For a country named after liberty, Liberland is currently in surprisingly short supply of the stuff.
Last month, Czech politician Vit Jedlicka claimed a disputed area between Croatia and Serbia as his own. Calling the tiny slice of forest a no-man’s land, Jedlicka christened it Liberland and proclaimed it Europe’s newest state: a 3-square-mile libertarian tax haven on the Danube. Jedlicka set up a national Web site, created a flag, drafted a constitution and crafted a motto: “To live and let live.”
Local authorities on both sides of the contested border have objected, however. Maybe they didn’t get the memo about Liberland’s motto, but they’re not letting anyone live there yet.
The detention of Jedlicka, Liberland’s self-proclaimed president, is the latest twist in a tale that speaks volumes about Europe and its discontents.
Serbia and Croatia have both claimed the patch of woodland in a dispute dating back to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Nevertheless, Jedlicka considered it up for grabs and on April 13 proclaimed it the Free Republic of Liberland. Whether intended as a personal fiefdom or a publicity stunt, the supposedly sovereign nation — which hasn’t been recognized by any other country — has clearly struck a chord with people around the world.
More than 300,000 people have signed up using social media to become citizens of Liberland (Liberlanders? Liberlandians? Liberlandlubbers?), according to the Associated Press. Jedlicka also claims that investors have already pledged billions for the country, where taxes would be voluntary. Bitcoin would be the national currency, and the fledging nation plans to accept anyone as a citizen who does not have a criminal record or political extremist past.
There are problems in this newly minted political paradise, however. Jedlicka had planned to start inhabiting the sliver of land this week — its only structure is a dilapidated hunting lodge — but neither Croatian nor Serbian authorities will play along. In recent days, the two countries have blocked dozens of people from populating Liberland.
“The police did their job maybe even better than expected,”Jedlicka told the AP. “Even the people who wanted to give us the boats were searched and were told that they are not allowed to give us the boats.
“But we won’t give up that easy,” he said. “We’ll keep on trying.”
Jedlicka was true to his promise, and on Saturday Croatian police arrested him. According to Czech news agency CTK, Jedlicka was confronted by Croatian cops in the village of Zmajevac several miles from Liberland. He was allowed to go on his way, only to be detained again at the border and brought to a police station in Beli Manastir. Jedlicka was kept overnight, according to CTK, and discussed Liberland’s future with a local judge.
“He could not make a decision in the case, since we did not cross any border, we were waiting for the Croatian police at the Liberland border,” Jedlicka said after his release on Sunday.
Liberland’s leader immediately sought to spin his detention as good news for the nascent republic. According to Liberland’s Facebook page:
The president had a very beneficial meeting with eight ambassadors and with the personnel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Zagreb, Croatia. The people involved in the meetings disclosed to him that Liberland has quite a chance of success if it is based on the love and freedom ideas that it purports to be. The president invited the ambassadors to a party in Liberland next weekend. In the evening, the president was detained by the Croatian police without him having crossed the border from Croatia to Liberland.
The president was released in the morning hours after a very friendly meeting with the police and a judge in the town of Beli Manastir, Croatia. The president feels that there is a great degree of support from the Croatian police and judiciary and sees the arrest as a means for starting the talks with the Croatian side about opening a border crossing between Croatia and Liberland. Liberland has also got legal representation for the negotiations in the Croatian jurisdiction.
With Croatia and Serbia both staunchly against Liberland’s claim, it’s unclear whether Jedlicka will ever get to host his diplomatic welcome party after all.
Liberland lovers across Europe and America scrambled to get English-language updates on Jedlicka’s fate over the weekend. Some feared for the future of the libertarian Shangri-la.
“Is anyone speaking Croatian or Czech willing to give a summary of what is going on in Liberland at this time?” wrote a commenter called Masterless on Liberland’s message board.
“Basically, they tried to cross the Danube with an open fishing boat and were returned to Serbian coast by the Croatian police, and Vit Jedlicka got arrested when he tried to enter the Liberland by land from Croatia,” responded a Croatian speaker.
“Ok, thanks for the news,” Masterless wrote. “I hope it’s not over.”