Along the Danube River in South-Central Europe lies a distinctive parcel of land, measuring roughly 7 square kilometers and sandwiched between Croatia and Serbia.
Prior to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the semi-autonomous regions within the Republic used the Danube as their natural border. However, over the course of decades, the river slightly altered its course, resulting in this piece of land falling outside the borders of both nations. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, neither country claimed ownership of the land. In fact, it remained terra nullius, or ‘no man’s land,’ until 2015.
On April 13, 2015, Vit Jedlička and a few others proclaimed the territory as the Free Republic of Liberland. If internationally recognized, Liberland would become the world’s third smallest sovereign state, after the Vatican and Monaco.
The Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States outlines four criteria for statehood: (a) a permanent population; (b) a permanent territory; (c) a government; and (d) the capacity to engage in relations with other states. Liberland has fulfilled all these requirements, meaning that, theoretically, it should be recognized as sovereign by the international community.
Some question the need for a new state. Aren’t there enough countries already? Why couldn’t Vit Jedlička and the others be grateful in their original home countries? Can Liberland truly be regarded as a legitimate nation? These are all valid queries, but each has equally valid answers.
Aren’t there enough countries already?
History demonstrates that smaller political entities tend to result in more decentralized governance and increased human liberty. When people can effectively vote with their feet, they indirectly influence societal change.
This isn’t to imply that smaller governing bodies are incapable of coercion or corruption, but residents in such communities can more readily opt for a different government just next door.
Modern nation-states are relatively recent creations, whereas thousands of smaller political entities existed both within and outside competing empires for generations. There’s no reason why groups shouldn’t have the ability to secede or establish new territories on uninhabited land.
Why couldn’t Vit Jedlička and his associates just be content in their home countries?
As an American, one of the most important stories is that of the separatists and pilgrims who left the Old World in search of religious freedom and commercial success. They lived in the New World as British citizens and eventually proclaimed their autonomy.
This sense of agency is celebrated by Americans, as well as many post-colonial states around the globe. Why shouldn’t this value be celebrated by everyone? Self-determination as an inalienable right, given by a creator, is crucial to the human experience. Without it, humans lack dignity. The idea that a human adult has no choice but to be subject to the authority of another human adult without explicit consent is dangerous, and tantamount to enslavement.
Property rights also come into play here. The famous empiricist John Locke proclaimed that a natural right to property existed because, “God gave (the world) to mankind in common” for the purpose of stewardship and survival. He argues that individuals can only survive by laboring and appropriating parcels of land. Thus, property is a natural right for those who contribute their labor to its sustainment.
But how does that relate to Liberland? Liberland is a piece of land (formerly unclaimed) that can be appropriated and used for human survival and flourishing. Thousands have claimed citizenship in Liberland, which requires contributing to an economy and becoming invested in the well-being of this microstate. Therefore, these individuals are contributing to the land’s development. Up until recently, the only thing holding back physical development in Liberland was the Croatian government.
With the principle of property rights understood, as well as the idea of self-determination assumed, we can justify a claim to a new nation. The reality is that, regardless of how good Jedlička, or anyone, might have it in their current country, they have every right to seek a new home.
Finally, can Liberland even be a real country?
Liberland has the ability to meet each qualification mentioned above. A permanent population of sorts is in existence. Up until very recently, settlers and visitors were arrested by Croatian police whenever traveling into Liberland territory.
However, Croatia was admitted into the Schengen Area, meaning that the government has to be less arbitrary in deciding who to arrest. At present, a legal, open border has been created, allowing for travel and settlement. Individuals are regularly entering Liberland, creating early infrastructure and settlement, with multiple people claiming permanent residence.
[Update]: since this article was published, arbitrary arrests and confiscation of property by Croatian authorities has resumed. As of October 17, 2023, the Liberland government is pursuing a solution in court.
A permanent territory exists (that’s more than some U.N. observers can claim). As stated earlier, this territory was unclaimed by any other state and had no previous permanent residents. When interviewing the Foreign Minister, Tom Walls, he explained that Liberland has a government and constitution. Liberland’s cabinet includes 7 seats, and the government is designated as a free republic.
He has assisted those in Liberland’s cabinet diplomatically by entering into relations with other states. The best example of this being Liberland’s Washington, D.C. diplomatic mission in April of 2023. Liberland also has friendly diplomatic relations with El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, and Georgia.
Ultimately, the Free Republic of Liberland has every right to exist. In the market of governance, new participants naturally mean that more established governments need to compete for citizens. A republic that respects personal liberty, property rights, and a free market should be valued by freedom lovers and free-thinkers around the globe. Follow this link to visit Liberland’s website and see the latest news!
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