August 15, 2015


Welcome to Liberland, the World's Newest Country (Maybe) : Travels with Vit Jedlicka, the would-be founding father of a libertarian paradise. (GIDEON LEWIS-KRAUS, AUG. 11, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

Along the western bank of the Danube, more or less halfway between Zagreb and Belgrade, there rests in historic obscurity a three-square-mile teardrop of no man's land. It is an artifact of a border dispute of long standing, and neither Serbia nor Croatia expresses a desire to rule over this unprepossessing Gibraltar-size property. The land, marshy and prone to seasonal inundation, is choked with unregulated scrub, with here and there the lone tongue of a poplar or the gentle shag of a willow. The only road is a rutted single-lane dirt track, the only existing dwelling a flimsy hunting hovel, its provenance unknown.

The absence of governmental authority on this land is due to the manipulated course of the Danube itself. By the late 19th century, the Danube was accepted as the natural border between the regions -- at that point still under Austro-Hungarian control -- that would become Croatia and Serbia. There, however, the river's path was tortuous and difficult for larger boats to navigate, so engineering work was undertaken to smooth the snaking flow. The straightened Danube was a vast improvement for international riverine transport, but in the process, four large uncontiguous bulges of Croatia became stranded alone on the Serbian side, and one small pocket of Serbia, on what was now the far bank, became attached to the Croatian mass.

This latter pocket, which local residents call Gornja Siga, is the no man's land in question. When the two countries were neighboring republics of Yugoslavia, these orphaned riverbank plots were of little concern, but since the 1990s they have presented an intractable problem. The stranded pieces of Croatia now contiguous with Serbia are some 10 times larger, in aggregate, than the rather trifling portion of Serbia now joined to Croatia; Serbia has been all too glad to assume ownership of its expanded territory, but Croatia sees the situation as unacceptable. In light of this ongoing disagreement, for Croatia to accept Gornja Siga would constitute a de facto recognition of the Serbian view of the border and a relinquishing of Croatia's claim to the more considerable, though equally mosquito-infested and uninspiring, portions of Serbian bank.

And yet Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many -- not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States. Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation. All the most recent states -- South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea -- were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars. Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant? Such were the thoughts that had for some time inflamed the spirit of Vit Jedlicka, a 31-year-old Czech politician who traveled to the land earlier this year and, in broad daylight, planted a new flag in its unstable soil.

It was not the first tract he had considered. Previously, Jedlicka had rejected as too small a plot on the Slovenian-Croatian border, and as too inconvenient, dangerous and arid a dominion between Sudan and Egypt, which was subsequently declared the Kingdom of North Sudan by an American named Jeremiah Heaton, who traveled there by caravan to declare his daughter a princess, though his nation remained unrecognized by any other world government. What instantly differentiated Jedlicka's aspirations from the minor follies of Heaton and other micronational leaders -- of Flandrensis, the Dominion of Melchizedek, North Dumpling Island -- is that he had stumbled upon acreage of what may genuinely be unclaimed land.

And so, on April 13, 2015, he and his exploratory committee read, in English and Czech, the following proclamation:

We, the members of the Preparatory Committee of the State of the Free Republic of Liberland, issue this proclamation:

We, by virtue of the right to self-determination, right of discovery and the right of self-governance, proclaim the existence of the Free Republic of Liberland. The Free Republic is a free and independent country; and that as a free and independent state, the Free Republic of Liberland shall have the full power to defend itself, conclude peace, form alliances, establish commerce, and enjoy any other rights which sovereign states have. As a member of the family of nations, we pledge to abide by international laws that bind all states in existence. [...]

Within just a few weeks, he had received, via the Internet, more than 330,000 applications for citizenship. He had posted the citizenship application online in two parts, an initial registration and a subsequent questionnaire. The questionnaire asked if the applicant had a criminal history; if he or she was in debt; was respectful of the property of others; was interested in investing money in Liberland; was a member of an extremist group; if he or she wanted to reside in Liberland itself, and, if so, how. About 40,000 of the initial registrants filled out the entire questionnaire. Final citizenship, for the moment, remained in Jedlicka's hands, and by June he had awarded only about 130 of what he was referring to (pending constitutional confirmation) as honorary citizenships, mostly to those who showed the greatest commitment to the cause. Liberland was, after all, a tiny nation; he feared his experiment would implode under the weight of too many citizens right away.

The President imagined that the majority of freedom-loving interest would come from those seeking greater freedom in general, as opposed to political freedoms in particular, so he had not necessarily expected that the overwhelming interest in his nation would come from North Africa and the Middle East.

Posted by at August 15, 2015 7:06 AM

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