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Croatian Police Are Preventing the Settlement of the Micronation of Liberland

Liberland was founded on a three square mile parcel of what its founder says is no-man's land, but Croatia begs to differ.
Screengrab: YouTube

Although officials have written off Liberland, a self-proclaimed micronation on disputed land along the Serbia-Croatia border, as nothing more than a "virtual quip," police on the ground are taking Liberlanders very seriously.

Liberland is located on three square miles of disputed land that hugs the Danube River. In April this year, a libertarian politician from the Czech Republic named Vit Jedlicka staked a claim to the unpopulated forestland, calling it Liberland and naming himself president. It started as a bit of a stunt, but as interest in joining the micronation—which would use Bitcoin, be tax-free, off-the-grid, and run under libertarian values—grew, Jedlicka started to take the idea much more seriously.


Since then, Jedlicka has had hundreds of thousands of people apply for citizenship. He established a Swiss nonprofit called the Liberland Settlement Association (LSA) that works to legally secure the micronation's claim on the land, and (along with some of Liberland's new citizens) has started to actively occupy the area. It's more than just a flag and a name, real people are trying to carve out a piece of land as the world's newest country, and Croatian authorities are having none of it.

"We're constantly sending people into Liberland," Michael Glaser, the chief operating officer of the LSA, told me over the phone. "They're staying. They're camping overnight. They're there all the time. We're trying to keep a continuous presence there in an attempt to homestead and to bolster our claim internationally. But, basically, when the Croatian police see people there, they immediately arrest them."

Many of Liberland's citizens are holed up in two villas the group have rented in Serbia near the border. Though Serbian officials wanted to know what they were up to when they first arrived, Glaser said police on the Serbian side of the border have left them alone for the most part. Croatian police, however, regularly patrol the area claimed by Liberland and have made multiple arrests of Liberland citizens.

The problem is a disagreement over the status of the land. From Liberland's point of view, the area is terra nullius—or no man's land—because it hasn't been occupied or claimed by any nation since Yugoslavia began to dissolve in the early 1990s. From Croatia's point of view, it's a disputed area that is either Serbian land or Croatian land, but definitely not Liberland.


"The border between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Serbia is still the subject of negotiations between the two countries," the Croatian government's Office of the Spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Motherboard. "Regardless of the fact that the border has not yet been finally determined, the area concerned does not involve no man's land (terra nullius) which could be subject to occupation by a third party."

The statement went on to emphasize that the disputed area is currently under control of the Croatian border police and any visitors there have to abide by border-crossing laws. While it used more formal words, the government said you can't just plant a flag and camp out in this area.

And they're not just keeping an eye on the situation. Police have been aggressively patrolling the area, making multiple arrests and charges. One 17-year-old Liberland resident who was arrested claimed Croatian policelocked him in a windowless cell with no food or water for 20 hours, while video footage has captured the police aggressively detaining Liberlanders:

Croatian citizens have often spent summer days in this area, relaxing on the banks of the Danube, and the increased police presence seems completely out of place, according to local news reports. Police even told local media Croatian citizens can still go to the area freely, it's just Liberland they're worried about. Why are they so concerned about a few libertarian hippies putting down roots in a more or less abandoned stretch of forest?

"They are very paranoid because this is a gateway to the European Union," explained Vera Mironova, a graduate research fellow in Harvard's negotiations program who has spent years studying the history of this disputed area. Mironova told me via Skype that Croatia is very conscientious about tight border security because it lies at a geographic edge of the EU.

Mironova said this area of Croatia has a troubled history and a strained relationship with the nation's capital. If they allow Liberland, which has approved citizenship for people from all over the world, to set up shop so close to the border, they could risk illegal immigrants being able to sneak into the European Union.

"If worst comes to worst it would be very bad so they're going to fight hard in the very beginning to not let the door even open. They could not just ignore it as a joke," Mironova said.

But the police presence hasn't deterred Liberland. The LSA has secured legal representation to defend individuals who are arrested and citizens continue to cross into the disputed area to wave flags, play volleyball, and thumbs their noses at Croatia's nervous police. Liberland is determined to become the world's newest country, and Croatia is determined to stopping them.