We’ve all wanted to set up our own country at some point, haven’t we? Don’t try to deny it, there’s always that desire to throw off the shackles of “society” and stick it to “the man”. It’s “well I’m starting my own club and you can’t join!” only on a national scale. It’s a wild fantasy that will never come to fruition for most of us but some people have managed it.
That’s why today we are looking at some of the smallest countries in the world; and we’ll bet you’ve never heard of most of these.
5. The Conch Republic
If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of a conch will cause you flashbacks to the horrors of secondary school where we were all forced to study The Lord of the Flies. If you’re not like me, you might remember that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and his school’s Model UN are stranded on a tropical island and forced to recreate The Lord of the Flies because sometimes even comedy writers need a day off.
Former Mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow, was not inspired by The Simpsons however; although you might not realise that if you read the origin story of his micro nation, The Conch Republic. Apparently he “broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a US Navy uniform” and thus began the “Civil Rebellion” that ushered the Conch Republic to life. No, we don’t see the connection either.
If all this seems a little silly to you, you’re not alone. The Conch Republic is basically a tourism effort for Key West, Florida; and it brings in a lot of tourism for the area, with annual celebrations that local businesses participate in. So, as with many things in the modern world, it’s all about getting attention and a bit of money. Lovely.
When the British conquered the world, they exported many things to other nations and their innate ability to be incomprehensibly eccentric was one of them. This amazing racial bonus skill (which gives +2 to Charisma in distraction checks and played a key role in the UK stealing so much land from people) was taken to heart by the people of Sark, a constitutional monarchy in the Channel Islands.
In stark (sark?) contrast to many micronations, which usually rely on English or at the very least sticking with the language of the country they effectively seceded from, Sark has its own language; cunningly known as “Sarkese” because we can’t all be geniuses at naming things. This language was invented by King Oli I, the ruler of Sark, when he was at school. Talk about an over-achiever!
Sark also stands apart from many micronations by being legitimately recognised to some extent by the proper countries that you’ve heard of. Sark is an independent Crown Dependency, which means it’s not part of the UK but is technically owned by the Queen of England. This has the added bonus of making Sark’s King part of a matryoshka doll of British monarchs, and we’ll bet our bottom Guernsey Pound (the currency of Sark) that you can’t get that image out of your head for the rest of the day..
Every teenager has had that desire to cast off what they see as unfair and unjust influence over their life by people who are older than them and therefore can’t possibly understand what they are going through (even though those older people have absolutely been there and done that because come on, they weren’t born old).
Not everyone is George Cruickshank, the 15-year-old who decided to take teenage rebellion to the next level by declaring his mother’s back yard a new nation. George, now His Imperial Majesty Emperor George II, had vision and he turned that vision into a new country, Atlantium, which is now twice the size of Vatican City because sometimes teenage rebellion pays off big time. Just don’t ask us why the founding guy named himself like he’s a living sequel because we have no idea.
Atlantium has its own currency, flag, postal system and even a bodyguard for the Emperor. They even had a stand-off with Australia over whether the Atlantium stamps counted as real or not.
All that remains for them to do is explain why their country, which is in the middle of a continent-sized island, is named after an island nation that famously sank without a trace (and let’s hope their answer isn’t “we are tempting fate”).
There’s a theme running through this article of teenagers engaging in extreme acts of rebellion by deciding to secede from whatever country they are in at the time. Thus begins the story of Ruritania, which was founded by Queen Anastasia Sophia Maria Helena von Rubenroth Elphberg because of course that’s her name. Some people take names as a challenge and decide to go all-in.
Situated in Stone Mountain, Georgia, the Kingdom of Ruritania styles itself as an “absolute monarchy” using the “divine right” means of deciding who’s the boss. Their website, which is extensive, claims they don’t meet the requirements for entry into the United Nations but then goes on to claim that they didn’t want to join anyway because hey, teenage fits of pique worked so well for them when they started the country so why not just keep going?
It’s probably best not to mention that Ruritania is also a fictional country from an Anthony Hope novel if you ever visit the Kingdom however, as that Ruritania is far older and definitely more famous and successful than this tiny, fifty-year-old micronation – to the point where Wikipedia lists the fictional country in favour of the real one.
1. Freetown Christiania
Look, anyone who’s ever got stoned (or has at least known someone who has ever got stoned) has probably had That conversation; the conversation where you suddenly realise exatly how to put the world to rights. Few stoners have ever then proceeded to sober up and decide to do something about it, however. And on that note, welcome to Freetown Christiania.
In 1971, Danish natives in Copenhagen decided to break into a dilapidated military barracks that had been abandoned by the army a few years before and had since become a makeshift shanty town for local homeless people; because being dicks to the homeless is apparently an international activity. The locals turned part of the old barracks land into a playground, apparently as a protest against local politicians not providing enough space for kids to play.
Then Jacob Ludvigsen, a journalist and counterculture activist, arrived and declared the area to be “Freetown Christiania”, a “self-governing, self-sustaining society … where psychological destitution may be averted”. Basically, he wanted to turn it into a hippy commune and wow, did he succeed.
The place has since developed into a major source of drugs, yoga and theatre that has been a major tourist draw for Denmark. Despite the obvious benefits of tourism, a small nation full of narcotics isn’t something the average normal country wants right on its doorstep, so Denmark has been trying to put a stop to all this nonsense since the Seventies. As you might expect, that hasn’t gone to plan.
Freetown Christiania maintained its drug haven, meditation destination and everything else it had going for it and became so wildly successful at it all that the people running the micronation gained enough money to buy the land from Denmark outright; thus becoming one of the very few micro nations to actually manage to legally separate itself from its mother country through the time-honoured capitalist method of “look, can I just pay you to leave us alone, please?”
Jennifer Kirk is an author who spends her days driving her stereo around the country. Her latest book series, The Shibboleth Saga, is out now.