Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Your own country -- only 1.14 billion big ones

Those of you who know me well are aware that I follow happenings in Sealand, the world's smallest nation, very closely (there is a link to the official Sealand web site on the left nav bar of this blog).

A brief history: In the 1960s, Sealand, then an abandoned Royal Navy platform originally built to guard the Thames estuary during World War II, was occupied by a group led by Paddy Roy Bates, a former British army major. Bates and his men physically forced the previous squatters off the platform (to the point of throwing petrol bombs at their boats when they tried to take it back) and proceeded to set up a pirate radio station there. The station never really got off the ground, but once comfortably ensconced, Roy and his merry band decided to stay.

By 1967, the British government had had enough. The following year, it dispatched the navy to drive Bates and his followers off the platform for good. But just as the Her Majesty's finest closed in for the kill, Bates fired several warning shots into the air from one of the platform's remaining cannons. The navy, deciding there was no value in provoking a firefight over the matter, backed off. Bates consequently declared the platform the Principality of Sealand. A flag, a national anthem, currency, and passports quickly followed.

But the weirdness goes further; not ready to give up, the British government summoned Bates, a British citizen, to court following the incident with the Royal Navy. Bates met his accusers with the defence that Sealand was outside British territorial waters, and therefore beyond the court's jurisdiction. Astonishingly, the court agreed. Bates and his followers interpreted the ruling as de facto recognition of Sealand's sovereignty. Freed, Bates returned to his "country" a hero.

Today, all is not well in Sealand. Last summer, fire devastated the nation. None of its citizens were hurt, but the damage was extensive, and the fire severely crippled Sealand's business community (which consists mainly of a company called HavenCo, an online gambling operation). Ever since, Sealanders have been selling everything they can to pay for repairs, from titles of nobility to singed bolts from the "Great Fire."

But to no avail, it seems. Sealand was put on the market the other day for the asking price of $C1.14 billion. Of the upsides, Roy's younger son said, "The neighbours are very quiet. There is a good sea view."

Read the full story here.

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