The government of Croatia once called Liberland a “virtual quip” and told CNN that virtual quips are undeserving of further comment. With many hundreds of Liberland supporters having arrived to the area in recent months, and some 30 or more having been thrown into Croatian jails, it is no longer possible to call Liberland a “virtual quip” in any sense of the words.
Perhaps that’s why on June 29 The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a direct and detailed statement with regard to Liberland. In it, the Croatian government first makes clear that Liberland is “between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Serbia” which is to say that it is not a part of either nation.
The release goes on to say that the border police are in Liberland to protect the interests of Croatia. That much has been very clear to anybody on the ground. Since late April, all who have stepped foot onto Liberland were immediately taken into custody by the Croatian Police. The obvious conclusion is that Liberland’s existence is perceived to be against the interests of the Republic of Croatia.
Regrettably, the Croatian government is so determined to “protect its interests” that they are making dozens of false and illegal arrests. When people cross into Liberland by land they are charged with an illegal border crossing into Serbia. When people cross from Serbia into Liberland by boat, the Croatian police again charge them, this time for illegally crossing into Croatia. By selectively referring to this same land as either Croatia or Serbia and blindly arresting everybody without just cause, the government of Croatia has so far squashed any Liberlanders ability to openly remain on the territory.
And yet the statement amazingly suggests that “all those who wish to visit the…zone between Croatia and Serbia” need only to follow Croatian laws and EU regulations. A representative of the Croatian Embassy in London was recently captured on camera stating that there are “absolutely no restrictions – you can walk around wherever you want.” Video evidence recorded by the Liberland Settlement Association proves otherwise. An explanation of how to legally visit this “zone” without being arrested has yet to be provided by the Croatians.
Also missing from the statement is any claim of Croatian sovereignty over the land. Despite claiming “control” over the area, they never once suggest that the land ever has or ever will belong to them. In fact, the statement reaffirms the long held position of Croatia that they are entitled to lands east of the Danube river and that “once the borderline between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Serbia is finally determined…both sides [will] assume control of their respective territories on the other side of the Danube River.” By saying this, Croatia is implying that Liberland’s territory belongs to Serbia, and is being “controlled” by Croatia until it is someday returned to Serbia. However Serbia’s own Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously stated that “the ‘new state’ is not formed on the territory of the Republic of Serbia.”
Reading between the lines of this carefully crafted statement from the Croatian government, we see clear evidence that the land is in fact terra nullius by its very definition. This land is clearly unclaimed and unwanted by any sovereign nation other than Liberland. Croatia has never claimed this land, and does not now even in its statement. Serbia for its part issued a very clear statement that the “newly formed state” is not on its territory. Additionally, Croatia has once again reaffirmed that this land is “between” Croatia and Serbia. In can now be said with certainty that the police controlling this territory do so as an occupying force under international law. The Geneva Convention defines it thusly:
“Military occupation is effective provisional control by a certain ruling power over a territory which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity”
Since Serbia doesn’t claim the land, it can’t grant authority to Croatia to control the land. Since Croatia also does not claim the land, and only moved its forces onto the land once Liberland claimed sovereignty over it, Croatia is an occupying force by definition.
Liberland is a peaceful movement that strives to contribute positively to the region through friendship and partnership with its neighbors. It is a positive sign that the Croatian government has moved beyond ignoring Liberland and is now addressing some of its concerns publicly. It is hoped that the Croatian government will further engage directly with Liberland’s government so as to reach a level of mutual understanding that will lead to peace, stability and economic prosperity for all.