The Unofficial View of Tirana (85)


Kevin Baugh, President of the Republic of Molossia

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

That Albania occupies a curious part of the global (or at least, American) pop-cultural imagination has been observed in this magazine and elsewhere, but sometimes I am still surprised at how this country and its history have certain transformational characteristics that very few other nations seem to have. For example, I recently read an article on Iliria News Agency (never heard of them before) dated December 24, 2014, that the President of the Republic of Molossia, Kevin Baugh, has changed the national anthem of his micronation, after receiving persistent complaints of Albanians that he had used their national anthem (check, for example, the comments in the following video):

The former national anthem of the Republic of Molossia

To compare with:

The national anthem of the Republic of Albania

Equally curious was the serious tone in which the news report had been written: “In its traditions, customs as well as geographical size, it has nothing in common with Albania, but for more than a decade it has used the anthem of the Albanian nation…” Or perhaps the playfulness of President Baugh’s project had spilled over to the reporter. Whatever may have been the case, it appears that the original press release announcing the change of anthem dates from January 2014, so it appears that the Albanian news source that attracted my attention was a bit late to catch up. In any case, here it is the full press release:

The Republic of Molossia is pleased to announce the advent of our new National Anthem, “Fair Molossia Is Our Home”. For the past 15 years our anthem has been “Molossia, Nation In The Desert”, with music composed by Ciprian Porumbescu and lyrics written by His Excellency, President Kevin Baugh. While a stirring piece of music, it is better known as the national anthem of Albania, and over the years there have been significant complaints from Albanian citizens over our borrowing of their anthem. Thus in December 2013 XXXVI a search was launched for a new anthem, and eventually the music chosen was a magnificent piece composed by Simon-Pierre Boka Di Mpasi Londi. Formerly the anthem of Zaïre, it is no longer in use and fits our needs nicely. Subsequently, lyrics were written by His Excellency, The President, drawing inspiration from the land and culture of Molossia, as well as from the song “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)”, “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley and “Home Means Nevada”, Nevada’s State Song. The result is a stirring national hymn, and anthem of which we can all be proud. Fair Molossia is indeed our home, strong, free and sovereign. Let us all extol its praises in song!

The INA article ends with a paragraph discussing the etymology of the name Molossia, which, according to the official explanation, derives from the Spanish word morro, meaning small hill. I suppose this paragraph was added in order to avoid any other misunderstanding between the Albanians and the Republic of Molossia, because as several YouTube commenters – as well as some of my friends with whom I shared this news fact – claim, the name Molossia derives from the Illyrian tribe of the Molossians native to the island of Epirus (or alternatively the Greek tribe of the Molossians, descendants of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, etc.). So, perhaps unintentionally, both the name and (former) anthem of Molossia at least appear to have Albanian antecedents. And it gets weirder.

Peter Sellers as Duchess Gloriana XII of Grand Fenwick in The Mouse That Roared

In an interview with VICE, President Kevin Baugh makes an explicit reference to the movie The Mouse That Roared as an inspiration for the Republic of Molossia. In The Mouse That Roared, the fictional European Duchy of Grand Fenwick wages a war against the United States in the hope of reviving its economy. As President Baugh suggests: “We were really struck by the imagination of it. A tiny country attacking the US, expecting to lose – but winning. We though I’d be a cool idea.” Coincidentally, the flag of Grand Fenwick shows the same double-headed eagle as the flag of Albania, albeit with the explicatory “Yea” and “Nay” above each head – an addition that Rama perhaps may want to consider (see below). Is this where President Baugh got his first inspiration to look at Albania as a “really” existing template for Molossia?

The official flag of Grand Fenwick, a double-headed eagles with “Yea” and Nay”

In terms of its plot, The Mouse That Roared forms a strange counterpart to that other movie, Wag the Dog, in which a spin doctor hires a movie producer to construct a fake war against a European nation nobody would have ever heard of, in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. This nation, of course, turns out to be Albania.

Kirsten Dunst with cat as unlikely Albanian girl in Wag the Dog

So we end up with the following slightly mind-boggling sequence: Grand Fenwick, a fictional country at war with the US, that shares its national symbol with Albania; Molossia, an actually existing micronation surrounded by the US and inspired by Grand Fenwick which previously used the Albanian national anthem and possibly an Illyrian tribe name as a basis of its own; and Albania itself, a country against which the US waged a fictional war in a movie that reverses the plot of the movie featuring Grand Fenwick. Perhaps Albania itself is already somehow an active part in this logic, being often displaced into the fictional realm and with an Albanian population outside its borders that is larger than the one inside. And maybe we can think of Edi Rama’s state-as-artwork project already in these terms: a project of turning Albania into Molossia or Grand Fenwick? Let me help:

Proposal for an update of the Albanian flag, based on the flag of Grand Fenwick

About the Author:

Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is a Dutch philosopher, writer and conceptual artist.