'Lonely Planet' Explores Micronations

Groups of people around the globe have created their own, unofficial countries. Some have their own flags, anthems, stamps and money... and some are right here in the U.S. John Ryan, author of The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations tells Alex Chadwick about the state of micronations.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Even if you are very well traveled, you may not yet have visited any of the world's micronations. There are places all over where someone or some group has declared a sort of mock sovereignty. Real nations mostly ignore them, and so does everyone else usually. These are not revolutionaries battling for independence. They're more like gentle hobbyist or maybe nut-jobs.

Now at least they have real guidebook and from a real publisher, Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations. I spoke earlier with writer John Ryan.

Mr. JOHN RYAN (Author, Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations): Here in Australia, lots of Australians have heard about a local micronation called the Hutt River Province, which is way out in Western Australia, about 400 miles from the nearest city. The fellow that runs that pops up in the news every couple of years.

From that, I just got an interest in the whole movement. I heard about a nation in the U.S. called the Conch Republic in Florida. Bill Clinton made a visit there, and it made the late-night news back here. And that sort of piqued an interested where I hadn't realized that they were sort of out and about and everywhere. And as I started looking into the movement, I just saw that there were these strange little nations popping up all over the place.

CHADWICK: You haven't actually been to the Conch Republic, have you?

Mr. RYAN: No. No, unfortunately, I haven't. I've never been to Florida.

CHADWICK: Well, I can tell you it's basically a couple of bars in Key West. That's all it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: It's just sort of an idea. And I wonder, what are the standards for a micronation, do you think?

Mr. RYAN: Some people would say they're pretty low, Alex. To be a micronation, really you've just got to say that you are. In our book, we subscribe to the 1932 Montevideo Convention on Nations, which says that you need a permanent population and some land and the ability to enter into relations with other countries. And so that basically frees it up for anybody who wants their back garden to be a new nation to say that they are.

CHADWICK: In the book, you call an American entity, is it the Republic of Molossia? Am I pronouncing that correctly?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah.

CHADWICK: This is the most delightful micronation, you say.

Mr. RYAN: I think it is. I think when I discovered this republic, which is in Nevada - in one man's house and backyard and front garden - I think I stumbled across what for me really typifies the whole micronational movement. It's very creative, it's quite eccentric, and it brings out I think the best in good humor in people who are just keen to take control of their own affairs. And it's really a hobby for this particular fellow that has been pushed, you know, to the nth degree. He set up a little model railroad in the back garden, and he's got a space program where he regularly launches toy rocket ships and straps cameras to them in a vain attempt to get an aerial photograph of his property.

CHADWICK: This is Kevin Baugh, who calls himself the president of Molossia.

Mr. RYAN: That's right. And he gets about looking like a South American dictator from the ‘70s in big, reflective sunglasses and military regalia. But it's all done in very, very good humor.

He's pegged his currency, which is made of gaming chips with his face on the front, which is appropriate for Nevada. He's pegged his currency to the value of Pillsbury cookie dough. It's just his wife and his two sons. I think it would be quite an interesting family life.

CHADWICK: You talked to the leaders of many of these places. Either you saw them in person or you called them or maybe had e-mail exchanges. Were you able to figure out how seriously any of them take this?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah, I think to differing degrees. But one thing - even President Baugh of Molossia said to me that he didn't mind us, you know, engaging in the good humor but not to make light of it, not to treat it with too much disrespect; that he was still trying to, you know, make a point and do something and that he deserved, you know, some respect in that process. And I think we've managed to tread that fine line in the book pretty well.

CHADWICK: John Ryan is the author of Micronations, a new guidebook from Lonely Planet. It's in the bookstores now. John Ryan, thank you.

Mr. RYAN: Thanks, Alex.

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