Media Fact Check: Only Liberland Claims Liberland

Media Fact Check: Only Liberland Claims Liberland

Liberland has been nothing short of a media sensation, with reporters from around the globe taking keen interest in covering the young nation. And while the world’s biggest media outlets have plenty of resources, they have seemingly failed to make use of them in order to get their facts straight about Liberland.

Take for instance The Associated Press, which feeds articles to newspapers around the world. Dusan Stojanovic of the AP wrote an article about Liberland on May 9, 2015 which was widely published internationally.  In it, the journalist wrote:  “The truth is that both Serbia and Croatia claim that land” which is especially erroneous since it is the mirror opposite of the truth.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, the following image of the Croatian-Serbian border ought to be worth 1,000 retractions from journalists who have written about Liberland.  Here you will see the border dispute, in living color:

Map of the Croatian-Serbian Border Dispute
Map of the Croatian-Serbian Border Dispute (c) wikipedia

– In Blue is the river Danube as it currently flows today.  Serbia has claimed this as its border since 1947, meaning all land East of the blue line belongs to them, according to their claim.

–  In Red you will see a curvy line that crosses mostly East of the Danube, with occasional turns to its West.  This is how the Danube river once flowed. Over time, a number of infrastructure modifications were made to the river so as to lessen travel times for river vessels. Because the old river path was the historical border previously used, modern day Croatia uses it as its current border claim and has done so since 1947.  Here we begin to see why there’s a border dispute, as that red line stretches far East of Serbia’s blue line (the river’s current flow).

–  Therefore in Yellow you will see pockets of land that fall under both border claims, as described above.  Notice that all of the yellow pockets are East of the current Danube river flow, which is why Serbia claims them.  And since they are West of the former flow of the Danube (the red line), Croatia claims them as well.

–  Finally in Green you will notice four pockets West of the current Danube river flow, the largest of which (labelled Siga) is Liberland.  These lands are not claimed by either side.  They are West of the current river flow, so Serbia has no reason to claim them.  They are also East of the red line (Croatia’s border claim) so Croatia does not claim them either.  Under international law, this is known as terra nullius, or “no man’s land” because no sovereign nation claims the land.

To state that both nations claim Liberland’s territory is to show a complete lack of understanding of both history and the border dispute itself.  Any media researcher covering Liberland needs only to look at the statement put out by the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Related to the information that appeared in domestic and foreign media as well as on the Internet, that the Czech Vit Jedlicka, right-wing MEP, founded the “state of Liberland” on 13 April, 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announces that the position of the Republic of Serbia in relation to the state border is that it stretches to the middle of the fairway on the Danube, in accordance with the legal delimitation of 1945 and that the “new state” is not formed on the territory of the Republic of Serbia.”

It is clear: to Serbia the center of the current flow of the river Danube is the border.  Anything West of it is not their land, and Liberland is certainly West of it.  Serbia makes no claim to it, none whatsoever.

Croatia’s government hasn’t yet released an official statement regarding Liberland.  But after 70 years of never claiming the territory of Liberland, we are seeing some clear signals that they are holding true to their long-held position.  Most visibly, they have arrested Liberland’s President, and on a separate occasion six other Liberland citizens, for “illegally crossing the border.”  The arrests were made on the land border between Croatia and Liberland, exactly where there is a red line in the above map.  If Croatia claimed Liberland’s territory they wouldn’t be arresting people for leaving its border into the area.  It’s certainly not against the law to walk from Croatia into another part of Croatia.

Croatia may well want to claim this land as its own going forward, but they would be doing so only after Liberland claimed the land first.  Furthermore, should they now claim this land they will weaken and possibly eliminate any claims for those yellow pockets of land, which are ten times greater in size.

A few reporters may decide to the twist the facts of the situation and say that the land is disputed because each nation claims the land for the other nation.  Upon further examination, this is a worthless statement to make.  A nation cannot claim land for another nation.  China can’t claim parts of Antarctica for Panama, for example.  A nation has to want the land, and has to make a claim over that land itself.

For the last 24 years the land that we now call Liberland has been unclaimed by all possible interested parties.  It wasn’t until April 13, 2015 that anybody showed any interest in the land, and it is therefore Liberland’s right to use the land as they see fit.  The concept of Liberland has been labeled as a joke by some in the media, but it is far from a joke.  It is a political movement, with a properly formed government which has drafted a constitution, elected its first President and naturalized its first citizens.  Many of those citizens have permanently relocated to the area in order to begin development of their nation.

Liberland is a fascinating story, one that attracts reporters like bees to honey.  The media attention has helped put Liberland on the map, if only metaphorically.  Still, the journalists covering Liberland owe it to their profession and to their respective publications to get the key facts correct.  All nations deserve dignity, respect and accuracy in reporting, even the smallest and newest ones.