When any nation is rounding up political prisoners in large numbers, it is immediately worthy of the world’s attention. When any such nation is also a member of the European Union, we must ask ourselves some hard questions about what is and is not acceptable in today’s Europe. In just two months since Liberland’s founding, the nation of Croatia has arrested over 30 people for entering Liberland territory. By this point is has become clear to any casual observer that Croatia is determined to squash the success of the new nation. No matter how one feels about the newly proclaimed nation of Liberland, a seperate key issue has now surfaced: are the actions of the Croatian government illegal? The evidence suggests that on various levels they are severely violating international law as well as numerous treaties of which they are signatory to.
Which Border Is The Correct One?
Thus far, all of the nearly three dozen arrests have been for the same alleged crime, crossing the border illegally. Liberland is shaped like a half circle, with the Danube River hugging its eastern border leaving Croatia as its only land border. Many of the early arrests occurred due to people crossing the Croatia-Liberland border on foot. An official border crossing between Croatia and Liberland does not yet exist, and therefore crossing by foot into Liberland is an illegal act under Croatian law. The troubling part is that Croatian forces are also exiting Croatia on foot and into Liberland in order to abduct and extract citizens back into Croatia where they are fined and imprisoned.
Seeking to avoid breaking Croatian border laws, Liberland citizens have since purchased boats, and after registering them legally, have departed from the Serbian side to Liberland. It was expected that, since Croatia has no claim over the territory, it would be acceptable for Liberland citizens and visitors to enter the land in this manner. Sadly, this has been anything but the case. Using their police boats to blockade Liberland territory 24 hours a day, Liberland’s citizens have frequently been prevented from entering their soil by water, with many citizens being abducted across the Croatian border and placed into Croatian jails.
These facts can only lead to one conclusion: Croatia is knowingly making false arrests since to them, the border is 3 kilometers to the left one day, and 3 kilometers to the right the next.
Abducting A European Parliament Member
Likely the boldest and most shocking arrest came last Friday when the Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský decided to visit Liberland. As a member of European Parliament, Mr. Zdechovský holds a diplomatic passport which he presented to the Croatian police upon approaching Liberland. If anybody has the right to visit Liberland to see the situation on the ground, it would be him. And yet the Croatian government still forced him onto their police vessel on the Danube River and abducted him into Croatia where they held him for nearly an hour. They eventually released him due to his diplomatic immunity, but they arrested a member of his staff who was forced to spend a night in Croatian prison and pay a fine the following morning. Is this how an EU nation should treat a member of European Parliament when he visits the region?
Geneva Convention Violations
On June 4, 2015 during a press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Prague, Liberland’s President applied the Geneva Conventions on behalf of Liberland and its people. These conventions protect civilians in times of international conflict. The fact that Croatia has decided to meet the Liberland movement with hostilities is regrettable, but given that they are signatory to the Geneva Conventions at the very least they should honor their commitments when holding prisoners. Sadly we have now heard accounts that grave violations of the Geneva Conventions are taking place.
One prisoner, Kristian, who is only 17 years old and therefore a minor, was abducted from Liberland territory and brought to a Croatian jail cell a few weeks ago. He was held overnight in solitary confinement and was not given food or water the entire time, despite asking repeatedly. Another Liberland citizen, Tomas, also spent 23 hours in solitary without being given food or water. When he refused to pay a fine for his alleged crime of crossing from Serbia (into territory that is not Croatia) he was put in with the general Croatian prison population, which included a number of violent prisoners. In total, Tomas had to spend 3 days in this jail before being released. Croatia is not meeting its EU or Geneva Convention obligations when it denies prisoners food, water, sunlight and safe conditions.
Liberland Citizen Ulrik Haagensen Still Being Held
Last Friday, a citizen of both Denmark and Liberland was taking a boat ride from Serbia to Liberland when he was immediately met in international waters by Croatian boats who attempted to block his free travel (in violation of the Danube Commission). Ulrik made it to Liberland soil where he was immediately chased and ultimately grabbed and dragged off the land, and like so many others was abducted across the Croatian border where he continues to be held.
Ulrik currently awaits his trial, but was told by the judge that he should expect 9 to 30 days in a Croatian prison for his alleged crime. Ulrik has already given an account of being handcuffed and left outside to be eaten alive by the many mosquitoes that line the river while his abductors (the Croatian police) were behind a screened-in area laughing at him.
It is high time Croatia explains its actions. Why are they blocking boats from freely navigating the Danube? Why are they arresting people who enter Liberland from all of its borders? What gives Croatia jurisdiction over this land? If, as Croatian police have claimed in court documents, there is an agreement with Serbia to patrol this land, where is a copy of this agreement? And how can a nation which does not claim the land (Serbia) agree to give another country that likewise doesn’t claim the land the authority to arrest people on this land?
The tens of thousands of people behind Liberland want nothing more than peace and friendship with all nations of the world, including Croatia. The actions taken by the Croatian government, from false arrests to not providing the basics of life to prisoners are serious issues that go beyond any land dispute. Liberland citizens can only be left wondering if other European nations and their citizens will continue allow such behavior from a nation which was recently granted admission into the EU.