LIBERLAND’S STATEHOOD UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW
The purpose of this briefing note is to discuss the role of the Free Republic of Liberland as an independent state actor and member of the international community and how the Free Republic of Liberland is establishing relations with the global community of nations.
The Free Republic of Liberland (known as “Liberland”) is a sovereign state with its physical territory located between Croatia and Serbia on the west bank of the Danube river. The nearest towns are Zmajevac (Croatia) and Bački Monoštor (Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Serbia). On some maps, this area is referred to as “Gornja Siga.” Since the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a border dispute has existed between Croatia and Serbia, with both sides presenting conflicting claims to various territories along the banks of the Danube River. However, this area along the west bank of the Danube River has not been claimed by either Croatia, Serbia or any other country and was therefore in a state of terra nullius, i.e. no man’s land, until the current president of the provisional government President Vít Jedlička and the other founders of Liberland laid claim to the territory on April 13, 2015.
In doing so, and in issuing a Proclamation of Independence, a new state in that territory was formed – Liberland. Its boundary is defined so as not to interfere with the existing territory either of Croatia or Serbia. Its total area of approximately 2.7 square miles (7 square kilometers) is now the third smallest sovereign state after the Vatican and Monaco. While Serbia has not officially recognized the government of Liberland as a neighboring state, its Foreign Ministry has stated that the “new state” of Liberland does not infringe upon its territory.
The guiding principles of Liberland’s founding philosophy are classical liberal (libertarian) ideals; i.e. limited government, free markets, voluntary association and peace. These principles, coupled with innovations in finance and technology can unleash a tremendous amount of human and economic potential – and serve as a model for the rest of the world.
THE STATEHOOD OF LIBERLAND UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW
Liberland’s right to acknowledged statehood is based on its fulfillment of criteria set forth into international law by the signing of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. On December 26, 1933, the Seventh International Conference of American States, also known as the Seventh Pan-American Conference, the declarative theory of statehood was codified into, and became an accepted part of, customary international law with the signing of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. Statehood, as defined by the declarative theory, views a state as a person in international law if it meets the following criteria: 1) has a defined territory; 2) has a permanent population; 3) has a government and 4) possesses a capacity to enter relations with other states. Being that the Montevideo Convention is merely a restatement of customary international law, the convention itself only codified existing legal norms and principles and therefore does not only apply solely to the signatories of the treaty, but to all subjects of international law as well. The convention became operative on December 26, 1934.
Liberland has met the criteria of statehood as set out by the Montevideo Convention in the following ways:
- Does Liberland have a defined territory? Yes. Liberland’s territory is located between Croatia and Serbia on the west bank of the Danube river. The official maps and territorial claims of both Croatia and Serbia were carefully studied so as not to encroach upon their territory. Serbia has stated publicly that Liberland is not located on any territory belonging to Serbia. Furthermore Croatia – despite the barrier created by its police around the territory – has maintained that the territory in question does not belong to Croatia, but to Serbia, denying any claim to the land for itself.
- Does Liberland have a permanent population? Yes. To date, Liberland has received nearly 500,000 applications for citizenship, of those approximately 115,000 people have submitted eligible applications. This is much more than applications for citizenship of many established and recognized countries. Roughly 500 people have received official citizenship and currently a contingent of several dozen people are living on the ground in nearby countries, awaiting the diplomatic resolution of Croatia’s blockade of Liberland’s lawfully claimed territory. Liberland citizens have registered several businesses on www.liberland.ltd and in the e-residency app. Liberland has attracted investors, adventurers and potential settlers from all over the world. We intend to harness the people power of Liberland into a global movement for individual liberty.
- Does Liberland have a government? Yes. Liberland’s provisional government has an operating structure with formalized meetings, processes and protocols. It has executive, judicial, finance and diplomatic branches with their own (and shared) responsibilities. Liberland already has a draft constitution with plans to enable citizen participation and ratify the proposed constitution within the near future. Liberland’s national treasury currently holds reserves exceeding her entire expenses since her founding, fully funding the government’s budget and repeatedly resulting in a budget surplus.
- Does Liberland possess a capacity to enter relations with other states? Yes. The standing provisional government has established at least 60 active representative offices worldwide and has conducted meetings with high-level officials of foreign governments, including those of the United States of America and several governments in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Diplomats from several established states have also shown support for Liberland by attending its meetings and events. As an international legal personality, Liberland has the ability to sign agreements and treaties and to send and receive legations. For instance, we have established relations with Somaliland, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and mutually recognize each others’ passports. We have engaged with local and regional officials to bring Liberland businesses to a number of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Serbia and other countries. The economic situation in the Balkans offers Liberland and Liberland businesses a prime opportunity for investment and growth in several sectors, and we feel area governments should and will be receptive to our message.
Additional international legal considerations in Liberland’s favor:
- The formation of Liberland as a state is based on self-government of its own people, i.e. its citizens
- Liberland was proclaimed with the tacit consent of its parent state Serbia, which has waived claim to the territory
- Liberland does not violate the territorial integrity of any other country
- Liberland was not claimed by use of force
- Liberland is not a separatist or secession movement
- Liberland is not a coup or takeover of an existing state
- There is no applicable counterclaim to that of Liberland on the indicated territory
Will Liberland try to join the EU?
No, Liberland does not seek accession to the EU. We do aspire to join organizations such as EFTA (European Free Trade Association) and possibly the CEI (Central European Initiative). We have attained observer status with the Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and are considering applying for comparable roles in several other international organizations.
“Liberland is a provocative idea which has reached serious proportions.” Miro Kovač, Former Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs
The main challenge Liberland is facing as a state is Croatia’s extraterritorial blockade of the territory that defines Liberland. Croatia has made no claim to this land, but instead insists that the territory belongs to Serbia – although it does not allow visitors coming from Serbia (or Serbians) to reach the land. Croatia claims that since Serbia is unwilling to maintain governance over this territory, Croatia must step in and police the region on behalf of Serbia, again while fully denying any claim to the territory itself. Croatian forces also prevent Croatian nationals or visitors coming from Croatia from accessing the territory (with the exception of unknown persons entering from the Croatian side last year who demolished the old hunting lodge – a structure we intended to fully renovate).
Although we firmly believe that international law allows Liberland to exercise its rights within this territory, Croatian police regularly block access to the land around the clock, threatening to arrest anyone who sets foot on the territory. Liberland has instead opted to abstain from any kind of confrontation, respect the national borders of our neighbors and attempt to reach a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the situation. Liberland believes that founding the country on good terms with its neighbors is in the best interest of all parties involved. We seek to reach a solution which clearly delineates on the map where Croatia’s jurisdiction starts — and where it ends. Our channels remain open for communication with the officials of our neighbors.
Our burden includes challenging and transforming the status quo and petitioning other nations and organizations to accept it and its declaration of independence and recognize the state of the Free Republic of Liberland, which has emerged as a matter-of-fact entity. It should be noted that Croatia became an internationally recognized state without its government having complete control of its territory, as did Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although to date the creation of new states has been defined by political process, Liberland’s goal is to harness diplomatic, commercial and technological and human resources to make its settlement and development a reality, including but not limited to the territory it claims.
Liberland already brings tourism, maritime industry and high-tech businesses to the region, in particular to Serbia. The very idea of a free zone existing between Croatia and Serbia has sparked immense interest in the region, and we are currently talking to investors and entrepreneurs willing to invest in shipping and construction manufacturing facilities to a free trade zone in a nearby port city. Liberland citizens have settled in the capital Belgrade, opening multiple high-tech and cryptocurrency enterprises. Liberland has brought considerable business to the local boating, transportation, real estate, restaurant and hotel industries. By expanding on this approach, and making this strategy clear to regional stakeholders, we will succeed in demonstrating the real value we can bring to the table. We seek to bring enormous benefits to the area while at the same time conserving the historic character and beautiful nature of the region. Liberland looks to be of an ally and friend of its neighbors. Although we are small in size, we can be an additional voice in favor of the interests of the region among the community of nations.
In order to advance its rightful claim, Liberland’s goal is to have a seat at the table when a future arbitration panel convenes to resolve border issues between Croatia, Liberland and Serbia. Neither Croatia nor Serbia asserts that the territory of Liberland belongs to them; it is our position that a tribunal, court or arbitration panel will not award something to a party that does not claim it. If necessary, our legal team is prepared to appeal to the International Court of Justice to ensure proportionate representation on such a panel.
- Liberland Beer – Award-winning brands now available in several countries. In the past Liberland wine has also been bottled by a local vineyard in Serbia.
- Liberland Air runs charter flights to certain destinations in Europe
- Liberland is preparing its own ICO (Initial Coin Offering) for Liberland Merits
- Liberland is working with leaders in the blockchain industry to develop forward-thinking systems for citizen participation, property rights, records management and more
- Liberland sponsors a wheelchair basketball team in the nearby port of Apatin, Serbia
- Former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul was recently awarded Liberland citizenship
- Vehicle registry: Liberland license plates are legal to drive with in continental Europe and have been cleared with auto insurance providers
- Active ship registry – Liberland not only has a large ship but several other vessels that operate in European and international waters, and is committed to adhere to customs of Maritime Law
- Miss Liberland won the crown at the Ms. Freedom World Pageant held last year in Belgrade
- Liberland has a chess team and rowing team, and is looking to be competitive in other sports including the Olympics
- Liberland diplomatic passports have been accepted by at least 10 countries so far. On several occasions, our diplomats have been received with full diplomatic visas, security details and other formalities that are afforded to official state visits.
- Liberland has hosted diplomatic and commercial meetings and events in (partial list): Austria, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somaliland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, UK, United States of America, and Venezuela. Several additional diplomatic tours are scheduled.
Liberland receives hundreds of emails and messages a day about citizenship and is unable to respond to every inquiry. If you have successfully submitted your application, you should be receiving regular updates via email (be sure to check your bulk mail folder in case they ended up there). The absolute minimum requirements for citizenship include:
- You have to apply at liberland.org and fill out the application correctly
- Not have a serious (i.e. felony/fraud/violent) criminal record
- Not be an extremist (i.e. No Nazis, Communists, militants, etc)
We also ask that potential citizens:
- Understand Liberland’s principles of individual liberty and economic freedom
- Stay up to date on Liberland news and our progress and attend our events if possible
- Get involved in the Liberland organization – or your country’s Liberland honorary consulate – and demonstrate to us how you can help us move things forward. If your country does not have official Liberland representation, qualified candidates may be considered for those positions and we will issue the official Handbook for Liberland Representatives shortly.
- Contact your own country’s lawmakers and diplomatic officials and present the case for Liberland’s statehood to them. Please send us a copy of your communication along with any official responses.
Note that citizenship is not automatic and is not free for the asking. It is not just a matter of waiting and it is not a random selection process. You need to help Liberland move forward in some manner (in diplomacy, commercial relations, the cryptocurrency world, public relations, technology, etc) and earn or donate the equivalent amount in Merits. In addition, visitors to Liberland are subject to the laws and admission requirements of all countries they pass through. We cannot help you with obtaining visas for other countries.
-Free Republic of Liberland official website www.liberland.org
-“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (But Still So Far): Assessing Liberland’s Claim of Statehood,” Gabriel Rossman, University of Chicago Journal of International Law (2016)
-“An Argument for the International Recognition of Liberland,” Christopher Balch, Mich. Journal of International Law (2015)
–Democratic Statehood in International Law – The Emergence of New States in Post-Cold War Practice, Jure Vidmar, Hart Publishing (2013)
-Multi-part economic study issued by the Libek Foundation of Serbia. Select documents will be made available in Spring 2018, including:
- Free Trade Zones in Serbia
- Business Regulatory Framework of Serbia
- Comparative Analysis of Taxes in Serbia, Hungary and Croatia
- Importance of Economic Freedom
- Stakeholder Analysis