Surely the most bizarre territorial dispute in the world currently takes on the latest surreal twist as the self-proclaimed state of Liberland sends a letter of protest to the Croatian Foreign Ministry on September 7, 2017, over the destruction and removal of the only building on its self-proclaimed sovereign territory.
Some people have told me that I write too much about the self-proclaimed Free State of Liberland – a tiny 7km2 slice of land which has lain unclaimed by any country on the left-hand bank of the Danube between Croatia and Serbia for 25 year, but I disagree. Apart from being a romantic story in a less than romantic age, a story which has inspired more than half a million people to seek citizenship in the 2.5 years since its declaration, the reaction of its closest neighbour, Croatia, has been a lesson in absurdity to observe.
The brief background paragraph for those who have never heard of Liberland and have no clue what I am talking about. In April 2015, a Czech national, his girlfriend and another friend planted a flag in this small piece of land, declaring the Free State of Liberland under a law called terra nullius. It may seem incredible after the recent conflict in the region that there was any territory between Croatia and Serbia that was unclaimed by either nation, but it was true, and the reason was logical. The small pocket of land on the left of the Danube would naturally fit into the modern Croatia, with Serbia logically taking territory on the right of the river, but logic and the Balkans rarely mix. The catastar maps dating back to the 19th century had the Danube flowing differently, and this so-called Liberland was Serbian territory while some bigger parcels of land on the right-hand side were Croatian. Serbia, being practical was only interested in the modern border and wanted everything to the right, and declared it had no interest in this Liberland plot; Croatia, presumably wanting the bigger pieces across the river, did not claim the 7km2 Liberland plot. Liberland’s plan is to turn the territory into a modern city with a libertarian approach, which will attract tens of thousands of citizens and create huge economic opportunity for Slavonia, a region which is suffering from crippling emigration due to lack of economic opportunity.
Land without a state claiming it is a rare, but far from unique situation around the globe. Enter Vit Jedlicka, the President of Liberland.
After the international headlines about this supposed Czech prankster had subsided, two things happened. It appeared that this was in fact no joke, and Jedlicka fully intended to create his country, and the Croatian authorities took a rather dim view of the whole thing. Firstly they arrested the president and put him in jail briefly, when he tried to enter Liberland from Croatia. The president was not unhappy about this, because it showed that Croatia recognised that there was a border, and also that he would not have to spend money keeping intruders out (or so he thought at the time), as Croatia was doing a fine job preventing anyone leaving its country to try and enter his.
Secondly, they arrested the president again, this time without any logic whatsoever, as he tried to enter the territory directly from the river. Croatia has never had any territorial claims on the land, and so why they would arrest anyone entering a piece of land from an international waterway over which they had no sovereignty or claim was a little strange, but the president saw the inside of a Croatian cell once more. Croatian patrol boats appeared on the Danube to prevent anyone coming down the river and attempting to enter some territory which has absolutely nothing to do with Croatia. To get a feel of just how surreal the situation has been, here is an account of the first Liberland conference, held in a village near Osijek at the height of the migrant crisis, when 650,000 migrants were passing through Croatia – many without papers – while an EU citizen with valid passport was denied entry. Alice in LiberWonderland.
Freedom for Liberland! from MEL Films on Vimeo.
The patrol boats seem to have stopped, and now Liberlanders have house boats on its riverbank, with the plan to start offering the first AirBnB rentals to Liberlanders shortly. Accommodation in the small territory is an issue, as there is only one building on the land, a derelict hunting lodge. At least there was until a few days ago.
The Liberland Foreign Ministry sent a letter of protest to the Croatian Foreign Minister on September 7, 2017, which you can read in full below. Persons entered Liberland from Croatia in the last few days, and then fully destroyed the house AND took away all materials, leaving only the footprint of the house as the only evidence that it ever existed. Croatia has been actively preventing anyone leaving Croatia to enter Liberland, and so it is inconceivable that they would not have noticed someone coming the other way carrying a house. At least I hope it would be inconceivable. Croatia is gearing up to join the Schengen zone, and it would be surely a mild concern to Schengen partners if Croatia did not notice someone carrying a house into the zone.
Official collusion is therefore inevitable (something confirmed by local sources). The question is why. I called the spokesperson’s office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but no reply. Perhaps the reason is that the tourist season is now finishing, and the powers that be need new topics to talk about – the renaming of squares, the removal of plaques, the threats from the neighbours – to keep the masses diverted from the reality of what is happening in Croatia. Those who are still here, that is.