Liberland and international law

on 13 April 2015, Czech activist Vit Jedlicka (sorry for omitting the diacritics) declared a new state – „Liberland“, located betwen Croatia and Serbia. According to the website, it covers an array of seven square kilometres which would make it bigger than the Vatican and Monaco. Its motto is to „to live and let live“ and overall it seems to have a profoundly libertarian background, eg since it explicitly states its need for people who „have respect for private ownership which is untouchable“. The Constitution and its laws are not available yet.

From the perspective of international law, it sounds like a nice example to be included in lectures and/or textbooks. The interesting thing is that Liberland – in contrast to other attempts to found new microstates – like Avalon in Switzerland or the Kingdom of Germany – is not trying to secede from a given territory but take advantage from a Crotian/Serbian border dispute which allegedly makes the territoriy in question terra nullius („no man’s land“) and thus up for grabs. Although the big time of conquering hitherto undiscovered lands has passed long ago, there is some unclaimed territory (another example would be Bir Tawil between Sudan and Egypt). If neither Croatia nor Serbia actually claim the territory of Liberland, it could ultimately remain a somewhat forgotten piece of land and provide ground for yet another social experiment in the creation of unrecognized and largely ignored micronations. At the end of the day, all it takes to seize unclaimed territory is some degree of control (depending on its size) and animus occupandi, which both seem to be present in the case of Liberland. The really interesting question arises from the fact that it is not a state trying to acquire territory but an individual/a small group that does not seem to fulfill the criteria to be called a „people“ in the sense of Jellinek’s three elements of statehood; do the same rules apply mutatis mutandis or could it simply be said that an individual/a small group cannot establish sovereignty on terra nullius – a question that has already arisen in connection with the Principality of Sealand and still not finally settled within academic circles until this very day.
Theoretical questions aside, the experiment suffers from the fact that Croatia exercises control over the territory of Liberland and prevents the establishment of a state proper, which makes this case a rather philosophical one. All those who expected a libertarian paradise for tax evasion and drug use may end up disappointed.

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