Sunday, June 15, 2008

Miles and Miles From Orlando

Mike Gogulski.jpg
Up to 15 million people around the world may be considered "stateless". That is, having not having any official state record of their status as citizens, nor any official nationality. This usually happens because of ethnic strife or political conflict resulting from a collapse of the state's ability to function. The UN's arm that deals with refugees and statelessness, UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) focuses its energy almost entirely on building or re-building those connections between states and individuals. Numerous committees are setup to end statelessness and naturalize stateless people into states or institutions that will keep them under the protection of a state. But what about political asylees who decide to renounce their state citizenship and do not wish to re-enter the life of state citizenry? One blogger and English-Slovak translator from Orlando, Mike Gogulski, is doing just that.

While currently living in Bratislava, Mike plans to renounce his status as an American citizen and become a stateless person in political protest against war for empire and what he sees as an "express train" to police dictatorship in the United States. With their “anthems blaring” and the complicit American masses “cheering it on”, Mike sees no reason as to why he should be considered a member of the American imperialist system. Since the invasion of Iraq, dozens of American GI war resisters have sought asylum in Canada, but few if any civilians have renounced their citizenship as an act of political protest. Here is what Mike says on his blog about the decision.

"I had told myself as long as two years ago that I would renounce when the US attacked Iran, exploded a nuclear weapon, deployed a bio-weapon, declared martial law, annexed a territory or canceled an election. I became very involved for that reason in watching the news closely for signs that any of those eventualities might be approaching. In doing so, however, I’ve come to the realization that I need no more justification."

This possibility raises all sorts of practical questions regarding the leap. How will he participate in the economy? How will he get from place to place? And, if he becomes stuck in an airport for several years as Iranian refugee Mehram Nasseri once was, will he at least have Internet access?

Let's take you through the process. Assuming that the US government approves his renunciation by issuing him the Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States, Gogulski's renunciation will in fact render him “stateless”. He will not be a citizen of the US, a citizen of Slovakia, nor have citizenship under the EU. He will simply be a person without a state.

As stateless and undocumented, he should be able to travel via land (train, bus, car) throughout the EU under the 1985 Schengen Agreement, without any trouble at all since he is living in Slovakia now. But traveling outside this area is likely to be impossible, he says. Eventually he will become a documented stateless person: someone who carries a UN convention travel document as set out by the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and in the distant future Mike admits he may opt for Slovak citizenship if necessity compels him.

But who knows, “Maybe I'll end up like the stateless Somali man I met in the UK, who told me 'No, it's great being free'”. He and the stateless man met unexpectedly at an airport, and Mike was curious as to whether his friendly interlocutor had experienced difficulty with his statelessness. But if “the Schengen Zone is to be my cage,” Mike says, “I think it's large enough for me. There's enough to explore within Europe to last a lifetime.”

The UNHCR people may run into Mike in Bratislava at some point, he says, and they will be “less than amused” seeing treaties enacted to protect refugees and stateless persons are being used in the service of political protest, “let alone by someone who thinks the UN should be abolished.”

If it is not obvious already, Mike Gogulski views politics in a radically different way than most people in the United States or Europe do; he describes his philosophical point of view as “individualist anarchism”. On his website he has signed a short document entitled An Anarchist's Declaration, in which he outlines his perspective on power relationships and the use of tyrannical political systems to spread evil throughout the world. The philosophical influences that inform Mike's state renunciation are individualist anarchists like Murray Rothbard, and anarcho-capitalists like Frederic Bastiat, Albert Jay Nock and Robert Nozick.

Mike is also wary of state identification methods. In less than a hundred years, he says, the world has gone from being a place where an official identification card did not exist to one in which people who lack identification “are effectively unpersons”. Since the New Deal plans enacted by Roosevelt in 1935 the Social Security Number has become one of the primary ways in which the United States identifies its citizens, something which came about slowly and unexpectedly.

Over the past couple of years the US Department of Homeland Security has been considering a more comprehensive plan to identify its citizens with a national ID card, a “real ID”, which would simultaneously curb terrorist activity and create a national system to digitally store detailed personal data on individuals. The Real ID Act of 2005 has been widely protested by individualist anarchists of all sorts.

In the abstract, Mike says everyone suffers under Statism, which is a “civic religion” that cements our views about the moral and political legitimacy of the state. Statism sacrifices individual liberty and promulgates a set of beliefs in favor of the state. What the “state” is, Mike says, can be summarized as “an institution which claims a monopoly on the initiation of violence in a particular territory.” He agrees with Lysander Spooner, an individualist anarchist, who once said that the state sovereigns were really no different than “bands of robbers and murderers.”

The estimated 15 million stateless people today are in this situation because of war or other forms of government oppression. But it would be quite unfair, Mike says, to consider his situation in the same category as theirs. Mike expects some inconveniences as a result of becoming stateless, yet the 15 million other stateless people “generally have their entire lives ruined for them. There's no comparison there.”
So simply becoming stateless is not exactly Mike's objective, he tells me. “I'm interested in exploring being stateless, but I wouldn't be renouncing my citizenship if I weren't so disgusted by the US government.“ He wants to divorce himself from the US partly as atonement for the guilt he feels at having paid taxes to support mass murder and oppression around the world and at home. He says he wants to publicly call attention to US atrocities and some citizens' dissatisfaction via the media, and to use it as a platform to speak to the cause of liberty.

On Mike includes a list of Renunciant Resources for anyone else interested in exploring statelessness. We will be following Mike's progress as he becomes stateless and will post any important updates as it pertains to the situation.

Originally posted on The Melon.


Ortho said...

Gogulski's actions are brave. I wish him luck.

It's almost as if he is living an Agamben-inspired experiment: "At least until the process of the dissolution of the nation-state and its sovereignty has come to an end, the refugee is the sole category in which it is possible today to perceive the forms and limits of a political community to come. Indeed, it may be that if we want to be equal to the absolutely novel tasks that face us, we will have to abandon without misgivings the basic concepts in which we have represented political subjects up to now (man and citizen with their rights, but also the sovereign people, the worker, etc.) and to reconstruct our political philosophy beginning with this unique figure" (

As long as he is a singular, particular exception, he shall be a curious novelty. You, me, and everyone we know should follow his example if we wish to challenge the nation state's sovereignty over bare life.

When will you become stateless?

Mike Gogulski said...

Thanks for your kind words, and for linking to such an interesting essay.

The current plan, loose as it is, calls for me to renounce sometime between August and October of this year. I have a few things to get sorted first, a bit more research to do, and some organizing that needs done.

Muser said...

I enjoyed the latest posts very much.(I have a poem called "University Beneath a Flight Plan.")