One-on-One: Stellus Yastreb

For those readers who are unacquainted with you, would you please give us some background as to how you came to participate in micronationalism and what it is you do in the community today?

A stupidly long time ago, there was a communistic micronation called the PRNSE (People’s Republic of the New Soviet Empire). It existed in a more volatile age when micronations were created as flimsy pretexts for attacking other micronations, and wiping out forums with Denial of Service attacks was considered good clean fun. The PRNSE, or more accurately certain individuals who happened to be closely associated with it, engaged in its fair share of various micronational dark arts under the leadership of, among others, an enigmatic individual known as Yuri – one of those high archons of micronationalism of the same blisteringly unassailable calibre as Ras Diga, Scott Alexander and Ardashir Khan to name but three. I didn’t cross paths with him until the after PRNSE’s demise, but the encounter remains important as he is the one most responsible for luring me into the eternal pixelated maelstrom that is the Micras Sector.

I arrived among the PRNSE folks in late 2002, sometime after its grand poohbah Siberian Fox span it off into a largely non-micronational Soviet-themed social debating type community (Soviet-Empire). However some of their regulars still kept a hand in the old micronations game full-time, and I guess it was inevitable that I was recruited for their latest project in that sphere, a largely forgotten place called Noviykrazniystan. Aside from the aforementioned Yuri, the intermicronational master criminal known as William Jesmer had a large hand in dragging me into this business. What neither of them told me at the time was that they were some of the most reviled people on Micras on account of their various misdeeds, and that by mere association with them I would be treated with vitriolic contempt by pretty much everybody for no discernible reason. It was a hard upbringing, to be sure.

Between then and now I was mostly involved in Baracão, Yuri’s USSR reboot and its better-known spinoff Novaya Zemlya, and of course Shireroth. I have kept an intermittent presence in the latter since the back end of 2003, and over time it has become my home. My current roles in Shireroth are limited as I’ve deliberately avoided high positions in anticipation of real-life time constraints this summer. My two last big roles were Imperial Steward (second-in-command) and Minister of the Exterior. I do however maintain the rule of Lunaris, a county in Goldshire which is quite convenient for expressing my floridly effeminate side without attracting too much ridicule. I love that place like the very stars themselves, and it makes a good retreat for when Shirerithian politics are getting too hot.

Congratulations on winning the RIMA Award for Excellence in Micronational History during the 2014 FNORD Awards for your work on documenting a historical timeline of Shireroth’s Duchy of Goldshire. Should we expect any new history-related projects from you this year in an attempt to make it two awards in a row?

Shireroth’s Kaiser has put out a renewed call for updates to the ShireWiki, particularly the legal records which are abominably outdated. I may work on that. I have also been tasked with more medium-term recordkeeping by my appointment as Imperial Malarborist. This is a formalisation of the fact that I have been unofficially updating the Malarbor news box for the reigns of several Kaisers now. I seem to step into these roles as an emergency measure and end up being stuck with them. I also made that mistake by being the last Minister of Trade to run the Imperial finances with some semblance of function, prompting incessant calls for my resumption of that role ever since …. I guess that makes me some kind of sucker.

Regarding the longer-term histories, although I am able to inject small nuggets of knowledge to suit the demands of the day (usually the heartily Shirerithian exercise of berating my peers for their historical ignorance), sitting down and actually writing a comprehensive weighty tome on anything requires far more time than I have available at this point. I may try to incorporate some history into another cultural work like a theatrical play at some point, killing two birds with one stone – but the fact is that my Goldshirian timeline, although badly needed, was a rather rushed affair. My FNORD for it was only awarded due to an embarrassing absence of alternatives. Certainly when I look at the other winners of the RIMA over the years, it doesn’t feel right to be counted among them.

Speaking of Goldshire, you have played a central role in the development of its identity since your return from your micronational hiatus in 2013 and just a couple of weeks ago you were made its Ducal Steward. Would you tell us more about what motivates your dedication to Goldshire, where you want to see it developmentally in the next couple of years and what, if any, immediate projects you have planned to aid that development?

Goldshire is a strange one. All the other “traditional Duchies” of Shireroth have had a famous identity since almost day one. Brookshire was the mean and moody realm of the God of Death, Yardistan was the rebellious BO0O0//ist basket case, Elwynn was the beacon of social liberalism and political histrionics, and Kildare had all the trappings of the old Apollonia that it once was (and since its secession, kinda is again). But Goldshire? What is Goldshire? It never really had an identity for a long time, possibly because it was historically inactive and constantly dissolved and absorbed into other territories.

When I came back to Goldshire, I decided simply to promote an image of the place based on the very few things that were associated with it, in combination with whatever my deranged mind decided was best to fill the gaps. The rurality of the place is the main thing, as typified by the rolling green hills of Ransenar. It has a slightly supernatural streak thanks to the fey folk of Ynnraile and the shape shifting witchery of early Lunaris, as well as the more recent dose of arcane mystery currently running through Suthergold. The image of the modern Goldshirian as an ale-sodden drunkard, on reflection, is entirely of my own making but people seem to enjoy it. It probably helps that I grew up in rural England, and that environment is arguably infused into Goldshire as much as urban Sweden drips into Elwynn, for instance. To his credit I think Ryker, the current Duke, has picked up the Goldshirian identity ball in a fashion more competent and confident than I ever dared to hope.

There is something quite timeless about Goldshire, so the idea of plans for its future aren’t too important beyond building on an identity which, at last, seems to have taken root. The same, but better and prettier would be the preferable objective. The rest will take care of itself.

As for what motivated me, I guess I saw a gap that needed filling. For a long time Shireroth has been dominated either by the bitterness of smouldering malcontents, or the manufactured scandals of mischievous sociopaths. I felt Shireroth needed a place where you can leave all that behind and enjoy the simple pleasures for a while, a peaceful and pretty place which actually gives the fighter types something to fight for. Some soft filling in the hard shell. That’s what Goldshire is.

Let’s keep with the same theme of development, though let’s look beyond the state-level focus of the last question. What three things would you say to someone to help guide their goal of creating a successful micronation?

1. Humility. This is probably the hardest one, as micronationalism is and always will be a game of egos. People bursting onto the scene with yet another absolutist vision are as common as dirt, and they don’t impress anybody. Feel free to practice said vision in a one-man micronation, but don’t expect anyone to take any notice. If you want your work to be taken seriously, treat it for what it is – a small island of curiosity in a sea of far more established institutions, customs and philosophies. If people like it, you will get their respect. But the more you tell them to like it, the more you shove it in their faces, then the more you will be ignored or, in extreme cases, permanently shunned. Other micronationalists aren’t pawns on your chessboard, and resent being treated as such. They’re free-thinking, creative individuals just like you, and you need to accept the possibility that their goals, while different from yours, are no less legitimate.

2. Teamwork. It is all too easy to make your creative domain into an island whose references are entirely internal. This can happen with a micronation, a province of a micronation, a religion, a character or family of characters, anything. Many such bubbles are quite magnificent and have had a lot of work put into them, but if you want your work to be appreciated by anybody but yourself it is essential that you tie it in with the work of others. Letting your neighbours see a nod to themselves in your work, even if it is quite tenuous, is a gateway to public acclaim. Study the geography of your micronational patch hard, get to know your neighbours, and most importantly work WITH them, not AT them. Allow their creative domain to bleed a little into yours, and if you do a good job of it they’ll return the favour. You can achieve far better things as part of a greater whole than you can alone; but as the above point demonstrates, it requires you to put away your ego to an extent.

3. Culture first. Micronationalism and Political Simulation have different names, for good reason. The former encompasses far more than the latter. There are micronations out there with constitutions numbering in the hundreds of articles, a well-oiled legislature and perfectly meritocratic executives; but aside from a flag and a forum background, it is often hard to visualise the kind of people in whose name all these laws and edicts and treaties are made. What is their national dress? Is their poetry any good? In what fields of academia do they excel? What languages, dialects or in-jokes are floating around the place? They have all this government but nothing to govern. It has always been my conviction that the machinery of state should start minimal, and develop organically over time by precipitating from an established cultural foundation. Otherwise it’s invariably a cut-and-paste job from some real world nation of the type that a great many micronationalists start the hobby to escape. A lot of people, while complimenting my own cultural work, have lamented that their own attempts are not up to the same calibre and that it demotivates them from trying at all. But ultimately, I don’t judge if somebody’s cultural work is a little rough around the edges. That’s a cosmetic irrelevance. It’s the concept that counts and as long as somebody displays that, I’m not going to laugh at their delivery.

You took particular offence to Kaiser Ayreon III’s recent announcement of his vision that “Shireroth can rise again, become great,” noting your opinion that the micronation has never fallen from greatness. What do you feel makes Shireroth great?

Shireroth is great because it survives. It literally needs no other qualifier. A micronation does not maintain an unbroken sovereign rule stretching back to the days of Tymaria by pure accident. Yet there seems to be this terrible idea that the only legitimate measure of Shirerithian greatness is the amount of territory it controls on a map, and that every loss of said territory is matched by an equal loss in national prestige. I would advise those feebleminded souls afflicted by this delusion to refamiliarise themselves the Imperial Shirerithian motto: Tempus In Parte Nostrum Est. Shirerithian greatness is not measured in land, it is measured in time. Every second that Shireroth survives, in defiance of all the jealous schemers who have tried to bring it down over the years, makes it greater.

Of particular irritation to me is the perception that the recent secession of Kildare (now the Apollonian Confederation) was somehow a defeat for Shireroth, yet it ought to go down as one of Shireroth’s greatest victories. Until now, the realm was parasitised by a cabal of certain individuals orbiting the Bastion IRC channel who essentially used Shireroth as their plaything, completely assured that no matter what happened in the realm, its general direction could be controlled at will by the strategic injection of scandals and rebellions and other such disasters.

The secession of the eastern territories marked a sudden change in that state of affairs whereby those individuals responsible succumbed to their own complacency. It has become public knowledge that their plan was to stage a temporary secession, in order to hold Shireroth hostage and essentially take it over by placing ridiculous conditions on their re-entry. The idea was built upon an incredibly outdated image of a Shireroth that would do literally anything to keep hold of territory. As history has shown, this strategy quite spectacularly failed, and the amusing amount of impotent rage (as well as a pathetic attempt to double down by repeating the process in Aryasht), which subsequently poured forth from the east, reminded me of the archetypical Prussian general who cannot comprehend that the actions of the enemy have diverged from the predictions in his supposedly infallible battle plans.

What actually happened was that the more strategic minds in Shireroth’s Imperial Advisory Council realised exactly what was going on and knew that the only hope for Shireroth’s survival lay in allowing and formalising the secession, thereby calling the Apollonians’ bluff and making their temporary release of grip from Shireroth a permanent arrangement. Suddenly the Apollonians found they had gone from being the prime influence on all Shirerithian decision-making to having no influence in the realm whatsoever. It was a delicious victory, not least because moves are now afoot to reform the Imperial Charter so that opportunistic psychopaths no longer have the chance to hold such knives to the Shirerithian throat. They had one chance, they blew it, the lizard shed its tail, and Shireroth got away to live another day. History, in its dry manner, will record the event as the secession of Kildare from Shireroth – yet morally, spiritually, it was far more akin to the secession of Shireroth from Kildare. I think in time Shireroth’s actions in the matter will be completely vindicated, and this subtle aspect of its greatness will get more recognition.

Your Shirerithian compatriot, Malliki Nur Pinito, has used the recent controversy over the inactivity tax proposed by SCUE to reignite his criticism of micronational economics as an abject failure. Are you of the same opinion when it comes to this matter or do you see some use and hope for a micronational economy?

I can only speak for my own motivations during the times when I participated in micronational economics with any degree of enthusiasm. One was in Novaya Zemlya, which used the Bottle of Vodka (BoV) as currency and controlled inflation by imposing periodical targets for the consumption of said vodka by the citizenry. Wealthy individuals were forced to charitably redistribute their own funds, as the amount of vodka they were ordered to drink simply could not be survived by a single human body. It was good fun, and I think micronational economies need a little fun if they are to be seen as something other than mechanistic number crunching.

The other time I got involved in economics was in Shireroth, during the time when one’s bank balance lent strength to one’s vote in the Landsraad. I often catch myself admiring that system as a decent example of economic Motivation without Compulsion, but then I remember that if it were implemented today, Giles Melang would be Eternal Kaiser. For this reason alone, I now consider it a very bad idea.

I think in the long run, micronational economics is doomed to be a fringe pursuit. I don’t consider it to be a bad thing either. If people treated it more like a casino to play in at their leisure, rather than an faceless, nigh-on omnipotent demiurge exerting an unnecessary stranglehold on every walk of civilised life (another real-world feature that some arguably come to micronations to avoid), I think all the fussing about its role and future would be unnecessary.

Looking back over your years of participation, how do you think the Micras community has evolved, or devolved, since you joined in 2003? If you were to envision the community five years from now, what would you expect it to be?

There’s a lot more formality and professionalism than there once was – a simple consequence of the rising age of Micrasians, and the resultant maturing influences of learning to speak English properly and/or entering the workplace having a knock-on effect in their micronational work. It does mean the sector has sacrificed some of the chaotic silliness that once made it fun, but it also means our cultural work is far richer, and our political work far more masterful and statesmanlike than it was when we were all sixteen years old. The bar is set a lot higher.

In five years from now, if current trends in social media and consumer tech continue, the embarrassingly obsolescent medium of the discussion forum will have become so pronounced as to be cringe-worthy (though one could argue that is a purely academic point as we’re already swanning around pretending to be rulers of imaginary kingdoms with an obsessive level of detail, which was never entirely fashionable). I think in this respect the MicroWiki nations, for all the ridicule they get from we forum-goers, are somewhat ahead of the curve by virtue of occupying a medium that, as the years pass, will become increasingly relatable to the casual visitor while old-fashioned forums become less so. Which forum nations make the jump to more trendy media and keep some relationship with the wider public, and which stubbornly cling to what they know as their membership calcifies into isolated cliques, will be an interesting thing to learn five years from now.

If your micronational participation ended today, what would be the one thing you’d consider to be each of your greatest contribution, your most annoying failure, your fondest memory, and your biggest regret?

My greatest contribution is probably something which doesn’t bear my obvious signature: one extra vote in Shireroth’s Landsraad, one notable voice in Shireroth’s Imperial Advisory Council, one inspirational observation in a storyline, something subtle without which certain achievements might not have come to pass. I often wonder what state Shireroth would be in by now if I had never returned in 2013. Goldshire wouldn’t exist, to be sure. Perhaps that’s my greatest contribution – keeping Goldshire alive thereby enabling the Kaiser Redquill era in which Goldshire rose to become Shirerithian hegemon. That arguably assured the survival of Shireroth itself, but perhaps I’m blowing my own trumpet a little too hard. Ultimately my greatest contribution is for my peers to judge.

My most annoying failure was my cack-handed attempt to reform Shireroth’s Duchy of Brookshire during my brief Dukedom there, by a series of comitial amalgamations. It cast a shadow over my entire tenure of that office, and my (in hindsight justified) cultural smack down by one Erik Metzler eventually drove me to quit micronations for five years from 2008-2013. Luckily I think only Malliki remembers all that crap, so I don’t get reminded of it too often.

My fondest memory is the short but beautiful existence of the Soviet Republic of Novaya Zemlya. I worked with some quite frankly amazing people there and I’ll never forget them or what we created together. For a time it was the purest manifestation of the three goals of micronational success I gave in your previous question, although a humility breakdown on my part caused the eventual downfall of the place. Speaking of which, my biggest micronational regret was pulling the plug on it in the unceremonious way that I did. My fellow Zemlyans deserved better than that.

Any final thoughts?

Tolstoy famously observed that hierarchical power and privilege are largely illusory, and that each man is as much enslaved to the bubbling, frothing processes of history as any other. We are all equals before the Gods, and we all taste their favour and wrath in equal measure. Yet, as Tolstoy also observed, to act in recognition of this process instantly makes you a heretic among your peers, whose egos are so invested in the idea of their own power that they cannot dispense with it without also sacrificing their entire sense of self-worth.

Luckily the presence of those solitary heretics – ignoring the ridicule of their peers and doing their business according to the higher laws – stubbornly persists for the very simple reason that their methods work. If you can put your ego away and play the long game, if you can weave yourself subtly into the greater fabric of a place like Shireroth, you can achieve things that the jabbering paper-crown kings around here can only dream of (and subsequently are bewildered by, envy, and seek to destroy). Many of these great things are barely perceptible and forever hidden from the public eye, but they bring a little smile to the eyes of their creators when their light discreetly twinkles in the background of other events.

That is the essence of my motivation these days, and it may seem rather occult and bizarre when compared to the tacky old Tymarian/Apollonian screaming ‘n’ backstabbing cycle which some idiots profess to be the alpha and omega of the micronational hobby. But other more subtle ways exist. I will always reserve the right to practice them and defend them, and to defend them in others.

Also, I like cats. Meow.

One-on-One: Stellus Yastreb

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