When Vit Jedlicka proclaimed a new state on a remote patch of land in southern Europe on April 13 — symbolically chosen as it is Thomas Jefferson's birthday—he never imagined the immediate global impact his democratic project would have.
"We have been overwhelmed with citizenship applications," the 31-year-old told VICE News, a week after he and two fellow Czech libertarians established "Liberland" on a patch of unclaimed, no man's land between Croatia and Serbia and invited prospective citizens join him.
The stats are sensational: in its first week Liberland received, from all around the globe, 220,000 registrations; 1,200,000 website visits; and 100,000 Facebook followers, and it was the subject of 1,810,000 Google searches. The three-square-mile area of Gornja Siga—located on the west bank of the river Danube, population zero, and only accessible by car over miles of dust roads—has gone from being one of Europe's most obscure corners to one of the most talked about places on Earth.
Traveling to Liberland by car involves a cross-country trip across Croatian B-roads, dirt tracks, and dales, with the last few miles a drive along the top of the dam that protects the surrounding area from the Danube's occasional floods. There is no sign of the Croatian border police, who had reportedly closed off Gornja Siga. On a recent trip to check out the new state, VICE News met a pick-up truck driver after half an hour without a single sign of human life. "Are we in Liberland yet?" VICE News asked him. The mystery driver replied in the affirmative, visibly unimpressed, before speeding off as fast as the makeshift road allowed. The nearby gate to the north was padlocked, so the only way was to continue on foot.
Gornja Siga is predominantly beautiful forest land, mixed with sandy beaches along some parts of the west Danube bank. Deer and rabbits gambol, foxes and wild boar charge around the fringes, and falcons, eagles and other birdlife soar overhead. With only one dilapidated building it is a stretch to picture it as a Balkan libertarian tax haven, which Jedlicka wants to model on Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, having decamped to Prague for two weeks, the libertarians will return on May 1, when the first task will be the renovation of Liberland's sole building, which has stood empty for 30 years, Jedlicka said. He added that Liberland has been promised a slew of donations from potential backers, including $10,000 toward a boat. This money would go toward "a permanent way we can transport materials and maybe even cars to Liberland; [otherwise] we would be totally cut off from civilization," he added.
Water access via the river Danube is a logistical boon, he explained. "The great thing about Liberland is that it has this river that legally has sea status, so we have a free entry there from whichever country is on the Danube. You can go to Liberland and not have to worry too much about the borders," Jedlicka said, adding, "I am aware there is flooding from time to time. If we have that problem, we will be Venice some parts of the year. If it was a big deal we would build a city on [stilts]; that also could be nice. There are so many possibilities."
Jedlicka explained his decision to choose Gornja Siga very simply: "it was pretty much one of the last terrea nullius on Earth." Originally a concept of Roman Law, terrae nullius are territories that have never been subject to the sovereignty of a state, or over which the prior sovereign has relinquished sovereignty.
Anyone is welcome to apply to become a citizen of Liberland, provided they respect the opinions and property of others, and have no connections to extremist political organizations, according to its official charter. Liberland's motto is "Live and Let Live." It is pronounced Lib-erland, as in liberal," Jedlicka says, adding that Germans tend to say "'Liebe-land'—although that could be appropriate because the area is kind of heart shaped."
Jaromir Miskovsky, who is one of half a dozen recruits processing applications at Liberland's temporary "embassy" in Prague's Second District, told VICE News, "We are setting up a free country. We don't want Nazis and Communists," he adds. The project has received a "huge variety" of citizenship requests from blue collar workers in Egypt to Montenegrin judges to banking executives from Hong Kong, Miskovsky said. Asked what has been the strangest application so far, Miskovsky responded, "The question should be, 'What was the most normal application?' There is one guy from northern Africa who has said he would help lay our pipes, all the way to people in Syria who are running away from state oppression," he adds. Many applications have come from citizens of Serbia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic too.
"We are pretty much liberal," Jedklicka told VICE News. "We have all these Facebook groups, Gays in Liberland, Transsexuals in Liberland, even a Liberland army, although we will not have a standing army, only a police force. There is every kind of interest group being set up right now," Jedlicka adds.
Town planners have also got to work, sending Jedlicka potential plans for the proposed settlement, which Jedlicka unveiled along with a draft constitution at a 500-seater lecture hall in Prague on April 20. Liberland has also had offers to set up a postal service, a land registration program, a telecommunications antenna, and a solar energy field. Even the constitution itself has been drafted by a helpful volunteer. "We have one exceptional constitutional lawyer who has been working for us 24/7 since he saw the story, who is helping us set up the whole system."
According to the plans, which draws on the US, UK, Swiss, and other constitutions, Liberland will have 20 official representatives, to be elected every five years, with 10 years the maximum term in office allowed. It will have open borders and taxation will be optional. "Citizens will only pay tax for specific projects," the libertarian politician told those present on Monday night. A fierce Euro-sceptic, Jedlicka said Liberland will apply to join the Schengen Zone and the European Free Trade Association, but not the European Union.
"We really wanted to start something new because we were frustrated. I have spent the last five years trying to educate people in the Czech Republic and in Europe with my website reformy.cz," Jedlicka says. "Now the state takes more than half of what you earn, and we could call that capitalism, but it's not capitalism if you work past the end of June for the state, this is something between capitalism and Communism," he adds.
Jedlicka is a former member of the Czech Civic Democratic Party and stood as a European Parliament candidate for the Party of Free Citizens last year. He said he closely identifies with the US two-time Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. There will be no central bank in Liberland, Jedlicka added, claiming central bankers "meet secretly in Basel and decide which governments will survive and which ones will not." He also claims that the termination of the prime ministerial term of former Czech President Vaclav Klaus in September 2014 was part of an international political coup, stemming from his views on the Ukrainian crisis, criticism of homosexuality, and support of European far-right parties.
Jedlicka denied identification as a right-winger, however. "The media calls us right wing but we are not, we are not here for the rich, we are not here for the poor, we are here for everybody, and that's the great thing about Libertarianism. This is about preserving liberty. We have all these people from Egypt, Algeria, and Turkmenistan. They will have to learn about all these liberal ideas to pass the application test. That is an amazing aspect of this process."
His main ideological touchstone is Murray M. Rothhard, the US libertarian who once said "all taxation is theft" and wrote, "I frankly don't see anything wrong with greed … greed will continue until the Garden of Eden arrives, when everything is superabundant, and we don't have to worry about economics at all."
Whether Liberland can become an economic Eden will depend on whether Jedlicka can establish relations with other states, particularly the two that neighbor it. Jedlicka says Liberland has already received its first diplomatic note, "from our friend Jeremiah Heaton," an eccentric American who last year controversially "took over Bir Tawil—around 800 square miles of terra nullius between Sudan and Egypt—and renamed it the Kingdom of North Sudan, which Jedlicka says has been recognized by both countries. Heaton's motives were more frivolous, however: His seven-year-old daughter had told him she wanted to be a princess, so he reasoned he would first have to become a king, and claimed the uninhabited desert land.
"We had been thinking about taking over the part of land before our friend Jeremiah Heaton took it," Jedlicka revealed. Claiming terra nullius between Serbia and Croatia will be more difficult, however: Serbia is a European Union candidate country, and Croatia is the EU's most recent entrant. Planting a flag is not enough; the area will have to be settled to have any chance of being recognized internationally, and Serbia and Croatia are unlikely to let that happen.
But Jedlicka argued that the pan-European project of the EU has failed, citing the example of the billionaire politician Andrej Babis as evidence of how unfair the system has become. "He is an ex-secret service official who is now minister of finance and is also the third richest man in the Czech Republic, and yet is the recipient of the most state donations," he adds. Eastern European states are younger than those in Western Europe, the Czech politician added, "but maybe because our democracies are newer, we have more chance of waking up."
Jedlicker and his fellow Liberlanders will test that theory further on May 1.