Alternative Worlds - An Excursion

There are surprisingly many real, existing "utopias" within the "global village" that, officially, should not even exist and are thus only indirectly recognized by the "mainstream." Micronations. Communes and eco-villages. Secession movements. Enclaves. Sects. Squatters. Neo-pagans. Neo-primitives and nomadic tribes within the urban environment. And like all subcultures stirring and in development, they all reject a uniform umbrella term – but what they do all share is the creative flight from the thralldom of a world order viewed as suffocating, and the self-definition as a sovereign territory that defines itself as different than the others.

With fantasy names like Rübezahlia, Molossa or Nobinobi, and by the frequent self-proclamation as a kingdom, micronations are the most unusual form of encapsulation. Who hasn't dreamt of being king and ruling by one's own word alone? Micronations skillfully take advantage of the grey areas of both national and international law. They declare themselves to independent nations in abandoned mines or temples, on sandbanks and reefs on the open sea. Usually, however, it's definite districts or farms, in which case the possibly valid claims of state or title usually become a highly contentious issue. But the declaration of the formation of a sovereign kingdom is not narcissism alone; rather, from a legal point of view, it is the easiest method to both become constituted and also gain acceptance internationally.

Micronations invoke thereby the 1933 Convention of Montevideo, according to which a sovereign nation must have a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capability of entering relations with other nations. In addition, micronations usually possess their own currency, national anthem, laws, postage stamps and newspapers; some also have their own ecosystems and churches, or even their own language. Usually, they have a very small population – often of only a few individuals, families or friends. Some take the step to creating a nation for reasons of business and trade, others due to existential necessity, and some to stir political agitation. Dale Parker Anderson, for example: the King of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, he laid claim to the tiny, sandy island off the coast of Australia so as to protest against the Australian law against same-sex marriage by founding a "new home." Two years after the founding, the hills amidst the open sea have been planted and there is a permanent camp for the exclusively homosexual population to inhabit. In addition, the micronation participates in international trade with the English Commonwealth.

The main goal is the recognition by other state powers, or preferably even by the United Nations Organization. This definitely pays off when the cord is cut from the "other" lands, for the results include diplomatic immunity, independence and tax exemption. It also permits entering trade agreements and industrial sectors which would be otherwise forbidden, such as weapons manufacturing and medical treatments. Thus, a simple West Australian farmer like Leonard Casley, aka Prince Leonard, can have eight official embassies around the world representing his Hutt River Province and maintain lucrative diplomatic relationships with numerous African countries. In turn, the Principality of Sealand, a former British pirate radio station that occupied an abandoned anti-aircraft ocean platform off the coast of Essex in the sixties, was able to use international law to win a court case in England and use this indirect route to become recognized as a sovereign nation.

The differences to secessionist movements, in which a self-governing group with its own system lays a definite claim to sovereignty over a defined area, are only marginal. This system of separation is found in the founding history of almost all nations up to Israel. Political rebels and commercially active pirates in particular take advantage of already known or covert enclaves. The most prominent current representative is surely the Moldavian breakaway republic Transnistria, which, with a population of half a million, is recognized only by Russia and is proud to be listed on the indexes of micronations. But even in the USA you can find groups that want to break away with entire states, as is the case with both the Free State Party in New Hampshire and FreeState Vermont.

Squatting, or the occupation of land or housing without legal claim, is the practice of this principle in miniature; it seems to have survived to today. During its heyday at the height of the urban punk movement, it was common practice to simply occupy public structures and urban areas, but today, prominent examples such as Copenhagen's self-governing district Christiania are in danger of folding. Nowadays, it is more likely to be the "eco-ravers" of the Rainbow Gatherings or the Radical Faeries, who over the years have often temporarily occupied tracks of land for their "Happenings," that are now beginning to slowly set up sedentary structures.

The non-violent takeover is a common practice of the intentional communities and eco-villages. Here, territories are usually acquired through normal channels, but are nevertheless intentionally distanced or isolated from the rest of the world so as to enable a life apart as a resource-efficient community. Social, moral and spiritual premises that diverge from the general social concepts can also play an important role in this regard. Here, a clear line can be drawn to the short-lived "positive" utopias of the sixties and seventies, the communes and ecological movements of that time. But the nineties saw a noticeable professionalization take place in the surviving and newly established projects. With the advent of eco-villages, clear hierarchies, infrastructures and the trappings of authority such as distinct currencies, laws, flags, etc. entered the picture. The largest eco-villages of today function not only as alternative societies visited annually by a steady stream of activists and solvent tourists willing to work, but are also small esoteric economic empires that often have a decisive influence on the "normal" local politics of the surrounding area.

Paul Poet