Last week, the world got a new country: The Free Republic of Liberland, officially founded on April 13th, 2015. There's a new flag, a national anthem, and a provisional government, although it's still not clear whether it's a real country, or how it might become one. It's all pretty confusing, so we've put together a quick guide to the story so far.
What is Liberland?
It's a new country, occupying 7 square kilometers of no man's land in southeastern Europe. There are no taxes and no governmental services. The country's president described Liberland as a country as a way to "find out the minimum amount of taxes and regulation needed to live."
So this is a weird libertarian thing?
Yes! The country has minimal-to-nonexistent government by necessity, but it's also planning to provision basic needs on an entirely voluntarist basis. They're already collecting donations to assist in the drafting of the constitution. (And yes, they accept bitcoin.) Any services or civic institutions — firefighters, banks, cell phone service — will be provided on a strictly volunteer basis. If you were going to sketch out a libertarian paradise, this is basically what it would look like.
Who's behind it?
The founder and president of Liberland is a 31-year-old Czech politician named Vít Jedlička, who is also regional party leader of one of the Czech Republic's northern districts. He's part of the Free Citizens Party, a party with libertarian views. He has retained his Czech citizenship and seems to have remained in the Czech Republic throughout the historic founding of the world's newest nation.
Is this a joke?
Maybe! Jedlička has a history of outspoken anti-EU activism, so a lot of Europeans have assumed this is an unusually committed stunt. A simpler objection is that Liberland simply isn't a country — it's just a website that Jedlička made. At this point, it's very difficult to tell the difference. Earlier this week, Wikipedia had a vicious disagreement over whether the country merited its own page. (The page was built, but is currently flagged for deletion.)
A group of Czech journalists visited the actual territory last week, but they couldn't get inside. The Liberland flag was raised over the territory after the founding, but the journalists reported it had since been taken down. Otherwise, the results were inconclusive.
Where did they get the land for this?
Liberland is sandwiched between Serbia and Croatia, on the western bank of the Danube. The Serbo-Croatian border roughly follows the Danube, but certain territories have been disputed since Yugoslavia was first formed nearly 70 years ago, and it's left this particular patch of land in an uncertain position. It’s 7 square kilometers, which would make it the third-smallest nation in the world, after Vatican City and Monaco.
The land is effectively under Croatian control, but Croatia doesn't claim it as part of the country — they're just holding it to use as leverage in an eventual treaty agreement. In 2000, a commission was set up to resolve the border dispute, but they haven't made much progress in the last 15 years. The result is a long-standing no man's land. It's not Serbia, and it's not Croatia. So now it's Liberland.
So it's a real country?
Not really. The Croatian border patrol still decides who can enter Liberland, and they've been turning away journalists who want to enter the country. The president and most of the current self-proclaimed citizens seem to be living in the Czech Republic. Thousands of others have already applying for citizenship (which you can do online), but it's not clear what that actually means. Since the country aims for minimal government, it's hard to tell if it's not doing anything because it's so libertarian or because it simply doesn't exist.
Is this the first time someone's made up a country?
Not even close. The most similar case is Sealand, an abandoned oil platform off the coast of England that declared independence in 1967. It's never been formally recognized as a country, but it has its own flag, a soccer team, and a population of roughly two. Seasteading projects generally hinge entirely on the idea of made-up countries, although the ideas have rarely been put into practice.
How do we tell if a country is real?
It's surprisingly difficult. There's a question of whether other countries recognize it — particularly Croatia, since Liberlanders will have a hard time entering the country without Croatian permission. But that's just an issue of diplomacy, and it hasn't stopped Sealand from carrying on for decades.
At the same time, America was once a made-up country, too. Maybe all countries are fake, and the only borders are the ones in our hearts.
Having said that, Liberland pretty clearly doesn't pass the basic sovereignty test. It can't stop the Croatian Border Patrol (or any other paramilitary force) from doing whatever they want on its territory. So if it is a country, it's a failed state that's being occupied by a foreign nation.
So how can I join?
You can register for citizenship here, although there's currently a backlog of thousands. Applicants are required to have respect for private ownership and the opinions of others. Applicants with a Nazi, Communist, or criminal past are discouraged from applying.