This article was published in the Montreal Mirror on August 17th, 2006.
The little empire that could
Despite ruling a fictional country, Aerica's West-Island-based monarch Emperor Eric seeks respect and recognition from Earth's major players
by ERIK LEIJON
It's rare to be able to meet a foreign sovereign anywhere, let alone interview one at the Tim Hortons on Hymus and St-John's. The Aerican Empire may not have its own entry on the CIA's World Factbook or a seat at the United Nations, but its quest for respectability, acknowledgement and world domination are real nonetheless.
In civilian clothes and with a smiley face chain around his neck (the smiley face being the official symbol of the Empire), Aerica's supreme leader, Emperor Eric, lacks the gaudiness of a European monarch, despite his title. There are no capes or crowns that come with the position, although he does own a diamond-headed cane for personal use.
The Aerican Empire is a micronation, meaning it has all the characteristics of a real nation -- flags, laws, leaders, symbols and delineated territory -- but exists as a fictional entity. Eric says the ultimate goal of most micronations is "to have one of the big established nations point at you and say you have value, you are a real country."
Constitutions and Silly Things
The idea for the Empire came about 19 years ago, when Eric -- also known as Eric Lis, a 24-year-old McGill med student -- and his friends were just five. But it wasn't until 1997 that they drafted the working constitution. As with any proper instrument of government, it designates roles and rules by which to live by, including possible measures to impeach the emperor if need be. "It's never come up," he says. "People tell me I've been doing a good job.
"We made a big fuss when we were writing the constitution that everything be fair and just, and if someone was doing a bad job they could really get kicked out," he says.
Eric does not oversee everything or rule with an iron fist like some Phillip II-esque control freak. The micronation is divided into seven ministries handled by different individuals. They range from the necessary, like the Ministry of Military Affairs, to the frivolous, like the Ministry of Silly Things.
"Oddly enough, [Silly Things] is one of our most active ministries. Or maybe not so oddly," he says. The ministry, referred to as the MST3K, is responsible for the circus portion of the empire. They hold contests and post amusing messages on a mailing list to preserve the micronation's sense of humour. About four to five months ago, the minister organized the first annual "Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day Scavenger Hunt," where citizens would send in photos of themselves with the imperial coat of arms and a halibut. Everyone who submitted pictures was judged, and the winner was sent a box of dog biscuits. The second and third prizewinners received signed pictures of His Majesty. "It was not my idea," he says. "I'd like to think that even I'm not that self-centered."
When not ruling over his subjects (32 of them, if you go by his June 2004 census results), Emperor Eric works for the Montreal Children's Hospital psychiatry department as a research assistant. His dedication to helping people permeates into his micronation as well -- Article 3, Section 1 of the constitution of the Aerican Empire states, "Citizens will have the right to: Health care if not given by the respective government, funding for education if not given by the respective government… and all basic rights and freedoms recognized by the United Nations." Eric says he borrowed this section from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and unfortunately, like many of that organization's proclamations, it's mostly idealistic hot air.
So is there anything stopping someone without health insurance and who has a treatable condition and Internet access from taking advantage of Eric's lofty promise? "Nobody's ever called us on that yet, but we're well aware of it," he says. "So if anyone ever actually came to me for healthcare and education, I would feel very guilty but I wouldn't be able to help them. The point is I believe the government should help them. If nothing else, we believe in that even though we can't enforce it right now."
To further legitimize the Empire, the micronation has made territorial claims of both the terrestrial and extra-terrestrial variety. The headquarters of all Imperial activity is located on a roughly house-sized piece of land in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. The centre of silliness and cow-related jokes is situated somewhere in the vastness of the American Midwest. Two other provinces, Chompsville and Psyche, are located in Australia.
Emperor Eric has also looked towards the stars for his expansionary plans, claiming the northern hemisphere of Pluto and the planet of Verden -- even though its existence has yet to be proven -- as the Empire's exclusive domain.
Eric's first real foray into major extra-terrestrial land acquisition came in the form of a small piece of Mars, purchased online from a California-based company called the Lunar Embassy for $20 (Canadian). It's 720 acres of beautiful, potentially legally-owned Red Planet real estate.
Calling the Lunar Embassy a "shady" corporation, Eric, who bought the land in high school, says, "I know it's probably not legal, but I have a little piece of paper saying I own a piece of Mars. It adds realism to what we do."
Faith in the Great Penguin
With budding but increasing visibility also came a series of wars that dogged Aerica in the early days. The epic battles were mostly of the action figure and childish name-calling variety with schoolyard peers who copied his idea, and later on the fights were between rival micronations. It's not uncommon for Eric to receive e-mails from one micronation asking him to join a fight against another, although he typically abstains from these mostly flame wars.
Eric, a political junkie who's always concerned about the acts of macronations, has taken a position of neutral disdain in the current Middle East conflict, especially given its religious overtones. "I don't see much sense in killing each other to see who has the better imaginary friend and I don't see much sense in killing each other over land," he says.
Another solution to the macroworld's current wars in his view could be an adjustment in religious philosophy. Luckily he's invented a religion for the disillusioned as well. The Silinist Church has the simple mantra of making up whatever you want and believing it. Having gone to private Jewish primary and secondary schools, Eric had the problematic situation of receiving an education heavy on religion, while not believing in anything he was being taught.
"I just found that the most efficient thing to do would be to create my own God," he says. "So from the ground up, I created the faith, the religion, the God -- and the really strange part is, over the last seven or eight years I really started to believe in it, and nowadays I'm genuinely faithful."
Switching the Torah for the teachings of Forsteri, the Great Penguin, has done wonders in filling the spiritual void, he says.
Utopia from DDO
Emperor Eric considers that the Aerican Empire is the gateway to a Utopian society, at least his vision of one. It represents a paradise where conflicts are resolved through role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons. Weapons of mass destruction are replaced with 12-sided dice, and everybody learns to just lighten up.
"So the goal, the real ultimate goal, would be world domination," Eric admits. "The realistic goal is to just try and make a difference in the world. Get out there and make some noise. Be noticed. Maybe someday -- who knows -- even persuade a couple of nations to recognize us as a nation. Stranger things have happened."
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