Kendjija, the Forgotten Croatian Village in the Unresolved Border Dispute with Serbia

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As Liberland holds its first anniversary conference amid a heavy-handed Croatian police presence on April 16, 2016, TCN crosses the Danube into Serbia to meet residents of a forgotten Croatian village, who are rather enjoying life in their own tax-free haven. 


A tax-free haven on the banks of the Danube, where Serbs, Croats and Hungarians live and drink side by side in perfect harmony. It has been a while since I have seen something so peaceful, jovial and international in what has been in recent times a troubled region. 

And while the media and (especially) the Croatian police – both uniformed and the more secretive type – had all their efforts focused on the Liberland conference in the village of Lug near Osijek, everyone missed the already established piece of land where no tax has been paid for more than 20 years, something set to continue for the forseeable future, and the locals like it that way.

Welcome to the village of Kendjija, a Croatian village on the Serbian side of the Danube, where none of the houses are legal, according to the residents we interviewed, and where no tax is therefore paid. A quite extraordinary pocket of a disputed border, which has attracted global attention since Czech citizen Vit Jedlicka appeared last April to claim a 7km2 piece of land on the left back of the river and claim it as the Free State of Liberland.  

It is perhaps best to begin with a look at the map to understand how the anomoly came to be. After the recent regional conflict and dissolution of former Yugoslavia, the temporary border between Croatia and Serbia was set down the middle of the Danube. This suited Serbia, but not Croatia, which wanted the border to be according to an older catastar map, when the Danube flowed differently. There were more pockets of land on the Serbian side in the old map, including the village of Kendjija. Serbia had no territorial claims left of the river, and Croatia did not claim the small pockets left of the river as they sought the greater prize across the Danube. Jedlicka saw his opportunity and claimed the land under ‘terra nullius’.

The border between the two countries is across a bridge at Batina, a border crossing which has been experiencing lengthy delays in the last two days, as Croatian police took an unusually healthy interest in any car crossing the border, especially if they were headed to the Liberland conference in Lug. The self-proclaimed Liberland President was denied entry, as was his documentary team, while others were subjected to lengthy delays. Three police boats patrolled the river in front of Liberland to prevent arrival by water, and a considerable police presence was in evidence throughout the region, and outside the conference itself. 

Having heard that there was an inhabited Croatian village on the other side of the border, TCN set out with an American film crew to investigate – a village where Croats in their own homeland (according to a 19th century map) had to cross a border and passport control to enter their own country… 

What we found was fascinating. A little lost after crossing the border, we chanced upon a few locals and asked for directions to Kendjija. A toothless old man offered 17,000m2 of land for sale, and if I wasn’t interested in that, he would tell me a few things about Kendjija if we paid him handsomely. I declined and got directions from a secondary source. 

Kendjija soon came into view, a collection of neatly arranged bungalows along the right bank of the Danube. Most were weekend houses, but we chanced upon a few locals, who agreed to a video interview with TCN for the American crew. Mirko Antunic, a Serb, did most of the talking, assisted by a Croatian lady and Hungarian man, all sitting round in perfect harmony in pristine nature, without a care in the world. It was impossible to detect that we were in the middle of a contested border, with police patrol boats and tense border crossing very close by. 

And then the story got interesting…

A braver man than me, Antunic bought the land for his house in 2001, after the war had finished, and after the disputed border became a problem. On the papers, this is Croatia, and the real estate registration court is in Beli Manastir, over the river, he told me, but he signed a contract in Sombor in Serbia, believing that they will either never resolve the border issue, or it will be resolved in Serbia’s favour. 

All the houses here are illegally built, he said, and despite the ownership issue, land prices here are several times higher than in other locations in the region, even for plots which have all their papers in order, for the simple reason of its prime location on the river – a divine spot. With Hungary a few kilometres upstream, Croatia across the river and self-proclaimed Liberland just downstream, the idyllic setting was in stark contrast with the regional tensions past and current.  

In order to establish where the administative centre is, I asked them to whom they pay their communal taxes – Serbia or Croatia?

“We pay nobody. Who to pay? This is an unresolved border dispute, so officially we cannot pay anyone. Life really is great here.”

Water comes from wells, sewage via septic tanks, and there is electricity, which is supplied by Serbia and which they pay for. But nothing else. 

“And what of Liberland. What are your thoughts on that. A good or bad thing for your region?”

One of the group was not sure what Liberland was, he thought he had heard something, but others were more informed. At first they thought it was a joke, some foreigner having fun, but as the story grew, they saw a chance of economic benefits. 

“Do you know the Liberland President? Here give him my number. I have some land to sell. Tell him to bring his Liberland here too. It would be good for all of us.”

A fascinating brief encounter with a forgotten part of Europe, and while international experts were debating liberty and tax havens across the water as Croatian police detained and even denied entry to the country for some participants, a different kind of tax-free liberty and ethnic harmony was being experienced officially in the same country, but on the other side of Croatia’s border crossing. It was enchanting.


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