In honour of Start Your Own Country Day, we’re celebrating seven instances of people starting sovereign nations – and some lessons in entrepreneurship we might be able to glean from them.
Founder: Leicester Hemmingway (younger brother to novelist Ernest)
Location: Off the southwest coast of Jamaica
Year formed: Mid 1960s
Why: Hemmingway wanted to start a marine research society and help protect Jamaican fishing.
How: He towed a raft a few kilometres off the Jamaican coast and declared it a new island republic under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which authorized U.S. citizens to take possession, on behalf of the U.S. government, of any unoccupied “island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government” if it contained guano deposits (it was considered a valuable commercial fertilizer at the time). And yes, this is still an Act in the United States.
“Built up from a depth of fifty feet, the 8 x 30 ft. ‘country’ was constructed with iron pipes, stones, bamboo, and stainless steel,” explains the University of Texas at Austin. “Essentially, it amounted to a bamboo raft, anchored by a railroad axle and an old Ford engine block.”
In 1965, Hemmingway was elected president by its inhabitants: Hemmingway’s wife, and their two daughters, as well as a PR specialist and his assistant. He started making postage stamps, currency – even a national flag. Alas, only a few years later New Atlantis was destroyed in a storm.
Lesson learned: Be detail-oriented. Hemmingway used an obscure 100-year-old act to try to legitimize his floating nation – and while it didn’t turn out exactly as he’d planned, the approach is somewhat admirable. When you’re growing a business, don’t let anything fall through the cracks.
(Image via Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas at Austin)
Principality of Sealand
Location: An illegal Navy fortress situated in international waters off the coast of the U.K.
Year formed: 1967
Why: Bates originally sought out the fortress to set up a pirate radio station, but decided to get more ambitious.
How: Bates claimed “Jus Gentium” (Law of Nations) on a location that was “Terra Nullius” (Nobody’s Land), bringing his wife, their son and daughter, and a number of hangers-on to the fortress.
“The smallest state in the world, it is a celebration of independence and individuality, which is why we believe that people should be able to hold any title that they aspire to,” explains Sealand’s website.
Sealand was threatened when the British government began destroying all their old navy fortresses and the micronation retaliated with some warning shots, but ultimately the courts decided that Britain had no jurisdiction. “This was Sealand’s first de facto recognition,” explains the website.
Bates died in 2012, but Sealand is still going – in fact, it sells passports, stamps, and even royal titles (Ed Sheeran and George Stroumboulopoulos hold Sealand ranks, to name a couple).
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to pivot. When Bates first stepped onto the Navy fortress what would become Sealand, his original plan was to start a radio station – but when he saw a different opportunity present itself, he went with it.
(Image via Principality of Sealand)
The Principality of Hutt River
Founder: Leonard Casley (later, His Majesty Prince Leonard I of Hutt)
Location: Western Australia
Year formed: 1970
Why: A dispute with the government over wheat production quotas and land acquisition.
How: Casley succeeded from Australia, claiming that international law allowed Hutt River to become a sovereign nation. Over the years, a number of legal issues, prosecutions, and convictions have ensued, particularly related to taxes (Casley owes over $2.5 million in taxes), and the principality once declared war on Australia for a few days in 1977. It now has a government office, post office, tea room, swimming pool, chapel, and a shrine to Casley’s late wife.
“If anyone asks has our succession succeeded? Then we simply say, ‘We are still here,’” says Casley on the official website. Others might argue that Hutt River is a success for another reason: it’s one of the rare micronations that show up in Google Maps.
Lesson learned: Document everything. Hutt River’s website is a sight to behold, with virtually every document related to the succession and subsequent running of the nation. Keeping copious notes and organizing everything meticulously is crucial to starting a business (or, it seems, a country).
The Republic of Kugelmugel
Founder: Edwin Lipburger
Location: Vienna, Austria
Year formed: 1976 (or 1984, depending on who you ask)
Why: Disputes over building permits for a ball-shaped house Lipburger erected in 1971.
How: Lipburger simply declared independence and renamed his house the Republic of Kugelmugel.
He refused to pay taxes, and started printing stamps and currency – and was arrested as a result (he was only in jail for a few weeks before being pardoned by the president of Austria).
He later moved his ball-shaped house 50 kilometres north to Prater Park, enclosed it in barbed wire, and posted a list of enemies outside. Lipburger died in 2015, and the Republic of Kugelmugel is, ironically, used by Vienna as a tourist attraction.
Lesson learned: Stand your ground. Lipburger’s whole journey started with a dispute with the government, and he continued to fight for what he believed was right for decades. Entrepreneurs can learn from that – they need to stand firm to everything from ethical dilemmas to naysayer competitors.
The Republic of Molossia
Location: Nevada, on the outskirts of Dayton.
Year formed: 1977
Why: Your guess is as good as ours.
How: Starting as a nomadic nation when Baugh was 15, Molossia went through a number of iterations, starting as the Grand Republic of Vuldstein in 1977, then becoming the Kingdom of Edelstein in 1980 and then Kingdom of Zaria in 1988. In 1995, Baugh purchased land in Nevada and set up a territory. Later that year, it renounced the kingdom in favour of a provisional communist government. It then became a province of the United Provinces of Utopia, then the People’s Democratic Republic of Molossia. Finally, in 1999, it became the Republic of Molossia, with Baugh as president.
Since then, there’s been Intermicronational Olympic Games held there, wars with neighbouring nations (and East Germany, via an island off of Cuba), and an invasion and overthrown government.
40 years later it’s going strong, with its own naval academy, space program, railroad, post office, bank, holidays, unit of measurement, and more.
Lesson learned: Play the long game. As you can see from many of these stories, no country (or small business) is really born in a day. It takes years – or even decades – to see it thrive. Stick with it.
(Image via Republic of Molossia)
Founder: George Cruickshank (later, Imperial Majesty George the second, emperor and first among equals)
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Year formed: 1981
Why: Cruickshank wanted to disseminate his world views. “The purpose of Atlantium is to give people a vision of how a globalized world could properly function in which everyone has the possibility of realizing the fullness of their personal potential,” he says.
How: At age 15, Cruickshank founded Atlantium with two of his cousins. “Atlantium’s territory at that time was a corner of my mother’s back yard,” he says. It grew over the years, adding “citizens” that Cruickshank met at university, and now the territory spans 0.76 square kilometres (half the size of Monaco), and has currency and a national anthem.
At its height, Atlantium had 3,000 citizens all over the world (you can apply online) that all support assisted suicide, marriage equality, abortion rights, and unrestricted international freedom of movement. However, it stopped accepting citizen requests in 2016 and has been inactive online since.
Lesson learned: It’s ok to start small (like, really small). Cruickshank started a sovereign nation in the corner of a backyard. When you’re starting a business, don’t be afraid to start in the corner of your condo – or at your kitchen table, for that matter.
Founder: Vit Jedlicka
Location: Between Serbia and Croatia
Year formed: 2015
Why: He wanted to put his political views into practice – and saw unclaimed land to do just that.
How: “Liberland came into existence due to a border dispute between Croatia and Serbia,” explains Liberland’s official website. “This area along the west bank of the Danube river is not claimed by Croatia, Serbia or any other country.”
Enter Jedlicka. The seven square kilometer tract of land became Liberland, and Jedlicka its president. He envisioned a nation that extols private ownership and limited government intervention, with no taxes, gun control, or military.
Applications for citizenship are available online, and in the year it was formed, Liberland already had over 150,000 applications, which Jedlicka and his team planned to sort through to select 3,000 to 5,000 citizens. Currently, however, police in Croatia and Serbia have blocked entry to the territory, so Jedlicka is touring the world, meeting with various governments and organizations.
Lesson learned: If you see untapped territory, take advantage of it. In Jedlicka’s case, that meant simply claiming unclaimed land. In the case of small business owners, that could mean looking for untapped markets, or finding opportunities for new innovations. Keep your ear to the ground, and be ready to act quickly.