While Artistic Director Bilal Dardai is diligently powering through rehearsals with the cast of his latest prime-time show, Sovereign Statement (opening October 17th), we are tasked with the responsibility to help you understand what a micronation is. The show focuses on the concept of micronations and, in a task-based fashion characteristic of Neo-Futurist aesthetic, attempts to establish one in which audiences become its citizens. Knowing basically nothing about micronations, I chatted with Sovereign Statement dramaturg and Neo-Futurist Artistic Associate, Evan Hanover, who knows basically everything about everything, with micronations being just one of those things
MEGAN MERCIER: Hi Evan. So…what is a micronation?
EVAN HANOVER: Simplest definition is that micronations are states founded by individuals or small groups of individuals that declare independence and sovereignty from all existing nations. Their intent is to function just as any nation would: all of them have leaders with titles, some have votes, many create passports, stamps, coins, flags, etc. Many have petitioned other countries or the UN to recognize their sovereignty, or they set up embassies. Many also claim physical territories, be it on Earth or elsewhere, though in the last decade or so, a number have only existed online.
Now, this kinda sounds like a giant multi-player RPG, but people take it quite seriously and they create micronations for all different reasons. Sometimes it’s a libertarian ideal (e.g., Hutt River is Australia which sought to circumvent agricultural quotas). Or it’s a historical claim (there are several micronations that claim that their sovereignty is affirmed by obscure ancient treaties). Others are satirical or highly personal. Bilal, for instance, is undertaking this for very personal reasons, specifically his sense that he is between two nation-states rather really of and from one.
MM: What is the most common governmental structure among micronations?
EH: Most of them are some sort of autocracy – monarchies, empires, and then regular old autocracies with North Korea-style grandiose titles. This is not to say that people always want to rule with an iron fist, but more that many micronations are born of the singular vision of their founders.
MM: Have any micronations phased out? if some have phased out, was it due to conflict? A lack of interest in maintaining the micronation?
EH: To paraphrase Neil Young, it’s better to burn out than to fade away…unless you’re a micronation. Usually it’s a matter of attrition: the founders die or members lose interest. Since many have an internet presence it can be a little difficult to tell how active a micronational society is or isn’t. Some are clearly active because they have become tourist attractions, such as the Republic of Molossia (MM note – YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS VIDEO) or are possible means to operate shady internet dealings (e.g., The Principality of Sealand).
EH: One of the more interesting cases is that of Talossa. This one has a prominent mention in the play, as it was formed by a then teenager whose mother died, but has endured for almost 25 years and actually had regular meetings of citizens. However, about 5 or so years ago, one citizen tried to expel another, leading to a schism during which The Republic of Talossa broke away and formed from the disaffected members of the Kingdom of Talossa.
MM: Of the ones you have come across, what micronation impresses you or intrigues you the most? Why?
EH: Hutt River fascinates me because it probably has the most enduring effect. As I mentioned, it was formed in the early 70s as a protest against Australia’s quotas regarding wheat production. It was a very libertarian move, and not unlike taxation protests that we see in the States now and then. What’s interesting is that, not only has it endured until today (though the matriarch of the micronation died this past summer), but it has been embraced pretty broadly. The government has given up trying to fight it and politicians actually co-opt Hutt River in their rhetoric in order to appeal to the anti-establishment nature of Australia: Nation of Outlaws. What’s more, Leonard Casley, the founder started a trend. Australia has about half the world’s micronations, many of which are similarly a form of social, political and economic protest.
My other favorite story is from the Kingdom of North Dumpling Island, which is a private island off of Long Island. When NY State tried to prevent the owner, Dean Kamen, from installing wind power on the island, he basically declared the island a nation, while also threatening to secede to Connecticut. New York relented. But the great part is that KNDI is one of the few, if not the only, micronation to have signed an international treaty with a non-micronation. George HW Bush signed a non-aggression pact with North Dumpling’s King Kamen. Granted the two were friends. Oh, did I mention that Kamen invented the Segway?
MM: How can a micronation exist online? does a nation not have to be a physical thing?
EH: Nope. A nation is about the people who share beliefs, heritage, culture, whatever. We tend to use nation, state, and country interchangeably in casual conversation, but technically the nation is about the people, culture, etc., the state is about the institutional apparatus of governance, and the country is, often, the physical thing.
MM: Quick! think of another non-physical thing, like the internet, that we could claim as a micronation?
EH: An aesthetic. Neue Slowenische Kunst is essentially a micronation art collective. They are Slovenian artists who began working together in the 80s, but the micronation formed as Yugoslavia crumbled in the early 90s. I believe it was a response to the fact that Yugoslavia was basically thrown together by outside forces and actually represented none of its citizens, let alone the Slovenes. It’s more complicated than that, surely, since there is all this scary nationalist imagery involved, but which also seems kind of dada.
The art crosses every medium imaginable and is always political. In some instances, the trappings of nationhood were materialized specifically through the performance of the art itself. For instance, one performance was presented as/within an “embassy.” The nation was not just represented, but actually brought to life through such performances. Or that seemed to be the point anyway. Their art is always done collectively, and the collective of artists in NSK is said to be the state itself, so the art they produce is literally the will of the nation. Get on that Neos!
And now, some souvenirs that prove the existence of these micronations: