Monday, April 20, 2015

Liberland: Czech Libertarian Declares New State on Danube Disputed by Croats and Serbs

This past week a new nation was declared, on a spot of land in the murkily demarcated border zone in the region of Slavonia where the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Croatia meet.  But it is not a Serb or Croat behind the project, but a Czech one, and it is more ideological than ethnonationalist. The founder, Vít Jedlička, on April 13th, announced the independence of the Free Republic of Liberland (Svobodná republika Liberland) on a parcel of land on the west bank of the Danube (the mostly Croatian side) around Gornja Siga, an area which is a de facto no-man’s-land since neither side asserts a claim on it.

Gornja Siga, in green, is only one of several parcels of land
along the Croatian–Serbian frontier with no clear status.
In 1991, Croatia successfully seceded from the ethnic-Serb-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was subsequently whittled down of all of its peripheral republics until it became simply the rump Republic of Serbia.  Croatia is in the European Union (E.U.), but Serbia is still on a rocky road to normalization with the West.

The self-declared President Jedlička—a 31-year-old local official of the Czech Republic’s marginal, libertarian Free Citizens’ Party (Strana svobodných občanů), which is hostile to Czechs’ membership in the E.U.—admits that there are no “facts on the ground,” as it were, in Gornja Siga itself, only a declaration made from afar.  There was also an impromptu, unauthorized flag-raising on Liberlandic territory.  But although, as Jedlička told Time magazine, “it started a little bit like a protest, ... it’s really turning out to be a real project with real support.”

A Czech ZZ Top tribute band rocked a recent Free Citizens’ Party rally.
The three-square-mile statelet is to have no enforced taxation and no military and seems to be modeled on libertarian ideas that would be familiar to, for example, followers of Ron Paul and Rand Paul in the United States.  “The objective of the founders of the new state,” says Jedlička, “is to build a country where honest people can prosper without being oppressed by governments making their lives unpleasant through the burden of unnecessary restrictions and taxes.”  Apparently, there are already 20,000 applications for citizenship, being processed by seven volunteers working around the clock, but Jedlicka plans to cap the on-paper population at 3,000 or 5,000 for the time being.

One of the few requirements for citizenship is a lack of a Nazi, Communist, or “extremist” past.  (Presumably, radical anarcho-libertarianism is, for these purposes, not classified as “extremist.”)  It is unclear at this point whether anyone currently lives in the designated territory of Liberland, but aerial photos suggest that it its status as terra nullius is de facto and not just de jure.  The Serbian and Croatian governments have not yet responded to the declaration, though Egypt’s foreign ministry has already warned Egyptians against trying to move there.  Bitcoin, reportedly, is to be the national currency.

Originally, Jedlička’s idea was borne of frustration at the marginalization of libertarian ideas in the Czech Republic—even though his country is more committed to free-market principles than almost any in the world.  The Free Citizens’ Party has one seat in the mostly powerless European Parliament and none in the Czech legislature.  “I’m still going to be active in Czech politics,” he added.  “I would probably resign and let somebody else run Liberland for me if there was a chance to do political change in the Czech Republic.”

Most high-profile micronations can be found in the English-speaking world (especially Australia, for some reason) and Scandinavia, with some in the rest of western Europe as well.  The Balkans have vanishingly few so far.  But the Czech Republic is no stranger to the phenomenon.  In 1997 a Czech photographer named Tomáš Harabiš founded a Kingdom of Wallachia (Valašské Kralovství) in the republic’s Moravian Wallachia region (not to be confused with Romania’s region of Wallachia), and the noted Czech comic film actor Bolek Polívka was crowned King Boleslav the Gracious (later deposed). There are, on paper, 80,000 “Wallachian” citizens.

Moravian Wallachia’s King Boleslav the Gracious
More flamboyantly, a 16th-century castle in Černá, in the central Czech Republic, in 1996 became the physical site of the Other World Kingdom (O.W.K.), a micronation based on the B.D.S.M. (bondage-and-discipline/sado-masochism) subculture, in particular the “femdom” (female domination) branch of it.  Really a glorified sex club, it touted itself as an absolute matriarchal monarchy under Queen Patricia I, with institutionalized male slavery.  The O.W.K. now exists only online.

Four worthless vermin—I mean, citizens—pay tribute to Queen Patricia I in the erstwhile Other World Kingdom.
It is no accident for the Czech Republic to originate what may yet prove to be the most prominent libertarian micronation movement.  During the Cold War, Czechoslovakia was arguably the most culturally Western-leaning part of the Communist, Soviet-aligned East Bloc, possibly even more than East Germany; Prague, after all, is farther west than Vienna or Berlin.  The country’s leading dissident, Václav Havel, who became president after the 1989 revolution, was an unabashed Americophile, obsessed with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol.  His successor, Václav Klaus, was one of the most ardently pro-free-market heads of state—more Thatcherite than Margaret Thatcher herself.  When a dissident-spearheaded set of mild reforms known as “socialism with a human face” (socializmus s ľudskou tvárou) led in 1968 to the brutal Soviet invasion and crackdown known as the Prague Spring, it understandably soured many Czechs on the idea of the mixed-economy social-democratic approach halfway between socialism and capitalism which was the emerging model in western Europe and in places like Poland, where dissent took the form of organized labor.  And, as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, Czechs were influenced by free-market economists such as Austria’s Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian School of economic theory and two Nobel laureates: the Viennese-born PrussianBohemian aristocrat Friedrich Hayek and the dwarfish Milton Friedman (author of Free to Choose), who was (like Andy Warhol, funnily enough), the son of immigrants from the old Czechoslovakia’s eastern region of Carpathian Ruthenia (now an increasingly contested part of Ukraine, as discussed elsewhere in this blog).

Milton Friedman (left; actual size) also had Czechoslovak blood in his veins.
But Liberland is hardly the first libertarian experiment in the annals of micronationdom.  In the 1970s, a Lithuanian-American real-estate tycoon named Michael J. Oliver attempted to take advantage of the unrest accompanying two separate British colonies’ independence days with libertarian insurrections.  First, in 1973, he played on the fears of black rule on the part of the large white minority on the Abaco Islands portion of the Bahamas to try to declare a separate free-market utopia, with the help of white-supremacist activists and C.I.A.-linked American mercenaries, including Larry Flynt’s alleged personal hired hit-man.  Then, in 1980, as the United Kingdom and France’s shared “condominium” rule came to an end as the New Hebrides, in the South Pacific, became Vanuatu, Oliver tried to piggy-back his cause onto a separatist movement among the cargo cults of the archipelago’s northern Espiritu Santo island, which he wanted to call the Republic of Vemerana.  He even strung the French government along for a while with the idea.

Oliver’s most tragicomic attempt at a libertarian state had been in the early 1970s, when he barged tons of sand from Australia to the Minerva Reefs, a set of low seamounts between Fiji and Tonga which did not spend enough of the tidal cycle above water to be classified under international law as “territory.”  But as soon as the island was built up enough to pass legal muster, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Tonga’s king, claimed it, sent a naval vessel to eject Oliver and his nascent Republic of Minerva.  (Today, the reefs have eroded away once again to nothingness, but rival claims are still being made by Tonga, Fiji, and one “Prince Calvin,” an American who says he is the “island’s” monarch.)  Oliver’s similar “seasteading” project in Palmyra Atoll, a U.S. territory near Hawai‘i, got even less far.

Another libertarian seasteading pioneer was Werner K. Stiefel, an American drugs mogul who in 1969 tried to start a utopia by fomenting a rebel movement in the uninhabited Prickly Pear Cays during a brief separatist rebellion in the British colony of Anguilla.  After British troops put an end to that, Stiefel tried landfilling to seastead something called “Operation Atlantis” on Silver Shoals, disputed specks of land between Haiti and the Bahamas.  Atlantis was a name for the invisibility-cloaked libertarian refuge in the Rockies in Ayn Rand’s influential 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged.  (For more on seasteading, see articles from this blog on the Principality of Sealand, here and here.)

An artist’s rendering of the planned Principality of New Utopia, in the western Caribbean
Similar attempts in the Caribbean were the Wall Street swindler Robert Vesco’s “Sovereign Order of New Aragon” territory, on Barbuda, and the Principality of New Utopia, founded on reefs between the Cayman Islands and Belize in the 1990s by another shady Wall Street type, Howard Turney (using the pseudonym Lazarus Long, borrowed from Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian sci-fi novels).

Would you buy a used micronation from this man?
Robert Vesco was never a big fan of government regulation.
Other projects have included, in the 1950s and ’60s, the nation of Taluga (a.k.a. Aphrodite), on the unclaimed Cortes Bank off the coast of Baja California; recent plans to build free-market city-states in Trujillo, Honduras, and on Belle Isle, a park on a riverine island between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario; and a west Texas community called Paulville, after Congressman Ron Paul, though Paul himself wants nothing to do with it.  Even Silicon Valley has (as I’ve written about in this blog) gotten into the act, with plans either to split the region off California as an autonomous state free of government economic regulations or found a free-market “floating city” just outside northern California’s territorial waters to be called Blueseed.

Of all these past attempts, President Jedlička might do well to note the fate of the Republic of Minerva.  He chose the Minerva Reefs because they were pieces of “land” that had fallen between the cracks of two established states, Fiji and Tonga, which were not claiming them.  But then as soon as the project got rolling, the neighbors changed their minds and wanted in on the project.  That ended badly.  Imagine how much uglier it could get if Jedlička not only lost his utopia invaded but found himself literally in the middle of a renewed territorial battle between Serbs and Croats.  Liberland might be in a pretty spot, but it’s one of the most volatile borders in recent history.

Thanks to Trena Klohe and Alexander Velky for first alerting me to this story.

[You can read more about many of these and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

Thursday, April 16, 2015

UKIP’s Rise Casts Gibraltar’s Future into Question: Spanish “Reconquista” or a “Monaco of the Strait”?

The recent rise of the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which wants the U.K. to leave the European Union (E.U.), has shaken up British politics.  Next month’s general election is not at all shaping up to be the usual American-style horse race between the left-of-center Labour Party and right-of-center Conservative Party, with the more lefty Liberal Democratic Party (currently in a coalition government with the Conservatives) as a side show.  In last year’s elections to the European Parliament, UKIP became the largest party in the U.K.’s delegation, but the UKIP phenomenon is far from being a flash in the pan, even though the largely toothless European Parliament attracts far more protest votes than the more consequential general elections do: UKIP is actually the third-largest party in the U.K. now.  And a further complication is the surge in support for the separatist Scottish National Party (S.N.P.) (at Labour’s expense) after last year’s narrowly defeated independence referendum in Scotland.  Next month’s election will have serious geopolitical consequences as no British election in recent memory has.

This means that Conservatives and Labour have to some extent resigned themselves to the groundswell of populist centrifugal forces likely to define the U.K.’s future.  Prime Minister David Cameron has already capitulated to UKIP by promising, if he is reelected, to hold a referendum on continued E.U. membership, and during the run-up to the Scottish referendum his government instituted a raft of new powers of self-government, for not only Scotland but Wales and Northern Ireland as well.  These developments are convergent: UKIP would also like a more decentralized Britain.  But Nigel Farage, UKIP’s bombastic leader, a self-described libertarian, has scoffed at the S.N.P.’s and the Scottish public’s overwhelming desire to stay in the E.U. but leave the U.K.  He has called Scottish nationalism a “fraud” which aspires merely to “swap your masters from Westminster to Brussels.”  (See article from this blog here and here on the question of whether Scotland could leave Britain but stay in the Union.)

Nigel Farage—now destroyer of empires, as well?
One unexpected reverberation of this political earthquake is policy toward the U.K.’s overseas territories.  In the past, Farage has called for a special Member of Parliament to represent colonies like Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.  Presumably this would overlay the current self-government in those territories which fill the role an M.P. in London would for most areas of governance.  As Farage points out, citizens in the overseas territories have no say in those functions still reserved to Westminster: currency, defense, and foreign relations.  (This is similar to Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States (as discussed earlier in this blog).)

The rethinking has already begun in Gibraltar: the territory’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said this week that in the event of a “Brexit”—as the media have dubbed UKIP’s hoped-for secession from the E.U.—Gibraltar would want to stay in the Union.  “The only existential threat to our economy,” Picardo told the conservative Daily Telegraph, “is one where we are pulled out of the European Union against our will and denied access to the single market.  I think everybody who is serious about the subject, even those whose views I don’t share, talk about retaining access to Europe as a member of the European economic area.  I know that there are many in the U.K. who advocate the U.K. moving out of the E.U. who consider themselves to be very good friends of Gibraltar, but they need to understand the economics of this.”  Gibraltar is the only overseas U.K. territory that is not in the E.U. (though some far-flung possessions of E.U. member states are in it, notably French Guiana and other French territories like Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean and Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, as well as Spain’s special municipalities of Ceuta and Melilla and its Canary Islands, which are all geographically African).

Picardo’s words echo the position not only the S.N.P. in Scotland but of Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party in Wales: both demand that their countries be allowed binding local referenda on E.U. membership in the event of a U.K.-wide vote on the question.  The E.U. is only really unpopular in England, not in other parts of the U.K.  But in Gibraltar the statement represents a serious reversal of thinking on the status of “the Rock,” as locals call the two-and-a-half-square-mile peninsula jutting off Spain’s mainland.  Gibraltarians, after all, have never favored independence.  In a 2002 referendum on Gibraltar’s status, confirming a similar result in 1967, more than 98.97% of the 30,000 or so residents opposed any change in status.  This ranks among history’s most thunderously near-unanimous votes against changing the status of a territory, alongside similar polls in the Falkland Islands (where residents in 2013 backed the status quo 1,513 to 3) and the Cocos Islands (where, in 1983, only 9 out of 261 wanted independence from Australia).

These Gibraltar residents don’t care which flag flies over them.
But is Picardo thinking of what would amount to independence—continued membership in the E.U. on its own? (it would make it the Union’s tiniest member state, smaller by far even than Luxembourg or Malta)—or is he thinking of joining Spain?  Surely not the latter, since Spain’s ongoing claims on the territory are the chief source of Gibraltarian indignation that has energized opposition to change.

A quick history review: the Spanish claim go goes back to 1700, when the death of Spain’s childless King Carlos II, left him with no clear successor.  Carlos was a member of Austria’s Habsburg dynasty, so the Britain, Prussia, and Portugal wanted the crown to pass to the Austrian kaiser’s son, Archduke Karl—um, I mean, Carlos—while France and Bavaria backed a candidate from France’s royal family, the House of Bourbon.  Thus began the War of the Spanish Succession.  The Bourbons and their supporters prevailed: the prospective Carlos III stayed Karl and later became Holy Roman Emperor, and a Bourbon sits on the throne in Madrid even today.  But the end of the war in 1714 sorted out lots of outstanding territorial squabbles around the world among the European powers: France gave big chunks of Canada to Britain, for example, and Spain lost numerous colonies, including Sicily and what are now the Netherlands and Belgium.  Since the British and Spanish were in the midst of a long struggle for naval supremacy, Queen Anne of Great Britain negotiated hard, and successfully, for her consolation prize, Gibraltar, ownership of which meant theoretical control of trade through the narrow passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the open Atlantic.

No Mediterranean climes for Archduke Karl; he had to settle for this measly job.
The Spanish have never gotten over this, even now that shared membership in the E.U. means the border between Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland amounts to very little (though Spain routinely tests British patience by imposing punitive border controls from time to time).  Spanish political candidates thunder on about taking back the Rock whenever patriotism needs to be whipped up before an election.  The Spanish royal family even boycotted Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee in 2012 over the issue (as reported on at the time in this blog)—which in terms of historical memory and emotional maturity is sort of equivalent to what it would be like if David Cameron refused to shake hands with Barack Obama because he was still pouting over mean things said about King George III during the Boston Tea Party.

Cars lined up during one of Spain’s capriciously imposed border delays
On the Spanish side, nationalists have been eyeing Gibraltar hungrily in the wake of UKIP’s rise as well.  Professor Alejandro del Valle Gálvez, a Gibraltar expert at Spain’s University of Cádiz, says the time is ripe for Madrid to pursue “the democratic control of the British base, a modus vivendi agreed on legal and finance issues whilst negotiations take place for a definitive international status for Gibraltar that is accepted by all parties.”  In other words, they want to push and push until Gibraltarians give in and resort to Spanish rule.  Del Valle envisions the current British territory and the “Campo de Gibraltar”—the adjacent administrative district in Spain’s autonomous Andalusia region—to merge as a city-state that could become a “Monaco of the Strait.”  (A big difference, of course, would be that the Principality of Monaco allows citizens to choose who governs them, in conformity to international norms.)

Brits and Spaniards stare each other down across one of the world’s shortest land borders.
There is another reason that Gibraltar will never choose Spain over independence or leaving the E.U.: Spain itself is among the Union’s economic basket cases, and it is not inconceivable that a “Spexit” could be in the works, too, leaving the Rock with the worst of both worlds.  But Spain’s relationship to the E.U. and the financial crisis that began in 2008 is as complex as Britain’s: in particular, Spain’s most economically successful region, Catalonia, has been pushing as hard for independence recently as Scotland has (though so far against deal-killing pushback from the mother country).  Catalan separatists are eager to avoid the punitive effects of economic mismanagement that they believe Spain—along with the fellow member states Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Italy—have brought upon themselves.  If Catalonia were independent, it would never be forced to quit the euro or leave the Union, though what was left of Spain, without its wealthiest region, would be more likely to do either.

So, in my opinion, the solution is obvious: Gibraltar can avoid both UKIP’s economically suicidal policies and Spain’s, and stay in the E.U. as well, by joining an independent Catalonia.  The two entities do not border each other, but Barcelona is certainly nearer Gibraltar than London is.  Catalonia is already a playground for hordes of vacationing Britons.  And there is a deep historical tie: the then quasi-independent Catalonia sided with Britain, not the Spanish, in the War of the Spanish Succession.  In 1704, over 300 Catalans defended the Rock from the Habsburgs; a local beach is named in their honor.  And the king-making Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or E.R.C.) party in Catalonia’s separatist ruling coalition scandalizes mainstream opinion in Spain by refusing to side with Madrid on Gibraltar (as discussed in an article in this blog).  (Basque separatists, by contrast, want Spain to reclaim Gibraltar, making them more than a bit hypocritical on the question of whether a referendum on being or not being part of Spain should be binding.)

Gibraltar’s flag
On the other hand, if Spain’s King Felipe VI would really and truly like to undo the Treaty of Utrecht, he is perfectly free to step aside and let 54-year-old Karl von Habsburg, a private citizen living in Salzburg, to take over the throne in Madrid.

For use in case of reconquista: outgoing King Juan Carlos places the sash of Captain General
of Spain’s royal armed forces on his son and successor, King Felipe VI.
[You can read more about Gibraltar, Scotland, Catalonia, UKIP, and other movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

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