Sunday, August 9, 2015

Uganda Fragmenting: Kooki Chieftainship Secedes from Buganda Kingdom

A small, previously relatively unknown polity in south-central Uganda, the Kooki chieftainship, quietly declared independence a couple weeks ago, the culmination of long-simmering conflict with its larger neighbor—or, depending on whom you ask, overarching entity—the Buganda Kingdom.  The Kooki prime minister, Hajji Idi Ahmed Kiwanuka, announced his small nation’s independence from Buganda in a July 27th letter to the Baganda prime minister, Charles Peter Mayiga.

Uganda’s kingdoms, of which Buganda is the largest and most powerful.
(The Rwenzururu live between Toro and the Congolese border.)
The Republic of Uganda is not a monarchy, but, in a situation similar to that in Malaysia, Nigeria, or South Africa, monarchies within the state are tolerated and semi-officially established, though without constitutionally recognized powers.  The Ganda, occupying a large area in south-central Uganda, are the ethnic group for which the country as a whole is named (Ganda are the people, Baganda the adjective, Buganda the kingdom, and Luganda the language).  They are the largest group—both in population (almost 17%) and in territory (almost 25%)—and were favored under the United Kingdom’s colonial rule, which pitted smaller kingdoms against one another in a “divide and rule” tactic.  Uganda’s second president, Milton Obote, who was from the far north, came to power with Baganda support and made the large Buganda Kingdom nearly coextensive with the Ugandan state itself.  This lopsided situation provoked a rebellion by the neighboring Ankole Kingdom, Uganda’s second-largest, and Obote eventually disestablished the kingdoms in 1967.  Yoweri Museveni, an Ankole, rose to power in 1986 and restored the kingdoms but only to semi-official status—and he refused to restore some monarchies, including, surprisingly, his own Ankole one, as part of his own agenda to disrupt and divide the normal monarchic order.  Territorial disputes and rivalries have raged for decades and threatened to destabilize what would otherwise be one of central Africa’s most stable and prosperous countries.

Rakai District, homeland of the Kooki, is in the south of the Buganda Kingdom.
The Kooki, a few tens of thousands of people (though figures are hard to come by) living in the Rakai District along the border with Tanzania, have for more than a century been considered a chieftainship and a county within the Buganda Kingdom, the result of an 1896 merger that was part of the British plan for Baganda hegemony.  Opinion is fiercely divided today as to whether the Kooki were traditionally a sovereign monarchy and whether Kooki is its own language or is instead a dialect of Luganda.  (The homeland is tiny: Kooki County is only one of six in Rakai, a district considerably smaller than Rhode Island.)  Only within the past few years have the Kooki introduced their own flag and anthem.

“Irrespective of individual and/or institutional perspective,” Kiwanuka’s letter last month read, “Kooki, by all laws governing the Republic of Uganda, is a lawful cultural institution with a hereditary leader, governance structures, with due protocol and indeed independence.”  But the letter pledges “co-existence” with other institutions.

Hajji Idi Ahmed Kiwanuka, the Kooki prime minister,
at the site of the soon-to-be-built palace of the Kooki monarch
This had been building for some time.  In April, the Kooki announced the formation of their own sports league, and in May construction began on a new palace for Kamuswaga Apollo Sansa Kabumbuli II, the Kooki “cultural leader”—a hereditary monarch sometimes called a sovereign “chief,” less commonly a “king.”  Much of the funding for the palace comes from Japan and Abu Dhabi.  A conflict over land last year led to the establishment in November 2014 of a Kooki land board in the local government, in defiance of Baganda claims on Kooki lands.  And talk of independence had been swirling since Kabumbuli II’s swearing in of his new cabinet in September 2014, usually followed by official denials that Kooki were planning a secession.  Most bizarrely, Ganda–Kooki relations had deteriorated to such a point that the Kamuswaga felt the need to deny to the press accusations that Kooki were cannibals and, less slanderously, that they ate rats.

The royal Kamuswaga of the Kooki nation denying,
in a November 2014 press conference, that his people were rat-eaters.
Uganda has also been plagued by territorial conflict between the Rwenzururu and Toro kingdoms in the southwest of the country, demands by the Ankole and Songora for restoration of their monarchies, and separatist stirrings among the non-monarchical Acholi of the north, homeland of the dreaded Lord’s Resistance Army

An official portrait of the Kooki monarch
(If Kooki people did, one way or another, secede from Uganda itself, it would risk confusion among outsiders with the identically-pronounced Kuki nation in far-eastern India, some of whom seek to secede from Manipur as a separate state within India and some of whom wish to merge with the related Mizo, Chin, Lushai, Hmar, and Naga peoples (sometimes called collectively Zo) to create a vast, independent Kukiland or Zale’n-gam republic straddling what is now India’s border with Burma (Myanmar).  As discussed earlier in this blog, some Mizos and Kukis in particular identify themselves as descendants of ancient Israel’s Tribe of Manasseh, with kindred traditions, customs, and lore—a claim which has been bolstered by the investigations of folklorists and has even been accepted by the Israeli government, which has allowed thousands of these “Mizoram Jews” to settle in the West Bank and elsewhere.)

Uganda’s Kooki are no relation to the Jewish-identified Kuki people of eastern India.
There has not yet been a firm Baganda reaction to the Kooki declaration.  There is significance to the borders and divisions among Uganda’s kingdoms not only because kingdoms have authority over local land distribution but because many foresee a day when Uganda might break up along these very borders.  In fact, perhaps the most strident separatist movement is Buganda itself.  With the capital, the vast center of the national territory, and the very essence of Ugandan national identity, the departure of the Ganda from the lopsided union would mean the collapse of Uganda itself.  Then we might see lethal chaos of the sort that has plagued adjacent countries in what is clearly the most dangerous neighborhood in the world: the Democratic Republic of the CongoSouth Sudan, and Rwanda.  Many have been waiting for the provocation that might spark just such a civil war.  The Kooki declaration is probably not that spark.  But it adds to the tension—stoking Baganda discontent with the current order, inspiring other kingdoms with their own latent grievances, and perhaps bringing a day of division a little closer.

Apollo Sansa Kabumbuli II with his consort, H.R.H. Omugo Rebecca Talituuka
[You can read more about Uganda’s kingdoms and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ukrainian “Right Sector” Fascists Light Transcarpathian Fuse

Right Sector ultranationalists in Lviv this week
Back in early 2014, during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, I predicted on this blog that Crimea would be the next part of the post-Soviet “near abroad” to explode in violence between pro-Russian and anti-Russian forces.  And indeed it was that republic within independent Ukraine that the Russian Federation invaded and annexed mere weeks later.  This blog has followed the ensuing Russian war on Ukraine closely, and almost exactly a year ago (in an article in this blog titled “Will Transcarpathia Be the Next Donetsk—or Crimea?”), I opined that Ukraine’s Transcarpathia was a likely place for President Vladimir Putin’s next infringement of Ukrainian sovereignty.  Well, this week the Transcarpathian domino has started to fall, but not quite in the direction I had predicted.

First, some history.  The oblast (province) of Transcarpathia is a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which between the world wars was attached by the League of Nations as the eastern “tail” of the new composite republic of Czecho-Slovakia.  Its inhabitants included, and continue to include, Ukrainians, Magyars (Hungarians), Russians, and a long-standing local minority called the Ruthenian, or Rusyn, people—Slavs whose communities are also found in nearby Poland and Slovakia today, where they tend to be known as Lemkos.  When Adolf Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, Ruthenia and Slovakia, separately, declared independence, but Transcarpathia was annexed by the Axis government in Hungary.  After the Second World War, Transcarpathia, also called Carpathian Ruthenia or Carpatho-Ukraine, was grafted onto the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic under Josef Stalin.  In the centrally-governed Soviet empire, boundaries between constituent S.S.R.s had little meaning, but after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine became one of the places where, as Putin was later to put it, people went to bed as Soviet citizens and woke up as a Russian minority in a foreign country.  (Imperialist karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?)  Autonomy-minded residents, including some ethnic Hungarians (12% of the oblast), Russians (3%), and Ruthenians (by then less than 1%) declared an independent Republic of Subcarpathian Rus’ in 1993, but it fizzled.

The flag of Transcarpathia
In 2008, as Putin was flexing his muscles in the neighboring Republic of Georgia—formalizing, through war, two of its constituent regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as Russian puppet states—trouble was brewing in Ukraine as well.  Again, Transcarpathians rose up, this time declaring an independent Republic of Carpathian Ruthenia.  This the government in Kyiv would not indulge, claiming that it was all being staged by Moscow—which, given the events in Georgia, remains a reasonable interpretation.

In 2012, the new ethnically Russian–Polish–Belarussian pro-Kremlin president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, helped enshrine Russian, Ruthenian, Hungarian, and other minority languages as official.  But after Yanukovych fled and was impeached in the popular “Euro-Maidan” uprising in 2014, the largely progressive, democratically-minded new government included strong elements of the Ukrainian-nationalist far right, including the fringe neo-fascist group Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor), who, because of their importance in the Euro-Maidan movement, were given a small political role, including some ministries.  (I discussed Right Sector and kindred groups in an article last year; see also this article.)  These right-wing elements pushed through an erasure of minority language rights—a policy which was quickly reversed, under international pressure, but remains for many non-Ukrainian-speakers a symbol of the new regime’s disdain for them and a pretext for ethnic-Russian separatism in places like Crimea and the Donbas.  The cause of Transcarpathian autonomy has an ally (as discussed earlier in this blog) in Jobbik, the pro-Kremlin right-wing extremist nationalist group which is now Hungary’s third-largest political party.  As in Kharkiv (see article from this blog) and Odessa (see article from this blog) oblasts, a pro-Kremlin “people’s republic” has been declared in Transcarpathia, but without any actual rebel control of territory as there is in the self-declared pro-Kremlin Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in southeastern Ukraine.

Right Sector yobbos with “Wolfsangel” armbands
Observers have long wondered now which “near abroad” territories Putin would, either directly or, as he prefers, through “false flag” battalions and agents provocateurs, try to invade next: Odessa? Transnistria? Transcaspia? Transcarpathia?  But in Transcarpathia the spark that lit the fuse this week has come from the aforementioned ultranationalist Ukrainian group Right Sector, which has thousands of active, armed members throughout Ukraine and as many as 10,000 fighting Russian troops in the Donbas.  On July 11th, according to Ukrainian prosecutors, two dozen armed militants wearing Right Sector insignia exchanged gunfire with police at a café in the Transcarpathian city of Mukachevo, destroying police and civilian cars with grenade launchers and killing two officers.  Five Right Sector fighters were wounded, but most fled to a nearby rural area where police engaged them in a siege—still ongoing three days later as this is being written, with ten Right Sector militants holding out against state police (though reliable up-to-date reports are difficult to find).

Will Transcarpathia join the archipelago of Russian puppet regimes?
Russian news reports the same day described Right Sector attacks on a gymnasium and a police station, also in Mukachevo.  Two were killed at the gym, owned by a local legislator, Mikhail Lanyo, allied with the Yanukovych regime.

Ukrainian fascists with red-and-black flags were a minority but a high-profile presence
during the Euro-Maidan movement of 2013-14.
Some descriptions of events say the incident in the café was a meeting between rival gangs—one run by Lanyo, who controls border crossings with the European Union (E.U.) states of Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia, and rivals in league with Right Sector and a local politician named Viktor Baloha, who is reported to run Transcarpathia as his own mafia-style fief.  The summit meeting, planned to divide territories in gangland-politics fashion, got out of hand, drawing in the police.

Viktor Baloha
As this article goes to press, two Right Sector participants in the events have been taken to Kyiv for questioning, a six-year-old boy taken hostage by Right Sector has been released, and Right Sector volunteer troops, who seem extremely well organized, have established roadblocks on the main Kyiv–Zhytomyr road.  Right Sector spokespeople also say they are working with the Ukrainian secret police, the S.B.U. (Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny, or Security Service of Ukraine), to restore order—which, if true, anyone should find a bit worrying.

A Right Sector roadblock in Transcarpathia this week
The same state-owned and state-controlled Russian media outlets that the Kremlin uses as a tightly scripted propaganda machine disseminating lies about the conflict in the southeast are describing what sounds like a near-takeover of Ukraine by Right Sector forces.  Ukraine’s president, the former chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko, on the other hand, says the events are only about smuggling and not about geopolitics.  Meanwhile, however, hundreds of Right Sector protestors in Kyiv are demanding the resignation of the minister of the interior, Arsen Avakov.  In Ukraine’s second city, Lviv (the Ruthenian capital in the days of the Habsburgs), according to Russian media, Right Sector demonstrators lowered E.U. flags at the main administrative building and replaced them with their own ultranationalist red-and-black flags.  And Right Sector demonstrations are being reported in cities as far apart as Kharkiv in the east and Ternopil in the west.

Right Sector on parade
In a reshuffle reminiscent of the decision earlier this year to install the former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as governor of the ethnopolitically tense Odessa oblast, Poroshenko’s administration today named Hennady Moskal, the chairman of Luhansk oblast’s State Military and Civil Administration, to be Transcarpathia’s new governor.  In both cases, Poroshenko seems interested in shoring up Ukraine’s geopolitically vulnerable regions by putting them in the charge of politicians that have direct experience with surrendering to Russia.  Moskal supports Poroshenko’s position on the conflict, saying that Transcarpathia is a “green channel” through which billions of dollars’ worth of commodities, including timber but mostly Belarussian cigarettes, are smuggled into the E.U. via light planes, drones, and tunnel systems, as well as co-opted border controls.

The Euro-Maidan movement was—sometimes unfortunately so—a big tent.
One possible cause of the rise of Right Sector at this particular juncture is popular Ukrainian dissatisfaction with Poroshenko’s handling of the ongoing undeclared war with Russia.  The government has all but written off Crimea as lost and seems willing to accept Putin’s demand that Ukraine turn the 24 out of 27 oblasts it still controls from a unitary state (as the constitution designates it) into a loose confederation—which is rightly seen as a euphemism for allowing ethnic-Russian-dominated areas to be hived off as Russian puppet states.  Even the E.U. is urging Poroshenko to throw in the towel and allow “federalism.”  (Interestingly, Putin has no appetite for autonomy or federalism within the Russian Federation itself, which he rules from the center with an iron fist.)

Putin preparing to ride westward across the Steppes
As in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk—and as in Odessa, where a deadly arson fire last year that killed pro-Russian demonstrators stoked anti-Kyiv feeling—one must be especially on guard when local events seem to provide a perfect pretext for Russian intervention.  As one Ukrainian political analyst, Petro Kralyuk, puts it, Russia’s Federal Security Service (F.S.B., successor to the K.G.B.) “has successfully picked up the baton.  For Russia, Transcarpathia and its surroundings remain an important region.  Taking into account the blurred identity and ethnic diversity of the local population, the field of activities for these agents is quite fertile.”  Kralyuk calls this week’s apparent rise of Right Sector violence “a wonderful gift” for Moscow.  If events follow the earlier scripts, Putin will now say that neo-Nazis (Right Sector) are taking over Ukraine and that it is time to help the poor ethnic Russians, Hungarians, and Ruthenians in Transcarpathia “liberate” themselves from Kyiv’s tyrrany, just like Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.  With Russian help, of course.  Out of the goodness of Putin’s heart.  You read it here first.

[You can read more about Transcarpathia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea, Transnistria, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Micronations Sign “Alcatraz Accords” Environmental Treaty at Central Italy Summit

(photo by the author)
Though “Springtime of Nations” is in many ways a news blog, rarely do I present first-person reportage on these pages.  Earlier this month, however, I was an invited speaker at the 3rd PoliNation conference, at the Free Republic of Alcatraz, in the Umbrian mountains of Italy, and was able to witness the signing of a first-of-its-kind environmental treaty by heads of state and other representatives of some of the world’s most high-profile micronations.

Daily life in the Free Republic of Alcatraz, with some of its 111 inhabitants
(photo by the author)
Titled the Alcatraz Environmental Treaty of 2015, the document, signed on July 5th, charges that “the large states of the world have been ineffective and their efforts have been lacking in intention and execution concerning efforts to improve the environment, preserve existing natural resources, and reduce carbon emissions to slow the change of the climate.”  Signatories agree to set a global example through responsible ecological stewardship in their own (usually tiny) territories, especially bee populations; to urge the preservation of Antarctica as a nature preserve set aside for scientific research only, even after the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty in 2020; to create “highly localized sub-currencies that will promote the local production and consumption of goods and produce”; to support efforts “to clean the human-generated debris from the oceans and reduce the ‘garbage patches’”; and to financial restructuring to reduce poverty and inequality.

Queen Carolyn and other dignitaries work on a draft of the final environmental treaty
(photo by the author)
In addition, the treaty demands, “for every square foot of land or glacier lost to melting ice sheets and rising ocean levels, compensation from the large landed nations of one square meter of dry/non-threatened land so that we may relocate the climate refugees that will be created as a result of the rising waters.”  (See my recent article which addresses the issue of the survival of low-elevation nations in a warmer planet with higher sea levels.)  You can read the full text of the treaty here.

For the Principality of Aigues-Mortes, one of the world’s lowest-elevation nations,
rising sea levels are no small matter.
Signatories of the treaty are Queen Carolyn of Ladonia; Grand Duke Niels of Flandrensis; President Iacopo Fo of Alcatraz; the Republic of Benny André Lund; Prince Jean-Pierre IV of Aigues-Mortes; Emperor Olivier of Angyalistan; Sogoln Yg Ysca, president of the Institut Fomoire; and a delegation from the otherwise acephalous (leaderless) Bunte Republik Neustadt.  Other nations have since expressed an interest in adding their names to the treaty.

At Alcatraz
(photo by the author)
The Royal Republic of Ladonia is a 1-square-kilometer art installation of sorts on the coast of Sweden, founded by Lars Vilks, a Latvian–Swedish avant-garde artist now living an underground, Salman Rushdie–style existence due to being targeted by jihadists for his cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.  (The apparent oxymoron in Ladonia’s full name is reconciled through their unique form of government, remony (republic + monarchy).

Ladonia is an unusual place
The Grand Duchy of Flandrensis, founded by Niels Vermeersch of Belgium, claims five islands off the coast of Antarctica, arguing that the Antarctic Treaty bars territorial claims by states but not individuals such as soi-disant heads of state.

The Republicof (sic; one word) Benny André Lund is a native of Norway, born in 1977, who has styled himself as a sovereign nation of one.  He has changed his name legally to this phrase, including the first name Republicof.

The Republic of Benny André Lund and his flag
(photo by the author)
The Principality of Aigues-Mortes is a small town on the coast of France’s Provence region, centered on a Medieval castle, which promotes tourism as well as causes such as sustainability, including through the use of its local currency, the tune, serving a function much like that outlined in the Alcatraz treaty.  One invited speaker, the Belgian journalist Julien Oeuillet, called Aigues-Mortes the world’s most successful micronation.

Vive la microfrancophonie!
(photo by the author)
The Empire of Angyalistan, founded in 1999 and active in environmental causes, is a nation whose territory is the horizon: it is always around us and can never be reached.

Emperor Olivier explains Angyalistan
(photo by the author)
The Formori Institute (Institut Fomoire), mostly found in the French-speaking world, is a landless international nation (structured much like a fraternal order) which claims for itself the heritage of the Formori (a.k.a. Fomorians or Fomoire), a legendary race of chthonic demi-gods who were defeated, according to Irish mythology, by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the pantheon of pre-Christian Celtic deities.  (The present writer had the honor of being inducted into the Formori’s House of the Yew.  Contact me privately if you are curious about my name in the (re)constructed Formoric tongue; I am still a novice in Formori protocols and confidentiality.)

A Formori induction ceremony, at the PoliNation conference
(photo by the author)
The Colorful Republic of Newtown (Bunte Republik Neustadt), in the former East Germany, is a leaderless micronation, much in the style of Copenhagen’s Christiania community, which is the focus of an annual music and cultural festival drawing more than 100,000 people to Dresden’s Neustadt neighborhood, which is where all the funky artist types were living when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  It sets itself against the forces of conformity, homogenization, gentrification, and the fragmentation of community in the new Germany.  (I was also made a citizen of the B.R.N., I am proud to say.)

The foreign minister of the Bunte Republik Neustadt with, to his left, the B.R.N. flag,
featuring a gleefully-pirated trademarked image in place of the old D.D.R.’s Masonic device
(photo by the author)
As for the host community of the conference, the Free Republic of Alcatraz (Libera Repubblica di Alcatraz) is an area of private land near Perugia in the stunningly beautiful hills of Italy’s central, landlocked region of Umbria.  It was founded by Jacopo Fo, son of Dario Fo, the Italian winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, and a writer and sex guru in his own right.  The Free University of Alcatraz (Libera Università di Alcatraz) has a full calendar of dance workshops, art exhibitions, conferences, music festivals, and other events and also advocates sustainability and strong local community by example.

A map showing the territories of the Free Republic of Alcatraz, in the central Italian highlands.
(Darn!  I missed the gnome village.)
Other dignitaries at the conference include King Bruno of Noseland, a patch of land surrounded by northern Switzerland’s Canton of Argovia (Aargau), which has its own currency.  Its king is also producer of a documentary about micronations.  One of the conference’s organizers, Emperor George II of Atlantium (a territory surrounded by New South Wales, Australia), was unable to attend, due to illness—to my disappointment, since he has been a supporter of my book Let’s Split! and is helpful to my work in other ways.

Bruno, king of Noseland
(photo by the author)
Other highlights of the conference included a talk by the Austrian anthropologist Irina Ulrika Andel on the micronation phenomenon; a presentation on the Principality of Outer Baldonia by the Canadian historian Lachlan MacKinnon; presentations by nearly all of the micronations listed above (the playing of the Noselandic national anthem, “sung” through the nose, was a highlight); and an official statement by Queen Carolyn to announce that, contrary to what some sources on the World Wide Web still state, Ladonia is no longer in a state of war with Sweden or any other nation.  (In further state business, Her Majesty sealed a mutual-recognition accord with the Empire of Austenasia at a hastily arranged meeting at Heathrow airport en route back to her home in the United States.)

Jacopo Fo, circulating at the conference
(photo by the author)
As Oeuillet, the Belgian journalist (and author of a new book on impostor noblemen), put it at the conference, today’s micronations are conducting private activity using the language and symbols of public institutions, and the best of them are doing things that the recognized public institutions should be doing but aren’t.  When it comes to climate change, maybe these “silly” and “self-styled” monarchs and heads of state can nonetheless help prod the real powers that be to move in the right direction.

A group photo of the participants in the PoliNation conference, swiped from the ArciPerugia website.
I am at the lower right.
In fact, during my stay in Alcatraz, the news came in over the radio that voters in Greece had thumbed their nose at the European Union (E.U.) in general and at Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, in particular by rejecting the austerity measures proposed to help keep Greece in the euro zone.  In jubilant celebration, Alcatraz’s queen, Eleonora Albanese, passed out grappa for everyone.  Not, of course, because a “Grexit” would necessarily be the best thing or because anyone knows which course might be best for the people of Greece and the rest of southern Europe—but most of all, I gather, because, in geopolitics, Going Big isn’t working, and something has to give.

Eleonora Albanese, Queen of Alcatraz
(photo by the author)
[You can read more about Atlantium, Ladonia, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Let’s Split! was on display at the PoliNation conference, but you can buy your copy here.
(photo by the author)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bulgarian Declares Mass of Floating Pumice off New Zealand “Principality of New Atlantis”

It’s being reported this week that a 59-year-old businessman from Bulgaria has declared what he hopes will be the world’s newest independent country: the Principality of New Atlantis (Нова Атлантида).  The businessman, Vladimir Yordanov Balanov, has chosen as New Atlantis’s location a giant mass of floating volcanic pumice in the South Pacific measuring about 26,800 square kilometers—a bit smaller than Haiti or Belgium.  (See the nation’s website here.)

This rocky mass, generated by an underwater volcanic eruption, was first reported in 2012 by New Zealand’s navy, but it is not in that country’s territorial waters.  It is at approximately 168ºW and 38ºS, due east of the country’s large North Island and due south of the self-governing overseas New Zealand territory of Niue.  It even lies significantly outside New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone.

The approximate location of “New Atlantis” in relation to New Zealand’s marine boundaries.
Balanov originally tried to convince his native Republic of Bulgaria to annex it—there are even indications he travelled there to plant a flag—but he got no expressions of interest either from Sofia or from the European Union (E.U.), of which Bulgaria is a member.  (Bulgaria has never had any overseas territories.  The E.U. does not have overseas territories itself other than overseas territories of specific member states.  Some overseas territories of E.U. member states, such as French Guiana and the Canary Islands, are part of the E.U., while others, like Greenland, the Falkland IslandsCuraçao, and French Polynesia, lie outside the union while still being tethered to their mother countries.  Nor has any Eastern European country had overseas colonies, except for one: the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, a part of modern Latvia which enjoyed quasi-independence from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and briefly established colonies on Tobago in the Caribbean—now half of independent Trinidad and Tobago—and on St. Andrews Island off the coast of what is now the Republic of the Gambia.  (St. Andrews has been renamed Kunta Kinteh Island, named for a fictional ancestor of African-Americans in Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots, later played on television by LeVar Burton.))

The flag of Liberland
Other citizens of New Atlantis include, in addition to Balanov himself (who, the published constitution implies, will be New Atlantis’s founding hereditary prince), Balanov’s wife Galina, as well as Hristo Radkov, vice-president of the Bulgarian chapter of Mensa, the international organization for high-I.Q. individuals.  Balanov said that he was partly inspired by the establishment in April (reported at the time in this blog) of the tiny libertarian micronation of Liberland, on the border between Serbia and Croatia—a project headed by a Czech but largely, it seems, funded and staffed via Switzerland.

In this map of disputed and unclaimed areas along the Serbian-Croatian border, the green area (“Siga”) is “Liberland,” while “Pocket 1” is the proclaimed territory of the Kingdom of Enclava (see below).
Liberland is situated in a 3-square-mile area consituting one of several no-man’s-lands along the disputed border.  The Liberland project had already inspired one other micronation: a group of tourists from Poland later that month declaredKingdom of Enclava along the border between Croatia and Slovenia.  But the Slovenian foreign ministry quickly pointed out that “Enclava” was not terra nullius but was actually undisputed Slovenian territory, even though admittedly the two states have not finalized the demarcation of their border.  Enclava’s founder, Kamil Wrona, calling himself King Enclav I, then relocated his 134-citizen project to one of the true no-man’s-lands on the Danube River near Liberland (see map above).  But Croatian and Serbian police have consistently done everything they can to shut down Liberland’s publicity stunts and flag-raisings.

The U.K.’s Sun tabloid has covered the Enclava story, since Britain, which has a large Polish population, is home to some who are connected the project.
The Bulgarian founders of “New Atlantis” may yet prove to be making the same mistake that Liberlanders, Enclavans, and many other micronationalists have made—assuming that because a scrap of land is technically unclaimed, no state will interfere with the founding of an independent entity there.  A libertarian Lithuanian-American real estate mogul named Michael Oliver made this mistake in the early 1970s, when he barged tons of sand from Australia to the Minerva Reefs, a set of low seamounts between Fiji and Tonga which did not poke above water for enough of the tidal cycle to be classified under international law as “territory.”  But as soon as the reef was built up enough to pass legal muster, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Tonga’s king, claimed it, and sent a naval vessel to eject Oliver and his nascent Republic of Minerva.  (Today, the reefs have eroded away once again to nothingness, but rival claims are still being made by Tonga, Fiji, and one “Prince Calvin,” an American who says he is the “island’s” monarch.)  Oliver’s similar “seasteading” project in Palmyra Atoll, a United States territory near Hawai‘i, got even less far.

Spidermonkey Island, a floating island off the coast of Brazil invented by Hugh Lofting for the Doctor Dolittle novels, would not qualify as “territory” under international law because, like the New Atlantis pumice patch, it is not anchored to the ocean floor.  Here, some whales under Dolittle’s command help move Spidermonkey Island to a more convenient spot.
The “New Atlantis” mass of pumice stays above water throughout the tidal cycle, but it is not legally “land” either, since it is floating, not anchored.  Whether New Zealand, its nearest neighbor, will tolerate any state-building there remains to be seen.  Certainly, with no source of freshwater and no supply ports anywhere near by, it would be difficult to colonize.  Perhaps Balanov was also inspired by the recent Image Comics series titled Great Pacific, which envisions a do-it-yourself nation called New Texas founded atop an (actual existing, sadly) floating mass of plastic in the northern Pacific Ocean.  The comics series, however, remains silent on many of the insuperable logistical barriers to such a project.

Balanov and compatriots may also want to consider a new name for their principality.  The term New Atlantis may well derive from the use of the name Atlantis in Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel-format libertarian manifesto Atlas Shrugged, in which it, along with Galt’s Gulch, was a label for the hidden mountain refuge in Colorado where the world’s leading industrialists relocated themselves after dropping out of society so that they could live in peace and prosperity while the greedy, lazy “second-handers” bent on the redistribution of wealth suffered the utter implosion of the rest of the world’s now rudderless economy.  (Just to clarify: in Rand’s novel, these industrialists were supposed to be the good guys.)

Vladimir Balanov posing with the Bulgarian and New Atlantean flags
Also, this isn’t even the first use of the name New Atlantis.  In 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s brother Leicester Hemingway founded his Republic of New Atlantis on a bamboo raft lashed to an old Ford engine block floating off the coast of Jamaica.  And in 1624, Sir Francis Bacon published a description of a fictional utopian “New Atlantis” on an island called Bensalem off the coast of Peru.

The flag of Leicester Hemingway’s Republic of New Atlantis (1964)
But the oddest thing about the name is that New Atlantis is not in the Atlantic but in the Pacific.  Why don’t they call it New Lemuria?

The original, original New Atlantis, as envisioned by Sir Francis Bacon
Thanks to Peppino Galiardi of the Kingdom of Cavaleria for alerting me to some sources and information for this article.

[You can read more about the Republic of New Atlantis and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon