Having micronations on the brain reminds me of when, a few years ago on a rainy spring day in Vilnius, Lithuania, I unknowingly wandered into another country. On one side of a narrow foot bridge bedazzled with love locks, a standard road sign temps visitors to cross the Vilnia River and enter the Republic of Užupis. Appropriately, Užupis means “on the other side of the river.” This micronation is also a neighborhood in Vilnius’ old town with lots of shops and galleries, which declared itself independent on April Fools’ Day, 1997. At 0.2 square miles with an army of 11, its own currency, anthem and constitution, the Republic’s main agenda is to promote the arts, which they did by erecting a monument to Frank Zappa as one of its first initiatives. This utopian project also has a president: Romas Lileikis, a local artist. After the war, the neighborhood was largely abandoned and by the time Užupis was formed it had become derelict. Today, it is a bohemian nook that is increasingly home to wealthy professionals, including Vilnius’ own mayor.
Six miles off the English coast in the choppy North Sea waters stand two cement pylons supporting a platform spanning about 6,000 square feet. This is Her Majesty’s Fort Roughs, an abandoned World War II sea fort. It is also The Principality of Sealand – one of the world’s smallest self-proclaimed nations. For over forty years, the Bates family has clung to their nation of iron and cement, isolated by water, dabbling in business ventures, narrowly avoiding invasions and creating a dynasty based on the freedom of the unclaimed sea. While many projects in micronationalism have come and gone, Sealand lives on. E Mare Libertas, “From the sea, freedom.”