The Kingdom of Playland â€“ The Youngest Microstate
It’s high noon in central Portugal. With temperatures nearing 40, it’s become too hot to go out. So I sit here, alone in a darkened room with the air conditioning on at full blast. It’s the end of the school year and I’m tired of work. I count the days down until my holiday at the end of the month. I’m restless and keen to go somewhere different, see something new, a change of scene â€” that insatiable case of itchy feet. Surrounded by computers I begin to surf the internet for inspiration.
My search pays off. In no time at all I find myself in the capital of a very small nation. I’m on a street, facing a school. The clock at the top of the building strikes eight and a bell rings to summon its pupils to their morning lesson. From a second floor window some people wave out at me but from where I’m standing they look just like little stick men. I move away slowly in the direction of some distant snow capped mountains.
As capital cities go, Brazil Town is a small and unassuming place. Its white buildings with red roofs and the streets on which they lie are unusually silent. The city has a hospital, a swimming pool, a church, a hotel as well as the houses yet apart from a solitary car I saw outside the school earlier, there is no traffic here. It’s almost as if the place has been pricked by a spindle of a spinning wheel and fallen into a sleeping beauty.
And then I see it. An animal I believe to be some kind of big dog, an alsatian perhaps. I’m short sighted and don’t have my glasses but I can just make out its shape. It stops dead in its tracks and glares at me. I too freeze and for a moment we stand regarding each other. In this light the creature’s coat looks like a reddish white, pink even. Usually I don’t have a problem with dogs but alsatians do make me nervous because I don’t know them. I don’t know if its next move will be to attack or, I hope, decide that I’m no big threat and carry on with its business. But it does neither. Instead its very slender body makes an almighty on-the-spot spring into a nearby bush and disappears. It’s then that I realise that this was not canine but a feline – a big cat, maybe a lynx or panther? My excitement gets the better of me and I run to the bush to see but it’s gone.
“You scared him away!” says an angry little voice. It’s Carolina Silva. I’ve known her for two weeks now. A native of Brazil Town, Carolina had been doing quite a good job of drawing the animal until I came along. She arrrghs crossly, gets out an eraser and starts cleaning the paper in front of her. “I can’t do this!” she says to herself.
Standing looking over her shoulder is another young person. Blonde hair and glasses I recognise him immediately as Tobias Pereira MP. At 12 years old he’s the Minister of Culture for this little island and possibly the youngest member of any parliament. I ask him about the ‘pink’ panther I saw and we chat for a while. When Tobias says he is on his way to the castle to meet with the King, I seize my moment and ask if, perhaps, maybe, I might join him. Without even thinking about it he smiles and says ‘yes, of course’. I cannot believe my luck.
Perhaps I should explain. I have come to the Kingdom of Playland, the youngest nation of all – both by the short time since it began (it was founded July 10 th this year) and by the average age of its nationals (here at 34, I am a senior citizen). Like its counterparts the Aerican Empire, Libekistan and Tarsica to name just a few, the Kingdom of Playland is a nation with very little, if any, land. It has not yet achieved legitimacy in international law and so is known generally as a ‘micronation’.
HCH Prince Peter I Ravn of Corvinia defines the micronation as:
Right now the Kingdom of Playland is indeed treated by most people as a ‘drollery’. Others confuse it for some kind of role-play game. But it is neither a joke nor a game and the Playlanders are taking themselves very seriously. Initially with no political goal they quickly realised that they could be important messengers of children’s rights. The national heroine is storyteller and children’s rights campaigner Astrid Lindgren.
Lonely Planet, that very successful travel guide book series, recently recognised the existence of micronations and is this year publishing its first guide, which supports these curios as legitimate travel destinations. The Lonely Planet website promotes its new publication with the following blurb: bored of visiting the same UN-recognised countries? Ready to explore somewhere unique and perhaps a little wacky? Want to add some really rare stamps to your passport? Then let Lonely Planet’s guide to home made nations take you to a bunch of places you’ve never heard of.
The Kingdom of Playland is one such nation but it was founded after the book went to print.
So where exactly is Playland? The kingdom exists primarily in cyberspace but does have territories here on the dry land of planet earth ‘terra firma’ too. The largest of these, surrounded by Northern Lithuania, is still very modest but holds much hope for the nation. Playland is currently negotiating an agreement, similar to that which the British government once had with China over the new territories in Hong Kong, to expand this territory to 8 hectares.
So far, Playland has been diplomatically recognised by better-known micronations, such as the Republic of Molossia (which is one of the destinations in the Lonely Planet guide) and the Aerican Empire. Within two weeks of its existence Playland was being talked about by the BBC and its population had increased by 11.1 %. A rate which, if continued, means that the nation will have a population to equal that of Palau in 20 years, give or take a few centuries.
As we leave Brazil Town I ask Tobias what being ‘primarily in cyberspace’ means. His answer is well rehearsed.
“Imagine” he says, “that you have a piece of music or a picture. You send it by email and off it goes. Sometimes it will take a little while for it to arrive. So what happens to it in that time? Does it cease to exist? Of course not. Where is it? Our nation is in that very same place – right at the heart of it! You may not be able to see or touch the Kingdom of Playland itself, but its people are right here on terra firma and we do have the territories.”
I’m still having trouble understanding.
Tobias admits that being in cyberspace makes it so much more difficult for people to accept. Yet they will buy, bank and gamble online, if they wish they can even train their dogs!
“If, fifty years ago,” he continues, “I’d have said that businesses such as auction houses (eBay) and book sellers (Amazon) for example would operate primarily in cyberspace, I’d have been laughed off the face of the earth!”
I admit that for now, the Kingdom of Playland does seem like some piece of super science-fiction.
“OK, look at Santa Claus,” says Tobias, “he has land!”
I ask him to please explain.
“Go the town of Rovaniemi in Northern Finland and you’ll see what I mean. There’s Santa’s village, Santa TV, Hotel Santa, Santa Park and even Santa’s Post Office from where you can ask to have a letter sent to all the good people in the world – signed by Santa! And does any of this help his cause? I’m 12 years old, I go to school in Portugal, I also have a Portuguese passport, at the end of the day I go home to my parents… in Portugal! Wherever you go there’ll be someone who’s not going to recognise you as being real.”
The Kingdom of Playland recognises all nations in the UN as being very real. So I ask Tobias if his nation has made its presence known to any government of a UN member. “No,” he says “we just want to be visited and heard, we’re a little afraid that by telling the big boys we’ll be inviting trouble or threatening our freedom.” It’s a view shared by many micronations.
The Playland constitution states that nationals “will follow every rule”, which as this Minister explains is not only the rules of Playland but those of all Playlander’s nation of second citizenship. All Playlanders hold at least dual nationality, something that they will continue to do even after the day that they are recognised by the UN. A failure to comply with the constitution of either land will then be considered an act of high treason and a threat to national security – any offender will have his/her Playland nationality revoked.
I ask Tobias about his Prime Minister, Andreas Teacher, whose full title is “Prime Minister and Lord Protector of Playland”, a title that originates from the fact that most of Playland’s nationals are considered minors by nearly all other nations. The King has little power, really just a puppet and another symbol of his nation. Andreas Teacher on the other hand spends much time promoting Playland on ‘terra firma’. A senior citizen in Playland (Teacher, like me, is 34), he is entrusted by the King to protect national security. On naturalisation each Playlander is recommended to adopt a new name. Tobias for example, has a different name on terra firma, but he will not tell me how his new name was chosen, “that’s a state secret”, he says adamantly. “Even in cyberspace you have to be careful.”
I begin to ask myself an important question ‘what is a country?’ With each attribute I come up with I immediately find exceptions to the rule – a common language (India has 300) one agreed set of laws (the different jurisdictions of the United States) its own self-governed territory (the Kingdom of Tibet in exile), a single currency (the euro). I don’t know anymore. I’m starting to think Tobias and the Playlanders may have a point.
We enter the Secret Forest. The trees become thicker and there is no path now. I see a dark shadow approach us but before I can say anything, Tobias waves.
“My sister,” he says.
Tobias’ sister Smartie Albuquerque joins us along our trail. She’s a little surprised to see me but agrees that I should see their castle. Eventually the trees give way and I’m surprised to see the castle was never far away. Just like the famous German castle Neuschwanstein, it has many turrets that reach up from the bulk of the main castle building, each one here flying a Playland flag (a tricolour of orange, blue and white). We approach the gate and Smartie and Tobias show each other their Playland passports as a matter of routine. Playland passports are issued at representative embassies in both Portugal and Lithuania.
Just like the streets of Brazil Town, the castle yard is empty. Being a pacifist nation Playland does not have any soldiers. “That’s one of the best things about us being in cyberspace, we can be as peaceful as we like and not have to worry too much about attack,” says Smartie smartly.
It’s then that a very pink faced man leans out of the window and shouts “yoo-hoo up here!” We climb some stairs to the royal court.
His Majesty King William II is a portly chap and it’s clear to see he the Queen get little exercise.
“It’s very good of you to come to the Kingdom of Playland” the King begins ‘but for other people to take us more seriously, as well as your readers, you’d be much better off visiting our land on terra firma and writing about that.”
I agree and tell him about my conversation with Tobias earlier.
“The most important thing, ahem (the King clears his throat as if it’s a matter of some importance), is our message: to get others to listen to what young people really have to say.”
I ask if, his Majesty, believes Playland will one day be taken more seriously and he tells me about the Cocos Keeling islands. Considered to be an early example of a successful micronation, these islands were once a possession of a merchant seaman, Mr. Clunies-Ross, and his family. Though part of the British Empire they were officially allowed by Queen Victoria, who was otherwise pretty keen on conquering the world at the time, to continue that way.
“Then there’s the Principality of Sealand” says the King, “A World War II defence tower off the coast of Britain which was occupied by a local fisherman who then proclaimed himself Prince.” When Sealand came under attack from the British navy the Sealanders hurled Molotov cocktails at their assailants. Because the tower was in international waters the Sealanders were later considered by international courts to have been within their rights to do so.
“We seek no fight with anybody,” says the King “we don’t even have an army. We accept the decisions of the UN and only ask to be allowed to exist as an entity, perhaps in a similar way as Cocos Keeling once was, and to be allowed to spread our message.”
“You need to begin with what people can associate with â€” please visit our territories on terra firma and write about that.” The King reiterates. “People aren’t ready to listen to tales of cyberspace!”
I promise his Majesty to go to Lithuania and explore the new territories, take photographs – people seem to believe photographic evidence more than drawings. I will meet Flopsy Lukiskiu, Playland’s newest national and Ambassador to Lithuania. I may even try to make an appointment with the Prime Minister himself.
My royal appointment is almost over. The Ministers have more pressing issues to discuss, his Majesty’s imminent state visit to Russia for example. Before I take my leave I ask the King if I can apply for a Playland passport.
“Certainly,” he says, “but your application will need to be approved by government and your being a senior citizen means that you will need to satisfy some very careful security measures. It shouldn’t be a problem â€” I know your work and you have my approval.”
Before I leave the Kingdom of Playland, Tobias guides me out of the forest and sends me off in the direction of Playland’s most recognisable and truly unique sight. “We are very proud of it,” he tells me.
I say goodbye to Tobias. It’s lunchtime and he needs to hurry.
When my final destination eventually does come into view I stop and gasp, the times I do that these days are few and far between. In front of me is an unbelievable trapezium of wonder, a house in the shape of a huge bowl roofed by a swirling bulk of white. There is no mistaking the spaghetti monument. I’ve seen nothing like it before neither in the flesh or in any book. I sit for a while and ponder how such a building can truly be possible.
A student arrives and needs to be graded into an appropriate class for the new school year. I close my internet browser and Playland disappears from my screen. I decide to keep my promise to the King and visit the territories on ‘terra firma’.