On Sept. 26, 2016, the Croatian high court ruled that the lower courts must once and for all rule on the borders of their country. It’s technically the last piece that The Free Republic of Liberland needs in order to establish their own country—although that’s not stopping the president of Liberland Vít Jedlička from moving forward with settling the new country.
According to the Liberland website, when an area on the west bank of the Danube wasn’t claimed by either Serbia or Croatia, where the seven square kilometers lies in between, “Vít Jedlička seized the opportunity and on 13 April 2015 formed a new state in this territory—Liberland.”
He discovered the land startlingly simply: on Wikipedia under the term “no man’s land.” It turns out the stretch of land was the product of a longtime border dispute between Croatia and Serbia, both of them stating it did not belong to them.
At the time, Jedlička was running the liberty-oriented think tank Reformy.cz and helped to start the Libertarian Party in the Czech Republic, The Free Citizens Party. Jedlička moved on from that to become President Jedlička when he, his wife, and a friend planted a flag into the ground to claim it and unanimously voted him as president.
It does seem almost medieval to think that just plopping a flag into a piece of land not claimed and claiming it as your own could make a country. It’s in fact a little more complicated… and Liberland seems to be overcoming each barrier on their way to statehood.
“We’ve done everything according to the way it’s supposed to be done,” President Jedlička told The Daily Beast. “It was no man’s land.”
On July 25, The Chicago Journal of International Law published a detailed piece about the implications of the Liberland claim (authored by Gabriel Rossman). In it, Rossman explains terra nullius, or unclaimed land. Basically, Serbia doesn’t claim the land and actively rejects it as part of their country. Meanwhile, Croatia insists that it’s not part of Croatia, but that it is part of Serbia, which counts as a renunciation of the land. So effectively, it belongs to the first party to claim it, which would be Liberland.
President Jedlička recognizes that while the law is on his side to move forward with building the country, he does understand having the border recognition from Croatia is right in order to build the nation.
“No one can take it away now,” said President Jedlička. “There is no way we can unclaim it.”
So what qualifies a “real country”? According to the Montevideo Convention, there are four pieces of criteria that define statehood (in Article I):
“The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”
Liberland has determined the “defined territory” and confirmation of it with the renunciation from Serbia and Croatia. There is a working government already in place, too.
According to Rossman’s report, “Liberland arguably possesses the ability to effectively govern its territory… Liberland has a draft constitution, a domestic court system, a currency, a (very active) president, a cabinet, and a sophisticated process for granting citizenship. At least on paper, if not yet in practice, Liberland has all the necessary components of a modern liberal democratic state and may be able to effectively govern its territory.”
Who is this government? In addition to a president and vice president, there are ministers, and honorary consul and representatives from all over the world.
“We’re building up our diplomatic networks,” said President Jedlička. “We currently have 80 functional offices worldwide.”
Those 80 offices help with one of the requirements to “enter into relations with the other states.” While no country has officially recognized Liberland, the Liberland Press website said there was some urging from members in the Polish parliament. President Jedlička wouldn’t confirm which countries are close to recognizing Liberland, but he did say securing recognition from other countries is a priority for them this year.
“I’m planning a couple interesting events and that should help for official recognition of Liberland. That’s the plan for this year. It’s an important year for that. We have a number of countries really friendly to us. I’m very happy now with the people [we have] onboard.”
Which leaves just the last piece: “a permanent population.” While over 425,000 people are registered and 107,475 of them eligible for citizenship, no one actually lives in Liberland. People come and go and some have even camped overnight, but there aren’t any residents to speak of.
This is mostly due to the Croatian police wanting to keep people out and consistently sending a police presence to prevent a “permanent population.” According to the Liberland Press website, “last year Liberland activists endured more than 50 arrests and convictions by Croatian authorities despite clear and irrefutable evidence that no illegal river border crossings into Croatia had taken place.” President Jedlička himself has spent two nights in a Croatian jail.
Rossman seems perplexed by this: “… should an existing state be able to thwart the statehood aspirations of a non-violent secessionist group by repressing that group and preventing its members from even accessing the territory that the secessionist group claims as its own?”
Still, with this along with the rest of the qualifications satisfied from the Montevideo Convention, it seems enough for him: “The government of Liberland lacks the ability to physically occupy and govern its own territory because Croatian police are stationed in Liberland around the clock, preventing citizens of Liberland from entering and setting up a permanent settlement. This, by itself, should not disqualify Liberland from being deemed a sovereign State.”
President Jedlička seems to be unfazed by these arrests. When pressed for more information about Croatia policing the territory, he said, “We just had a number of people visiting, but of course when we have a bigger event, we see the resistance of Croatians. But all these actions are taking place outside of the Croatia territory and they are outside of the jurisdiction of Croatia. There is no power given to the state that makes them able to stop the creation of a country outside of their borders.”
He went on to talk about how next year will be the right time to help the Croatians with the security of the border. He is also working to move forward on creating Liberland housing, a series of houseboats along the river designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid’s firm, planning to be dropped in over the next year.
He is able to be the president full time thanks to donations from people looking to support the country and interested investors.
Citizenship will cost $10,000 in bitcoins (the national currency), but President Jedlička said, “For now, we are granting citizenship to our diplomats and honorable [citizenship] to everyone that visits.”
President Jedlička laughed when asked about what advice he would give someone who wants to start their own country. “I’m probably going to a write a handbook on starting a country,” he replied. “I believe that more countries and more choices are better for the people.”