September 23, 2023 – Another twist in Europe’s most bizarre border story, as Croatian police oversee an operation to dismantle the settlement in Liberland.
Another week, another twist in the 8-year saga on Croatia’s eastern border on the Danube. A story which gets stranger and stranger, with the latest development being that the Croatian police crossed the county’s external Schengen border to oversee the dismantling of the nascent settlement on the so-called Free State of Liberland, a 7km2 piece of land on the Danube, unclaimed by any country for over 25 years until Czech national Vit Jedlicka claimed it for his new country back in April, 2015.
The territory, which officially belonged to Serbia in the land registry (the land registry dates back to Austro-Hungarian times when the Danube flowed differently) has been robustly patrolled by the Croatian police, who had been actively preventing anyone visiting Liberland until just a few weeks ago.
Two things changed this year. The first was that Croatia entered the Schengen zone, and the border between the two territories became not only a Croatian border, but also a Schengen one. Other Schengen citizens no longer had the need to cross a Croatian border, and there was no reason to stop someone with a Schengen visa/citizenship from coming down the Danube on a jetski from Hungary, for example.
One man who did just that back in April was popular YouTuber Niko Omilana, who was kicked on camera by a Croatian policeman (the policeman was subsequently disciplined). Omilana’s viral video came out a few months later (more than 8 million views so far – see above), and around this time the situation on the ground changed. The first wooden constructions began.
Liberland announced the opening of an official border crossing point, which included an agreed passport check with the Croatian police. Such a turnaround seemed unlikely to me (I have been following the story since 2015), and so I decided to visit myself, with a photographer from PIXSELL. And indeed it was true. You can read my account – Visiting Liberland 2016 v 2023: a MASSIVE Difference – and watch the PIXSELL video below.
President Jedlicka’s 40th birthday celebrations on September 9 brought a new twist. His birthday present from the Croatian police was arrest and a ban from entering Croatia and Liberland for 5 years. Tents were confiscated and a halt to construction was ordered, but people were allowed to stay. Again, from a legal aspect, this land is outside Croatia and the Schengen zone.
And then, according to the settlers, on September 21, Croatian police arrived once more unannounced, and a private company began dismantling and confiscating almost everything, including food, apparently with no written explanation or report.
A very unusual situation in Europe’s craziest border story, and one where the legal status on what just happened is fascinating.
The settlers seem determined and are mostly now on houseboats, as well as a bigger community at the Liberland Ark Village on the Serbian side. Liberland released a press statement after the recent events, which you can read in full below:
BRUTAL: Croatia Invades Liberland, Destroys Houses
Reckless destruction of houses and removal of belongings takes Liberlanders by surprise
MATEOS MARINA, LIBERLAND, SEPTEMBER 22 – On the morning of Thursday, September 21, a private company under orders from the Zupan (Prefecture) Inspector acting on behalf of the Croatian Forests (Hrvatske Šume d.o.o.) made an unannounced extraterritorial incursion into Liberland and demolished and removed Liberland property. Liberlanders living on the land were threatened with arrest if they interfered. An unspecified number of Liberlanders were arrested under the vague charges of “failure to comply with a lawful order.”
Croatian police escorted the demolition crews who committed this act of indiscriminate destruction. This assault was committed without warning and without the forest company or police issuing any reasons or justification.
Persons present were not given any time to gather their own personal belongings, much less their equipment. Thankfully, no one was injured, but our property was damaged and confiscated.
This has occurred on the International Day of Peace, of all days.
Some of our buildings and equipment that were destroyed and/or removed:
- Two well-constructed garden houses and one marina house
- One well-constructed and fully functioning field kitchen with multiple refrigeration units and stoves
- Generators and electronic equipment
- Starlink antenna and router
- Quad bike, bicycles and other transportation
- Food and other supplies
- Personal belongings
Croatian law enforcement officers and employees of Hrvatske Šume d.o.o. involved in this operation have acted unprofessionally, and have been insulting and obnoxious to our people. We asked for a written notice or report and we were told this is no report and there won’t be one.
We have documented this incident and the individuals involved with photos and video, and we are already pursuing legal action against these acts on several levels.
The settlement heroically remains on the land and is resisting these attempts at breaking their will.
Croatian demolition of Liberland structures goes back to September 2017, when the original hunting lodge (lovački dom) was demolished. In 2023, we established Jefferson Square in front of the old house and began excavation and rebuilding of the old lodge and its basement.
The Free Republic of Liberland was proclaimed on April 13, 2015 on this parcel of land, Gornja Siga, in accordance with international law regarding terra nullius and bona vacantia, as the land remained unclaimed by either Serbia or Croatia for over 25 years. Liberland has the ability to bring significant investment, jobs and tourism to this economically depressed region.
Our legal position supporting our claim is clear: that the territory has never been part of Croatia and falls outside of its borders. This has been confirmed in their diplomatic correspondence with Serbia as well as its complete absence in all official published maps of Croatia. The Croatian border police are duly authorized to conduct activities aimed at safeguarding both Croatia’s national boundaries and the broader Schengen borders within Liberland. We not only acknowledge this authority but also welcome it, as their efforts contribute to enhancing the overall security of our own nation.
In addition, Serbia has relinquished its authority over the territory. There are no competing claims to land in Gornja Siga other than the Free Republic of Liberland and this land has no state affiliation with Croatia or Serbia.
We seek to work with the Croatians to find a peaceful, mutually beneficial solution for our countries. Liberland officials have always acted in accordance with international law and to avoid confrontations with Croatian border police. Our position is that people of Liberland should be able to visit and live in the area without harassment or arrest. Our citizens are not building on Croatian soil, but in their own country, the Free Republic of Liberland, and we are not a threat or risk to Croatia in any way.
Liberland wishes to become a good, reliable partner with Croatia. The settlement will be rebuilt immediately. Plans for the next months include the construction of a hotel [link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEa9CQVsjik ], children’s park, adventure tours, boating, cycling and much more. We also look forward to working with the Croatian state forest company, Hrvatske Šume d.o.o., on future harmonious cooperation and to avoid conflict.
Our project aims to be one of the biggest opportunities that Croatia has to bring investment, jobs and tourism to a region that has been languishing economically for some time. We have already spent considerable funds in the local economy in Osijek-Baranja County and this can only grow as more people want to visit the area – with the approval and participation of our closest neighbors, we can develop those opportunities together.
Just some of the buildings, equipment and things the Croatians destroyed or took away: