Factors of Success
Why do some projects fail quickly, and some persist for a while? What are the factors that provoke action from others, or prevent it? (It is presumed a neighboring government is the most likely challenger.)
- The size of the challenge - small groups are more likely to escape notice, and a fast, violent reaction than a large group. For another example, the Amish are a pacifist people avoiding much of modern technology, hence they are not viewed as a threat. In yet another example, the activities of a millionaire have attracted a swift response.
- The deviation factor - how different attempts the community to be; what laws does it try to escape, and how much of a contrast does it pose (intentionally or not) to the outside? If one attempted micronation were to, say, legalize hard drugs, or even start to spread them around, this could have very swift repercussions from most civilized states nearby. In general, the stronger the deviation, the more dramatic response can be expected.
- International pressures - were one to start a tax haven, for example, not only the close neighbors would react. Success could move even the biggest, most powerful countries.
- Public visibility - what is the perception in the public and/or in the mass media? Policy can be influenced by the news, for good or for ill (and sometimes contrary to the seemingly obvious - examples of dissent that attract sympathy may be squashed or quietly dispatched; what is advertised as a bad example may be left as a warning).
- Precedents/legal challenges - existing examples of similar developments may help the cause; a challenge in the court is a way of cooperation with the existing system, and may thus delay more drastic actions.
- Cost/profit analysis of suppression - what will it cost a government to stop an upstart micronation, and what can it gain/avoid losing (conflict, taxes, people, land, the EEZ, etc)? Of course, not everything can be easily recalculated, and governments are notorious in not following the most efficient paths.
What didn't work…
…the examples are spread all over.
What to do
This is the hardest advice of all, and will differ from case to case.
Check out the neighbors
The first item on the menu.
- Who are the powers and authorities in the area - which means also potential challengers?
- How are they likely to react on a new micronation, and how can (negative) reactions be prevented, or at least alleviated?
- Contacts should be made long before settling - use the Internet as an easy way to befriend locals, and learn of things that are not in books and websites. There can be other means - radio amateurs for example.
- Who is likely to challenge newcomers, and on what grounds? Are there any existing or potential claims? Often could be a compromise possible (some places are visited in regular intervals, there may be equipment that needs to be kept in shape, etc).
- Are there ways to prevent a conflict completely? Are there agreements to enter that would calm the other side, or other ways of gaining goodwill and respect (charity, aid in emergency cases, etc)?
At any rate, it is useful to have contacts on the outside, people that can be contacted or talk on your behalf. The options of dealing with a new wannabee-state shouldn't be limited to 'invade or ignore'.
If at all possible, maintain a permanent presence. Besides having people there, this includes creating permanent structures, and performing other activities to homestead the place. That will be probably not enough to be recognized, but it is hard to argue that a group is the legitimate owner, if there is no sign of their presence.
At the same time, document the presence well, so you can say at anytime "we have been living here for X years", and prove it.
Stay down or stand up
Meaning, you can either be quiet in the (initial) phases, right up to settling with many folks, delivering the basic materials, and building the first structures, farms, etc., possibly until years pass away, and there is a viable colony; or declare your intention to all potentially interested sides, and do it with all fanfare and exposure.
A group can choose anything of the spectrum between utter secrecy, and complete openness; the important thing is to choose a way, and plan and behave according to it.
On another level, the group can choose to appear silly (which includes groups of artists, that wish to embrace an alternative lifestyle). Activists intent on establishing a purely ecological existence belong to the same breed (but 'activists' are not always perceived as harmless). Simply, appear to be harmless, and therefore less worthy of a state intervention.
Also, one should expect the microstate will eventually come to public attention, or even wide publicity in the mass media. If you actually start one, be prepared for the day, and have a press release ready.
Have the right timing
To actually declare independence (if it is not done in advance), a good moment should be chosen. Some examples:
- global financial collapse
- Perhaps a raging global war? A local war might just do (although if the country itself is in a civil war, you and the people of your micronation could end up dead).
- a global energy crisis
- a global ecological crisis (real or imagined)
Not to be gloomy or anything, but when The Powers That Be are preoccupied with managing all of their other holdings, they may POSSIBLY allow others the privilege of self rule, or simply not bother proving their claim. (source)
The important thing to know about international law, and all the various agreements, is, that rules are good, when they are on your side, and a fledgling nation can expect they will used against it. If possible, employ them for your cause, but don't be too much distracted by them. In the long view, rules can and do change. And on the large, international scale, there is no real 'law of the land'. Even the most influential entities cannot force nations to act against the will of their governments, barring actual war (but of course there are uncountable ways to pressure and influence them to cooperation).
International laws have their precedents, exceptions and unclear points… one should use them to argument for own cause. Others will argue with that very legalese against the existence of a micronation. A serious project will need a lawyer versed in these things.
What happens online does not always translate into acting in the real world… but frankly, much of the formative stages happen online now, and the Internet is often the only place to recruit new members. For many reasons, it IS important to appear professionally in the virtual world.
- Prove your existence - not only that, but also that a given group is active. This shouldn't be only visible by posts in your website's forum, or timestamps on some pages. Appear officially, make declarations, have a blog or other sign of life at least. Document the culture, history, activities, and intentions of your group. If it's hard to find out whether your community is alive, then it's probably dead.
- Have a website - while we speak of it. Have a permanent address to the world outside, with a recognizable domain name if possible. Also, have some sort of identifiable personality - if little or nothing on your website says who exactly is running this show, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
- Maintain continuity - the web changes every day, and there is much to try out. But too wild changes or too large administrative interventions can break a community apart. Also, keep it up and running. Nothing dissuades more than a website that is permanently down.
- The website should not be your micronation. If it's only online, it probably won't last.
- Prove your seriousness - once you start raising funds, or even talking about raising funds, you better show that you are not a scam! Let an other, prominent, third party verify your claims, and keep an eye on the money. Register as a nonprofit somewhere, to offer legal recourse to potential complaints. Do anything necessary to document your transparency and honesty; a single rumor is able to wreck an online community.
- Learn to spell correctly most of the time, and do it. Seriously. Please.
- A few micronations actually claim to have their own Top-level domain via an alternative DNS root (example). Another little way to show seriousness of intent.
- Find allies - there is a large micronationalist community, much of it varying in seriousness. However, there are groups and organizations, that can be joined, information exchanged with, and even diplomatic ties to be built. Choose your own level of engagement in this arena.
- Cater to your group - most likely, you will be a small group. Most likely, not all of them will be equally eager to give up their existing life and enter something very uncertain. Accept both facts, and live with them. While advertising the project is important, never forget to keep your userbase happy and active.