legal team working to establish the validity of the claim, a draft constitution and a plans for an electronic voting system to elect a parliament. in keeping with the libertarian views of its founder, liberland's constitution strictly limits the powers of government, holds the right of private property to be inviolable, bars the government from going into debt and refuses to impose taxes. for that last reason, opponents of the nation have decried it as a place for tax cheats to shelter money.

as opposed to the tar biwal, where egypt and sudan really couldn't care less who was claiming the territory, croatia and serbia have been outright hostile to liberland. neither of them say that they want it, but they sure as hell don't want anyone else to have it and both have committed to blocking access to a territory they readily admit doesn't fall within their borders. small groups seeking to settle the country [because one important thing that liberland lacks is people living in its physical territory] have been detained and/ or arrested for illegally crossing borders in both serbia and croatia, as recently as this week. it seems like the one thing that serbia and croatia can agree upon in this disputed area is that no one else can have any land their either. [side note :: along with its potential as a tax haven, liberland does have one very interesting attribute: shoreline on the danube river. a major commercial thoroughfare, a tiny section of the danube would fall under the dominion of the new state, were its claim to be successful.]

grand duke travis, micronational man candy
the final piece of pristine, unowned land is also the largest: a hefty slice of antarctic pie, currently claimed by american travis mchenry under the name westarctica. the basis of his claim is a supposed loophole in the antarctic land treaty which, while forbidding nations from claiming any of the continent's remaining territory, seems not to have accounted for the possibility that an individual could claim the land and start his own country.

westarctica already has a rather turbulent history, with a number of leaders, name changes and web addresses, but still no official recognition. it does, however, hold limited status with the united nations department of economic and social affairs, which is not nothing. the micronation's strong environmental message has also seen it established as a non-profit organisation. [it's incorporated in california, so you can get real tax breaks for donating.]

the world may well need westarctica, since its unclaimed status has lead to its being ignored by other antarctic stakeholders. mchenry and co.'s goals are chiefly to act as advocates for this forlorn wedge of the world, and to establish research on the protection of the environment and animal life. [mchenry has stated that he would like to see a permanent settlement within the territory. he does, however, still reside in los angeles, so i say he should be willing to go first.]

ok, despite my general cynicism about everything, i have to admit that the westarctica project is pretty admirable.

every other scrap of land on the planet has now been claimed by at least one recognised nation. if you want a country to call your own, your options are to find some sort of outcropping of rock in the ocean far enough from land to be considered outside anyone else's national boundaries and not allocated to another state. [satellite imaging tells us that no such outcroppings exist, but volcanoes may have something to say about that, given time.] of course, you could also claim territory on another planet, because all that shit is still up for grabs. establishing a permanent population is going to take some science, however. if you do think that founding a country is for you, here's a handy dandy guide to creating your own micronation to help you out.

the whole idea of micronations might seem a bit silly and, indeed, many of them are established with humourous intent [or criminal intent, to offer fake identification, in some cases]. but there's some serious food for thought within them [the only food available in most of them]: they raise questions about the permanence of nations and their dominion over their physical territory; they call attention to the rules of secession and where the extremities of those rules lie; and they question the very idea of what it means to own land. at the very least, they allow us to dream of what we'd do if we could find a place to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start, in our own little corner of the world.


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