One of Europe's newest micronations, Liberland, has been experiencing a few teething problems.
It claims that "citizen" Ulrik Grøssel Haagensen was arrested by police on Thursday shortly after he set foot on "Liberty Island," a piece of land in the Danube river that Liberland has claimed as part of their territory.
Dramatic footage provided to VICE News shows a man in a yellow t-shirt hurriedly running through sand before being handcuffed and dragged to a police boat that is flying a Croatian flag.
In a statement, Liberland accused Croatia of invading and added: "Taking part in the hostilities was an unlawful combatant disguised as a fisherman in an unmarked fishing boat, working in tandem with the Croatian forces."
Vit Jedlicka, Czech politician and self-declared president of Liberland, told VICE News that this was only one of many arrests by the Croatian police. In total so far they have documented 35 "cases where citizens were taken forcibly," he said, though he charged that there may have been at least 100 more.
In May, Jedlicka himself was arrested and fined for trespassing by Croatian police as he was attempting to cross the border to Liberland.
Liberland is located on an unclaimed, 2.7-mile area between Croatia and Serbia, also known as Gornja Siga. Liberland claimed this territory on April 13, when they declared their intention to begin a new nation that operated under the motto: "To live and let live."
The organizers have since set up a crowdfunding platform, some of which is supposed to fund the president's weekly diplomatic trips to different countries.
Along with Haagensen, Tomas Zdechovsky, a Czech member of the European Parliament (MEP), also made the journey to Liberland on Thursday, but told VICE News he avoided being arrested because of his diplomatic passport.
"I was there and I visited the camps between Serbia and Croatia," Zdechovsky told VICE News. He said that a woman who went with him had been detained, though he avoided arrest because he has diplomatic immunity. "I [visited] Liberland so I can see how it functions," he added.
Zdechovsky told VICE News that he thinks Liberland is a fantastic opportunity to bring people to what is essentially a very poor region. "There are only mosquitos and nothing else," he said, "so I think that this idea and this marketing program can bring something new to Croatia. Bringing new people, bringing money."
However, the MEP also recognized that Croatia may have issues with the new influx of Liberlanders. "I think for Croatia it is a huge problem that someone can take land from it [though] I must say the police were very good. They spoke to us. They explained the situation."
Zdechovsky added that he felt the reaction was a sign that "Croatia must more speak with this young generation. I think Liberland is a perfect idea… I know this is the land of Croatia and is very sensitive between these two countries, but it's better when Croatia takes from it positive things."
When Jedlicka last spoke to VICE News in May, he announced that the country was planning weekly citizenship parties. The actions of the Croatian police have somewhat obstructed that in the month since, he noted.
"We are always going [to Liberland], inviting police to the party and inviting police to come with us, and when they turn us away we [tell them] that we'll come again next Friday. We always take the boat and invite the police for the party. We've got some flowers, some beers," Jedlicka said. "Nice sunny people, that is the way we want to get this country started."
Liberland has also apparently been receiving hordes of requests for citizenship — 500 per day, according to Jedlicka, adding up to 100,000s — though he acknowledged that they couldn't all be given out.
"We hope to get 1 million by the end of the year. There will be a process for the people. They will have to find a way how they can significantly help us and they have to find a way to get to Serbia or Liberland, to get citizenship from me. I'm giving out citizenship to the people."
In the meantime Liberland hopefuls have been camping out at a spot in Serbia, mere miles from what they see as their rightful territory.
"It's going great," Jedlicka said. "We've just made a deal with Red Cross of Serbia where we will camp two miles from Liberland. We set up our government buildings right next to the Red Cross." Jedlicka said there were as many as 300 people currently in the camp. "We set up Red Cross of Liberland two days ago. and they are very keen on the idea of having Liberland next to the camp."
Jedlicka said that the next major party would be Liberland Independence Day on July 3 — "one day ahead of American Independence Day, we just want to be one day ahead," he explained. On the Serbian side of the border, they plan on having music stages and invite anyone interested to come along.
However, only those with diplomatic passports will be allowed to actually set food on the contested territory.
"We will have a big celebration there again on July 3 but only people with diplomatic passports will be allowed to take part in it," Jedlicka said. "I will get one probably, there are various ways. I can become a member of the European Parliament." He added: "This is not necessary at the moment but it would be nice if I could go onto Liberland."
Inspired by Liberland, the micronation of Enclava has proclaimed itself just down the Danube river.
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