Earlier this week, a Czech citizen named Vít Jedlička declared the creation of a new libertarian micronation on a small plot of unclaimed land between Croatia and Serbia. The Republic of Liberland, as Jedlička calls his new territory, lies on 2.7 square miles of land between Serbia and Croatia, on the western bank of the Danube River, in what is known as the Gornjua Siga region, which lays unclaimed as the two neighboring nations continue to hash out longstanding border disputes.
Although Jedlička, a 31-year-old leader of the Czech Republic's libertarian Party of Free Citizens with a moderate Facebook following, has done little more than raise a flag and make a declaration, he's already invited people from around the world to apply for citizenship, digital or residential, by sending him an e-mail with a scan of any photo ID and a cover letter explaining their desire to join him in his libertarian utopia.
"The goal of the founder of the new state is to create a society in which honest people can prosper, without having the state making their life difficult with unnecessary restrictions and taxes," reads an official statement from the Republic, as recorded by Croatia Week. "One of the reasons for the establishment of Liberland is the increasing influence of interest groups on the functioning of the states and worsening living conditions."
Although Liberland has yet to come up with a constitution or set of laws, we know a little bit about the contours of Jedlička's ideal society: The self-proclaimed state describes itself as a constitutional republic with elements of direct democracy. Statements made to the Czech media suggest that the governance structure will draw on the model of the Swiss constitution, and consist of a 10- to 20-man assembly elected by an electronic voting system. Operating under the motto " To Live and Let Live," the state will maintain open borders, keep no standing army, and limit the power of politicians, requiring them to maintain a low tax rate and explicitly forbidding them from accruing national debt.
The nation, which has a flag and coat of arms, currently uses Czech, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian as its official languages. Although citizenship is theoretically open to anyone who respects libertarian ideas about personal freedom and private ownership, Liberland will not accept applications from present or past communists, Nazis, or any whom deemed to have an unacceptable criminal past.
Since news of Liberland first started popping up on Balkan social media on Tuesday, the news has taken off—especially since it's become clear that Jedlička is apparently dead serious about his new country. He has stated that he will try to seek recognition from Croatia and Serbia, before turning towards the rest of the world, and claims to be devising a digital currency (for now the use of alternative currencies will be allowed).
He recently told TIME that he's received 20,000 citizenship applications and expects that number to jump to 100,000 by week's end, with some people offering to relocate immediately. Jedlička plans to accept just 3,000 to 5,000 applications, and aims for a national population of 35,000 in the future, not all of whom will live on-site full-time.
"It started a little bit like a protest," Jedlička told TIME. "But now it's really turning out to be a real project with support."
It's worth noting that the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, the basic smell-test for whether one has a claim on sovereignty, requires that independent entities have a permanent population, defined territory, established government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states—only one of which Liberland now has.
Jedlička is far from the only one out there seeking recognition for a micronation, a self-declared sovereign entity, different from recognized microstates. There are over 400 active micronations in the world. Some are just the size of an individual home, while others are larger than existing countries (Liberland itself is on the small side, although larger than Monaco and the Vatican). The microstate concept is so popular that there are how-to guides for creating your own state, and a guidebook to the world's existing micronations published by Lonely Planet in 2006. Most of these micronations declared their existence and asserted their independence in the 1970s and 1990s, but even today a few pop up occassionally—each with vastly different aims and identities.
"There are incredible differences among them and no clear sense of unity at all," Judy Lattas, a professor of sociology at Australia's Macquarie University and an expert on micronations, told CNN last year. "Some are secessionists and some aren't. Some are more like virtual game-playing, some are art projects, some are very cyberpunk and others are quite serious political protests or indigenous sovereignty movements."
Most of the world's micronations aren't quite as serious as Liberland appears to be, creating flags, titles, and declarations but never following through on seeking independence. There was actually a non-serious parallel to Liberland last year, when a Virginian claimed a patch of terra nullis desert between Egypt and Sudan, Bir Tawal, just so that his daughter could be the Princess of North Sudan for a bit. Some are outright jokes, or bids at attracting tourism, like the Czech Republic's highly monetized and publicized Kingdom of Wallachia. A few are outright scams, like the Dominion of Melchizedek or the Kingdom of EneKio, which exist to dupe immigrants into buying passports, citizenship papers, and such.
Still, quite a few micronations actually arise as legitimate forms of political protest or experimentation—to publicize a cause or concept, or test the limits of international law. In 2010, with Latta's help, some of the most serious micronations convened a global conference in Sydney to explore new ways of earning recognition and functional sovereignty (many micronations exist on other nations' claimed territory, and some even still pay taxes, although they prefer to call it a tribute or protection money).
A number of the world's previous dead-serious micronations were, like Liberland, libertarian utopian projects. Among the most notable were the Principality of Freedonia, which attempted to buy territory from the de facto independent region of Somaliland in 2001, but wound up accidentally inciting a riot, which may have led to Freedonia's collapse. In a more direct parallel to Liberland, the libertarian Republic of Minerva tried in 1971 to claim a few unclaimed coastal reef islands 250 miles off the coast of Tonga in the South Pacific, well outside of territorial waters, but the King of Tonga responded by claiming the islands for himself and ousting the American idealists when the British navy rolled in and scared them off.
Some of the more serious micronations have managed to survive for some time, achieving a degree of autonomy without being conquered. The Principality of Hutt River, founded in 1970 in the Australian outback as a protest against farm quotas, has managed to operate on its own for over 40 years, despite some tensions with the government, by keeping to itself on land that no one is especially concerned about.
Sealand, founded in 1967 by the late patriarch of Britain's eccentric Bates family on a WWII-era fortification off the United Kingdom coast has managed to assert its independence in British courts, thanks to its location beyond English territorial waters. Sealand's location, and the general lack of interest in the tiny, worthless land, has allowed it to become an online data haven and pirate radio station, and get away with other quasi-unsavory bids to earn enough income to keep its few residents solvent.
If the history of micronations tells us anything, it's that their survival likely depends on them not rocking the boat—and on no nation deciding to take umbrage with or finding value in the land they've claimed. If Jedlička raises too much of a ruckus, his project could easily fall into the same trap as Freedonia or Minerva, invaded or run out of the region. Time will tell whether the idealistic Czech protestor-turned-state builder has the stamina to push the project forwards, and just how willing Croatia and Serbia will be to tolerate his project.
"The only thing that could stop us is an army," Jedlička told Bitcoin Magazine.
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