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Because We’re Colonizing Utah

In a coffee shop in Soho, a sculpture artist with foppish hair is hunched over a table poring over my passport application for the little-known nation of Zaqistan. It’s all very official — he has an application printed on Zaqistani government letterhead and a red approved stamp that he presses onto my paperwork. It takes less than five minutes to become a citizen of the Republic of Zaqistan, which anyone who’s ever dealt with a foreign consulate knows is nothing short of a miracle. Of course, whether or not you consider the passport legitimate depends on whether or not you consider Zaqistan legitimate, which, given its history, you probably don’t.

“I figured the Bush administration had fucked up foreign policy so bad that I could do a better job,” Zaq Landsberg, now 30, told me. “And then it sort of turned into well, maybe I just should.”

So he did what any disillusioned millennial with an inflated sense of his own abilities and $600 to spare would do: He bought a parcel of land in a remote part of Utah off of Ebay, issued a declaration of secession, and then ordained himself the head of state of Zaqistan. He made a national flag (a giant gold squid on a red background) and an official seal (a red Z in a cog in a sunrise enveloped by a squid, on a red background). Since its founding in 2005, Landsberg has made roughly annual treks to the “micronation,” putting up “Welcome to the Republic of Zaqistan” signs, establishing the capital of Zaqopolis, and erecting national monuments and arches. And this year, to celebrate the tenth anniversary, he decided to throw a party at an empty loft space in an industrial building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. On a stormy Thursday night, I took a train to a train to a bus to get to the sixth floor of Building 280, expecting a blowout to be raging in celebration of Zaqistan Independence Day. But because Landsberg is an expert at making unofficial things seem official — or perhaps because it was pouring outside — barely anyone showed up. When I entered the room with the Zaqistani Consulate plaque hung on the door, there were less than a dozen people gathered around, drinking Genesee beer and looking at artifacts brought back from expeditions to Zaqistan.

The nation’s motto, “Quispiam Ex Nusquam” — Latin for “something from nothing” — reflects its climate: sparse, dry, desolate, and completely inhospitable. What little wildlife there is is mostly of the creepy-crawly variety — lizards and snakes — and all water has to be “imported.” The nearest highway is 15 miles away and the nearest town is 60 miles. Landsberg, who hails from Los Angeles and has lived in New York for the better part of the last decade, describes it as “so quiet you can hear your own heartbeat.” Which is one reason it got awkward when Landsberg started receiving dozens of emails from people in Pakistan asking if they could apply for Zaqistani citizenship. “Why Pakistan specifically?” I asked. “I guess because stuff’s not great there,” Landsberg ventured.

President Zaq looked a little embarrassed at the small turnout — surely the party was bigger in Salt Lake, closer to genuine Zaqistan territory — but recovered and presented me with my official Zaqistani passport, a glimmer of pride in his eye. I took it gratefully, my dual citizenship already making me feeling immensely cosmopolitan, and headed back out into the rain.