Itty, bitty (fake) nations to unfurl flags, royal doodads
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The largest gathering of world leaders this side of the United Nations is convening Saturday at a decidedly less glamorous edifice: the Anaheim Central Library down the street from Disneyland.
No one will be representing the United States, Great Britain or China, but you may catch a glimpse of the president of Molossia, decked out in a beribboned, full-dress uniform that would be the envy of any Third World dictator. There he’ll be hobnobbing with kings, queens, dukes and barons from places like Slabovia, Westarctica, Vikesland and Broslavia.
The occasion is MicroCon 2015, what organizers say is the first North American gathering of micronations, those itty bitty countries that pretty much nobody but the people who rule them believe really exist.
“It’s almost like a diplomatic version of a model railroad for nerds,” says Steven F. Scharff, who has been studying the micronation movement for decades.
Most of these faux countries print their own stamps and mint their own money. Some even produce sashes, swords, pendants and other royal doodads that Scharff says rival anything coming out of England’s royal House of Windsor. Much of it will be on display Saturday, along with the flags of some two dozen countries.
Pulling the gathering together is President Kevin Baugh of the Republic of Molossia, who rules over 1.3 acres (0.5 hectares) of real estate he purchased east of Reno, Nevada, in 1998.
Of the country’s 27 citizens, only five — Baugh, his wife and kids — live in Molossia. Still, the place issues its own passports, has its own railroad, phone system, bank, post office and general store. If you call ahead, the president himself will take you on a tour.
“When you come to visit you see as much as possible a functioning nation,” says Baugh, who from his teens thought it would be really cool to create his own country. Don’t get him wrong, though, he knows who really runs things.
“Can I lower the drinking age?” he asks rhetorically. “Well no, I can’t. Come on, let’s get real.
“We all want to think we have our own country, but you know the U.S. is a lot bigger,” this benevolent dictator says with a hearty laugh.
Another world leader coming to MicroCon is His Royal Highness Travis McHenry. As grand duke of Westarctica, he rules over 620,000 frozen, triangle-shaped square miles (1,600 square kilometers) of Antarctica that no real country ever bothered to claim. Although his nation is nearly the size of Alaska, none of its 300 citizens actually live there. But then nobody else does either.
“When I discovered there was a piece of Antarctica unclaimed by any country, I was just really inspired by that,” said McHenry, whose day job is recruiting coordinator for a Burbank, California-based media company. “I just sort of took my imagination and decided to see if I could turn it into a legitimate country.”
He made it a nonprofit last year that advocates for protecting its native penguins and studying climate change’s impact on Antarctica’s ice sheet. He’ll give a talk on “micronations that matter.”
“It’s just sort of encouraging other micronations to become nonprofits so they’re actually doing something rather than just walking around wearing fancy capes,” he says.
Micronations are scattered all over the word, although it’s hard to get an exact count because they come and go. Some, like the Principality of Hutt River in Australia, began as the result of a dispute with a real country, in this case over wheat quotas that limited production on Prince Leonard Casley’s farm.
As long as these places don’t annoy the real government too much, they’re generally left alone. But not always.
After Giorgio Rosa opened a tourist attraction on a platform off the coast of Italy in 1968, named it the Republic of Rose Island and declared himself president, Italy quickly invaded. Rosa’s platform was eventually dynamited, literally blowing the Republic of Rose Island right off the map.