The Internet is now host to the first sovereign country in cyberspace --
Wirtland, born on August 14, 2008. Its motto: Virtus, non copia vincint, or "Courage, not multitude, wins."
It is not correct to interpret Wirtland as an imaginary virtual world, according to its FAQ page. Wirtland -- the name refers to “virtual land” -- is a real country populated by real people. Only the land itself is wirtual. (Unfortunately, though, actual soil is needed to qualify as a sovereign country recognized by the UN.)
The concept of Wirtland started in August 2008, during the armed conflict between Georgia and Russia. “That was kind of [the] inspiration... to find people who are less happy with governments but don't actively participate in politics,” said Cris Luengo, the country’s co-founder and self-described PR attaché, in a Skype chat from Wirtland.
Don't ask about a business model; there doesn't seem to be one. Luengo maintains that Wirtland is not a commercial project supported by investors. The mission is loftier and more romantic: Luengo says the founding virtual fathers wanted to create "a country that transcends national borders without breaching or lessening the sovereignty of any involved."
The country’s three founders, including a college professor, a designer, and Luengo (who says he is a journalist), are insisting on a very low profile for now. Luengo claims that the main founder, a man he’ll only refer to as “Alex,” has a reputation to protect from any association that may turn negative.
“We, being founders, do not want to really do much regulating and steering in Wirtland. We want to: one, create an elaborated working structure; two, spread the word; three, let people use it, and see how it goes,” Luengo said.
Citizenship is open to anyone over 18 and is granted upon acceptance of an official application. The new “Witizen” then receives a residence permit, which conveys the following rights:
- To vote and be elected for public office
- To register a corporation or a representative office of a corporation, a non-profit organization, an association, a political party, or other legal entity in Wirtland
- To receive a passport and an identification card
- To register a marriage and receive a marriage certificate
- To be nominated for national awards of Wirtland
- To contribute to The Times of Wirtland, the country's online newsletter
The founders aim for Wirtland to become a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. (But who will be king or queen remains to be seen.) Its official language is “any language which can be translated online.” It has even applied for its own top-level domain: .wl.
Currently, there are about 285 witizens, says Luengo -- a large number of whom hail from Bulgaria.
“Initially there [were] postings in various forums… Some people re-posted them -- that's how information reached countries like Argentina or Bulgaria,” Luengo said. “Apparently, some journalists in Bulgaria published articles on newspapers and did a TV program. That's why unexpectedly we had an influx of Bulgarians, which is still growing. Then Bulgaria said it considered diplomatic recognition of Wirtland, which boosted it even more.”
What do Witizens do in Wirtland?
“Most… just sign up and use Wirtland as their blog, for photos, music, videos. That's fine with us. Others request our residence permit, passport, etc. They are actively creating new groups, proposing interesting ideas."
Indeed, a visit to Wirtland’s groups page (or should we say district?) shows a variety of Witizen initiatives, including a political council, a cookery book page, an Entrepreneur Club, a space for Web and IT professionals, a medical center, and a press club.
There is even a beauty contest underway. There are also groups on Facebook and LinkedIn for Witizens and interested parties.
As the country grows, the entity known as Wirtland may become more complex, but not the goal: “I simply want to create an online community, which people may proudly belong to... earn money there, communicate, influence real life,” Luengo says. “This is not an escape from reality, but rather a new way to improve -- hopefully -- real life.”
But don't count on any tax breaks if you work in Wirtland -- not yet, anyway.
— Deborah Nason is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.