This post originally appeared on VICE France
The Republic of Saugeais is a micronation of 1378 square feet located in the department of Haut-Doubs in eastern France. Even though it's been a self-proclaimed independent country since 1947, it has yet to be internationally recognized. Unlike other breakaway nations, this is not because its citizens are causing trouble for world at large—the Saugets aren't anarchists, libertarians, or people wearing ecclesiastical costumes.
The republic was founded as a joke between the prefect of Doubs and a restaurant owner who was to become Saugeais's first president in 1947. The place is a bit more easygoing than your traditional country —the tourist office praises the Saugeais national anthem for its sense of "humor and irony," and one president was been elected by an applause meter—and the Saugets are basically a group of elderly people who took advantage of a joke to institutionalize a community and attract a few tourists.
I called the country's secretary-general, Louis Perrey, to learn a little more about the republic and see how seriously the Saugets really take themselves.
VICE: What does your role as a secretary-general entail?
Louis Perrey: I'm Madame President's right-hand man. I take care of emails, take care of her schedule, deal with customs, and explain the history of Saugeais to tourists.
I also organize our yearly events. We have one big national holiday—a day dedicated to the honorary citizens of Saugeais. We receive about 500 guests and have a big meal during which the President presents the honorary citizens with medals and diplomas, and then she gives a speech.
The army also comes over to parade sometimes, so we've got to receive them just like every other visitor.
How old is Saugeais?
The Saugeais in itself has existed since the Middle Ages—that's an undeniable fact historically and geographically. The Republic has existed since 1947.
By the way, it all began with a joke, so please play along. Our first president was Mr. Georges Pourchet, then his wife Madam Gabrielle Pourchet took over, and now it's his daughter, Georgette. They are elected for life and we try to keep that tradition. The whole thing helps with tourism: There are some local specialities that we try to promote as much as possible—smoked meats, salted meats, dairy.
Right. Would you like to acquire real independence?
Oh no, I don't think so, that would be hard. We are in contact with all these free communities or republics or micronations, but it's not for us. If it was easily done, we would do it, but we have to live. We pay our taxes in France, of course.
Is there a "Saugète" identity?
Ah yes, yes, yes! First of all, we've got our national anthem which dates back to 1910, and the lyrics are in "Sauget." Saugeais was recognized by a papal bull in 1199. Pope Innocent III recognized the independence of the monks living in the region, after colonists arrived. These guys came mostly from Savoie, so a dialect was created that is still spoken by some old people.
There are a few legends concerning Saugeais too. Is your founding story true?
Yes. In April 1947, the region prefect visited a restaurant owned by monsieur and madame Georges Pourchet. The owner of the restaurant enjoyed teasing people, so he asked the prefect, "Do you have a pass to enter Saugeais?" So the prefect asked him to explain what Saugeais was and then said, "It looks like a republic, but a republic needs a president, so I declare you the president of the Republic of Saugeais."
Then Monsieur Pourchet died in 1968. His widow was elected by an applause meter at a party with all her citizens. That was in 1972—she remained president until 2005, at the age of 99.
After that we drafted a constitution because we decided we don't always want to elect someone on a joke or by the applause meter. So there were 30 presidential electors who were co-opted in proportion of the number of inhabitants of the 11 communities in Saugeais, and in January 2006 they elected the new president, Georgette Bertin-Pourchet. She's got a sash with the flag of Saugeais that she has to wear at functions. It's all about inaugurations, receptions, and invitations.
So, officially Saugeais is a democratic republic, but in reality it's more like a kingdom.
Yes, there are a lot of people telling us so [laughs]. But now the President is 80 and she doesn't have any children, so we will see.
I also read that you have 12 ambassadors.
These are elected during the day of the honorary citizens of Saugeais. There are some in Switzerland, in Belgium, and in the adjacent regions. The ambassadors and the honorary citizens are people who help us make Saugeais known outside its borders. That brings us tourism.
Cool. How do you become an honorary citizen?
There are a lot of demands and only ten or 12 titles are delivered every year. The president has to choose them.
Finally, how serious is all this?
It is undeniable that Saugeais exists. We've got our own dialect and our own national anthem. But, well, our main aim is to promote the country.
Would you like to add anything?
Vive la république du Saugeais and vive la France!