The Croatian Invasion of the Micronation of Liberland

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Vít Jedlička, a Czech libertarian activist and president of the would-be libertarian micronation he founded called Liberland, remains cheery about the future of his project. He has aspired since April 2015 to create what he hopes will be the freest nation on Earth on fewer than three square miles of land on a disputed part of the Croatia-Serbia border. (For complicated reasons related to a shift in the flow of the Danube over time, both nations would prefer the bit of land, known as Gornja Siga, on the western bank of the river belong to the other.) The project drew extended attention from prominent media, including the New York Times, from the start. By July 2023, according to Wired, the project had attracted more than 700,000 online registrants expressing their interest in the so-far mostly conceptual micronation. Plus, “6,000 have signed up as paying e-residents, and roughly 1,000 have paid $5,000 or made an equivalent contribution to become full citizens.” Jedlička was optimistic in early August, for obvious reasons. After eight years of Croatian authorities generally trying to deny anyone entry to Liberland, they began mellowing out and allowing a gaggle of settlers, first handfuls and then close to dozens, to enter and even begin building structures there. Finally, as Jedlička told me in a phone interview in September, “We had a permanent presence inside of the territory.” Liberlander boats were beginning to bring in material to build solar power arrays and small shelters. A set of Liberland-branded deck chairs were lined up on their beach. The first Liberland-generated utility bill, for 25 euros for high-speed internet via Starlink, was proudly displayed on Facebook. Jedlička found a meadow in the jungly tree-thick land that he announced would be Liberland’s helicopter pad. Liberland’s and Jedlička’s Facebook feeds were awash with enthusiasm and video clips showing Liberlanders constructing, pumping water from a well, celebrating, making music, taking late-night swims, and generally luxuriating in finally being Liberlanders in practice and not just theory. Sure, Jedlička was a little annoyed that the Croats, while tolerating their settlement, were still randomly harassing or driving out individual Liberlanders for what he saw as illegitimate reasons. They’d hold up every boatload for as long as they could, obsessively checking papers and being general bureaucratic nuisances. And he was a little bugged that some of the big money sloshing around the world of libertarian and crypto causes weren’t rushing in during this exciting moment to more swiftly propel Liberland out of its cradle. But Jedlička’s attitude was overwhelmingly positive, even puckishly reframing Croatian harassment as really help—they might have thought they were confiscating a Liberland boat, but really they moved it to someplace Jedlička needed it to go. When they arrested him on September 7, and eventually kicked him out of Croatia, they were really giving him a chance to get some sleep away from all the constant Liberland business blowing up his phone all month. According to a Liberland press release, Jedlička had been “arrested and subsequently deported for a period of five years on grounds of ‘national security.'” He was told, per an earlier press release, that “proponents of Liberland had engaged in ‘extremist actions’ aimed at ‘undermining the position of Croatia.'” Some paperwork he got related to that arrest and expulsion was to Jedlička another wonderful gift from his Croat friends. He says the document listed two distinct expulsions: from Croatia and from Gornja Siga, which he insists means that “Gornja Siga is recognized to be not Croatia.” “They gave us really nice paperwork,” he says, that “basically recognizes the fact that they don’t believe that [Liberland] is part of Croatia.” Why Did the Croats Let the Liberlanders Settle (At First)? The reasons for August’s brief thaw in Croatian practice toward Liberland settlers are twofold, Jedlička and Liberland’s minister of foreign affairs, Thomas D. Walls, agreed in separate phone interviews in September. (Disclosure: Walls is an old college friend and former bandmate of mine.) One reason is that Croatia at the start of 2023 joined the Schengen Area, a 27-nation visa-free travel zone, meaning there are no border crossing requirements from Hungary to Croatia. As Jedlička says, this means legally if you have a Schengen Area passport, Liberlanders “cannot really be stopped. They can only be threatened.” A second reason, they both think, is bad press for Croatia that arose from a video made by YouTuber Niko Omilana, which has earned over 8 million views in the past two months. Omilana seemed to buy in totally to Jedlička’s vision of a new, free country. He vowed to set foot and plant the Liberland flag on the disputed territory—and, naturally, to capture it all on video. After a couple of failures, harassment from Croat police boats, and eventually zooming in on a jet ski faster than those boats, Omilana and a camera-wielding companion made landfall on Liberland. He planted the flag. He exulted in that cheerful YouTuber-dude way. A Croatian cop landed to challenge them. Despite believing he’d destroyed the Liberland explorers’ two cameras, a drone in the air captured the Croat cop shoving and kicking both men unnecessarily. “I think [the thaw in Liberland border control] is directly related to that,” Walls says. “It didn’t make the Croatian police look good at all—made them look like bumbling idiots and kind of brutal and, you know, why is he beating these people up for doing something that’s totally legal?” Jedlička believes the Croats have no legal reason to deny entrance to or harass Liberlanders. But throughout August and early September, despite the first multi-person Liberland settlement growing and building, the Croats were still randomly harassing them without worrying much about the legality of the matter. When the Croats have gotten annoyed with certain Liberland visitors, Jedlička relates, “people that have Schengen visa actually get [a] 30-day ban from Schengen after they visit Liberland. How ridiculous is that?” A lot seemed to depend on the attitude and mood of particular officials, Walls thinks. Jedlička too thinks certain police officials are hostile while others not so much, crediting one for pardoning a Liberlander from a Schengen-Area ban. The Croats still act like they’re in charge. “We built some structures already and they called in some kind of building inspector,” Walls says, “and they slapped a sticker on one of the houses we built that says, you know, you need a permit for this, but it doesn’t say exactly where [one gets a permit for this area]. So that’s going to be fun to take that to court and see. You know, the judge will say, well, what’s the location of [the structure]?” As weeks passed and the Liberland settlement continued to grow and build, Walls says the Croats especially “started putting the heat on people with non-Schengen passports,” including Americans. Other Americans he knew, though not Walls himself, “were removed, taken to the police station, given a stern talking to, and were given either seven days to leave Croatia or they were escorted out of Croatia.” The Croatian Invasion of Liberland Jedlička’s optimism in August and early September, as he saw the micronation’s first true settlement take root, was one thing; but he was equally optimistic in a phone interview this week when an outsider might think things were no longer going so well for Liberland. On September 21, as described in an article in Liberland Press, “a private company acting on behalf of the Croatian Forests (Hrvatske Šume d.o.o.) accompanied by police made an unannounced extraterritorial incursion into Liberland and demolished and removed Liberland property. Liberlanders living on the land were threatened with arrest if they interfered….Croatian police escorted the demolition crews who committed this act of indiscriminate destruction. This assault was committed without warning and without the forest company or police issuing any reasons or justification.” A series of videos documenting the assault on Liberland and the property destruction can be found on YouTube. A mournful Liberlander played his violin while throughout the day officials milled about, breaking up, chainsawing, and removing their shelters and kitchen. Jedlička sees all this as merely another small setback on his path to a thriving Liberland. He thinks the Croat media was nearly universally on Liberland’s side in coverage of the invasion and that the Croats will eventually decide it is “not sustainable” to keep such a close eye on Liberland. The whole experience, he says, amazed about the “100 calls from media in one or two days” after, ultimately gave Liberland a great public relations boost, its value far exceeding that of the objects destroyed or stolen. Jedlička still has big plans. So sure is he of a future rapprochement with Croatia that he finds the whole invasion “quite funny” (though he does lament that “they even stole our toilet, I cannot believe it”) and says more people, and bikes, are now staying on Liberland than before the Croats invaded. (He relates the latest Croat legal flex: detaining bike riders for lacking a vest to help them be better seen at night. Still, Jedlička’s expressed attitude toward all the Croats do is to pleasantly thank them for caring so much about the safety and security of his people. He says Liberlanders and Croats are now cooperating on trash gathering and removal.) Jedlička wants to get the cryptocurrency that will be the backbone of Liberland business and governance, Merit, on more exchanges at a two-euro valuation. He foresees adventure parks, hotels, and the world’s tallest building eventually built in his Liberland on the Croatian border. While Jedlička still believes a more permanent rapprochement will come with Croatia, and insists a vibrant Liberland will be an economic boon for Croats as well, Liberlanders aren’t taking the recent Croatian incursion and property destruction lying down. Jedlička says this week that they have filed court cases in various home jurisdictions of the Liberlanders who had their property taken by the Croats to get it back, and they even plan to hold native Liberlander judicial proceedings against them, in which merits will be given or taken away. All of it—the rebuilding of a settlement, the launching of Liberland’s judicial system, the daily petty conflicts with Croatian officials that Jedlička thinks are still illegitimate—will, he says, “make also a nice reality TV show out of the whole situation, which I think will be hilarious.” UPDATE: Vít Jedlička wants it on record that he does not consider Liberland a “micronation,” for one reason because a nation is a people separate from a specific area and he considers all 700,000 online signups to be part of the nation of Liberland.

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