Seborga, a village of 320 inhabitants in the province of Imperia, is located around 10 kilometers from the Italian riviera and about 25 kilometers from the French border with Italy. The road to the mountainy town is often narrow and steep, as are many villages in the region. Entering Seborga, visitors are first confronted with a large sign which wishes them a warm welcome in four different languages and a guarding booth, presumably for a border check, which was empty when we arrived. Another steep walk brings us to the centre of the very small village, but very noticeable is that most houses display a blue and white-striped flag: the flag of independent Seborga.
It wasn't much of a coincidence that I had made it here. When I heard that a village of this size declared itself from Italy, which after all is one of the largest countries in Europe, I had to see it with my own eyes. Arriving in the centre of Seborga, an elderly lady smilingly welcomes me in the local souvenir shop. The shop sells the standard goodies you'd get in every nation: hoodies, t-shirts, postcards and of course, pictures of the beloved monarch. For fans of monarchies, Seborga surely practices a more unconventional style of governance. The prince of the Seborgans is elected by the citizens, for a period of seven years. Anyone living in the village above the age of 30 and able to speak Italian is allowed to participate in the election. As these secessionists issue their own ID and passports, citizens can also vote from abroad; yet also non-citizen residents, so "regular Italians" are allowed to vote.
Seborga even issues its own currency, the luigino, which is valued at 6 USD, which makes the inhabitants say that it is "the strongest currency in the world".
Maria Carmela Serra, the secretary of the second prince of Seborga, Marcello the First, who simultaneously runs the souvenir shop spoke very excitedly (in an excellent French I might add) about the Principality. "We are not a joke-nation, we have a rich history dating back hundreds of years!" And indeed, the Principality of Seborga was sold off to the Savoy dynasty in the 18th century, and never attributed to a nation by the Congress of Vienna or the Unification of Italy. It is for this very reason that the Seborgans claim that their village claims independence because it had never been a part of Italy in the first place. "Look at Monaco", says Maria, "in their history they're just a bunch of pirates. We stole from no one and just want our independence!"
After a delicious meal in a local restaurant (they gracefully accepted my foreign currency: the Euro), we wandered through the narrow streets of the village. The place surely is ready for tourists: bed&breakfasts, tourist maps and look-out posts, everything is ready for the visitors of the independent nation to be. Unfortunately I was unable to meet the Prince on the same day, but Marcello the First readily responded to my email, answering all of my questions.
Here are a few notable outtakes from his answers. The full answers can be downloaded here:
How do you evaluate the success of independence in the upcoming decades? How do you lobby Rome to achieve that?
Prince Marcello: The re-activation of our independence will be a long and very complicated process: in Seborga we are only 320 inhabitants and Italy has no intention to renounce to a territory that it considers to be its own in all aspects. A direct pressure on Rome would definitely be ineffective. Our strategy is rather to be recognized by other sovereign states or by an international entity such as the International Court of Justice.
To make Seborga known in the world we use a network of our Foreign Representatives. Foreign Representatives, comparable to some sort of consuls and ambassadors, are collaborators of the Principality, who relies on them to promote and raise awareness among the governments and citizens of the nations in which they reside about the historical motivations for which Seborga considers itself independent. Our Representatives (about twenty around the world) therefore seek to get in touch with local authorities and develop some kind of diplomatic relations, even if informal. For example, in the past we were received by a member of the Jordanian Royal Family and by some senators at the United States Senate. Several times our Representatives have been invited to embassies and consulates in other states.
I’ve read online that you consider the Italian income tax “development aid” for the Republic. Is this accurate? Can you develop on this?
Honestly I do not remember having said something like this. What is certain is that unfortunately we do have to pay taxes to Italy because it actually administers Seborga, though not legitimately. My predecessor Prince Giorgio once had some problems with Italy because he refused to pay the VAT for some souvenirs which had been sold to some tourists, but, even if it is wrong that we give money to Italy, we do not want to have any problems on this point. With the independence this will finally come to an end and we will get our financial autonomy.
Are you in contact with other secessionist movements in Italy or Europe as a whole?
Not at the moment, even if we are sure that other secessionist movements look at our battle with admiration. As already said, we are currently considering joining the UNPO [Unrepresented Nations and People Organization] to make our voice heard.
Would an independent Seborga join the EU?
Probably not, we prefer not to be part of any supranational political entities and be totally independent and absolutely neutral. To make it more practical, however, we could adopt the euro, as the Principality of Monaco did, because our state would be too small to handle its own currency. However, we currently have our own coin, the luigino, which can be used in Seborga. 1 SPL is worth 6 USD, which means the luigino is the strongest currency in the world. We would then like to be part of the UN: we are studying the possibility of being admitted as observer members, like the Order of Malta.