A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘microstates

[URBAN NOTE] On Goa dreaming of being Singapore

Outlook India’s Vivek Menezes writes about how the Indian state of Goa, once a Portuguese enclave, has flirted with the idea of being a Singapore-like city-state.

At that very beginning of decolonisation in Asia, the Portuguese dictator Salazar found a lot to like in what was happening in the British-ruled port city — its new Legislative Council included only six (later nine) elected seats out of twenty-five, and only British subjects were eligible to vote. Meanwhile the colonial system remained dominant. Salazar figured this an excellent model for the four-centuries-old Estado da India Portuguesa.

Even after the Council yielded to a fully-elected Assembly, and the UK Parliament passed the 1958 State of Singapore Act accepting the establishment of an independent state, Salazar still looked for a Singapore-type solution to the increasingly thorny Goa crisis, as Nehru and Krishna Menon grew progressively restive about the last colonial “pimple disfiguring the face of India”. The Portuguese dangled promise of a NATO port at Mormugao to his allies, and it took a Russian veto to stymie the US/UK-led United Nations resolution demanding withdrawal of Indian troops after their mercifully bloodless takeover in 1961.

In the immediate aftermath of Indian annexation, the Goan freedom fighter (he famously got into a fistfight with the colonial Governor General) António Anastásio Bruto da Costa led a group demanding “Goan Goa” with “full sovereignty” to be achieved via “natural right to a plebiscite.” This “third force” also looked to Singapore as a model of what might be possible in Goa.

With those political questions resolved, visions of Singapore continue dancing in the minds of a very wide range of contemporary observers of India’s smallest state. As India Today — the national media outlet that gets Goa most consistently wrong — ludicrously put it in 2013, “the steady march of urbanisation, experts predict, will turn tiny Goa into a Singapore-like city state miraculously untouched by the woes of overpopulation and urbanisation.”

Why these supercharged fantasies for famously laid-back Goa? Perhaps the promise of manageable size, with per-capita GDP and human development statistics dramatically higher than the neighbours? Both Singapore and Goa are centuries-old pockets of globalisation, with relatively cosmopolitan leanings. If it could happen there, it could logically follow that it can also happen here.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2015 at 10:11 pm

[LINK] “Banking Enclave of Andorra Shaken by U.S. Accusations”

Bloomberg’s Macarena Munoz depicts the effect on Andorra of accusations from the United States that some in its substantial banking sector are laundering money.

Juan Ovelar made a quick decision when he heard the U.S. government had accused his Andorran bank of money-laundering, and immediately withdrew most of his funds.

“I’m worried that everyone will do the same as I did and there will be a knock-on effect that could affect other banks,” said Ovelar, 27, a computer expert from Argentina, in an interview outside the headquarters of Banca Privada d’Andorra in the capital Andorra La Vella.

The U.S. Treasury named Banca Privada d’Andorra, the country’s fourth-largest bank, a “primary money-laundering concern” on March 10. That led to its seizure by Andorran authorities, the arrest of the chief executive officer and a run on customer funds at the lender’s Spanish unit.

The bank’s fate sent tremors through Andorra, a 181-square-mile (469 square-kilometer) Catalan-speaking microstate in the eastern Pyrenees with an economy based on skiing, tax-free shopping and banking. The scandal raises risks for its financial industry, which makes up almost a fifth of the 1.8 billion-euro ($2 billion) economy and is too big to be bailed out by the state, said Xavier Puig, a professor at Barcelona’s Universidad Pompeu Fabra.

Customers lined up at the bank’s branches to take out their money after it limited cash withdrawals to 2,500 euros a week, starting March 16. The bank’s new management, appointed by local regulators, imposed the limit after international banks severed credit lines, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2015 at 11:00 pm

[LINK] “Passports for a Price: The Business Showing Poor Countries How to Sell Citizenship”

Bloomberg’s Jason Clenfield has an engaging article about how citizenship, especially for many small countries, is not only a birthright: It’s also a source of income.

In 2006, the tiny Caribbean state of St. Kitts and Nevis was in deep trouble. Its sugar plantations had closed a year earlier, gang violence had given it the dubious distinction of having one of the world’s highest murder rates, and only two governments on Earth were more indebted. A three-hour flight south of Miami, the country of 48,000 people was more or less unknown. Certainly, the two specks of volcanic rock in the middle of the West Indies weren’t of much interest to the world’s rich. St. Kitts and Nevis had run a citizenship-by-investment program—had sold passports—since 1984, but it didn’t get much attention and was never a moneymaker.

Then a Swiss lawyer named Christian Kalin showed up.

Thanks to Kalin, St. Kitts has become the world’s most popular place to buy a passport, offering citizenship for $250,000 with no requirement that applicants ever set foot on the island’s sun-kissed shores. Buyers get visa-free travel to 132 countries, limited disclosure of financial information, and no taxes on income or capital gains. The program became so successful that St. Kitts emerged from the global financial crisis far ahead of its neighbors in the Caribbean. “It’s been a complete transformation,” says Judith Gold, head of an International Monetary Fund mission to the country.

Just as Kalin put St. Kitts on the map, Bloomberg Markets will report in its April 2015 issue, the reverse is also true. It made his reputation. Before St. Kitts, Kalin’s firm, Henley & Partners, was an obscure wealth management and immigration consultancy, and Kalin was working out of a small branch office in Zurich. Tall, with a runner’s build, Kalin was known as a researcher, he says, not the hard-nosed dealmaker he’s become. His claim to fame was having edited a 766-page guide to doing business in Switzerland, a tome found in every one of the country’s embassies.

Soon, prime ministers from around the world were seeking Kalin’s advice, in the hope he could reproduce the magic of St. Kitts, where he effectively created a resource out of thin air for a nation that had few. Many countries allow wealthy foreigners to buy residency cards through what are called immigrant investor programs, but before the financial crisis, St. Kitts and another Caribbean island called Dominica were the only ones selling citizenship outright. Since then, another five countries have gotten into the game. More are coming.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2015 at 9:52 pm

[LINK] Two notes on Russian influence in small Mediterranean states

I’ve come across two news stories recently talking about Russian investment in and migration to Montenegro and Cyprus. Russia has developed intimate relationships with the former Yugoslav republic aspiring for European Union membership or the divided eastern Mediterranean island that’s already inside the European Union for the same reasons: based on sentimental ties of Orthodox Christianity and an appreciation of warm scenic beauty, Russians set up shop in these two countries in large numbers. Indeed, such is the degree of Russian influence that some western Europeans claim concerns.

Aggregation site Presseurop hosts a translation of an article by Jan Hunin published in Amsterdam’s De Volksrant, “The Russians invade the Adriatic coast”.

[S]o many Russians have flocked to the Montenegrin coast in recent years that Budva is sometimes nicknamed Moscow-on-Sea. Even in the low season, the nearby airport provides three flights a day to the Russian capital.

But not only tourists are on board, as a strikingly high number of Russians, especially from the middle class, have moved for good to the Adriatic coast. They are there to serve their compatriots who overrun the coast during the peak season or have a profession that they can also practice abroad.

In a way these Russians are following a century-old tradition, for in the 19th nineteenth century well-off Russians drifted to the Crimea or the Mediterranean, in search of warmer climes. But the weather is no longer the most important reason for their migration. It is at the Adriatic coast that they find the peace and quiet so lacking in Russia. Especially Moscow has, according to many, becoming an impossible place to live in.

The first thing that Nadja Lapteva noticed when she landed in Montenegro was the word “polako”. “It means take it easy, relax, expressions that I had forgotten existed in Moscow. There, everybody is in a hurry.” Last year she made an attempt to return to Moscow. But the daily traffic jams were too much for her. She now runs one of the three Russian schools in Budva.

[. . .]

This has not tempered the Russian’s love, however. Fact is that Montenegro has something that the other Mediterranean countries cannot offer: a culture that is remarkably similar to that of Russia. Like the Russians, the Montenegrins are Orthodox and, as Slavs, their languages are related. Even their coats of arms are remarkably similar. Also the fact that the Russians do not require a visa makes it just that little bit easier.

France 24 hosts the AFP article “EU bailout or not, Russian cash in Cyprus to stay”.

Property advertisements in Cyrillic letters, Russian radio and newspapers and even schools in the coastal resort of Limassol spell out the identity of Cyprus’s top foreign investors.

The allegedly dubious sources of Russian deposits in Cypriot banks, which total $26 billion, well over Cyprus’s GDP of $17 billion, are pipped as a potential cause for economic difficulty for the small Mediterranean island.

[. . .]

Many Russians are here for the long term, taking Cypriot citizenship and settling down, and are providing important economic activity for the island, even those not in the millionaire bracket.

“I really fell in love with the place,” said Karina Luneva, who moved to Cyprus to work and study, and bought a property seven years ago.

She was full of praise for the island’s “beautiful climate, friendly people, nice environment… and low crime rate,” and said she would not return to settle in Russia.

[. . .]

An estimated 50,000 Russians reside in the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus, making up five percent of the population of more than 800,000. A smaller community lives in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island.

[. . .]

The Greek Cypriots and Russians share the Orthodox Church, and several Cypriot politicians, including President Demetris Christofias, are Moscow-educated.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm

[LINK] “The Prince vs. the ‘Paupers'”

Foreign Policy‘s Michael Wise has an article examining the surprising resilience of something that looks awfully like absolute monarchy in early 21st century central Europe.

The principality of Liechtenstein, wedged between Switzerland and Austria in the Alps, is unique in the world as the last German-speaking monarchy extant.* Like many other microstates in the post-Second World War world, Liechtenstein has become prosperous thanks to its marketing of its sovereignty as an asset, becoming–among other things, and yes, like the Channel Islands off of Europe’s Atlantic coast–a tax shelter. The princely family has done by all accounts a decent job of shepherding Liechtenstein’s transformation into one of the wealthiest polities in the world. The only problem is that the princely family also insists on retaining a tight control over domestic politics. Calls for full democratization–specifically, lifting the prince’s veto over popular referenda–have been met by promises from the princely family that, if a constitutional referendum scheduled for the 1st of July succeeding in overturning the veto, they would abandon the country to an uncertain quasi-republicanism.

(The referendum failed, 76% voting against.)

With a net worth estimated at $7 billion, the silver-haired monarch ranks among the world’s richest heads of state, and he owns one of the most important art collections in private hands. His conservative principality, nestled between Austria and Switzerland, has the planet’s second-highest GDP per capita, and it is an island of economic stability in troubled Europe. But discontented rumblings are afoot after Prince Hans-Adam’s heir, 44-year-old Prince Alois, threatened to veto the result of a referendum last fall aimed at overturning Liechtenstein’s ban on abortion.

Although Prince Hans-Adam supports a formal division of church and state, he and his family do not hide their Catholic devotion. Eighty percent of their principality’s population of 36,000 is also Catholic. A massive carving of Jesus on the cross looms over the fireplace in Prince Hans-Adam’s vaulted office, and when he showed me around the 130-room castle this past winter, we stopped in a chapel adorned with a Gothic altar where he and his offspring pray regularly.

But unlike in the United States, where the battle over abortion rights is part of a larger cultural war, the tempest in Liechtenstein is not primarily related to religious belief: Rather, it centers on the extraordinary degree of political power retained by a dynastic leader in the heart of 21st-century democratic Europe.

“Dominions … are either accustomed to live under a prince or to live in freedom,” wrote Machiavelli. Liechtenstein is accustomed to having some of both, but Prince Hans-Adam clearly tipped the balance when he used a 2003 constitutional referendum approved by 64 percent of the electorate to increase his leverage over parliament and the courts, obtaining power to irreversibly veto any law, dissolve the legislature, and appoint judges. But since November’s unsuccessful bid to allow abortion — it failed in the wake of a princely threat to veto it if it gained voter approval — a new citizens’ initiative is pushing for limits on the royal veto prerogative.

Even so, neither power nor money fully satisfies Prince Hans-Adam, who talks in terms of generations rather than the short-term goals of most elected leaders. To ensure a smooth succession, in 2004 he appointed his son Prince Alois as his representative in running day-to-day government matters, but he remains head of state and still exerts considerable influence. Prince Hans-Adam, free from the daily rigors of governance, has recently sought international recognition by writing a book — called The State in the Third Millennium and published in 10 languages so far — presenting Liechtenstein’s odd constitutional monarchy as a model for other countries.

[. . .]

The prince, whose aristocratic roots stretch back nearly a millennium, describes himself as “a convinced democrat committed to a form of democracy that far exceeds what is normal today,” even if it’s hardly the norm nowadays for monarchs to be more than symbolic leaders much less have anywhere close to his degree of power. But he sees no contradiction in tenaciously clinging to inherited dynastic privilege. Prince Alois, who attended the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, is only slightly more circumspect, warning parliament in March that the princely house would not serve as a “fig leaf” for policies it did not support and “would completely withdraw from political life in Liechtenstein” if it lost the “necessary political instruments.”

Adherents of the prince in the tiny country, once part of the Holy Roman Empire and only actually inhabited by the Liechtenstein royal family since 1938 (they lived primarily in Austria and what is now the Czech Republic until the rise of Nazism) hail what’s called a “dualistic” political system, whereby policy is shaped jointly by the princely house and a 25-member parliament. A large portrait of Prince Hans-Adam hangs in the chamber as if to keep an eye on the proceedings. The legislators, who serve on a part-time basis, rose in the prince’s defense on May 23, voting 18 to 7 against the citizens’ initiative as part of the procedure to put the referendum on the veto power before the public. Although open threats of a royal veto are rare, David Beattie, a former British ambassador to Liechtenstein, notes that the prince and his son regularly meet behind closed doors with officials, so “it’s impossible to know how many times government policy may have been influenced by the possibility of a veto.”

(I exclude Luxembourg from consideration, owing to the Grand Duchy’s allegiances to the Low Countries, as well as the implantation of French as a language of wider communication alongside the slow elevation of Luxembourgish to the status of national language.)

Written by Randy McDonald

July 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm

[LINK] “The Prince vs. the ‘Paupers'”

Foreign Policy‘s Michael Wise has an article examining the surprising resilience of something that looks awfully like absolute monarchy in early 21st century central Europe.

The principality of Liechtenstein, wedged between Switzerland and Austria in the Alps, is unique in the world as the last German-speaking monarchy extant.* Like many other microstates in the post-Second World War world, Liechtenstein has become prosperous thanks to its marketing of its sovereignty as an asset, becoming–among other things, and yes, like the Channel Islands off of Europe’s Atlantic coast–a tax shelter. The princely family has done by all accounts a decent job of shepherding Liechtenstein’s transformation into one of the wealthiest polities in the world. The only problem is that the princely family also insists on retaining a tight control over domestic politics. Calls for full democratization–specifically, lifting the prince’s veto over popular referenda–have been met by promises from the princely family that, if a constitutional referendum scheduled for the 1st of July succeeding in overturning the veto, they would abandon the country to an uncertain quasi-republicanism.

(The referendum failed, 76% voting against.)

With a net worth estimated at $7 billion, the silver-haired monarch ranks among the world’s richest heads of state, and he owns one of the most important art collections in private hands. His conservative principality, nestled between Austria and Switzerland, has the planet’s second-highest GDP per capita, and it is an island of economic stability in troubled Europe. But discontented rumblings are afoot after Prince Hans-Adam’s heir, 44-year-old Prince Alois, threatened to veto the result of a referendum last fall aimed at overturning Liechtenstein’s ban on abortion.

Although Prince Hans-Adam supports a formal division of church and state, he and his family do not hide their Catholic devotion. Eighty percent of their principality’s population of 36,000 is also Catholic. A massive carving of Jesus on the cross looms over the fireplace in Prince Hans-Adam’s vaulted office, and when he showed me around the 130-room castle this past winter, we stopped in a chapel adorned with a Gothic altar where he and his offspring pray regularly.

But unlike in the United States, where the battle over abortion rights is part of a larger cultural war, the tempest in Liechtenstein is not primarily related to religious belief: Rather, it centers on the extraordinary degree of political power retained by a dynastic leader in the heart of 21st-century democratic Europe.

“Dominions … are either accustomed to live under a prince or to live in freedom,” wrote Machiavelli. Liechtenstein is accustomed to having some of both, but Prince Hans-Adam clearly tipped the balance when he used a 2003 constitutional referendum approved by 64 percent of the electorate to increase his leverage over parliament and the courts, obtaining power to irreversibly veto any law, dissolve the legislature, and appoint judges. But since November’s unsuccessful bid to allow abortion — it failed in the wake of a princely threat to veto it if it gained voter approval — a new citizens’ initiative is pushing for limits on the royal veto prerogative.

Even so, neither power nor money fully satisfies Prince Hans-Adam, who talks in terms of generations rather than the short-term goals of most elected leaders. To ensure a smooth succession, in 2004 he appointed his son Prince Alois as his representative in running day-to-day government matters, but he remains head of state and still exerts considerable influence. Prince Hans-Adam, free from the daily rigors of governance, has recently sought international recognition by writing a book — called The State in the Third Millennium and published in 10 languages so far — presenting Liechtenstein’s odd constitutional monarchy as a model for other countries.

[. . .]

The prince, whose aristocratic roots stretch back nearly a millennium, describes himself as “a convinced democrat committed to a form of democracy that far exceeds what is normal today,” even if it’s hardly the norm nowadays for monarchs to be more than symbolic leaders much less have anywhere close to his degree of power. But he sees no contradiction in tenaciously clinging to inherited dynastic privilege. Prince Alois, who attended the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, is only slightly more circumspect, warning parliament in March that the princely house would not serve as a “fig leaf” for policies it did not support and “would completely withdraw from political life in Liechtenstein” if it lost the “necessary political instruments.”

Adherents of the prince in the tiny country, once part of the Holy Roman Empire and only actually inhabited by the Liechtenstein royal family since 1938 (they lived primarily in Austria and what is now the Czech Republic until the rise of Nazism) hail what’s called a “dualistic” political system, whereby policy is shaped jointly by the princely house and a 25-member parliament. A large portrait of Prince Hans-Adam hangs in the chamber as if to keep an eye on the proceedings. The legislators, who serve on a part-time basis, rose in the prince’s defense on May 23, voting 18 to 7 against the citizens’ initiative as part of the procedure to put the referendum on the veto power before the public. Although open threats of a royal veto are rare, David Beattie, a former British ambassador to Liechtenstein, notes that the prince and his son regularly meet behind closed doors with officials, so “it’s impossible to know how many times government policy may have been influenced by the possibility of a veto.”

(I exclude Luxembourg from consideration, owing to the Grand Duchy’s allegiances to the Low Countries, as well as the implantation of French as a language of wider communication alongside the slow elevation of Luxembourgish to the status of national language. nwhyte?)

Written by Randy McDonald

July 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm

[LINK] Frank Jacobs at Borderlines: The Guyanas and Sealand

I found out just now that Frank Jacobs, the writer whose map-themed blog Strange Maps became the enjoyable book Strange Maps, now blogs at the New York Times, in Borderlines. He blogs there about any number of unusual borders and their particular historical circumstances, writing with his usual erudition and humour.

Two posts stand out particularly for me. The first being is his January post “The Loneliness of the Guyanas”. Guyana, Surinam (formerly Dutch Guyana), and French Guyana, located on the northeastern coast of South America between Venezuela and Brazil, are incredibly isolated from their neighbours despite long being part of one western European empire or another.

The area’s relative obscurity is not just name-related. With a combined population of less than 1.5 million, the Guyana Three are hardly a hotspot for news. If you know three things about French Guiana, it’s probably these: there’s a pepper (and a Porsche) named after its capital, Cayenne; the notorious French penal colony of Devil’s Island was located off its shore; and it’s the site of the European Space Agency’s spaceport, at Kourou. Suriname? Two things: the Netherlands traded it with the English for New Amsterdam, and it’s the only Dutch-speaking country outside of Europe. Guyana? The Jonestown Massacre of 1978.

But as a set, the three entities are a significant anomaly, and a case study in the way that geology and the environment can combine with geopolitics to shape a region’s history.

Since Belize won independence in 1981, French Guiana is the last territory on the American mainland controlled by a non-American power. But in fact, all three Guyanas are Fremdkörper in Latin America: they are the only territories in the region without either Spanish or Portuguese as a national language. These are coastal countries, culturally closer to the Caribbean.

Moreover, these shores are cut off from the rest of the subcontinent by dense rainforest. And that jungle remains virgin by virtue of the Guyana Shield, a collection of mountain ranges and highlands seemingly designed to conserve the interior’s impenetrability. The shield is best known for its tepuis: enormous mesas that rise dramatically from the jungle canopy and are often home to unique flora and fauna (tepuis feature prominently in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” and, more recently, the animated film “Up.”)

And even more paradoxically, the borders–or in some cases, the existence–of the Guyanas have been challenged.

Jacobs’ most recent post, “All Hail Sealand”, takes a look at the Principality of Sealand located in the English Channel and the phenomenon of the micronation.

The Principality of Sealand is a textbook example. Literally. Open any book or Web page on micronations, and you’re likely to see its unmistakable silhouette: a two-legged marine platform. Sealand is one of the first, arguably one of the most successful, and possibly the best-known example of modern micronationalism. It’s also one of the most intriguing experiments in state-creation in history.

Start with its geography, as it were: Sealand was founded on an abandoned World War II sea fort six miles off the coast from Felixstowe, in the southern English county of Suffolk. The installation, officially known as Her Majesty’s Fort Roughs, is one of the half dozen so-called Maunsell Forts, built during World War II to provide antiaircraft defense and abandoned by the British Army in the 1950s. Predictably, the hulks of concrete and steel left to rust in the busy waterways just off the English coast were accidents waiting to happen. In the deadliest one, the Norwegian ship Baalbek collided with Nore Army Fort, in the Thames estuary between the Isle of Sheppey and Southend-on-Sea, killing four people and destroying two of the fort’s towers.

The mid-1960s saw the re-occupation of some forts, this time by pirates rather than privates. Not cutlass-and-peg-leg pirates; these were of the broadcasting variety (though some swashbuckling was involved). One of the more colorful radio pirates was Screaming Lord Sutch, who established Radio Sutch in Shivering Sands Army Fort, a collection of outlandish huts on stilts also in the Thames estuary. “Britain’s First Teenage Radio Station” was quickly rebranded Radio City by its new manager, Reginald Calvert. Other pirate stations were set up at the Red Sands Army Fort and the Sunk Head Navy Fort, all competing with the more established, ship-based pirate stations, most notably Radio Caroline.

These heady radio days were hardly halcyon. The pirates took to the sea to operate on or beyond the fringes of the law. Arguments were settled by violence. Mr. Calvert was killed in a dispute over, among other things, radio crystals. In 1965, a group of feral DJs under the command of Roy Bates ejected a rival crew from Knock John Navy Fort; it then became the base for Radio Essex, the first pirate to broadcast around the clock. The next year, a conviction for illegal broadcasting forced Mr. Bates to abandon Knock John, which was located within the three-mile radius of British territorial waters, to Fort Roughs, which was just outside.

In response, the Marine Broadcasting Act of 1967 made it illegal for pirate radios, even those outside territorial waters, to employ British citizens. Mr. Bates promptly declared independence, probably hoping to circumvent the strictures of the act. Henceforth, he would be Prince Roy, ruler of the Principality of Sealand.

Mr. Bates never got around to resurrecting his radio station. The accident of statehood turned into his core business. On the Web site, noble titles are for sale (“Lord, Lady, Baroness — from £29.99”). Until 1997 it even issued passports (Mr. Bates suspended the practice because of widespread fraud). Over the years, Sealand’s supposed sovereignty has attracted the interests of some who seek sanctuary from the law, from gambling operators to, more recently, WikiLeaks, which was examining whether to move its servers to the principality.

Sealand’s struggles to gain recognition as a sovereign principality, so far fruitless despite claims, are intriguing.

Go, read.