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Wedged Away In The Balkans, Would-Be Microstate 'Liberland' Keeps Up Its Fight For Recognition


Vit Jedlicka (center) poses with the Liberland flag and future citizens in a Serbian village in 2015.

Nation-building is arduous work. Microstate-building, maybe less so.

But don't tell that to the libertarian architect of a seven-year campaign to further subdivide the tempestuous Balkans by turning a tiny, neglected sliver of woodland on the Danube into the Free Republic of Liberland.

"I realized from the beginning that building a country is not a summer job," says 38-year-old Czech Vit Jedlicka.

He and his fellow Liberlanders have recently recommitted to their U.S.-based lobbying effort, seeking to get their republic recognized internationally so they can make it a free-trade zone with the status of a state.

A July 9 filing with the U.S. Justice Department confirms Liberland's ongoing cooperation with a New York-based lobbyist and "global political and business ambassador" pursuant to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

In a region where relations between nations are frequently tense, including a recent diplomatic dustup between Serbia and Croatia over war memorials, Liberland's neighbors appear to have gotten used to the idea.

Serbia regards the project as a "frivolous act" but no threat so long as it stays on the western bank of the Danube, which marks its border with Croatia.

"Our ties with Serbia were very friendly from the beginning," Jedlicka, who lives in the Czech capital, Prague, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service recently.

Liberland's "closest partner" is the Vojvodina provincial government in northernmost Serbia, he added.

We believe that in the near future [Croatia] will recognize the great economic benefit that will be realized by [the] creation of Liberland."
-- Vit Jedlicka

Croatia was less accommodating initially, routinely blocking access and even detaining visitors, including Jedlicka, for alleged border violations.

But Jedlicka said, seemingly without irony, that they've since built "strong ties" to the Croatian secret service since some Liberland citizens "are in contact with them frequently."

"It seems their interest in Liberland grows over time," he said of the Croatian authorities.

Call It What You Like

Jedlicka, chairman of a Czech libertarian NGO, and his wife, Jana Markovicova, a former licensed massage therapist and self-described "first lady at Liberland," proclaimed the aspiring state's existence in April 2015.

They described it as 7 square kilometers of no-man's-land that had gone unclaimed by either Croatia or Serbia since Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991.

It has a flag, a coat of arms showing a tree, the sun, and a bird soaring over the river, and -- in keeping with Jedlicka's aversion to government interference -- hopes to base its economy on a cryptocurrency, the "merit."

It has already been active in virtual and crypto projects, including a futuristic-looking Liberland Metaverse that is admittedly a "work in progress."

Its website claims upward of 500,000 citizenship requests, although RFE/RL could not confirm that figure. It also claims 1,000 "citizens" and 10 "diaspora villages."

Vit Jedlicka: "We aim to be a shining example of how a country's government can be organized in the new millennia using strong ideological principles, as well as the latest decentralized blockchain technologies for governance."
Vit Jedlicka: "We aim to be a shining example of how a country's government can be organized in the new millennia using strong ideological principles, as well as the latest decentralized blockchain technologies for governance."

And it says it has "diplomatic relations" with six UN member states, including Haiti, and purports to have representations in 74 spots around the world, including places like Switzerland, Venezuela, and Afghanistan.

But it's also missing one of the 20th century's most widely cited touchstones of independence, along with defined territory, a government, and a capacity to deal with other states: a permanent population.

Liberland is uninhabited, and no country has ever formally recognized it.

Are Microstates A 'Thing'?

There are currently seven microstates across Europe, of various renown, most of them wealthy and established centuries ago.

Four of them are monarchies and another is the domain of the Roman Catholic Church, so their histories are not necessarily steeped in democracy. They are: Vatican City, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Malta, San Marino, and Sovereign Order of St. John.

The main thing that sets microstates apart from larger states is their size, or lack thereof. But in his 2012 book The Microstates Of Europe, P. Christiaan Klieger describes them broadly as "designer nations" marked by "tenaciousness of national aspirations and ethnic solidarity."

Liberland, a "new libertarian country," seems like more of the former.

"We aim to develop a critical business hub and a free port on the Danube River," Michal Ptacnik, who was recently named Liberland's "minister of justice," told an audience at a libertarian-minded conference in Prague last year.

He said the governing principle should be "a mix of Swiss democracy and corporate governance." The focus is "to be a free-trade zone where individual liberty governs supreme," he said, adding, "We seek to build the freest country on Earth, and the most prosperous one."

Slow Progress

Liberland describes U.S.-based lobbyist Steven Melnik as its "ambassador at-large." An immigrant to the United States, Melnik appears to be trying to nudge U.S. and other influentials toward recognition of an eighth European microstate.

In the Justice Department document, Melnik said he continues to represent the Free Republic of Liberland under an agreement that "does not contemplate remuneration for services."

Melnik, who has represented Jedlicka's group since 2019, said that in the previous six-month reporting period he was "not required to perform any services" and that "all my actions have been voluntary and not for payment."

For Jedlicka, the end goal still seems a distant dream. But he remains an optimist.

He said Croatia now "recognizes us as a serious national movement” and suggested that Zagreb was comfortable with not claiming the 7-kilometer patch he's staked out.

"We believe that in the near future they will recognize the great economic benefit that will be realized by [the] creation of Liberland," Jedlicka said.

The benefits of eventual sovereignty, for a founding father and Euroskeptic like him, and for all five members of Liberland's "government," might seem obvious. He said their current goals include creating "more benefits" of Liberlander "citizenship."

"We aim to be a shining example of how a country's government can be organized in the new millennia using strong ideological principles, as well as the latest decentralized blockchain technologies for governance," Jedlicka said.

And he doesn't seem to be in any particular rush to force his model on anyone.

"It is nice to have formal recognition by other countries," Jedlicka told RFE/RL, "but we are also happy if we are informal friends and if they recognize our motto: Live and let live."

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service fellow Iva Gajic
  • 16x9 Image

    Iva Gajic

    Iva Gajic is a reporting fellow with RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

  • 16x9 Image

    Andy Heil

    Andy Heil is a Prague-based senior correspondent covering the Balkans, the Transcaucasus, and science and the environment. Before joining RFE/RL in 2001, he was a longtime reporter and editor of business, economic, and political news in Central Europe, including for Reuters, Oxford Analytica, Acquisitions Monthly, the Christian Science Monitor, Respekt, and Tyden. 

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