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Promised land?

25 November 2016


REFUGEES from the post-Brexit, Trump-ruled world are seeking better worlds to live in. But, if the Canadian immigration website crashes on you, then look no further than Liberland: a state of 7km² that welcomes citizens — from any country — who love liberty.

There are drawbacks. This patch of land, between Croatia and Serbia, is currently marshland. And to get there you need to defy Croatian police. But this, as the Czech politician Vit Jedlicka, the founder of Liberland, explained, is “a small technicality”. Already hundreds of thousands have signed up for citizenship, and the state has ambassadors, passports, and glossy brochures.

Liberland was the subject of Jolyon Jenkins’s new series Out of the Ordinary (Radio 4, Monday of last week), and it is fair to say that Mr Jedlicka and his state-building project amply meet the expectations of the title. Jenkins has the same instinct for the bizarre, and ability to engage with his subjects, as Jon Ronson or Louis Theroux.

And, in the same way that their stories begin in one place and then veer off into areas even more peculiar, so there was a twist in this story, courtesy of Liberland’s Foreign Minister, José Miguel Maschietto. For, unbeknown to the glorious leader, Mr Maschietto has previous when it comes to fantasy role-playing.

Here was a man who had fooled Ecuadorian and Italian cultural bodies into thinking that he was a pianist, conductor, and composer. His CV was adorned with trophies and medals that did not exist. The man who was to manage Liberland’s external relations was a fantasist.

The person I felt sorry for in all of this was Jason, the man from Bath who thought that he was the ambassador for Liberland to the Court of St James. Committed to gun-ownership and the abolition of traffic wardens, Jason was brimming with enthusiasm for the new libertarian Fatherland. But, as Jenkins cheekily revealed in a radio aside, Jason had not yet been told that he was to be supplanted by order of the President. If it has learned nothing else, the new nation has at least learned the art of political back-stabbing.

Less comic but equally fascinating was The Untold: The search for Bru (Radio 4, Monday), a documentary that returned to the story of Rob Lawrie and his campaign to help a refugee Afghan father and daughter. The original story was broadcast last year, and involved Lawrie’s work in the Jungle camp in Calais, which resulted in his imprisonment for attempting to bring Baha — aka Bru — into Britain. In this instalment, we followed Lawrie as he went in search of the girl after the recent dissolution of the Jungle.

As it emerged, that part of the story ended in something of a damp squib: she and her father were found, but they were not at home. But, in the course of the journey, we gained some sense of the lives of these itinerant communities, as they are moved by coaches from settlement to settlement. As a five-year-old, Bru has known little else.

Just as intriguing was the story, only barely glimpsed, of Lawrie’s motivations, and the conflict that has arisen with his now estranged wife. It is a situation that has created more than one kind of refugee.

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