It’s the second half of our look at five fascinating ‘micronations’: creations of a single person or small group wishing to declare themselves sovereign over an extremely small piece of territory: perhaps a building, a farm, a island, or a small village. After all, who wouldn’t want to rule their own country? Most micronation projects are frivolous, to be certain, but some have captured a fair bit of international attention. The most famous micronation, Sealand, located off the English North Sea coast, has actually created genuine international incidents. This week, we look at five other micronations that may pique your interest. (For Part I, click here).
Maharishi Vedic City
As shown on the Iowa League of Cities website, Maharishi Vedic City is a rural suburb of Fairfield in Jefferson County. Incorporated in 2001, it’s the newest municipality in the state. The listing, however, will not tell you of the city’s intended purpose: to serve as the capital of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s Global Country of World Peace (GCWP), a ‘a country without borders for peace-loving people everywhere’. Despite the borderless structure of the ‘country’, the GWCP began looking for a location to create a sovereign nation based upon the principles of Vedic law, the Maharishi’s transcendental meditation (TM) movement, and natural law almost immediately. Large monetary offers were made to both governments and landholders in Suriname, Tuvalu, Costa Rica, and the Northern Mariana Islands to purchase tracts of land in the hopes of creating a legitimate sovereign state; all offers were ultimately rebuked. In the meantime, the TM movement had already purchased farms on the outskirts of Fairfield in 1991, which had been home to Maharishi International University (now Maharishi University of Management) since 1973. After a decade of building houses and installing infrastructure, Vedic City was incorporated as Iowa’s 950th city in 2001. Adding the Maharishi prefix a few months later, the city was declared the capital of the GCWP in 2002.
Above, an overview of Maharishi Vedic City, which occupies 1 214 ha (3 000 acres). Zoom into the map to look at the rather rigid structure of housing – all houses are built to precise Maharishi Vedic proportions, and all building entrances face due east. Most of the city is occupied by organic farms alongside land parcels being reverted to their native state. At the east side of the city lies The Raj (a spa/hotel/retreat centre). The circular feature is the Vedic Observatory, consisting of ten concrete-and-marble astronomical instruments arranged in a circle that ‘align individual awareness with the intelligence expressed throughout the cosmos’ upon viewing. More houses are to be built in circular subdivisions framed around a new golf course.
A close-up view of some of the houses.
Flag of the Global Country of World Peace.
While the 2010 US Census originally placed the population of Maharishi Vedic City at 259, a later adjustment to reflect houses originally incorrectly listed as being outside the city limits placed the population at 1 294. These houses belong to approximately 1 050 Indian pandits brought to Iowa to create ‘Invincibility for America’. In the meantime, the GCWC continues to build numerous facilities and make other real estate purchases around the world, though Maharishi Vedic City is the only one to achieve a recognised form of self-government. It even has its own local currency, the RAAM (technically a form of bearer bond), equal to US$10 or €10 depending upon one’s location.
Sovereign State of Forvik
Maps identify the small, 1 ha (2.5 acre) islet off the southeast coast of Shetland’s Papa Stour as Forewick Holm, but according to a man named Stuart Hill, it’s the Sovereign State of Forvik, a pilot project he hopes will eventually lead to Shetland’s independence from the United Kingdom.
Hill was already infamous in Britain before he began the Forvik project in 2008. Back in 2001, he became known as ‘Captain Calamity’ in the British press after having had to have been rescued seven separate times by the coast guard during a failed attempt at circumnavigating the British Isles in a dinghy (2008, oddly enough, saw him pulled out of the water again after trying to sail to Forewick Holm in a boat he made himself from plywood). After his journey ended in Shetland, Hill relocated there in 2001, where he became involved in the local independence movement. Eventually, Hill received stewardship of Forewick Holm from a landowner friend who was also involved in the movement. Predicating his argument on the stance that the entirety of Shetland exists in an ambiguous legal state because its 1469 transfer from Norway to Scotland was effectively Christian I pawning the islands as security against the payment of his daughter’s dowry in advance of her marriage to Scotland’s James III (the money was never paid, and so Shetland remained attached to Scotland, and thus the United Kingdom after the 1707 Act of Union with England – Hill views this as a personal arrangement as opposed to a legal parliamentary manoeuvre), Hill declared Forewick Holm a crown dependency outside of the UK proper as a challenge to the UK to prove legal sovereignty over Shetland.
Hill renamed the island ‘Forvik’ in an effort to link the island to its Norse heritage, introduced a currency called the gulde (an ATM card), and opened Forvik’s surrounding waters to oil exploration (‘Only those with a proven track record need apply’). He immediately stopped paying personal and business taxes in hopes that his refusal to do would bring attention to the cause. Hill even drove a van (his ‘consular vehicle’) with the licence plate FREE ZE1 (ZE1 being the postcode district for the area surrounding the towns of Lerwick and Scolloway on Shetland’s Mainland) and later a Land Rover with the plate FORVIK1 (it was impounded and eventually destroyed). Having refused to register or insure the van, he was arrested in 2011 and eventually spent 12 days in jail. Other acts of civil disobedience include building a house without council planning department permission and creating his own driver’s licence rather than applying for a conventional one. Hill sells honorary citizenships for £20 per year along and people can buy one of 8 000 rather tiny plots of Forvik land; however, whether he has actual legal control over the island is still in question.
Independent State of Rainbow Creek
We end our tour of micronations with a shortlived micronation in southeastern Victoria that began with the construction of a bridge over a river at the foot of the Victorian Alps near the town of Cowwarr. A bridge built across the Thomson River in 1938 did not provide enough clearance for debris during extreme floods. This was demonstrated in 1952 when that year’s annual flood washed massive amounts of debris from the mountains into the farmlands below. The debris became trapped by the bridge, creating a dam that directed much of the Thomson’s flow around the south end of the bridge and away from the established riverbed, creating a second channel for the water that eventually cut through numerous farms over a course of 15 km (9 mi) before finding its way back to the original channel. The construction of a weir in the area of the split combined with subsequent years’ floods only entrenched the new channel, thus permanently cutting the farms in two and causing large losses of land for owners.
At the left of the embedded map, the splitting of the Thomson River is seen. Cowwarr Weir, constructed in 1954, only further enlarged water flow into the new channel. The original river course stays to the north while the Rainbow Creek channel takes the southern route past Cowwarr townsite. Panning past the eastern edge of the map, the two waterways cross the C105 highway (Traralgon-Maffra Road).
The farmers persevered, however, and began using the new channel, called Rainbow Creek, for irrigation purposes. Much to their consternation, the Victorian government began charging farmers a water tax for using Thomson River water (keep in mind that the farmers were still paying land taxes on the land that was flooded since their title deeds didn’t show the new creek running through their properties, and were also paying a levy to the local improvement trust (ironically for erosion prevention). They also had to build their own bridges to connect the the two sides of their properties. No resolution was forthcoming, and the dispute heated up further in 1978 when another bad flood washed away the farmers’ private bridges. Again, the government refused to offer any compensation. One farmer, Thomas Barnes, decided to bring national attention to the farmers’ plight by issuing a declaration of war on the state government signed by the farmers. Travelling to Melbourne and armed with a crew of television cameras, Barnes served the state governor with declaration papers in January 1979. In July, Barnes declared that his property was seceeding from Victoria as the Indepedent State of Rainbow Creek. Keeping up the publicity campaign, Barnes began issuing his own stamps, currency, and passports. Eventually, Barnes’ health gave way and he relocated to warmer climes in Queensland, allowing the Indepedent State of Rainbow Creek to fade into history. No resolution was ever settled upon between the state government and the farmers of Rainbow Creek.
BBC News (2001). ‘Captain Calamity’ returns to sea. 21 July 2001. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1450230.stm. Accessed 8 October 2013.
Cruickshank, G. (2002). Rainbow Creek (Independent State of). Available at http://web.archive.org/web/20110710102143/http://www.imperial-collection.net/rainbowcreek01.html. Accessed 9 October 2013.
Dow, B. (2008). ‘Captain Calamity’ rescued for 8th time after setting sail in ‘floating wardrobe’. Daily Record, 16 September 2008. Available at http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/captain-calamity-rescued-for-8th-time-990567. Accessed 8 October 2013.
Lee, G. (2006). Om on the Grange. Washington Post, 12 November 2006. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/10/AR2006111000463_pf.html. Accessed 8 October 2013.
Lee, J.B. (2001). In Many Ways, a New Iowa Town Looks to East. New York Times, 17 April 2001. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/17/us/in-many-ways-a-new-iowa-town-looks-to-east.html. Accessed 8 October 2013.
Lonely Planet (2006). Mad Aussies. In Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations, 144. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications.
Maharishi Vedic City (2013). Maharishi Vedic City. Available at http://www.maharishivediccity-iowa.gov/. Accessed 8 October 2013.
McLaughlin, N. (2011). End of the road for free Forvik? The Scotsman, 16 July 2011. Available at http://www.scotsman.com/news/end-of-the-road-for-free-forvik-1-1741271. Accessed 9 October 2013.
Riddell, N. (2009). War of words over Forvik after island owner reveals it was gift. Shetland News, 6 March 2009. Available at http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2009/03/06/war-of-words-over-forvik-after-island-owner-reveals-it-was-gift. Accessed 9 October 2013.
Shetland News (2011). Forvik campaigner in the cells. 5 July 2011. Available at http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/3922-forvik-campaigner-in-the-cells. Accessed 9 October 2013.
Sovereign State of Forvik (2013). The Sovereign State of Forvik. Available at http://www.forvik.com/. Accessed 9 October 2013.