The secret world of hidden independent nations

The BBC casts an eye over countries that do not exist—not just the odd slivers of land with tentative claims on micronationhood, but the superimposed quasi-countries that cohere because of ethnicity, politics, or because of something really weird going on on the Internet.

The globe, it turns out, is full of small (and not so small) regions that have all the trappings of a real country – a fixed population, a government, a flag, and a currency. Some can even issue you a biometric passport. Yet for various reasons they are not allowed representatives in the United Nations, and are ignored on most world maps.

Middleton, a geographer at the University of Oxford, has now charted these hidden lands in his new book, An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist (Macmillan, 2015). Flicking through its pages, it feels like you have entered a parallel world with a vibrant, forgotten history and a rich culture. This parallel world even has its own international football league.

The gig has moved far beyond the example of Sealand, a visibly derelict landing platform off the coast of England, but to me it remains the perfect example of micronation drama: political idealism, various dodgy business operations, amused but narrow-eyed disinterest from British authorities, straight-up gunfights over possession with foreign mercenaries, and the final tragic bathos of dying on land. There really should be a movie.