Editor’s Note: This series was first posted on this blog at the end of 2010. We are running it again like one of those old favourites that gets rerun on TV around Christmas time.
Frédéric Mégret is an Associate Professor of Law, the Canada Research Chair on the Law of Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, and the Director of the McGill Clinic for the Sierra Leone Special Court, McGill University. Alexandra Harrington is currently a Doctor of Civil Law candidate at McGill University
It had been a masterfully planned operation from start to finish. When Grigory Savros heard the news that, following a massive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific, a new island, roughly six by eight miles, had emerged, he at first paid little attention. The incident had of course generated considerable popular interest and, as the only known island of its kind in several millennia, was the buzz of geologists. But the volcanic fumes arose hundreds of miles away from the nearest flight path, and the island was first reported as barely habitable. Savros had other things to think about. One of the world’s richest men, he had made his fortune betting against the financial stability of emerging economies through complex derivative products that only a few insiders – if any – could fathom. He had since reinvented himself as, to use the Times’ cover’s expression, ‘The World’s Biggest Philanthropist,’ one involved in everything from art to human rights, fighting global diseases to reducing global warming. Besides, he was already the proud owner of no less than two islands (one in the Caribbean, and one in the Mediterranean) in which he hardly ever spent any time.
But one detail had caught Savros’ attention and vaguely stirred up recollections from his international law days, before he became a wealthy investor, when he was still what he sometimes described in interviews as an ‘idealistic law student’ (he had quickly abandoned his initial idea of working in international law, a discipline he had found to be largely irrelevant to the ways of the world). The island was beyond the territorial waters or even the exclusive economic zone of any state. As such, it was no less than the first bit of prime terra nullius real estate to emerge in at least 200 years (with the exception of ‘fake’ terra nullius of colonization). Of course, this fact had not escaped several foreign ministries, but of the few states with any presence in the region, most concluded that it would be far too expensive to maintain a base on the island, and quickly gave up the notion. The land and the surrounding waters were devoid of any particular resource, at least the sort that could be exploited profitably. These were hard financial times globally, and no state had the appetite for an extra piece of rock in the mid-Pacific, with no economic or geopolitical value. One landlocked state in Central Asia expressed some interest in acquiring the island so that its Great Leader could claim to have ‘brought the sea’ to his country, but the plan quickly foundered. There was some vague talk at the UN General Assembly of ‘internationalizing’ the rock (which still had no name), but no one really knew what for, and the matter was deferred to a committee. A window of opportunity had been opened, but no one could quite suspect what use it would be put to.
Genesis and settlement
With no expressions of interest from states in the region, Savros summoned his inner circle of advisors to the privacy of his mountain getaway. What emerged from this evening is still a matter of speculation and what we know of it has been reconstructed from scattered archives and memoires of those who were in attendance. At first, Savros had apparently been characteristically enigmatic about the reasons for bringing them together at short notice. But after dinner and over glasses of (very good) cognac, he had flipped a switch in his parlor, turning on a spectacular holographic display of a paradisiacal island, rich with fields, roads and villages hovering just above the guests, and had made the following almost comically solemn announcement: ‘Ladies, and gentlemen, welcome to the soon-to-be state of Eunomia, the first state built by and for civil society, a state dedicated to the highest values of justice, solidarity and freedom!’ The guests had been flabbergasted and, were it not for Savros’s reputation for fits of anger, might have shared a piece of their mind that this all looked rather megalomaniac. Savros, however, had obviously given the idea considerable thought and over a night of passionate discussions had little by little convinced one after the other that this was not only a project worth trying, it could very well be the defining project of the age.
During the next weeks the decision was made to launch a secret operation, codenamed ‘Tiger Lily,’ that would begin to turn the project into reality. It was to involve, at first, six cargo ships (including two mega-container carriers, one supertanker, two large ferries and one commanding ship). The plan was for these ships to set sail from several points around the globe with shipping orders indicating routine trading routes. Seven days later, they would meet at a secret location in the mid-Pacific. At 0200 hours, the passengers would disembark and bring ashore the contents of the container ships: generators, desalination equipment, cement, various construction vehicles, and much more. A leading conservationist had advised on how to engineer a rapidly expanding ecosystem through an assortment of bees and bugs. Enough material was brought on that first trip not only to construct a small self-sufficient village, but also to lay the seeds for greater things to come: the expansion of the village into a city; the transformation of that barren land into a fully sustainable, eco-friendly, autonomous site of life. Read the rest of this entry…