by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, February 21, 2018
The world's newest micronation has half a million prospective citizens, runs on crytocurrency donations, and lays claim to a disputed four-mile sandbank on the Danube.
Liberland, founded by Czech economist turned politician Vít Jedlička in 2015, has low-tax, libertarian ideals (its motto is "live and let live") and is a very much a micronation for the 21st century. All business is conducted by email, 100 key representatives in various countries communicate via Skype, it accepts Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash and Ethereum and is about to start distributing its own digital currency.
But efforts to establish itself territorially have not gone down well with local authorities. The strip of land in question, on the border between Croatia and Serbia, is disputed by the two nations. A legal loophole stops Croatia from claiming the area, but that hasn't prevented Croatian officials from arresting Jedlička when he tries to set up a camp.
"The situation on the mainland in Liberland is still difficult as Croatian police illegally persecute all visitors and settlers," he says. "We are waiting for exoneration from the Croatian constitutional court but for now, our settlement has essentially moved to the river, where we host visitors almost on a daily basis."
Many of those visitors are British, he claims, while support for the project has also been offered by the likes of Roger Ver, an early investor in Bitcoin, and Patrik Schumacher, the chief executive of Zaha Hadid Architects, who has submitted potential designs for Liberland's future cityscape.
Jedlička adds: "We are constantly looking into options that would entail more Liberlands being created. Right now there are potential candidates in Africa and Central America," he says. "Liberland can be created anywhere, but it all depends on the locals."
Liberland is by no means the first micronation. There have been countless attempts to establish independent states, for a variety of noble and misguided reasons. Here are 10 of the most notable examples.
Principality of Hutt River
The self-proclaimed "prince" of this micronation in Western Australia abdicated in 2017 due to poor health, after an impressive 47 years in power. Prince Leonard (real name Leonard George Casley) presided over the Principality of Hutt River for almost half a century after announcing its secession in 1970 in protest at the government's agricultural policy. But the 91-year-old has now handed his position and ceremonial robes over to his son, Graeme.
Located 350 miles north of Perth, the Principality of Hutt River has become a popular tourist attraction, attracting up to 40,000 visitors each year. It is big – around 75 square kilometres – but has only 30 permanent residents (and a further 13,000+ overseas citizens). It issues its own commemorative coins, and even accepts company registrations (although the Australian Taxation Office has raised doubt as to their legality).
While no nations recognise Hutt River's sovereignty, Prince Leonard and The Queen have exchanged correspondence. In 2016, he wrote to congratulate her on her 90th birthday, after which her senior correspondence officer replied: "I am able to convey Her Majesty's good wishes to you and to all concerned for a most enjoyable and successful celebration... to mark the forty-sixth anniversary of the Principality of Hutt River."
The Kingdom of Redonda
Located between the islands of Nevis and Montserrat, the tiny island of Redonda was - according to legend - claimed by Matthew Dowdy Shiell in 1865, who, with the alleged approval of the British Colonial Office, took with it the title of "King". The title was then given to his son, the author Matthew Phipps Shiell, who claims he was crowned in 1880, at the age of 15, by a bishop from Antigua. There are currently at least four claimants to the throne, while in 2007 the Wellington Arms in Southampton tried to get around the smoking ban by declaring itself an embassy of Redonda.
The Principality of Sealand
This Second World War sea fort, seven miles off the Suffolk coast, was seized by pirate radio broadcaster Paddy Roy Bates in 1967. Bates sought to establish the platform as a sovereign state, and in 1968 a British court bolstered his claims by declaring it outside of British jurisdiction (Bates had been summoned by the law after firing warning shots at two workers who were attempting to service a navigational buoy nearby).
The 0.025 km² fort has its own constitution, flag, national anthem, coat of arms, currency (the Sealand dollar) and passport, and even survived an audacious attempted German invasion in 1978. Alexander Achenbach hired German and Dutch mercenaries to lead the attack, using speedboats and helicopters, while Bates and his wife were in England. They stormed the offshore platform, taking the couple's son, Michael, hostage. But Michael was able to retake the micronation using stashed weapons and Achenbach spent several weeks under lock and key. A German diplomat eventually secured his release; Achenbach would go on to set up a government in exile in Germany.
Bates died in 2012 and was succeeded as Prince of Sealand by Michael, who now lives in Suffolk.
The Conch Republic
In 1982, in an effort to curb drug smuggling, the US Border Patrol set up an inspection point on the road between the Florida Keys and the mainland, resulting in long traffic jams and a drop in visitors. The mayor of Key West, Dennis Wardlow, concluding that the roadblock was effectively a border station, did the only reasonable thing: he declared full-blown independence. Continuing his protest, Wardlow declared war on the US, surrendered a minute later, and then applied for $1bn in foreign aid. The stunt helped shed light on the city's plight and the inspection point was shifted, but the name of the Conch Republic continues to be used for promotional purposes.
The Republic of Molossia
Conceived by Kevin Baugh in 1977, as part of a school project, and established in 1999, Molossia consists solely of Baugh's one-acre home in Nevada. Baugh (the president, naturally) describes it as a "dictatorial banana-republic" where martial law is in place "due to unrest and the ever-present foreign menace from over the border".
Molossia, while itself unrecognised, has numerous treaties with other micronations, and claims it was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo. It also claims to be at war with East Germany. That East Germany no longer exists doesn't faze Baugh. He points out that Ernst Thälmann Island, off the coast of Cuba and named after a Weimar German politician and symbolically handed to East Germany is 1972, was never mentioned in the 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement.
All of Baugh's efforts haven't gone unrewarded – his home attracts a modest number of tourists, with visits arranged on request.
The Republic of Užupis
Rather more inclusive than Kevin Baugh's one-home republic is the micronation found in the bohemian Užupis district of Vilnius, Lithuania. It was declared in 1997 and has its own constitution with articles including "A dog has the right to be a dog" and "People have the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow past people," as well as "Man has the right to individuality". It also has four flags (one for each season), a small "army", and national anthem. Its projects are largely artistic and humorous.
A Telegraph Travel reader, Joanna Griffin, visited in 2016. She wrote: "It is evening and the sand-coloured stone and tumbling geraniums of this Bohemian enclave are set ablaze by the late northern sun of a Baltic midsummer. From my vantage point beneath a yellow canopy, behind a tall glass of Svyturys beer, I watch locals and visitors alike, strolling in the evening warmth and pausing to read the constitution, mounted in 26 languages along a stone wall. Their elaborate scripts – from Belarusian to Yiddish – are etched into mirrored plaques which reflect the crumbling ochre and terracotta of the tall houses opposite.
"As if in defiance of its oppressive history, the neighbourhood is alive with chatter and good-natured debate. The small courtyard steadily fills and people stand and wait for seats to become free. Waiters rush to erect small tables against the green wooden shutters of the adjoining grocery store and customers jostle their tables and chairs to make room.
"I listen to a group of Canadians discuss recent events in international politics, and I catch the dancing cadence of Italian as it drifts across from a nearby table. The constitution might be tongue-in-cheek but the underlying sentiment of tolerance and inclusion is serious, reflected this evening in this small café. As dusk falls, candles are lit and strings of tiny lights are illuminated. In the half-light, a fat dun-coloured cat slinks among the tables, searching for scraps and shunning any attempts at affection, fully enjoying his constitutional lack of obligation to love his owner. As for me, I sit back and bask in my own clearly documented rights to idleness and anonymity."
One of the larger examples on our list, Freetown Christiania – established in 1971 – is a neighbourhood of around 850 people within the Copenhagen district of Christianshavn. It is also among the most successful, and Danish authorities have granted it a unique legal status.
Its residents – like that of Užupis – are bohemian. Performing arts, yoga and meditation are all popular activities, cannabis is openly traded, and visitors (it is a popular detour for tourists) will spot eye-catching murals and unusual architecture.
Grand Duchy of Flandrensis
Founded by Niels Vermeersch, a Belgian, in 2008, Flandrensis claims five Antarctic islands (Siple Island, Cherry Island, Maher Island, Pranke Island and Carney Island) – based on its own interpretation of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. It has its own ID cards, currency, newspaper, constitution and national anthem, and boasts more than 100 citizens from 21 countries.
While it began life as a hobby of its creator, it has since aimed to raise awareness of environmental issues.
Principality of Outer Baldonia
This defunct micronation was founded in 1948 by Russell Arundel, an American businessman and PepsiCo lobbyist, on Outer Bald Tusket Island, the southernmost of Nova Scotia's Tusket Islands. Arundel spotted the island while fishing and bought it for $750. Legend has it that he and his friends conceived the idea of declaring independence during a particularly heavy rum-drinking session. The tongue-in-cheek state was largely nautical themed – its currency was called the Tunar, for example, while anyone who caught a bluefin tuna there acquired the title of prince. Arundel sold it to the Nova Scotia Bird Society in 1973.
The Kingdom of Lovely
Created by Danny Wallace for the BBC documentary How to Start Your Own Country, The Kingdom of Lovely was headquartered in his East London flat, had its own flag, coat of arms, and motto ("Die dulci freure" – Have a nice day). Thanks to the internet, it managed to attract more than 50,000 "citizens".