In the midst of the Middle Eastern refugee crisis roiling Europe, an unrecognized “micronation” on a chunk of no-man’s-land between Serbia and Croatia is trying to market itself as a haven for tens of thousands fleeing civil war in places such as Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and, especially and most tragically, Syria. The so-called Free Republic of Liberland was declared April 13th (as reported at the time in this blog; see also article here) on three nearly empty square miles of grassy fields, thickets, and riverbank along the Danube River, one of several shards of intersecting claims by Serbia and Croatia as a result of the shifting course of the winding Danube over the decades. Neither side presses its claim, but both are clear that Liberland has no right to set up shop there. The republic is intended as a libertarian utopia, founded by Vít Jedlička, a 31-year-old officer in the Czech Republic’s small libertarian Free Citizens’ Party (Strana svobodných občanů). Croatian and Serbian police and border agencies have quietly foiled attempts by Jedlička to do more than raise a flag there. Meanwhile, despite Jedlička’s big talk to the contrary, the chances of any kind of international recognition are close to nil.
Indeed, even among the hundreds-strong community of micronations around the world, Liberland is an outcast. As far as I can tell, only the risible Kingdom of North Sudan—founded last year along the border between Egypt and Sudan by an American from Virginia so that he could make his seven-year-old daughter a “princess” (as reported at the time in this blog)—has extended diplomatic recognition. They have also gotten an endorsement from Switzerland’s libertarian Unabhängige Partei (“Independence Party”) (which uses the exclamatory acronym UP!); much of Liberland’s support and organizational energy seems to come from Switzerland. (Unlike many libertarian parties which pander to the xenophobic right, UP! supports abolishing all restrictions and controls on movement across any borders.) The reaction from other micronational leaders, who tend, at least in Europe and Australia, to be more left-leaning than Jedlička, has been cold. Now Jedlička is raising more hackles by wading into the debate over the flood of migrants to the Balkans by offering citizenship to anyone willing to pay his $10,000 passport fee. A couple weeks ago Jedlička told media that among the 380,000 or so citizenship applications received since April are now 20,000 from Syria and nearly 2,000 from Libya.
This is not surprising. Other micronations, such as the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis, a Belgium-based micronation project which administers no territory (though it claims some islands off Antarctica), report a sharp increase in applications from the Middle East. Doubtless this is because of desperate and ill-informed war refugees grasping at straws and not realizing from their web-surfing that some online citizenship-application forms are not from physically existing countries. On September 22nd, Niels Vermeersch, the Flandrensisian grand duke and head of state, posted on his Facebook page, “On a weekly basis we receive requests for the Flandrensisian citizenship from the Middle East with often sad stories. Those people are so desperate that they are willing to try everything and they don’t seem to know that Flandrensis is only a micronation. We believe that every human being has the right to a home and a decent life. That is the world we want for our future generations to come!”
Thus the news out of Liberland particularly infuriates Vermeersch. “Where do they plan to put them?” the post continued. “How will they feed them? Where will these people work & live? … Liberland used this crisis to get press and it is cruel to give those people false hope, using misery of refugees to make money.” Georg von Strofzia, foreign minister of the Kingdom of Ruritania (the fictional nation from The Prisoner of Zenda, asserted to be within the Czech Republic), added, “Three square miles! That’s 7 square kilometers! This isn’t Dubai. There is no treasury to pay to import food for these people. The sanitation problems would be a nightmare.” This, of course, despite long-term plans to erect a futuristic city on the spot. (See the artist’s rendering at the top of this article for one such plan.)
Prince Jean-Pierre IV, of the Principality of Aigues-Mortes, a high-profile micronation in a walled Medieval city on the Mediterranean coast of France, agreed, writing September 30th on the “Micronations and Alternative Polities” Facebook group, “We all agree that Liberland is a scam and that it gives a very bad image of micronationalism.” And Olivier Touzeau, Emperor of Angyalistan (a French-based micronation whose territory is “the horizon”), added in what became an official communiqué on behalf of the Organization of Microfrancophony (Organisation de la MicroFrancophonie) and co-signers from Aigues-Mortes, “The micronations who publish passports are faced with the serious problem of the refugee crisis and the actions needed to give hope to humanity without fooling anyone. Liberland just did exactly the opposite of what can be hoped from a serious micronational project. We strongly condemn the despicable initiative of the leader of the free Republic of Liberland, offering Syrian refugees to come to his claimed territory for $ 10,000. The free Republic of Liberland is a media smokescreen that throws ridiculous and vain shadows at the expense of human distress on the ideals of most serious micronations and shows thus the full extent of the intellectual swindle it stands for.” (See my recent blog article for more on these micronations.)
So far, several other micronations have signed on to Emperor Olivier’s declaration, including, in addition to Aigues-Mortes and Flandrensis, the Cyanocitta Cristata Principal Republic (an environmental project; Cyanocitta cristata is the scientific term for the bluejay), the Principality of Hélianthis, Ladonia (on the coast of Sweden), the Empire of Lemuria (not to be confused with either the Indian Ocean protocontinent or the mythical “sister city” to Atlantis), Lykosha (an online community which gathers under a lupine banner), the Republic of Navalon (an ecological “floating island” project), the Republic of Padrhom, the Holy Empire of Réunion (declared by citizens of Brazil on the eponymous French territory of the African coast), Ruritania (see above), the Kingdom of Ruthenia(not to be confused with Transcarpathian Ruthenia, a.k.a. Ukraine’sTranscarpathia (Zakarpattia) oblast, discussed frequently in this blog—e.g., articles here and here), the State of Sandus, the Republic of Saint-Castin (located within Quebec), and the Consulat of Surland (five islands in the Moselle River, in France).
Jedlička even went so far as to host, at a hotel in Istanbul, a Liberland recruitment drive on September 16th. Turkey is the point of transit for most European-bound refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
George II, Emperor of Atlantium (which is surrounded by New South Wales, Australia), thundered, “Liberland is a financial scam dressed up in the language of ‘freedom’ that is used by libertarians and other conservatives to deliver the exact opposite: the entrenchment of power and privilege and the denial of opportunity.” (His comments remind me that I lament still that he was unable to attend this summer’s 3rd PoliNation conference and micronational summit in the Italy-based Republic of Alcatraz (attended by this blogger and reported on in this blog), where his presentation was to have been titled “Reclaiming Micronationalism: How Libertarians Ruined a Good Thing.”)
Jedlička may or may not have his heart in the right place, and he may or may not believe that he will really build a shining city of freedom on his little plot of land. But at the very least he needs to scale back his big talk, and not raise false hopes among desperate people.
[Thanks to Emperor Olivier, Michael Cessna, and Queen Anastasia for information for, and corrections to, this article.]
This article has been reprinted with permission from the author, and originally appeared on October 7, 2015 on the blog “Springtime of Nations“