by Jethro Wegener
There are 196 official countries in the world, and while it might seem like you have visited them all, closer investigation will reveal that there are actually a few more. Hidden inside officially recognised nation-states, there are countries that don’t exist, but that you can still travel to.
When one thinks of countries, names like Japan, China and the United States immediately spring to mind. The thing is, there isn’t really a fixed criteria for a place to become a recognised ‘nation’. The most commonly cited definition comes from the “Montevideo Convention”, which states that a nation must have the ability to enter into relations with other federations, a permanent population, a government and defined territorial boundaries. There is a problem with this convention though.
Using Taiwan as an example, it meets all these criteria and yet is not officially recognised by the United Nations. Since acknowledgement by the UN is generally considered to be a nation’s ‘seal of approval’, some detractors do not consider it to be a country. And this is just one of the biggest examples, since there are lots out there with populations as low as a single person that consider themselves to be independent nations, with their own systems of governance, currency and patriotic citizen(s). Since we can’t list all these micronations, here are just a few of them.
Located off the coast of Scotland, Forvik was founded by an Englishman from Kent named Stuart Hill. This tiny Shetland islet, measuring only 0.01km sq, is an attempt by Hill to promote transparent governance. Although unrecognised by the Scottish or British government, the nation has its own flag and refuses to comply with their laws. This has caused the 68-year old Hill considerable grief – most recently he was arrested for a series of traffic offenses in Lerwick, Scotland when he parked his nine-year old Forvik ‘counsel vehicle’, adorned with the Forvik flag, in the town’s busiest street. Getting to Shetland to see Forvik can be accomplished by flying in from any of Scotland’s major airports using http://www.flybe.com/.
Established in an abandoned military camp by squatters in 1971, Christiania is a non-conformist’s paradise in the heart of Copenhagen. When they declared themselves independent, the Danish police tried to clear them out and failed. Since then, the government has let the micronation continue, turning a blind eye to what goes on within its borders. A famous example is ‘Pusher Street’, a haven for marijuana and hash dealers as the substances are legal in Christiania, but illegal in the rest of Denmark. The micronation is self-governing, ecology-oriented, and home to craft shops, beer gardens and DIY homes. Cars are outlawed within the nation’s limits, but you can easily explore Christiania’s compact 0.34km sq area on foot or by bicycle.
Principality of Hutt River
Based in a farming property 500km north of Perth, Hutt River is Australia’s oldest micronation. Founded in 1970 by Leonard George Casley – or Prince Leonard as he calls himself – in response the Australian’s government’s wheat production quota, which would have caused great financial grief to him. Unrecognised by the government, the principality has its own flag, passport and even a post office. The micronation is over 45 years old, and the 90-year old Prince states that he looks forward to many more years of independence. He also provides guided tours of his state for anyone interested in seeing Hutt River for themselves, as well as selling stamps and other souvenirs. Getting there is accomplished by flying into Perth and driving from there.
Empire of Atlantium
Based in New South Wales, Australia, the Empire is considered to be one of Australia’s smallest micronations. The 0.76km sq nation has its own post office, government buildings, currency, national anthem and even monuments. Atlantium’s leader George Cruick is particularly proud of the nation’s pyramid, which is home to the constitution. The Empire was formed to support global governance and a world with no defined borders. They have over 3,000 citizens from more than 100 countries, although most of those have never set foot in Atlantium. Even Cruick lives in a flat in Sydney and not in his country. You can visit it for yourself though, as it is just a short drive from Boorowa on the south-west slopes of New South Wales.
While many of these small nations may seem silly to us, to their citizens this is no laughing matter. The reasons for forming these countries varies, but many come to be because their citizens want to rebel against our established systems of governance. One thing is for sure, new places will continue to form, while old ones will disappear and the world will keep changing. Who knows, maybe in the future everyone will have their own small country? For now though, you can satisfy your curiosity by visiting one of these numerous micronations.