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Oct 04

Republic of Minerva

In the 1970s, a millionaire named Michael Oliver tried to build a new sovereign nation. Not a nation formed by a region declaring independence, but a completely new country. The location where the new country was to be built was in the Pacific Ocean, around the Minerva Reefs, hence the name of the nation being the Republic of Minerva. It was located near Tonga and Fiji. An island was constructed by shipping sand from Australia and dumping it on the reef, whereby a small island was slowly formed. The intention was to make an island which was a tourist destination, while also supporting some other light commercial activities. Minerva then created its own flag, currency and elected a President. It then attempted to declare independence, but as you might imagine, no one really took it seriously.

That is, no one except for Tonga, whose King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was rather offended by whole incident. (The Prince of Tonga apparently said, “We can’t have people setting up empires on our doorstep”.) Although it seemed that legally no one actually owned the territory in which Minerva had sprang up in, Tonga took steps to extend its territorial sovereignty over Minerva.

In 1972, the King sailed to Minerva on his royal yacht, accompanied by some troops, a convict work detail, and a four-piece brass band, which played the Tongan national anthem as the convicts landed and tore down the Minervan flag. A little while later, the King built their own little islands nearby, named them, and then annexed those islands, and all territory within a 12 mile radius of them (including Minerva) as part of the Kingdom of Tonga.

About ten years later, a group of Americans tried to retake what used to be Minerva, but in came the Tongan troops, and three weeks later they were effectively ejected.

Last year, the Republic of Minerva has somehow been replaced by the Principality of Minerva, self-described as a “government-in-exile”. Minerva is relying on the legal concept of terra nullius (land owned by no one) to stake its territorial claim (this is the same concept used by the British when they claimed Australia, except that it is obvious today that Australia was not by any stretch of the imagination, terra nullius). Looks like Minerva wants to take its case to the ICJ. Pretty amusing, actually. As crackpot as the so-called Minervans may be, it does seem like Tonga did unfairly boot them off and conquer their island. But it’s so small no one really cares.