Columbusplein: artisanal micronationalism

What is a micronation?

The Wikipedia says that a micronation is an entity that claims to be an independent nation or state, but which is not recognised by world governments or major international organisations [1].

The first question that comes to mind with the definition above, is this: are fictional nations and the political simulations of teenagers micronations, and why is this distinction not made by the Wikipedia? In fact, the Wikipedia mainly talks about fictional nations and the political simulations in its examples of micronations, a little like a deliberate attempt to blur of the distinction between legitimate new religious movements or alternative religions on the one hand, and illegitimate cults on the other [2].

The second question that comes to mind with the definition above, is this: real small nations or polities do exist, and most of them do not enjoy recognition by world governments or major international organisations, but does that make them any less real, any less respectable?

The third question that comes to mind is this: what do you call a micronation which enjoys enough recognition that national media organisations speak about it in interviews to departments or agencies of major world governments, and the micronation even enjoys the recognition of impressive NGOs, and IGOs of emerging states, but it is not recognised by world governments or major international organisations like Monaco or San Marino [3]?

The fourth question that comes to mind is this: is a micronation necessarily a new entity, necessarily an ex novo (from scratch) creation? If a nation is by definition "an aggregate of people united by a common descent, history, culture or language", then the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), officially a Roman Catholic lay religious order, is certainly a small nation; however, the SMOM is also widely considered a sovereign subject of international law, enjoying the recognition of over 100 world governments or major international organisations [4], and it doesn't even consider itself a state!

The fifth question that comes to mind is this: can a micronation exist which doesn't claim to be, or even wish to be, an independent nation or state?

Believe it or not, but there is, in fact, at least one such micronation!

Jorge Mañes Rubio is an artist and TED2014 Fellow, and in his latest art project he created a new nation, the People's Democratic Republic of Columbusplein, in response to the social struggles of a small neighbourhood in Amsterdam. The project has been publicly presented last week at The New Institute (Het Nieuwe Instituut) in Rotterdam, and it is already getting national and international media attention. The pioneering project aims to research the impact that designers and artists could have, if working together with governments and other political and social organisations.

Oh yes, not only the People's Democratic Republic of Columbusplein isn't a fictional nation, but it is actually a square in Amsterdam-West, a borough of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Rubio was selected to work in Columbusplein, a problematic square in Amsterdam-West, in order to try to come up with new ideas to address several issues, such as bullying, and a lack of community spirit in the neighbourhood.

Like many neighbourhoods of major cities in the West, Columbusplein is an area which has quite a negative image compared to the rest of Amsterdam. After a few weeks of research, Rubio and the Dutch design studio Muzus decided to create a micronation, so everybody could actually participate in creating their own identity. There are lots of different ethnic groups living in the neighbourhood, not only Dutch, but also Moroccans, Turks, Surinamese and Dominicans. Instead of choosing just one ethnic group or nationality to identify with, Rubio decided to create a new identity that everyone could identify with.

The results, thus far, have been fantastic, and the Borough Mayor of Amsterdam-West, as well as the social workers and the neighbours have embraced the concept, so you can probably say that the micronation is here to stay!

Rubio's team created all kinds of artefacts to support their new nation concept, from Columbusplein's own flag, to passports, stamps, and even the neighbourhood's own local currency! A few weeks ago they even ran a food design contest in order to create their own sauce for fries, the typical Dutch snack. Last week, on the other hand, they visited the European Space Agency and ran their own space program through a KITE workshop [5]! Rubio and his team are excited about the positive impact that the art project has already made on the neighbourhood, and they are confident in further future progress of the People's Democratic Republic of Columbusplein.

Not only Rubio hasn't started a micronation to run away from reality, but the micronation concept itself has allowed him to imagine a different world, and create little bits of it in the meantime, all with the full participation of the kids and older folks of Columbusplein!

Next week Rubio is looking forward to meet with the local politicians and social workers, in order to set forth a master plan for the micronation of Columbusplein's future activities.

Most micronations are little more than fictional nations and the political simulations. Columbusplein is a real neighbourhood, which is positively transforming itself through the creation of new local institutions, and the integration of all of the people into a new public persona.

Most territorial micronations never gain the recognition even of local governments. Columbusplein's government, on the other hand, actually is the local government, yet the project is also a potential reservoir for positive future grassroots community development.

Most micronations are never mentioned in the media, or if they are mentioned, then they are treated like clowns or freaks. Columbusplein is already far beyond the buffoonery level.

Most micronations are created ex novo. Columbusplein is a combination of both old and new elements, a varied multi-ethnic community that is finding a new and unique identity of its own, new ways in which to become active participants in the life of the neighbourhood, and in Dutch life in general.

Finally, most micronations claim to be, or wish to be an independent nation or state. The People's Democratic Republic of Columbusplein is only a better neighbourhood than the old one, more like a new and improved Columbusplein 2.0, and on its foundation, perhaps it will be possible to create even a Columbusplein 3.0 in the near future.

Metropolis M (in Dutch)

How to start a micronation: step-by-step instructions from Jorge Mañes Rubio

Columbusplein: a new nation rises in Amsterdam West

HMRD Cesidio Tallini [6, 7]