During his one-on-one session with BBC journalist Stephen Sackur, the giggling, provocative, libertarian Vít Jedlicka left participants at the 47th St. Gallen Symposium wondering: Is this guy for real? When we met him later that afternoon, Jedlicka and his personal assistant greeted us with smiles. Jedlicka – a former entrepreneur and now a professional politician – sports a pin on his lapel: the flag of Liberland. “Basically, anyone can become President,” says Jedlicka. Finding it difficult to enact change in his home country, the Czech Republic, he started his own state.
Alice in Liberland
Jedlicka located a patch of land which was unclaimed due to a border dispute between Croatia and Serbia. Technically, no people live there yet. Croatia (unofficially) denied Jedlicka's claim by posting police in the area to prevent people from entering Liberland. Jedlicka refers to this as “de facto recognition,” the only type of recognition Liberland has received to date.
To get visitors under these difficult circumstances, Jedlicka gives out a prize – USD 200, or the equivalent in Liberland merits – to anyone who can manage to stay on the land for 24 hours. In the last month, he gave out this prize twice.
That may not sound like much, but as of May 2017, 446,000 people have applied for citizenship on Liberland’s website. Of this number, 127,000 have fulfilled the requirements for joining, such as respecting private property and not being a communist.
His libertarian message resonated with some of the symposium’s visitors. Jedlicka smiles when he says that at the symposium he will “deliver citizenship to four new residents.” This citizenship comes at two levels: virtual residency and actual residency.
“The future is stateless; technology is going to replace the state,” he says. For virtual residency, Jedlicka wants to “Uberize” state services: Liberland provides an app, similar to the transportation app “Uber,” that will help people do business with each other, but also access basic services like police force.
Jedlicka's vision and his actions do not quite match up: For all his talk of the stateless future, most of his efforts focus on the 7.5 square kilometre chunk of land he’s claimed. “It’s nice to have it,” he says.
Around 400 people have successfully gone through the full application process. They either paid 5000 euros or 5000 Liberland merits, which are measured in the amount of help people dedicate to Liberland. His seven-man would-be government has already been criticised for its homogenous nature. Jedlicka wishes people would stop bothering him about gender balance. “I just wish there was a female who would organise the legal system,” he says, “one that was smarter than the male who applied.”
Jedlicka's main wish for his country is that it is “a tax paradise for everyone.” The government, he argues, should stay out of services such as formal education, healthcare, and public transportation.
Liberland’s citizens should fend for themselves, even when it comes to issues that go beyond individual responsibility and generally require state action, like climate change. For Jedlicka that is a moot point, anyway, since he contends conspiratorially that global warming is something made up by a secret society aiming for global governance.
He does not believe guiding people is helpful in any way. “Individual freedom” is at the heart of everything Jedlicka does. Even to his own son, now 9 months old, Jedlicka cannot promise an education.
In Jedlicka's vision of the future, Liberland’s richest citizens will be the ones with the official power. These people buy into Liberland’s “landfund.” This does not literally divide the land; citizens, like shareholders, buy a percentage which determines their voting power.
There are no checks and balances in place. “If two people want, they can tear the country in two” Jedlicka laughs. “We can always make a new Liberland.”