Interview: Freï von Fräähsen

Q: For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with you, would you introduce yourself and tell us about how you became involved in micronationalism?

A: Well, my full names are Beau Freï Jean-Seraphine Baltazar von Fräähsen zu Lorenzburg and I am the Prince of Lorenzburg and Baron of Valdivia. I trained as a dancer and choreographer at the LABAN conservatoire in London, and I have been working as a freelance artist since 2007. For me, being a Prince is a vocation that combines elements from different disciplines such as teaching, counseling, politics, magic(k), storytelling and art.

I have always been interested in mythology and various non Judeo-Christian spiritual narratives such as shamanism and Buddhism. Especially the Zen and Tibetan traditions. I grew up on a nutritious spiritual and intellectual diet consisting of roleplaying games, fantasy books and a love for history and philosophy. And an interest in the stage arts of course!

Freï von Fräähsen, the Prince of Lorenzburg.
Freï von Fräähsen, the Prince of Lorenzburg. (Source: Twitter @Lorenzburg)

I had actually never even heard of micronations until November 2014, when Lorenzburg accidently came into existence. I was writing an application for a grant, and wanted to stress how important my upbringing in the Karlstad city section of Lorensberg was in shaping me as a person and as a professional artist. Lorensberg is a rather unremarkable place (or boring if one is less generous) with villas, semidetached houses and a fair share of woodland areas. But to me it was a place of magic! With the woods literally across the street from my house, I was fortunate to be able to play and imagine and explore in the natural surroundings, together with my friends. Now, as I was writing the application for the grant, my fingers Freudian-slipped on the keyboard and I wrote “Lorenzburg” rather than “Lorensberg”. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I just changed the text and sent the application. Then, a couple of days later I remembered the mistake and realized that it could be the start of something fun. I started a blog and played around with some texts and images, and Lo(!), Lorenzburg was manifesting before my eyes.

I started googling stuff for the blog, and came across the concept of micronations. After some research I found out there is a whole inter-micronational community to interact with. It was the start of a great adventure!

Q: Speaking of the Principality of Lorenzburg, your micronational home, from what I understand, it is partly a community art project, focusing on such things as urban farming, and partly a micronation in the usual sense. It’s certainly an interesting combination of purposes. Can you tell our readers more about why you designed Lorenzburg in this fashion?

A: I suppose, being an artist, making art is what I do. Or rather: being an artist everything I do becomes art. Or rather again: Art is the method by which I live and so it seems the product of living is art. I don’t know, maybe that was a bit unclear…

Anyways, being an artist means that my metaphorical tentacles are sensitive to anything that could be used as material for artistic expression. The birth of Lorenzburg was a singularly powerful invitation to make art with a potential to create change, and it is important for me to try to do good in any way I can.

Also, I think structuring the formation phase of Lorenzburg as a large-scale community art project gives opportunities to engage participants/citizens in a structured and meaningful way. As Prince of Lorenzburg, I am genuinely interested in inviting people to bring to the project their own stories, talents and appetites. I was very fortunate to be given a working grant, by the municipality of Karlstad, in order to carry out a pilot project and to investigate the public interest in participating. I carried out extensive interviews and found that there’s a general consensus that the city section of Lorensberg is considered safe and pleasant but very anonymous and somewhat dull.

I found that my own interests in sustainability and community building coincide with the interests of many of the residents, and so it seemed natural to me to launch the micronation as an artistic project. Also, placing the project under the aegis of “art project” means that I have some possibility to fund the project with public funds, at least in the initial phases.

Another benefit of running the project as a state-funded art project is that it is easier to invite other agents to collaborate. Grants and stipends act as markers of legitimacy, which make the project interesting to interact with. I have already initiated collaborations with Karlstad University, the Regional Government, the Swedish State Church, as well as associations and private entrepreneurs. It is growing into a huge project but I have no hurry to make it happen all at once. I hope the project will grow organically over time, by attracting people and organizations that are interested in the themes and values of Lorenzburg.

Q: A year-and-a-half into its existence, what would you consider the Principality’s major accomplishment to date and what is next for it?

A: I think that creating alliances with both the public and private sectors is a good milestone for Lorenzburg. Of course, having secured some initial funding for the Principality was important for its continued existence; also, I have focused on exposing the project in regional and national media as well as travelling abroad to research conferences in order to present the ongoing work. For example, I am travelling to Cairo, Egypt, in October to present Lorenzburg in an artistic research conference on public art.

The next major waypoint will happen at the start of autumn when the project proper starts as a series of workshop-lectures with the residents in Lorenzburg. On these occasions we will work with themes such as: “Collective storytelling and safe play in the format of a micronation”; “Inventing culture and traditions from scratch”; “The nurturing neighborhood”; “Place and Branding”; “Striving towards an including community”; “Being super local in a global environment”; and, “Urban Agriculture”.

Also, during the next year we will carry out public “performances” and other public events; for example, in October a one-day pilgrimage in silence in honor of “inner majesty”; a public inter-faith St Lucy celebration in December; a spring equinox seeds; a flowers festival in March 2017; and, a medieval “Saint Knut” fair in May.

Q: You’ve used your position as the Prince of Lorenzburg to promote several issues on the micronational stage, such as environmentalism, social justice, and LGBT rights. How important is it, in your opinion, that micronations develop and implement policies in these areas?

A: I think it is vital that we, the micronations, take our responsibility in declaring our stance for the advancement of the sciences, human rights and environmentalism. It seems to me that there is a negative right-wing movement sweeping across large parts of the world presently. In times of change I think we tend to look to “strong leaders” and black-and-white religious narratives for guidance. It is understandable and human, but it is also dangerous!

I, myself, and the Principality that I serve as Prince, will always stand for an ethic that is based on reason and secular humanistic values. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Sweden, one of the most secular countries in the world, but I honestly don’t think that countries whose political structures are based on religious or un-democratic values can ever be safe, free and long-term viable. I would certainly not forbid religion – I absolutely think humans have a need for myth and ritual – but I don’t think that a healthy contemporary country can be run on a religiously-based system. All religion, in my thinking, invites some level of honor culture where people are pressured to conform. State systems, in order to support the safety and freedom of their citizens, must be as neutral and as unbiased as possible in terms of religion, party politics, “race”, sexuality etc. Democracy and secularism is the common ground where all citizens can be treated fairly and equally.

I think that micronations can initiate important movements in these areas. Indeed, the very concept of micronations challenges traditional modes of power distribution, and so I think that we have potential to be good role models and advocates of wholesome democratic values. But for this we need to be taken seriously. By making inter-micronational alliances, and by collaborating around these issues, I do believe that we can, and will, make a difference in the world.

Q: What would you say to the sceptic who believes that micronations aren’t an appropriate stage on which to address macronational issues such as those above?

A: I will point out to them that it took but one Mahatma Gandhi, one Marie Curie, one Martin Luther, one Alfred Nobel, one Harvey Milk, one Joan of Arc and a myriad other known and unknown single heroes, to initiate and uphold important social movements or scientific discoveries. We tend to underestimate the power of that which appears small and insignificant.

Lorenzburg is a very small nation but we have faith in the little things. Indeed, the primary symbol of the Principality is the seemingly unimportant pea. The story of the Princess on the Pea teaches us that it really isn’t the Kings and Queens, the Presidents and the Popes, that wield the real power. Common people, small nations, tiny things like a strategically placed pea may, and will, change history!

Q: World Environment Day recently passed on June 5. The event was commemorated in Lorenzburg with a public call for people to “learn to abstain from the unnecessary” and to protect the environment. Can you tell us more about what Lorenzburg is doing locally to prevent environmental damage and reduce its carbon footprint?

A: We are actually taking measures to do just that. Firstly, we are initiating an urban agriculture movement wherein I hope to replace all public plantings with edible plants and fruits. My vision is that collective farming in all public spaces will bring the community together in a meaningful way. I have also invited residents to take part in a workshop on Urban Agriculture, which may result in the sharing of seeds and plants within the neighborhood. Also there is some initial interest in selling homegrown produce in the local grocery store. Collaborating in this way may eventually reduce the need to import/transport vegetables into the area, thereby lowering CO2 emissions.

I think I mentioned earlier that I hope to bring about a collaboration with the University of Karlstad. Earlier this year, I signed the Alcatraz Environmental Treaty on behalf of Lorenzburg and one of the items in the treaty stipulates that the nation must commit to protect pollinating insects such as bees and bumblebees. Now, I contacted the Innovation and Design Engineering program at the university, asking if I could engage any students in the project and they were very positive. Seeing that we have a need for public art in Lorenzburg, I had the idea that we could make Functional Art, that is, art that is decorative and inspirational as well as having some practical function for the community. It is my hope that collaborating with the design engineering students will result in (at least prototypes) for highly decorative sculptural “bee hotels” that may serve as protective homes for pollinating insects.

Q: You’ve written at length on your experience of becoming a micronational monarch and leading a noble lifestyle. How has the experience changed you? For a person who wanted to follow your lead, what would be your most important advice to him/her?

A: There isn’t an old saying like “noble is as noble does”, but if there were it would pretty much sum it up: Crowns and robes will never bestow nobility on anyone. Neither will titles the length of a minor essay or being born a bona fide aristocrat.

I think nobility is an inner discipline that must be exercised daily. Being human, some days one doesn’t live up to one’s own ethical standards, but it must be an ongoing practice.

I was, and I wasn’t, born a Prince. I am not of Princely descent, but on some mythical-ethical level of my being, I was born to be the Prince of Lorenzburg. Did I create the nation? Was it a happy Freudian accident that it came into being? Or did I come into existence because one day there was going to be a Principality out there, and it was going to need a Prince?

I’m not a traditionally religious man. I don’t believe in the Divine Right of Kings. I don’t believe that an almighty personal God descends to place His hand on my, or anyone else’s, brow in order to consecrate me to be the sovereign. I do however accept that there are deep mystical strata in the universe. To me the Prince is a healer, shaman, teacher, leader and nurturer all in one. And I accept that all these components must be present in my training as a monarch.

Therefore, I must study history and philosophy and psychology. I must study mythology and politics. I must read the works of classical thinkers such as Spinoza, Voltaire, and Rousseau. I must learn, and practice, the ceremonies of etiquette and Princeship. I must explore shamanistic rituals of mythology and healing and poetry and art. I am developing these themes in my artistic practice and in the “mythos” of Lorenzburg.

It may or may not literally be true, but it is humbling to come to the realization that I was born from the need of a Prince of Lorenzburg in the world. It is a duty and a privilege, and I make an honest effort to be worthy. I practice the contemplative techniques of zen meditation, as well as regularly reflect upon historical and spiritual sources of “wisdom”. I especially recommend The Art of Worldly Wisdom by the 17th century Jesuit Priest Baltazar Gracián for pragmatic advice on living.

For me, being a Prince is a spiritual vocation, not something one can just become by usurping a throne or being born of a King. Nobility manifests in unexpected places, and I urge anyone who wants to serve as monarch to bravely explore if they truly are “noble” in the deeper sense of the word. Finding oneself to be lacking in noble qualities isn’t necessarily a failure, it can rather be the start of a beautiful journey if one truly commits to the discipline of nobility. I guess that Princes, Kings and Empresses who don’t care about ethics really don’t possess the innate mystical anointing spirit, which is necessary to be true royalty.

Q: Thank you for participating in this interview. Do you have any final thoughts to share?

A: I would rather thank you for this opportunity to talk about my beloved Principality of Lorenzburg! I apologize for being longwinded, it happens when I talk about things that matter to me. Having said that: I do hope that my contribution will be of value to someone.

Interview: Freï von Fräähsen