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How NOT To Start Your Own Country

Updated on January 11, 2012

Republic of Minerva Seastead Dropped Back In The Ocean

photo by 1stpix_diecast_dioramas of flickr
photo by 1stpix_diecast_dioramas of flickr

The Failed Republic of Minerva

With the seasteading movement gaining momentum due to Peter Thiel's (of Paypal fame) kickoff of the initial fundraising for the Blueseed project, it might be enlightening to review a few of the past attempts at micronation building. Unfortunately, this requires looking at almost entirely a list of failures and so by doing this it is not so much to find out how to start your own country but rather to learn from the mistakes and discern how NOT to start your own country. Each separate attempt at libertarianism sovereignty is a case study in what might work and what does not work so that we can build a checklist for you the would-be activist ready to make your own country. As the wildly paraphrased and often misquoted philosopher George Santayana stated in The Life of Reason: "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Future seasteading endeavors and the Seasteading Institute must maintain awareness so that the faults which caused the collapse of early micro nations are not relived like a rerun of some past movie but rather overcome as we push the envelope of what is possible through imagination and innovation and direct a new movie with a more desired ending.

One of the earliest modern attempt at micronation construction was named the Republic of Minerva. It was an artificial island engineered by Las Vegas real estate millionaire Michael Oliver in 1972. The name was taken from its location on the Minerva Reefs which are two atolls (or coral islands that encircle a lagoon) located out in the Pacific Ocean below Fiji and Tonga. Interestingly, the Minerva Reefs got their name from a whalehip Minerva which had wrecked on the south Minerva Reef upon departure from Sydney, Australia, in 1829. The captain of the Minerva apparently had slightly outdated maps of the South Pacific region and this led to the wreck which left the 23-man crew + a dog stranded in a lagoon for a night while turbulent seas broke around them. 15 and the dog of the stranded ship's crew would survive and make it to Vatoa in the Lau Islands of Fiji. 8 others would never be heard from again. It seems that Minerva, the cactchall Roman virgin goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, and magic, accumulated as many shipwrecks as she did talents. Some of the sunken ships left survivors while others have added to the mystery and folklore of the South Pacific.

The Tuaikaepau ("Slow but sure") was another one of the infamous shipwrecks. Built by Bailey Yards in Auckland, New Zealand, it was later sold to the Free Church of Tonga and it was thus as a Tongan vessel that its captain made the mistake of attempting to sail to New Zealand in 1962 without the proper sea charts subsequently falling claim to the call of the Minerva sirens. In the same manner as the early whaleship, Tuaikaepau also landed upon the south portion of the Minerva Reefs where the crew was forced to hold on to the ship's hull for their life until daybreak. That is when they spotted a saving blessing. A Japanese fishing boat had wrecked upon the same spot two years previous and it was in that hull that they survived by making fires, fresh water from a still, and crafting other tools for some months hoping for rescue. No rescue came and they were forced to build a small raft and set sail for Fiji. Two boxers, a deckhand, and a widower passenger eventually lost their lives before the remaining seafarers were able to reach safety.

The Minerva Reefs are still a hot point of contention between the two neighboring countries Fiji and Tonga and that leads to one of the lessons learned from previous seasteading attempts. The Kindgdom of Tonga (aka The Friendly Islands) would eventually interfere with the seastead leading to its collapse. Michael Oliver and his Libertarian society set to constructing their idealized utopia in 1971 when sand was brought in by the barge load in order to raise the atolls above sea level. They gave their micronation a blue flag with a yellow torch inside a yellow circle. They gave the nation the motto "Land of the rising atoll" and created Minerva dollars which are still valued by coin collectors. From the beginning the surrounding neighboring countries were quite uneasy with the new establishment. In a conference and subsequent gazette publishment Majesty King Taufaʻahau Tupou IV of Tonga proclaimed that the Minerva Reefs were the property of Tonga. The nation of Tonga sent ships to reclaim the reefs and confusion ensued. Provisional president of the Republic of Minerva Morris C. Davis was fired during the entanglement and according to a popular Libertarian publication, Reason magazine, the seastead was "more or less reclaimed by the sea." Thus the failed Republic of Minerva has become a historical asterisk on how not to start your own country. At the current day the Minerva Reefs have become a popular tourist attraction with many high-end yachts finding anchorage points there as they make passage from and to New Zealand. The water in such spots as the "Shark Bowl" is excellent in terms of clarity and provides an opportunity for divers and swimmers to experience magnificent marine life including the various species of fish and coral.

Critics claim that the primary reason for failure in this seastead experiment was that the citizens were more or less not able or afraid to fight for the land in which they inhabited. It is a matter that must be addressed in the establishing of any future floating islands if anything is to be taken from this effort in how not to start your own country. Particularly there is the security that a seastead must uphold from both nations and pirates or terrorists alike. Is the population going to be willing to fight and fight hard for a nation that is new and when some may hold doubt as to whether the project will ultimately be successful? Especially if the early population is so rich that many can just fly or sail away to other exotic locations? Without major funding any such seasteading attempt is going to be forced to ally and be dependent for many commodities and services and in a variety of ways that limits the sovereignty whether directly or indirectly. Shipsteads may have an advantage in that they could be easier to defend and the citizens could be heavily armed but unless they are willing to put their life on the line for an estabishing seastead it may just be another Republic of Minerva.


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    • againsttheodds profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks AGwriter, Yes it would certainly have been interesting to see what might have been if the Republic of Minerva had held it's ground. Are people willing to die for a reef or artificial seastead? One who has been successful at fending off adversaries is Sealand which had almost a civil war of sorts with machine guns and Molotov cocktails among other things. If the stories are to be believed there was even a plane shot down and the pilot killed along with hostage negotiations and more. I've got a hub on that institute of seasteading knowledge as well.

    • AgWriter82 profile image

      John C Gregory 

      8 years ago from Wyckoff

      Interesting piece of forgotten history. Had Minerva executed a plan for the fortification and defense of the reefs, I wonder if perhaps it would be a viable nation-state today.


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