Glasgow, Scotland, UK • June 2016 • Length of Read: 7 Minutes
A lot of people dream of visiting every country in the world. Phrases such as ‘50+ countries and counting…’ or, ‘On a mission to cross off the world’, appear on globetrotters’ blogs and social media accounts like they are badges of honour; albeit badges of honour that nobody else really gives a shit about, like the Cub Scout badge for ‘nut culture’ (Look it up, it’s actually a thing).
I’m personally not too bothered about ticking off every country on Earth. I’ll never stop adventuring to its four corners and seeking out new adventures and experiences, but there are some places I’m just not that fussed about visiting. Have you ever been to Andorra? Probably not. Well I have. And let me tell you. The most interesting thing I found to do there was order vodka jelly shots from a moderately attractive Irish blonde whilst a Japanese-fronted cover band played early noughties pop-punk tracks. If I recall correctly there were also some mountains. Tour over.
For those of you that do still dream of setting foot on all 193 United Nations member states however, let me up the ante. Like a bonus level on a video-game, I’m going to add ten more ‘countries’ to that list. Ten countries that aren’t, correctly speaking, actually countries.
They are instead referred to as Micro-Nations; pieces of land that claim to be independent or sovereign nations, but are not recognized by world governments. In order to be defined as a country you need to have and meet the following three criteria: a permanent population; a clearly defined territory; and a government capable of interacting with other states. The following ten Micro-Nations all stake independence as a result of these criteria, however have not yet gained United Nations recognition. The following ten Micro-Nations are therefore countries which don’t exist:
1) The Principality of Sealand
Probably the most famous Micro-Nation, Sealand is a wartime fortress situated 12km off the East coast of England that has claimed ‘country’ status since 1975. Built during World War II as a defense post, it was never demolished upon being decommissioned. It therefore stood unused until 1967 when one Roy Bates took over the platform as a base for his pirate radio station. After a few drinks with a lawyer friend of his, he then had the genius idea of establishing the fort as a nation state, despite it only covering a total area equivalent to two tennis courts. Now run by Roy’s son, Prince Michael, Sealand has a population of 27; publishes its own passports; prints its own stamps; and has even minted its own coins.
2) Freetown Christiania
Right in the heart of Copenhagen sits a former military barracks that lets off a heavy whiff of marijuana. Taken over by hippie-squatters in 1971 as an anti-governmental social experiment, Christiania became a self-governing collective operating under its own rules and principles. Following a dark era involving hard drugs and murder this Micro-Nation has now cleaned-up, and its 850 residents are currently deliberating an offer from the Danish government to outright purchase the 34 hectares of land they live on. I’ve personally visited the area and it’s a must-see attraction if you ever visit the Danish Capital.
Far out into the Indian Ocean lies Comoros, an archipelago of four islands which became fully independent from France in 1975… well, almost. Three of these islands voted overwhelmingly to form an independent African state, but the fourth, Mayotte, wished to remain under French rule. When The United Nations granted Comoros new country membership however, it did so for the whole archipelago so as to avoid any decolonization chaos. Mayotte therefore sits in the middle of a stalemate, being a French ruled member of the European Union on one side, and a geographically recognised part of Comoros on the other.
4) The Principality of Seborga
Hidden on the Italian border with Monaco and France is a ‘legal twilight zone’ known as Seborga. Originally a principality of the 10th Century Holy Roman Empire, Seborga was thought to have been sold to the House of Savoy in 1729; however no documentation or evidence of this was ever registered. This meant that when the Italian peninsula was unified into the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th Century, Seborga was never mentioned. The local florist now goes by the title of His Serene Highness and presides over the mountain village (population: 300) with a court of white-robed knights.
5) The Sovereign State of Forvik
When a solitary sailor crashed his vessel in the Shetland Islands during a failed attempt to circumnavigate the British Isles, he decided to just settle there. Dubbed ‘Captain Calamity’ by the Media, Stuart Hill became the sole resident of a tiny island that he named Forvik, and claimed its independence under the basis that the 0.01km2 still remained part of the old Norse Empire. The Micro-Nation’s official website states that Forvik now ‘wishes to enter into negotiations with companies with the ability to carry out oil exploration work in its waters’, however warns that ‘only those with a proven track record need apply’.
6) Rapa Nui
The most remote place on planet Earth, Easter Island is known the world over for the giant Moai sculptures which litter its sparse landscape. Situated 3,800km off the west coast of South America, possession of this island was taken from the Rapa Nui people by the Chilean government in 1888. These Polynesian inhabitants are the subjects of the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive by Jared Diamond. The author illustrates how over-cultivation of the island’s environment, in a desire to build some 887 Moai headed statues, has led to this annexed territory being permanently drained of its resources to the point that the indigenous people now struggle to survive on the island at the end of the world. Despite this however, Rapa Nui activists still fight for their right of self-determination and ownership of the island, which has resulted in violent protests with the Chilean police.
7) Principality of Hutt River
500km north of Perth, in the Western Australian outback, is Hutt River, an enclave which was claimed independent by Leonard Casley in 1970 following a dispute with the Australian government over grain quotas. Hutt River then declared war on Australia after the national tax office failed to stop demanding the payment of taxes. In response, Prince Leonard and his wife were deemed to be non-residents of the country, and the postal service refused to handle any mail sent from, or addressed to, this Micro-Nation. As a result, any incoming or outgoing post now has to be re-directed through Canada.
This will sound crazy, but Pontinha is effectively a Knights’ Templar fort that was hacked from a rock situated 700km off the west coast of Africa in the 1400s. The Micro-Nation’s case for independence is currently being analyzed by the United Nations, with Prince Barros, one of the fort’s four ‘residents’ and a schoolmaster by day, confident that Pontinha will be the Brazilian government’s door of entry to Europe when it is eventually recognised.
9) Republic of Minerva
When the Lithuanian real estate millionaire Michael Oliver came up with the idea of forming a libertarian society, a pair of atolls in the Pacific Ocean to the south of Fiji and Tonga were identified as potential ground on which such a nation could be built. The submerging reefs were artificially constructed using concrete and coral blocks, with the more southern island being shaped into an infinity symbol. This displeased the Tongan government however, who had been using Minerva as fishing area before it declared independence in 1972. They sent out a ship to reclaim the atoll as their own, mounting a flag on the north island and declaring it part of Tonga just months after. The now-submerged Minerva is said to have some of the clearest waters and best diving in the world.
10) The Kingdom of Lovely
As part of the BBC TV series ‘How to Start Your Own Country’, humourist Danny Wallace (of Yes Man fame) ended up turning his London flat into a Micro-Nation called Lovely. Taking the advice of eccentric leaders, including Prince Michael of Sealand, King Danny first tried to invade an island and purchase a castle before setting up an online community of residents that grew to 60,000 people. Not content on creating a currency (the I.O.U); a motto (Have A Nice Day); and a national flag (pixelated Union Jack), Danny went as far as entering his self-penned song, Stop the Muggin’, Start the Huggin’, into the Eurovision song contest in an attempt to gain legitimacy. Unfortunately the organizers didn’t quite like his sound, despite the enthusiasm.
So there you go; 10 Micro-Nations that claim statehood but don't quite exist. Who knows what will happen in the future however, with borders constantly shifting. After all, they are just imaginary concepts; lines drawn in the sand with a stick. The real question is: Which one of the above will you attempt to visit first?