Gavan Reilly's Portfolio writings, ramblings, mumblings

otwo attempts: starting a country

You might not have known it, but there’s a small independent republic in the middle of the Student Centre – at least, since last Wednesday. Deputy President Gavan Reilly explains

It might seem strange but in 1933 a conference of American states, held in Uruguay, resulted in the Montevideo Convention, which broadly outlines the criteria you need to meet if you want to become an independent nation. Chief amongst these is something known as the ‘declarative theory of statehood’ – the idea that “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.” So, basically, you don’t need to be accepted by your international neighbours to still be a country (o hai, Israel).

This basically means that there’s almost nothing stopping anyone with a clearly-defined piece of land to announce to the world that they’re defecting from their country and starting up a new one. And hey – we’ve got an office, right?

The convention lists a few significant requirements a country should fulfil. Along with a defined territory you need a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other countries. otwo thought long and hard about these: The University Observer has a permanent (-ish) population – we work long enough hours in this place, and at production weekends we don’t leave; we do have a government of sorts, because there’s an editorial chain of command and ultimately the Editor has the final say in what the Observer or otwo does; and as for capacity to enter into relations… well if the Editor, on behalf of the Observer, can fill out a legal form and send that form to any state body, isn’t that a relationship with the state?

So – on Tuesday 6th April, a date that will forever live in international history – we typed up a list of our section editors and replaced their titles with legal-sounding ones (‘Editor’ becomes ‘President’, ‘otwo Editor’ becomes ‘Minister for Arts & Culture’ and so on). We taped this to the office door alongside a hastily drafted declaration of independence, informing the world of the Republic of Observia that existed behind it. And lo, Observia was born. We had our government, our territory, our population and our capacity… didn’t we?

It was the last bit that was a grey area, so we decided that it’d be only fair – given the rich Observian culture of international harmony and diplomacy (!) – to let the powers of the world know of our presence. We set up a website ( – we tried to get a .ob address but to no avail) and sent an email from it to the President of Ireland, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence. We copied in, for the sake of posterity, the Secretary-General and Security Council of the United Nations. Oh, and we emailed the manager of the Student Centre too – only fair, considering he was now responsible for the electricity supply of an entire country.

While we awaited the response of the international community to our presence, we convened the cabinet and enacted the first constitution of Observia – adopting the standard international approach of proscribing as little as possible, so as not to compromise our ability to legislate for whatever matters we needed. I mean, there’s no point giving a constitutional guarantee of neutrality if there’s a risk that the Students’ Union could declare war, is there?

We also took the chance to make some decisions about Observian culture and pastimes. The national colours (rigidly enforced by the President, based on her Fantasy Premier League team’s strip) are pink and orange; the national animal – in honour of our anonymous sports writer – is the Badger; the national anthem is a mutated form of Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia’; the mass oversupply of daffodils last week earned it the status of national flower. For a currency, we looked to the news section… Have you ever noticed that the headlines of Observer news stories sometimes have a mysterious ☐ in them? Our printing presses in Britain apparently can’t handle the € symbol in headlines – so, being of Observian culture, we declare the Box the official currency (naturally, it’s pegged to the Euro – one Observian Box is worth one euro. We should have made it more).

But still, something felt like a sham. We had a constitution and government but we didn’t really feel like we were getting anywhere. The UN, the Taoiseach and the President had all failed to respond; the manager of the Student Centre crossed the border the next day and never even mentioned it. But then, magically, an email appeared in the Observian inbox.

“I would like to acknowledge your email and inform you that I have forwarded it to Minister Killeens office for attention,” it read curtly, signed by a rep from the Press & Information Office at the Department of Defence. The Irish Government had been in touch – and, crucially, they hadn’t shot us down.

We scarpered back to the Montevideo Convention – and found Article 7: “The recognition of a state may be express or tacit. The latter results from any act which implies the intention of recognizing the new state.” The Department had corresponded with the Observian government, and hadn’t immediately rejected our claim to independence – thereby tacitly acknowledging the Republic of Observia, the world’s youngest republic.

The Observian website is If you’d like to be President of Observia, see page 14 of the main section.