Thanks to a long-standing border dispute between two parts of the former Yugoslavia, there was a little slice of unclaimed land on the west bank of the Danube River. Croatia would prefer recognizing a border more closely corresponding to an older flow of the Danube, while Serbia is happy with the current Danube-defined border. That leaves a teardrop-shaped piece of land about 7 square kilometers on the Croatian side that neither country wants to claim. In April 2015, Vit Jedlicka, a Czech activist and market analyst, declared the disputed turf terra nullius and established his own country there: Liberland.
In contrast with the gradualist approach taken by seasteaders and charter city founders, Liberlanders essentially came at Croatia "with both middle fingers up right away and just talked to the press," says Joe McKinney of the Startup Societies Foundation.
Since then, Jedlicka has been traveling the globe flacking for a nation that will govern according to the principles of Bastiat, Mises, and Rothbard. Liberland's motto is "to live and let live." Its constitution vows, "No law shall prohibit any act or omission which does not directly harm any other Person or cause unwarranted suffering to an animal capable of conscious behaviour or harm to the environment beyond the boundaries of one's property." It also declares that the tiny nation will never go into debt, raise an army, or start a war.
No one lives in Liberland. For one thing, Croatian law enforcement tends to arrest anyone who tries to enter. For another, there's nowhere to live. The microstate boasts a single structure: an old logging storage house without water or power. The ramshackle building was pictured on Liberland's website in late February festooned with the country's yellow and black flag. It's unclear how the flag got there. Neither Jedlicka nor others associated with Liberland will say, but Liberland's website insists this flag raising marks "their permanent presence in the area." What's more, "the Liberland government announced a plan to restore the building on its territory" and, shades of seasteading, "to begin construction of a floating Liberland community on the Danube River." Jedlicka and his people are holding an event in April to celebrate the second anniversary of Liberland's founding, but the website advertising the festival admits that "we are unable to stop at Liberland due to current regulations in force on the River Danube."
Technically, Liberland has around 300 citizens (all living abroad, obviously), but Jedlicka boasts over 430,000 online applicants for citizenship, a national budget so far of over $200,000, and even a hint of an "in" with the Trump administration. Jedlicka came to America for the inauguration and told The Washington Post of "friends of friends" connections, saying that "Trump being in place definitely opened new doors" for Liberland.
Jedlicka seems untroubled by the lack of resident citizens. "We can achieve 100 percent of our goals even without having full access to our territory," he says. The current model relies on "e-citizenship" and registering businesses—though the benefits of such registration are not yet clear. The latest Liberland brochure does promise a "tax advantage" and speculates that Liberland's digital currency, the "Merit," will become "another global alternative digital currency." And Jedlicka insisted in a March email that "companies operate under Liberland voluntary tax and regulations.…We are also talking about institutions like Liberland Red Cross, Liberland Settlement association or Bank of Liberland.…We are working on state of art company registry and we will as first jurisdiction offer companies to issue their shares on blockchain."
What the state lacks is recognition from any other countries. Does that matter? According to a Chicago Journal of International Law article about Jedlicka's claims, a truly objective legal definition of nationhood can't require outside recognition, since that would just mean "the most powerful states imposing their idiosyncratic moral framework onto other, weaker peoples" and a grotesque realpolitik by which a power like Croatia could crush even legitimate claims by the likes of Jedlicka by force. Still, Liberland has representatives in 60 countries fighting for recognition for the micronation, and many of them "are well-respected individuals in their community," according to the new brochure.
Jason Dorsett, an American who was arrested twice entering Liberland, notes that his first arrest was supposedly for an illegal border crossing out of Croatia. The second arrest was for allegedly crossing from Serbia into Croatia. Jedlicka, who has also been arrested trying to enter Liberland, says he's happy about the Croatian arrests since they clearly establish that "there is an international border between Croatia and Liberland" and that "we are happy that Croatia protects our territory from any intruders at this stage in the process."
Sonja Prsec, a lawyer representing Jedlicka and other would-be Liberlanders (she knows of up to 30 who have been prosecuted for the crossing), says that after being caught in a loop with lower courts, she has appealed the convictions to Croatia's Constitutional Court, which should have the power to settle the high-level border questions at issue.