Depending on whom you ask, the Republic of Liberland either exists or it doesn't. Czech politician Vit Jedlicka declared it a sovereign state on April 13, claiming approximately three square miles of land along the Danube River. The land, sandwiched between Croatia and Serbia, has been disputed for years. No member of the United Nations recognizes Liberland as a sovereign state. After initial bemusement, Croatian authorities have blocked access to the land and detained Jedlicka on multiple occasions.
Despite the country's ambiguous status, Jedlicka says that around 378,000 people have registered to show their interest in citizenship of Liberland so far. And while the reality of Liberland may be still just a dream, for people in desperate situations it appears to be an appealing dream -- 9,647 people from war-torn Syria have registered so far, Jedlicka tells WorldViews.
That's higher than the number of registrations from comfortable countries such as United States (9,357) or Canada (1,935), Jedlicka notes. A further 1,922 people have also registered from Libya, Jedlicka adds, suggesting that the proclaimed country is especially attractive to those from troubled nations.
When it was announced earlier this year, Liberland was pitched to the world as a libertarian paradise, with optional taxes and severely limited government power. Jedlicka, who is 31, is a Euroskeptic libertarian, and he hoped to create a country for like-minded people. "We accept people who are religiously tolerant, don't have Communist or neo-Nazi background, share our national belief in freedom and also want to create a state with minimal taxes and regulations," he explains.
Of course, when Liberland was first announced, Europe's refugee crisis was far from the levels it's at now. Just a few months later, however, countries such as Serbia and Croatia are very much at the forefront of a continent-wide debate on how to deal with a historical surge in the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe. If Liberland wants to be a real country, this is a debate it needs to be a part of.
There is no plan to enable people to claim asylum or refugee status in the country, he says. "Conditions for getting citizenship are the same for all applicants, and we do not plan to change it." These conditions are fairly tough. Jedlicka notes that in addition to the background requirements, applicants need to collect "10,000 Liberlandian merits" to become a citizen. "Merits can be either obtained by providing services to government like working at our future embassies or simply by donating money to Liberland in exchange rate one to one with American dollar," he notes.
On the forum on Liberland's Web site, some hopeful Liberland citizens discussed whether the country should open its borders to Syrians and others fleeing persecution. "The answer is no, because Liberland is for Libertarians. Not some random ass migrants," one user wrote. "Don't mistake libertarian with anarchy," wrote another. "Anarchy currently is in Syria."
Some disagreed. "As long as the people coming are intending to work for their own future, I don't see any reason why should they be banned from entering," one user countered, while another suggested building a mosque in the center of Liberland to help "those in need."
Whether all those Syrians registering on the site actually hope to become citizens of Liberland is unclear. Jedlicka said that only 618 have been found to be eligible so far, and it was unclear if they had the funds to earn citizenship. He estimates that, for most countries, around one in five people who register is actually serious about helping Liberland get started and "probably one out of 20 plan to live there."
That's probably a good thing right now, given that Croatian authorities aren't actually allowing anyone into Liberland. For the time being, Jedlicka says that people are currently settling in the area around the disputed country. "We are planning to open up educational center close to Liberland as well as putting our boats to Liberlandian waters for permanent settlement," Jedlicka says. Things do seem to be moving along, with "10 relevant offers for recognition from less developed parts of the world" and an architecture competition supervised by Zaha Hadid company director Patrick Schumacher. But for now, those 9,647 Syrians are going to have to find somewhere else to go.
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