Disclaimer: This is a republished article by Ivan Bertović, President of the Young Croatian Liberals of the City of Zagreb. It was edited for clarity and ease of reading.
In the “Breakdown of Nations”, Leopold Korh, an Austrian born economist, jurist, and self-described “philosophical anarchist”, wrote:
“(…) And if the body of a people becomes diseased with the fever of aggression, brutality, collectivism, or massive idiocy, it is not because it has fallen victim to bad leadership or mental derangement. It is because human beings, so charming as individuals or in small aggregations, have been welded into overconcentrated social units.”
He was best known for his love of decentralization and rejection of the “cult of bigness”, meaning the monolithic, centralised state structure. But is there any merit in decentralization and small scale governments, both in scale and scope? Would the so called “microstates” work?
One example of a Balkan microstate would be the Republic of Ragusa, with its center in the city of Dubrovnik, situated on the Adriatic Sea coast. The history of the city stretches back to the 7th century AD, and it stood up to 1808. It was settled by both Slavs and Romans; a place of regular conflict and strife throughout history. In 1191, Dubrovnik achieved an important milestone. Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos granted free trade right to city merchants, and similar rights were obtained from Serbia and Bosnia soon after. Venice backed by the Fourth Crusade forces raided most of Dalmatia taking control over Dubrovnik in 1205.
But the real story of the state-city begins in 1358. After the Treaty of Zadar was signed, Dubrownik was liberated from Venice’s hold. Until its downfall before Napoleon and his conquests, Dubrovnik demonstrated its ability of using diplomacy and trade as means of increasing social wealth and living standards, as opposed to military acts.
Even the diametrically opposed Ottoman Empire did not wage war or conquer Dubrovnik, but instead arranged for beneficial cooperation agreements.
And even though some wanted to annex Dubrovnik, it’s small, efficient, and decentralized governance silenced them, which shows the value of such a minimal system. Because of this, the whole region and its neighboring cities flourished from Dubrovnik’s sail trade, with ships sailing far and wide in the Mediterranean sea, and the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
A high regard for liberty ensured a long-time existence of the Republic of Ragusa and its capital city Dubrovnik. The Republic’s society lived by the motto of “Liberty is not sold for all the gold in the world.”
Smaller governments in smaller units are more easily supervised. People are aware of what’s happening to them, and they can easily rally up should their rights be trampled on. At the same time, smaller governments have fewer things to do, and in result they can specialize in the needs of their people and territory. This has been demonstrated throughout history with smaller states being prosperous while falling only to bigger, aggressive states when they wage wars of destruction.
And in present day Europe, there is a chance to establish a state similar in vision to the Republic of Ragusa. On the Banks of Danube, The Free Republic of Liberland is forming a new trade haven, a safe place for those who cherish voluntary state contribution and free trade. But for Liberland to achieve this, it will need to grow the same way as Ragusa did. Through international recognition, foremost from Liberland’s neighbors; by laying the groundwork for free trade; and by ensuring the principles of liberty within its community. And history shows all of this is much easier to achieve in a smaller state, both in scale and scope.