RIMA Journal Interview: Hesam Jayatar

RIMA: Let us start with the most obvious question – how exactly did you come to participate in micronationalism?

HJ: I started in micronations in 2000 after becoming a member of a number of YahooClubs political groups. YahooClubs was the predecessor to YahooGroups, and in fact were almost identical. The forums and layouts were nearly un-editable and the format of the posts was difficult to manage and read. However, one of the members (Chris Toke) posted an advert for his micronation “Norad.” I didn’t quite know what to make of it but I started posting. The rest is history as they say.

RIMA: You are one of the stalwart leaders of Babkha, and that micronation is arguably part of your identity after so many years. What do you think has allowed Babkha to thrive for such a long period?

HJ: It’s my belief that Babkha survives because of the dynamic of its members. Let’s be honest here, a Persian-themed micronation is about as obscure as it gets. Considering our members are all Anglophones, it’s reasonable to assume we’re not here for the Persian culture. Most of us old guard members have gotten along stunningly over the years, which is why we’ve lasted.

RIMA: One of the most interesting micronations of our era, and one that was often considered the adversary of Babkha, was the United Republic of Tymaria. Some say that it is better off forgotten. What are your thoughts on Tymaria and its legacy?

HJ: I really don’t think Tymaria was that important. It’s remembered mainly by those people who were involved in it as the biggest micronation created in our “sector” of the community. Beyond that, it really didn’t do much. Even as a nation, it was more divided internally than some of the organisations that have existed in the past. It wasn’t a micronation, but more of a micro-state since there really wasn’t a national policy really. It’s long dead and so are most of its members. The only people who really care are the remaining former citizens, who I suppose remember it as a great accomplishment.

RIMA: Speaking of Babkha and adversaries, what is your perspective on the infamous relationship between that micronation and Attera? Do you think that this relationship has had any lasting effects on our community?

HJ: I miss Attera. I wish it was still around. It gave Babkha something to rally against and when it died, the only country left to fill its shoes was Babkha itself. Attera had a large impact on the community itself, but that “cold war” really shaped the dynamic of the sector’s politics. The rivalry which started when both micronations were insignificant eventually created a rift down the middle of the community of those that supported one side or another. I suppose, in retrospect, the rift hit its zenith with the creation of Tymaria.

RIMA: You were the Babkhan King of Shireroth, so to speak, last year. What do you think is your legacy in this role, and what was it like to operate as King under two of the longest-serving micronational veterans and cornerstones of the Shireroth State – Erik Metzler and Scott Alexander?

HJ: Being leader of both Babkha and Shireroth at once was interesting. I think it’s the first time something like that had ever happened. But it was extremely difficult to manage. Shireroth, because of its nature required a lot more attention. No one ever gets along and people are constantly complaining about everything, which explains its insular nature. With Babkha however, all of us usually get along without a problem, which meant I didn’t have to do as much there. Ultimately this was a mistake, since it led to a severe downturn in Babkha’s activity and achieved very little in Shireroth. The main point of the exercise was to try and implement my economic model in both countries. The idea was that if both Shireroth and Babkha ran off the same economy, others would do so as well. In the end, my concepts were stolen and then ignored in Shireroth. And Babkha had the problem of not building a bank in time to really make an impact. Nonetheless, it was an achievement. Working with Erik and Scott was pure hell. I’d never suggest it to anyone. In their different ways, both are extremely protective of Shireroth, so anyone who’s an outsider is usually given a hard time. While in Babkha, once you’re Shah you’re the decision maker, period. So the difference in the way both countries worked became apparent almost immediately. The benefit is that I was able to see what works and what doesn’t and used ideas from both when I could.

RIMA: One of the constants of the early millennium in the online micronational community was that there were people who liked the Apollo Sector, and just as many who hated it. Could you describe for us the relationship between the ‘realists’ and the fantasy (i.e. Apollo) micronationalists during the existence of that Sector?

HJ: This is always a recurring argument. Some people say there is no division, while others are ardent that there is. My opinion is closer to the latter. I believe both of those groups are simulationists. Meaning, micronations that are simulating the running of an imaginary nation. The difference is people who are trying to simulate a nation based off of the real world, and those that want to include fantasy and fictitious elements which are not possible or do not exist in reality. For some reason, those who follow the fantasy stream (Apollo) don’t see the difference and hate the insinuation that there is a difference. I believe that simulation is the attempt to mimic reality as closely as possible. Fantasy does not do this, and so I’ve never really cared for it much. Sector-wide, there have been many people who cross back and forth between both groups. Recently, people from the fantasy group tend to only move around within their fantasy circles while the realists are more likely to move between both. I also find that the fantasists are less likely to discuss politics or current events, which for some (including me) are one of the fundamental elements of micronations which keeps me involved. These days the division is less pronounced, but it still exists. At its height the division seemed to be between the MCS/GSO, and largely Micronations.net. I suppose because Micronations.net hosted the GSO and because of the larger influence from the rest of the community, the fantasists didn’t feel welcome there. As such they tried to create an alternate community hub around the MCS mapping organization. With the end of Micronations.net, this division is now much less pronounced.

RIMA: There are few micronationalists remaining today that have witnessed or fought in real conflicts between micronations, as the focus is currently recreational warfare simulations. You have been a part of various ‘military’ conflicts in micronationalism, and countless more covert intelligence operations. Do you think these real conflicts were a major force, be it positive, negative, or both, in shaping our community’s early years?

HJ: It’s been said before that the early 2000’s were young years for the Internet as well as micronations. In my first years of involvement, the Internet was still a relatively new concept for many people. ISP’s were only just offering affordable and reliable Internet services, so the community had a lot of old school net people. I mean, I still remember modem BBS’s which are an ancient concept these days. The majority of members back then were much more tech savvy, and as a result, they had more ability to do damage when they wanted to. Internet forums and other web applications had a lot less security and were easier to manipulate. People would find a bug (like the notorious spam cannon) and use it. My opinion was, and always has been that this is just a game. So I believe a degree of dirty tricks is acceptable, since it added more of a realistic threat to the game. However, some people took it too far. Our generation of Internet users, “old guard” if you will, were much more protective about personal information; perhaps for the very reason that it was much easier for individuals to cause serious damage to your personal information. I recall a few instances where one micronationalist found the home phone number of another. This caused some serious trouble which went too far. I think that alienated a lot of people as result. These were actions that I did not and still do not approve of. Like I said, it’s a game, and a game is no fun if someone starts messing with your personal life. But other elements I miss greatly. The evil plotting, the covert ops etc. Some individuals, including myself, would work out plans for months or even years in secret. Seeing one of those plans come to pass and succeed was a great element to the game. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the way of things now. I suppose the dynamic has changed.

RIMA: The Simulationist “Holy Grail” is generally considered the development of a working economic simulation, and to some extent, this was achieved in the formative years of our community. Looking back, why do you think this has been so difficult to fully achieve and sustain in our history?

HJ: A working micronational economy is nearly impossible for two main reasons. First, you need to develop a currency that has a value. I think I largely achieved this with the vote based economy. Second, you need something equal to the value of the currency or greater to purchase. This has largely been a failure. Since the entire community is web-based, it’s difficult to develop a product or service which is truly needed. While a lot of progress has been made toward achieving the “Holy Grail”, I think it’s this last point which is the final hurdle to overcome. If someone can develop an interesting “in game” product/service which people actually need, then they’ve broken the puzzle. It’s my opinion that this can be achieved through the establishment of intermicronational laws and rules, but that would require sector-wide agreement to implement.

RIMA: Can the secessionist/sovereignist and simulationist communities ever truly cooperate and co-exist, given the fundamental divide in each community’s purpose and the less-than-friendly history between the two?

HJ: I look at secessionists as either dangerous, delusional or both. When it’s some kid declaring his bedroom as sovereign, it’s just some kid rebelling. When it’s an adult, it’s just pathetic. When it’s a group of adults, it’s dangerous. I personally don’t want anything to do with any of them because even the most liberal western countries have an interest in preventing these nutjobs from achieving their goals. The idea of secessionism is to declare an independent territory from a real world nation. This is treason in just about every country on the planet. By definition, secessionists are serious about this pursuit and are therefore criminals. As a simulationist, I define micronations as a game akin to model UN pursuits. I keep the dividing line between a game and reality very defined for this reason.

RIMA: It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a decade of micronationalism for you. You have seen more than most of the people who are currently in our transient hobby. Surviving this long in micronationalism is an accomplishment in itself. Thinking back on your participation, do you have any particularly fond memories? Any regrets?

HJ: I regret getting involved. Well, that’s not true. Micronations taught me to type faster than I can write; it improved my spelling and ability to write. It made writing 3000 words a day a breeze. The people I’ve met in the hobby have been great as well. It afforded me the ability to visit Europe and actually have someone to show me around. So friendship is definitely a bonus. It’s a bizarre experience having an online hobby though. It means the entire community exists in the minds of the participants. I’ve never met you before, however I know who you are through this hobby – it’s a bizarre concept. I also like seeing how people progress. When I joined, I was still a teenager. Now almost ten years later it’s interesting to see how people change and what they’re doing now. As well, for some reason time passes faster in this hobby. Day-to-day I can feel the time pass, but in the community it seems like a flash in the pan. I like the fact that micronations have become a means for international travel for so many of us. I think it’s one of the most underestimated opportunities this hobby has to offer. In a sort of lorem ipsum way, it’s a meaningless pursuit that has value by proxy. I’m still waiting for a time when a micronationalist becomes a real politician; I’m convinced it will happen sooner or later. Regrets? Not really. What is there to regret? It’s just a game.

RIMA: Simulationist history – what do you think has been the defining moment that has shaped our

community?

HJ: I don’t know if I can answer this. A defining moment? Have there been any?

RIMA: Reflecting on our past and looking forward, where do you see the Simulationist community in another ten years? Are there any particular challenges on the horizon in your opinion?

HJ: I think this sector will be much smaller in ten years. I think the simulationist community won’t be a community, but a number of small independent projects created by people worldwide. I don’t think the concept of intermicronational relations will be the same. Simulationists will visit each other occasionally, but I don’t think they’ll interact. For our part, I believe our sector will be largely forgotten, which is a shame. At the same time, it’s nice to be a part of something that may not exist in ten years and will be forgotten. The memory will be dispersed among a hand full of people worldwide who’ve largely never met. The network won’t exist except in the minds of the participants. It’s interesting to think about, but I don’t know what sort of relevance it’ll have. I suppose being a part of an extinct community.

RIMA: What is the most overrated micronation of your time? Most underrated?

HJ: Overrated? I’d say the Apollo nations. They’re remembered as “the golden age” or something greater. In reality, they were far less sophisticated than even the smallest nations we have now. Usually it was the same 5 people who couldn’t get along, building and rebuilding ideas that never seemed to work. I think Attera is underrated in retrospect, its impact was huge but it’s largely forgotten. The PRNSE and Baracão as well. No one remembers the contributions these nations made to the community and instead, their accomplishments are just claimed by others through revisionist history. I’m sure Babkha will largely be forgotten, Shireroth when it goes. Eventually everything will be forgotten and claimed by another, but that’s the way of things.

RIMA: Any final thoughts?

HJ: “Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?” – Cicero

RIMA Journal Interview: Hesam Jayatar