Liberland is Literally No Big Deal

liberland flag Libertarian and mainstream circles alike have been buzzing incessantly about an unclaimed, teardrop shaped parcel of land between Croatia and Serbia called Siga. Czech politician Vít Jedlička calls it Liberland, and has the flag to prove it. The media reaction has been the usual cabinet-of-curiosities approach it applies to anything whacky a political outsider does in his spare time. If you’re the kind of person who has his middle name on Facebook set to “Voluntaryist”, you’re probably hyped about this. I mean, they put Murray Rothbard’s face on the money, for crying out loud. And I don’t blame you; Liberland has received (and this estimate is theirs) millions of citizenship requests, many from places like Saudi Arabia, one nation among many in dire need of a regime change.

The success rate of micronations, though, is historically lackluster. They are, at best, political statements, tied down to a single locale, that get good press for a few weeks and fade into the background. Out of curiosity, I just checked the Wikipedia article “List of Micronations”, Ctrl-F’d “tongue-in-cheek” and got seven results, each instance describing a different micronation on the list. At least two more on this list are well known pyramid schemes. I don’t think Jedlička is simply protesting high taxes by establishing Liberland, nor is he making bank, but I also can’t take his prospects seriously, because he is a minnow swimming in a sea of Leviathans. The other problem with micronations is that they are entering a market that, as someone reading an anarcho-capitalist blog should probably already know, is dominated by cartels and warlords that never feel like playing fair, and no doubt, if the Liberlanders dared defend their territory, they could be branded extremists. McDonald’s has nothing to fear from the local mom-and-pop burger joint, so why should Liberland be a threat to world governments? Short answer: It isn’t. Don’t be stupid.
minerva coin
Historically we have seen that any serious micronation has been gobbled up by a bigger fish the moment it becomes even tangentially relevant. Outliers like Monaco, Lichtenstein, et al. exist still only by the graciousness of their neighbors. The Republic of Minerva was not as lucky: It was also going to be a “libertarian utopia” (a phrase that I wish would stop appearing in headlines) in the South Pacific, but the international community spoke, and in the end they took the King of Tonga more seriously when he claimed Minerva’s territory for his nation, and Minerva was helpless to fight back. If a millionaire suffers a serious diseconomy of scale compared to a country like Tonga, what hope does Liberland have? Take also the example of “The Republic of Cospaia”. Like Liberland, it was born because government cartographers have not fully grasped the idea of rivers. This small, stateless hamlet lied between Florence and the Papal territories in Renaissance Italy and only went unclaimed because it was a convenient buffer zone between the two giants and a free trade zone for merchants. No doubt ancaps can find something very likable in Cospaia, but it was ultimately a temporary arrangement without the military might of other countries. Napoleon’s romp through Italy finally caught up to Cospaia. The problem for Liberland, though, is that this isn’t early modern Europe. The political order in the 21st Century is stagnant, especially in the Western world. New states succeed only if they can get support from the international community. The Thirteen Colonies had the economic capacity for self-sufficiency, as well as military “investments” from France and Spain. The African states undergoing decolonization throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s had support from both their colonizer and the United Nations. Liberland has basically none of those resources behind it.  It may prolong its existence by exploiting the border dispute that led to Jedlička taking the land in the first place: neither Croatia nor Serbia can really claim the Siga territory without pissing off the other. But statecraft is more than existing. Vying for “legitimacy” means getting the bigger nations to vouch for you so you can sit at the adult table. Until it can get that thumbs up, Liberland’s investors will have to come from the same political outsider groups as Jedlička and posse hail from. To wrap up, micronations rarely achieve anything of note, because they’re too small to keep up with established nation-states, and falter at the first sign of political strife. I don’t expect amazing things from Liberland. I like Liberland, despite this essay’s content, but if Serbian tanks start rolling into Siga or the flag gets taken down, I won’t be surprised. I would really enjoy being wrong, but libertarians have tried nation-building before, and it’s never gone well.

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