The Grand Duchy of Flandrensis is one of the best known Antarctic micronations in the world. Founded in 2008 by the still young Niels Vermeersch, the belgium micronations it has managed to be the object of interest in the international press, and of course also of the Republic of Rino Island.
The following interview is a source of pride for our national press, and especially for our Minister of Tourism, Mr. Arturo Loretti. Not only because it is his first micronational interview, but it has also been conducted with one of the most prominent micronationalists in the world. So we hope that you all not only learn about the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis, but also know why in English the "Papas Fritas" are incorrectly called "french fries", although we will always have the doubt of how a tuber from the island of Chiloé became the food disputed by France and Belgium. Without further delay, with you, Grand Duke Niels de Flandrensis!

How did the idea of founding Flandrensis come to you?

I believe I have the most boring story about the foundation of a micronation and you can take this literary: it was August 2008 and I was bored, suddenly I found an online article about the Principality of Beauluna. So after some research I decided to start my own micronation, my original idea was a temporary hobby for two weeks. I told a friend about Flandrensis and he was so excited that he asked to be a Minister, not much later all our friends joined Flandrensis and I had a Senate, political parties, elections, etc. And so, 2 weeks became a story of almost 12 years. I never expected that all my friends would be so excited about the project and my micronational adventure 

Did you have any reference about micronations, before the founding of Flandrensis?

The first one was the Principality of Bealuna, a Dutch micronationalist who claimed a piece of the moon. After a quick look at Wikipedia I was intrigued about micronations and I found a lot of inspiration in Molossia, Atlantium, Hutt River and Sealand. My first idea was to join a micronation, but I made the decision like most people: it’s more fun to start your own micronation instead of joining one … and of course being the boss (laugh).

I think this is the reason of our success: we were never afraid to change our micronation, but always with respect for the basics and our original principles

The case of Flandrensis is very interesting, because you started in a satirical way, but over time your project took more seriousness and you became a global benchmark for the micronationalist movement. Could you explain to us how this evolution took place in Flandrensis?

Actually, Flandrensis started as a political simulation. In December 2008 I started to work for a local government and it was my job to prepare all administration for the town council. I noticed that many young people have political skills and talents, but joining a real political party is a step to far. So I copy-paste my work into Flandrensis and our political parties, the elections, administration, procedures and meetings were identical like a town council. Later I found out that Professor Alastair Bonnett of the University of Newcastle, mentioned Flandrensis as a good example of micronationalism in which young people learn to make decisions.

The political simulation ended in 2014 because people lost interest and getting older there are also other priorities in live. When all of my friends graduated, we lost social contact. So we decided to transform Flandrensis from a political simulation into a cultural organization. Between 2010-2016 we organized monthly cultural events in Belgium: the Flandrensian Games, National Championship Bowling, etc. But again, getting older most friends got children or moved away and after 6 years we decided to stop the events. In the meantime, Flandrensis was mentioned in international press and more and more people around the world joined our micronation (already 692 in 71 countries). And although climate change was a priority in Flandrensis since the foundation, we decided in 2016 to transform Flandrensis fully into an environmental organization and climate change as main focus. 

I think this is the reason of our success: we were never afraid to change our micronation, but always with respect for the basics and our original principles. We run Flandrensis as an organization with a Grand Duke as CEO, a Chancellor as Chairman and Ministers as board members and always kept in mind: how can we develop Flandrensis as professional as possible but without complicated and unnecessary procedures? And finally, we always respected one unwritten rule: “you always represent your micronation”. We are always very respectful to other micronations and in 12 years we signed treaties with more than 200 micronations. I believe the combination of all this has ensured that we inspire others.

What is, in your personal opinion, the greatest achievement of Flandrensis since its founding?

A difficult question. I’m proud that I can show my children a map with publications around the world and yes, even I get an ego boost when I receive an e-mail from a micronationalist telling me that Flandrensis was their inspiration. But in my personal opinion, the biggest achievement of Flandrensis is when young people – who started their career in Flandrensis – later go to university and chose for international relations, laws or politics and it was their experience in Flandrensis that gave them the motivation. 

I’m a modern man (yes this Grand Duke does the dishes and cleans) but every Wednesday evening is my “Flandrensis Night”

How do you reconcile life as the leader of a micronation, and at the same time the normal life of a young Belgian?

I’m flattered that you consider 33 years in the category young (laugh). Between 2008 and 2012 I spend more than 40 hour a week to Flandrensis and micronationalism. But then there is the cycle of life: starting a career, married, two children, … I’m a modern man (yes this Grand Duke does the dishes and cleans) but every Wednesday evening is my “Flandrensis Night”. And I realized years ago that if I want that Flandrensis survives, I cannot do everything on my own. I have a fantastic Chancellor and an active Cabinet who works on several projects. I’m responsible for the website, registration of new citizens and the finances. All the rest I delegated to my Cabinet, but of course I’m still very involved. Call me an enlightened despot (laugh).

In the past year marked by COVID, the situation of the A68a iceberg has taken the front pages of the world. How do you evaluate this specific situation, and the current Antarctic policy of the continent's administrators?

The Paris Accords and the Climate Marches in 2019 finally put climate change on the agenda, but in 2020 the pandemic was daily news. But we continue to raise awareness for climate change. In 2018 we started with the project of “climate letters” and last year we’ve sent our 92th letter to a head of state. In each letter we underline that climate change impacts on Antarctica is a matter of critical importance for the world and for the continent itself. We request each government to support the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and to share our mission to change Antarctica into a protected nature preserve.

We talked about 2020 being the year of COVID. How has Flandrensis activity been affected by the pandemic?

During the first lockdown we achieved a lot of projects we didn’t had the time before, 2020 was actually a year in which we professionalized Flandrensis on several topics. But, I’m aware that two (for some three) lockdowns have a huge impact on young adults and students who lost their social life and are faced with depression. For some of them micronationalism is some quality time.

Latin American, African and Asian micronations have been somewhat distant from the micronations movement based in Europe and the USA. What do you think is needed for greater integration and mutual collaboration?

When I started in 2008 the MicroWiki-community was the place to be and I remember that the Hispanic micronations (Finismund, El Dorado, Moriel, Valumar, etc.) already formed their community (OMU). In 2012 Micronations and Alternative Polities was the first micronational community on Facebook and 8 years later there are many Facebook groups. Having all micronations in one community isn’t easy because there are always cultural, political and religious differences (example: LGBT-rights, view on socialism, etc.). Meeting other micronationalists (I made friends for life!) and learning from each other is important in micronationalism. But there is nothing wrong to create separate communities, take the OMF (LaMicrofrancophony) for example: they form a Francophone community and discuss all topics in French (what else) and face-to-face meetings. But they are also involved in other micronational groups and attend conferences and conventions. My advice: chose for both, I only see benefits in it.

“French” fries don’t exist!

Without considering the French fries**, what are the 3 Belgian foods that you would recommend cooking in this quarantine?

You just gave one of the worst insults ever to a Belgian: “French” fries don’t exist! In WW II American soldiers ate fries in the southern (French speaking) part of Belgium, so we Belgians fight for the historical correction and correct term of Belgian fries. My suggestion for the real Belgian experience: chicory, hotchpotch or Flemish beef stew. Together with a Westvleteren Trappist abbey beer and Belgian chocolate as desert … “Smakelijk” (Enjoy your meal)!

**In Spanish this is not well understood. As we pointed out before, in English the PAPAS FRITAS are called FRENCH FRIES, which in the interview made H.M explain the history behind such a famous dish. In any case, and we indicated, modern varieties of potatoes descend from a species from the island of Chiloé (Chile). In our beautiful Spanish language, they are only called "fries potatoes", and nobody has problems.


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