August 10, 2023 – It is one of the most unusual stories in Croatia in the last 10 years, with yet another twist – the first Croatia-Liberland border is open, says President Vit Jedlicka.
It is a story I have been following for 8 years, a story really quite unbelievable to be happening in Europe in the 21st century. But it is a story that keeps on giving.
Back in 2015, Czech citizen Vit Jedlicka made global headlines when he rocked up with his girlfriend and best friend on a marshy piece of land on the left bank of the Danube and claimed the territory for himself and his new country, the Free State of Liberland.
The story made the New York Times, and Jedlicka’s offer of citizenship in his proposed libertarian tax-free state was taken up by over half a million applicants within days.
Quite how this 7 km2 piece of land was up for grabs between Serbia and Croatia, who had spilled untold blood in the Homeland War in the 1990s surprised many, but in many ways it was perfectly understandable.
When peace came and borders were being finalised, there were some anomalies in the Danube lands. The cadastre had been drawn up in the 19th century, when the Danube flowed differently. This meant that two larger pieces of land on the Serbian side were actually Croatian in the books, and a smaller pocket (the claimed Liberland) was Serbian. The Serbs wanted the land on their side of the river, the Croats too, as it was bigger than the Liberland pocket. The result? Neither side claimed the Liberland plot, until a wily Czech popped in to claim it under the international law known as Terra Nullius.
The Croats were not amused, and the new president was put in jail overnight on I think two occasions. In the first, he attempted to enter Liberland from Croatia, and was arrested for illegally exiting Croatia. He thanked his captors for agreeing with him on the border and that Liberland was not in Croatia, as well as for keep guard on illegal entrants to LIberland so that he did not have to spend money on security.
Probably the most surreal weekend of my time in Croatia was attending the first annual Liberland Conference in the village of Lug in Baranja. If you are interested in the story, I strongly recommend you read my 2016 account Reflections of a Weekend in Alice in LiberWonderland to get up to speed.
The Croatian police has spent considerable effort and money to prevent people entering Liberland on the water. Probably the best recorded case of this is in the recent attempt by popular YouTuber Niko Omilana during his April 2023 visit. The video, which went live a few days ago and has already racked up more than 7 million views, documents his four attempts to evade the police, including attempts from Serbia, Croatia (he was denied entry) and Hungary.
In the video, he appears to be kicked by a Croatian police officer, despite claiming to enter Liberland legally (the whole border situation has now changed with Croatia entering the Schengen zone). The story was picked up by the Croatian media, and Jutarrnji List contacted the Ministry of the Interior for comment on the footage:
Regarding the published video by a citizen of Great Britain, he was refused entry to the Republic of Croatia on April 15, 2023 at the border crossing, as he did not justify the conditions and purpose of entry.
The details from the video will certainly be checked by the competent services, and if it is determined that it is an authentic recording and the omissions of the alleged police officer, further measures will be taken with the aim of determining responsibility.
Is Croatia’s stance against Liberland softening after 8 years? Here is President Vedlicka meeting Croatian President Zoran Milanovic at the ACAP Conference in Zagreb last month.
I last saw the president in Osijek before Christmas as he bought a copy of our book, Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners. He was back in Croatia for the first time in years, having previously denied entry (see the Alice in LiberWonderland report above).
And now this – part of a press release from the Liberland Press Office earlier this week:
Liberland, 6 August 2023 – Liberland has announced the opening of its first border crossing with Croatia.
This significant step was taken following positive and friendly developments with the Croatian side.
President Vit Jedlicka said during the opening ceremony, “This is a small step for Liberland but, I think, a big step for humanity. It reflects our commitment to international cooperation, freedom and fairness. We eagerly anticipate fostering stronger ties with our neighbours and the global community.”
As of today, it is possible to visit Liberland. Visits should be planned carefully and in advance as the border crossing is at present open only during the daylight hours. This was decided in mutual understanding with Croatian border police. The border crossing post is established for both land and river traffic, but the actual crossing into Liberland is currently available only for land traffic on foot.
The entry point to Liberland is located in Zmajevac, from where you can get to the parking lot and the river border checkpoint. The Liberland border checkpoint is located on the houseboat Liberty. We kindly ask visitors for their own safety to use daytime hours for visiting.
The procedure to legally enter and leave Liberland involves a police check performed by Croatian border police. Passport control is then conducted by the Liberland Border Ranger team. Before your visit, please provide us with your full name, number of your passport, your current residence address, and date and time of your arrival to [email protected]. Once you provide us with your travel plans, we will share exact visitation info with you.
Liberland’s continued effort to establish regular border relations with its closest neighbour is underpinned by Liberland’s drafting of its new Border Law, which provides a robust framework for immigration and border control.
The Border Law establishes the Immigration and Border Service (IBIS), responsible for Liberland border protection and control. It also details the duties of Border Rangers who enforce regulations, verify identities and ensure secure border crossings.
For more information about Liberland’s Border Law, visit Liberland’s GitHub.
If anyone has any recent experience crossing (or trying to cross) the Liberland border, we would love to hear from you at [email protected]
As for the next chapter of the Liberland story, I am sure it will be as entertaining and surreal as an Evelyn Waugh novel.
But if you think that is surreal, imagine what it must be like living in a Croatian village on the other side of the Danube. Who lives there and why? Find out in Kendjija, the Forgotten Croatian Village in the Unresolved Border Dispute with Serbia.