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Wirtland: Fantasy or reality?

WirtlandOnline micro-nation Wirtland is developing a physical presence on the island of Naura. But how sustainable – or feasible – are micro-nations? asks Kate Doak.

13 December 2010

Imagine this:  A private island, soft sea breezes, sunshine 356 days a year, and you are the undisputed ruler of it all. Literally.

It sounds like a really appealing prospect, doesn't it?  This is the dream that the proprietors of Wirtland are currently chasing.  Wirtland, which means “virtual land”, is an online micro-nation that is developing a physical presence on the island of Nauru.

Micro-nations are often territories of land that have been declared sovereign from any established country, by the proprietors of the land in question. They are regularly created for a variety of reasons, ranging from non-tribal senses of community, through to dodging tax and legal difficulties.

Unlike established territories with secessionist tendencies  such as Taiwan, however, they are often eccentric and ephemeral in nature. More often than not, their members will attempt to assert sovereignty by producing specialised coins, flags, postage stamps, passports, medals and other items, which are rarely accepted outside of their own community.

But are micro-nations really sustainable? Over the past 50 years alone, numerous micro-nations have either been seized, destroyed or rendered illegal, once they are unable to pay their creditors or start impeding on the security concerns of established nations.

More often than not the “citizens” of these “nations” still pay taxes and other duties to their host nation, while claiming that they are only given in the form of an “international tribute”.

Most of Australia's micro-nations routinely preform such actions, in order to prevent a sanctioned take-over of their properties by the federal government. This means that a micro-nation often needs to rely of the infrastructure of legally recognised nations to survive, and that the “rulers” of these micro-nations know it.

Wirtland's creators claim that by purchasing parts of Nauru, that they would therefore become eligible for nationhood under Article 1 of Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which references a government's requirement for land with a permanent population in order to receive international recognition.

However, micro-nations around the world such as Sealand have physical control over their territories, though haven't been recognised by international organisations under this convention.

Given the already fragile nature of the Nauruan economy, the loss of access to any part of this island nation's resources would undoubtedly have a major impact on its present population. As the mine-able phosphate reserves of the world's smallest island nation and republic have dried up, so have the job opportunities upon the island. Consequently, any loss of territory would be extremely harmful to the long-term stability of this nation, not to mention its already strained infrastructure and ecology.

Also, the establishment of Wirtland would create severe economic, legal and security concerns for the entire world if such a “nation” were to come into being.

While it's all well and good to develop an independent financial system, sufficient regulation needs to be in place otherwise uncertainty will render an economy entirely useless and inert, as shown by the bailouts occurring across the US and parts of the European Union.

As well as this, Wirtland's reluctance to tax any of its citizens raises questions over how they would be able to pay for the necessary infrastructure required to support their citizens, if they were deemed an official nation by international conventions.

As shown by the “Dot-Com” bubble, no nation can maintain an IT-based economy on its own without considerable support from other industries and resources.

Considering how other Pacific Island nations such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji have become failed states by focusing their economies on a limited array of markets, it is dubious that a potential nation such as Wirtland would be able to survive both financially and legally, given today's tumultuous world.

The decision by Wirtland's founders to tax only commercial activity within their boundaries also raises questions over the level of accountability that would be present within such a nation, as various citizens would receive a “free-ride” on government resources at the expense of others.

Wirtland's existence could also set a dangerous commercial precedent, given what we've seen during the Global Financial Crisis. If an organisation such as Wirtland is able to purchase the sovereign rights of a nation, what would stop predatory multinational corporations from doing the same thing?

As seen in Australia with the James Hardie asbestos compensation cases, some businesses will go to absolute extremes in order to limit their economic and legal risks from ethically questionable business activities.

The creation of Wirtland would undoubtedly create a situation where any financially strained nation would be able to sell the sovereignty of parts of their territories to any business or wealthy individual that wants to either avoid paying tax or a partake in a costly legal case.

If an organisation such as Wirtland bought out parts of Nauru, what would stop various ethically-challenged corporations from doing the same thing, then creating a permanent population by relocating employees there?

While nations such as Wirtland may appear to be an appealing prospect to those with libertarian tendencies, given the dynamic nature of global politics its creation could easily set a precedent that could send the global economy into a dangerous economic, legal and social slide.

Given the diverse range of duties that a government must preform, Wirtland's owners must provide more information and studies than they already have, in order to give their claims credibility.

Kate Doak is a postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics. Kate tweets regularly on Twitter via @katedoak.

Image: Wirtland postage stamp, via Wirtland.



0 #1 Cris 2010-12-14 14:18
I hope this article "How to sell a square mile of wasteland for 2.6 billion dollars?" from Wirtland Institute is useful to understand Wirtland's approach:

Many small third world countries have scarce resources, almost non-existent economies, and extremely high levels of unemployment. However, even the smallest of them possess territory - and that's what matters in Wirtland’s plan. According to it, all currently unused, barren or abandoned territory, including mountains, wasteland left over after mining, or even adjacent sea, lagoons, coral reef can become a source of immediate income. How? Full text:

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