Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sunday is Adventurer Day

To spice things up, add a human element to Axis Monday, and get me to actually post again, it's time to announce a new weekly column. Every Sunday is Adventurer Day, and I will profile an Adventurer.

Adventurers are normal men who do the extraordinary. Their deeds invariably involve defying the norms of society and forsaking mundanity to explore a less well-charted world. Their transgressive quests catapult them from initial obscurity to much stranger heights. The best achieve renown. The worst fail ignominiously. But all of them are adventurers.

Some--like Alexander, who is far too well known for this series--try to shift quite obviously into the realm of the wondrous, in his case by believing he was a god, and getting the priests to go along with it. In most cases, the adventurers in this showcase will not do something so dramatic as that. But they will show that they stand outside the normal realm of men.
You haven't heard of our first adventurer:

Boris Skossyreff
Flavor: Conqueror
Century: Early 20th
Feat: Singlehandedly Tried to Conquer A Sovereign Nation

No one knows quite where Boris Skossyreff was born, or when. He used far too many fake passports during the course of his career for such information to be pinned down. He was from the Russian Empire, as his name reveals clearly enough, and he was born presumably in the 1890s. The date of his death varies even more--from the 1940s all the way up to a venerable (and rather likely) old age in 1989.

For most of his life he was a con man. He passed bad checks, committed fraud, lied habitually about his place of birth. He spent time in Spanish prisons, American military interrogation camps, French detainment camps, German jails, and Siberian gulags. Par for the course for an adventurer.

But Boris was no mere ne'er-do-well.

He spent much of his late 20s and early 30s living in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Sometime in the 1930s he moved to Andorra, one of the European microstates. In late 1933, he even earned Andorran citizenship. It only encouraged further civic involvement.

In 1934, Boris showed just how much he wanted to help the Andorran government. He formally proposed an overhaul of the tiny principality's bureaucracy. Magnanimously, he suggested that several new offices be created, and suggested that he be appointed to all of them.

The government politely declined and tossed him out of their high valleys in May 1934.

No adventurer takes such setbacks lying down, though. Boris took matters into his own hands and decided to take on the corrupt state directly.

In July, Boris declared himself Boris the First, Sovereign Prince of Andorra, and regent to His Majesty the King of France, even though there hadn't been a French monarch for nearly 70 years, since Napoleon III Bonaparte's days.

Not only that, he declared war on Andorra's head of state--the Bishop of Urgell, nominal co-ruler of the mountain realm along with the French President (not King). Was Boris a devout secularist? A crusader against religious corruption? A mere opportunist?

History never gave us the chance to learn. His reign as "Prince of the Valleys of Andorra, Count of Orange, and Baron of Skossyreff, Sovereign of Andorra and Defender of the Faith" was short-lived. After a little more than a week on the job, the vast apparatus of the Spanish state descended upon him.

Why would Spain overthrow their new neighbor?

Perhaps because he swore allegiance to the French King. Perhaps because he overthrew the Andorran General Council and placed himself in its stead. Perhaps because of his new constitution--by all accounts just!, or the new provisional government, or the new courts.

Regardless, the Baron did not languish long in Spanish prison. By November he was free for new adventures, none of them as exciting, and Andorra by all appearances was behind him.

Or was it?

Mere history suggests he never returned to Andorra.
But in Russia, he became a figure of legend. Newspapers reported on his reign long after it had ended. According to their stories, Boris ruled as sovereign of Andorra until 1941, when the Vichy government overthrew his righteous state.

It's not true that he ruled for 8 years--just 8 days. But that hardly matters.

He may not have succeeded in everything he wanted. But he certainly tried to rule, and justly, and what more can you ask?


  1. That reminds me of Emperor Norton a little, except Norton actually WAS acknowledged as the First Emperor of the United States.

  2. Local residents acknowledging you as a quirky fellow is a lot different than actually being 'acknowleged'.

    I am (of course) a fan of Emperor Norton, who was by all accounts a more magnanimous and benevolent ruler than Baron Boris, although the Andorran prince perhaps had more of a go-getter attitude. I don't seem to recall Norton actually *doing* much, at least on the less civic, more adventuring side of things.

  3. He did issue currency which people actually used, a huge deal at the time seeing as how it was one of the most contentious political issues of its day (as it would be today, no doubt, if any state seriously attempted it).