By JOHN ROBERTSON
THE ATTEMPT by campaigner Stuart Hill to declare independence for an isle off Papa Stour has generated huge interest worldwide in the space of six days, including from Nazi and white supremacist groups in the United States.
His website dedicated to the “Crown dependency of Forvik” has been bombarded by visitors with many supporters from various countries, particularly the US, offering to buy land or live on the 2.5 acre isle, officially known as Forewick Holm.
The volunteers include a doctor offering to tend to the kingdom’s populace, a blacksmith from Brazil seeking to help build the new country, a Vietnamese student hoping to buy a cottage and an American woman offering herself as Forvik’s princess.
The global hype has led to Mr Hill being sucked into a media maelstrom which he admitted he was unprepared for. He posted a message on his site on Wednesday morning saying: “We are growing into an unstoppable force at a speed I could not have envisaged.”
Since then he has been out of phone range at home in his new kingdom. A spy said yesterday there appeared to be only one or possibly two people with him on the barren isle. Interestingly, a policeman headed in to Papa Stour on Wednesday and is believed to have spoken to His Excellency who was preparing to cross to his country in his flat-bottomed skiff.
The wave of positive coverage for Mr Hill is helping him enlist volunteers for the myriad tasks involved in setting up his declared principality, including how to establish its currency, the gulde, print stamps and issue passports.
He intends setting up an online voting system for his parliament, The Ting, and is also looking for “responsible and well-connected people” to act as ambassadors in all parts of the world.
Honorary citizenship is on offer via the internet for £60 (1 Forvik gulde) which will entitle holders to a share of the principality’s future profits. At this stage only Shetland residents can buy a small plot of Forvik and landowning citizenship for £120, which gives a voting right in the Ting to decide where all the incoming funds will be spent.
On a more mundane level, Mr Hill has been digging the foundation for his official residence on the isle, which has no buildings on it. When in residence just now he sleeps in a tent.
Amid all the internet-generated junk Mr Hill is trying to make a serious point – his contention being there is no evidence to prove Shetland was ever legally handed over to the King of Scotland after it was pawned in 1469 by the King of Denmark. If so, neither Forvik nor Shetland is part of the UK and cannot be part of the EU.
His anti-EU feelings are a large part of his motivation and he has admitted he would like to take Shetland out of that union and contribute to its break-up.
The story of his Forvik declaration captured the imagination of the global media earlier this week, appearing in hundreds of publications as diverse as The Daily Times in Pakistan, Reuters in South Africa and news outlets in Macedonia and the Bahamas.
In the space of just 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday mornings his site www.shetland conversation.com recorded 17,963 “visitors”, which is more than 12 visits a minute. That amount of traffic may make it Shetland’s busiest website since Shetlink’s heyday two years ago when it championed the campaign to release Sakchai Makao.
As we went to press yesterday afternoon the total number of visitors since the Forvik site started on Saturday was nearly 49,000 and over 280 people had left messages from places like Austria, Uganda and Russia.
One of the few Shetland-generated messages was from this year’s Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ jarl, Roy Leask, who jokingly asked if he could come up in his yacht and have his photo taken on Forvik. He wrote: “The Shetland Times are running out of locations to take photos of my fluffy beard at.”
Many of the messages are simple goodwill gestures but Mr Hill’s escapade also seems to have excited members of extreme American racist groups, including Stormfront, America Renaissance and the anti-Jewish group Vanguard who have been watching his moves with interest after the story was posted on their websites.
Members have been discussing making donations, visiting Shetland in support of Mr Hill’s fantasy island and gaining votes about its future by joining the Ting. One member on the white pride Stormfront website wrote: “Come on people, here’s your friggin’ WN [white nationalist] state – it only costs 120 bucks to join as a citizen . . . if the Ting had a majority WN representation – just think!”
A number of Christian groups in the US have picked up on the story, including the evangelical organisation America’s Revival which has readers expressing an interest in visiting the holm. On the other hand, the opposite feeling is expressed on the Life is Worship website in the US where Mr Hill’s proclamation is described as “a perfect picture of the fall of mankind into depravity”.
American groups advocating freedom from control of the state, like the Prison Planet Forum, have online discussions running too.
Propelling the venture further into the realms of the absurd, a rival claim for ownership of Forvik has been lodged by somebody going by the name of Katchupa in the Cape Verde islands, west of Africa. His website Forvik.net is a humorous poke at Mr Hill, warning that commandos from Cape Verde are on their way to liberate what they insist is still called Forewick to hand it back to its rightful owners, who bought it in 1899 and built houses and a church there in 1927.
They plan to build a permanent military base and are even offering to sell T-shirts with such logos as Give it Back, Tramp! or a picture of gun-sights over Mr Hill’s face with the words “Catch him”.
The website concludes: “How can we trust somebody who lives alone in a grey tent, without water or electricity? Damn, what did we do to deserve this punk on our land? Did we ever build something on an old Indian cemetery? Hey old man, take your dirty stuff and get out of this place! Go home!”
Mr Hill bought Forewick Holm from Mark King, a resident of Papa Stour for the past two years who moved up from Bath after buying the croft and house formerly occupied by the notorious Reverend Adrian Glover.
Once a resident of the town of Claydon, near Ipswich in Suffolk, Mr Hill washed up in Shetland in 2001 after being rescued from his capsized 14-foot yacht. He was the subject of eight emergency callouts – and heavy criticism – during the trip, earning himself the nickname Captain Calamity. His wife sold their house and moved to France without him and he stayed here.
He styles himself as a champion of the Shetland people who has set out to educate islanders about their history and their right of independence from Scotland that they should be fighting for now.
Mr Hill was behind the campaign to reaffirm udal law in the Northern Isles, setting up the Shetland and Orkney Udal Law (Soul) group and attempting, unsuccessfully, to stimulate support for action to wrest back local control over the islands and the seas around them. He briefly published a free magazine, the Shetland Independent newsletter, which was largely a platform for his views.
It is clear where Mr Hill got the idea for his Forvik escapade. He is essentially copying what was done 41 years ago six miles off the coast of his native East Anglia. Pirate radio DJ and former army major Paddy Roy Bates declared a discarded Second World War fortress called Roughs Tower to be the independent principality of Sealand with 12 miles of territorial waters. He eventually created his own flag, dollar currency and stamps. The “state” was used as a flag of convenience for shipping until outlawed by the United States.
Although still in existence Sealand’s legitimacy has never been recognised by a single sovereign country. One big difference to Forvik is that Sealand was then in international waters, outside the UK’s three-mile limit, when seized by Mr Bates, giving at least some legitimacy to his territorial claim.
If Sealand is anything to go by, Mr Hill better watch his back. The principality was invaded by rivals while the owner was away and he had to retake it using military force. There continues to be an opposing force to Mr Bates who claim in exile to be the rightful rulers of Sealand.
Another problem was illegal Sealand passports with an estimated 150,000 in circulation at one time, some of them being used by organised crime, according to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
Scotland has also seen one of its islands occupied in recent years. In 1997 Greenpeace campaigners briefly stationed themselves on tiny Rockall, off the west coast of Scotland, and declared it Waveland.