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In conversation with the President of the Free Republic of Verdis

Daniel Jackson is the 19-year-old President of the Free Republic of Verdis, a micronation on the banks of the Danube between Croatia and Serbia. Verdis is a self-proclaimed sovereign state focused on providing a centre for humanitarian aid.

President Jackson is a teenager from Melbourne, living in exile in Dover, running a nation on terra nullius his government has claimed, mapped and tried to settle. However, their settlement has been rebuffed. In October 2023, Verdis was 'invaded' by Croatia, its citizens 'kidnapped', taken into Croatia, and deported. They are now taking legal action against the Croatian government and will be protesting their London embassy.

In this conversation, President Jackson talks to us about how to found a nation, their legal challenges dealing with Croatia's invasion and kidnapping, and how they plan to build a nation.

So, how old are you?


I'm 19 years old.



That makes you the youngest world leader on earth.


At the present time, yes.



How old were you when you founded Verdis?


Verdis was merely an idea when I was 14. I wouldn't say it started to kick off until last year, when I was 18, because we changed everything. We changed a lot about values, we changed a lot about goals, we even started providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.



Why did you create Verdis? What led you to do this?


I wanted to do something a bit different in the world, as a state I could make an impact. Instead of being focused on one goal we had a lot of goals. over time we’ve built up more and more of a vision as to what we could do as a nation state.



Is it expensive to create a nation and to claim terra nulius?


Well in terms of actually getting there and the costs for nation building it is very expensive.



But you don't have to pay anyone else for the privilege?


No, no we don't. When it came to accessing the land for the first time we had a lot of communication and agreements with locals. Locals of nearby towns in Croatia and Serbia who were willing to help us.



So how does one go about claiming terra nulius? Is it as simple as just turning up and planting a flag?


There's not really any official way to claim terra nulius. What we did was we released a statement and cadastral mapping. That was our claim. From there, since Croatia and Serbia didn't claim the land, we hold that its terra nulius therefore we had the right to claim it under international law.



Why isn’t the land claimed by the Croatia or Serbia?


Croatia and Serbia are arguing over larger pockets on the Serbian side of the Danube. So, there were smaller pockets on the other side, the west side, that were left unclaimed because both parties wanted the larger pieces. Croatia claims the old line of the Danube River which benefited them with larger parcels and Serbia was happy with the status quo being the centreline.



So, who created the country with you? I can't imagine this was a solo effort.


Yes, so once again I’ll say there is quite a difference between what it was in 2019. 2019 it was just a group of friends and I considering doing something big. 2022 and 2023 the entire government changed. There's only two of us from that initial era now. We restructured and became what Verdis is today. Since then, we have built up a decently sized government, one that is able to operate in Verdis' current capacity and is ready if we continue to grow.



How are you attracting these people? What kind of person is joining Verdis and becoming a part of your government?


A lot of people that are part of the Verdis government share very similar values in terms of building a humanitarian state, a neutral area hub for humanitarian organizations. Because of this we have a lot of people that did humanitarian aid in Ukraine. Some people that are part of Verdis’ government today I met in Ukraine doing humanitarian work. So, we share some very similar values and a vision of what we want Verdis to be.



Why do you have this focus on humanitarian aid?


We believe that it's always good to bring in more aid and support to neighbouring countries. We think that Verdis has the ability not just to provide humanitarian aid but general aid too. We have a small land size and in the future we might be able to help benefit the Croatian region of Slavonia or the Serbian region of Vojvodina. We want to see if we could help develop them, depending on how much our state earns of course, because construction will be expensive for a few years. Running a country isn't cheap but we hope that we can put excess funds towards developing other regions.



Are you relying at the moment exclusively on donations is that how this is going ahead of financial?


At the moment we are still getting donations and people are covering their own costs for processing fees and stuff. But crowdfunding is the primary source. When we had our permanent settlement in October we had quite a few investors lined up to fund Verdis. But, as you know Croatian authorities kicked us off the land.



Take us through what happened that.


This happened after only the first couple nights that we were in Verdis. We had been before and done loads of surveying, but this was the actual settlement where we had people coming stay permanently, including myself.


So, I woke up in Verdis, the morning of October 12, 2023. I slept on one of the boats, some people slept on the beach. We had two more People, including a journalist, due to arrive to live in Verdis that day. I hopped on a boat to the Croatian village of Aljmaš to go grab some extra fuel for the boats and meet the future settlers. Then I had a call from Verdis’ vice president Hector who was still in Verdis at the time. He had told me the police had arrived.


We quickly hop back on the boat with one of the journalists that was due to join us. The settler that initially came with me stayed in Croatia because we didn't know what could happen with the police. The journalist and I head back to Verdis, and we were pretty much immediately detained.


One of the settlers told me that a Croatian police officer rubbed his hands in the sand then on the Verdisian flag. They held us on the beach for a while and took our mobile phones. Then they took us into Croatia, and they deported us.



How'd you feel at the end of that day?


Well, we knew it was possible because of what's been happening to our neighbours Liberland. We were given a few days to leave Croatia so I quickly met up with one of Liberland's officials to discuss what can be done.


Hector and I were marked as threats to Homeland Security which was pretty funny. But everyone else was given three-month bans and orders to leave within seven days.


It was definitely a bit of a blow, but you know we’ve made it very clear we aren’t going to give up. Croatian authorities were never allowed on that land, they don’t claim is. We weren't in Croatia we were in Verdis. It's not on their cadastral mapping or any local mapping.


As crazy as it sounds we consider it kidnapping and a breach of international law.



What did the Croatian authorities claim their legal recourse was to have you removed?


The thing is they couldn't give us a direct reason. The only reason that I personally received was that I was a threat to homeland security. For the others they just gave muffled or confusing answers that didn't make sense.


Every document was very different. For the journalist they actually copied my personal statement onto his document (they also freaked out a bit when they discovered he was writing about all this.) Because of this when we arrived at the airport, they were very confused as to who was the actual president of Verdis because it said that on both of our documents. That was bloody hilarious.



That phrase ‘threat to homeland security’, Is it just a bluff?


I think they’re trying to inconvenience and get rid of us. We were never in Croatia. And we have made it always very clear that we’re open to cooperation and dialogue with Croatian authorities.


Leading up to the settlement we were open to dialogue about the border, to border cooperation and cooperation with border control. We all want to make sure there's nothing like trafficking going on. We want to have the best relationship possible with Croatia.



Did you ever manage to really have any dialogue with Croatian authorities or were you generally ignored?


It's hard for me to say because I don't manage all of it initially. However, the Croatia's foreign ministry has released a statement regarding what's gone on in Verdia and Liberland and it was extremely misleading.

it's very hard to have any positive dialogue with Croatia as much as we want that to happen.



Are you taking legal action against Croatia?


Yes. We are collaborating with Liberland in that regard. We are also using public pressure. Allegedly there's now a border force boat constantly blocking access to Verdis. But every single time we hit a headline in Croatia, Serbia or somewhere large that boat disappears.


They know what they're doing is wrong. So right now, we are trying to create as much public pressure and awareness as possible. While it may not make Croatia buckle it will make people aware of what's going on and that could benefit us in the future especially in legal. For instance, we've got a protest in London on May the 4th. A solidarity march. We'll be marching from Europe house to the Croatian Embassy.


The reason we're starting there is because some of Croatia's boats are EU funded and using those boats to enter land that isn't theirs is a misuse of EU funds. It would be a miracle if Croatia suddenly recognised us but it’s publicity and public awareness.



Why do you persist? What keeps you going?


I strongly believe in Verdis’ values. I want to see it make a positive future. I want to see this thing through, and I want to make sure that we can provide more aid to other states.


So far, we have a whole mission in Ukraine and we are continuing to see if we can provide aid to other areas but it is difficult in our current capacity. We tried to see if we could provide aid in Nagorno-Karabakh but as you know the Lachin corridor was blocked and now that area is fully under Azerbaijani control.



What aid have you been able to get into Ukraine?


I personally spent a whole year in Ukraine. We did general development,

we sent radios - that is walkie-talkies - for humanitarian use only, we also gave toys and TV to a kindergarten. We also helped with the with the transfer of bikes for disabled veterans and children across the border from Poland into Ukraine.


We're still trying to increase the amount aid we provide. But things have slowed down because we've had to put a lot of our resources into this legal battle and to raise awareness of Verdis’ current situation.



Who supports Verdis? I've seen mention of activists, political parties, NGOs but who are these people, where are they and what kind of support do they give you?


We have quite a few people that have been supportive of us. For example, a UN representative Daniel Del Valle has shown his support. There's a few NGOs that have indicated support for us too.  We did recently withdraw from one NGO. We were concerned as to what was going on with the funding in that organisation and we want to make sure that Verdis remains with reputable non-government organisations. We want to make sure that we have a clean reputation.



The kind of legitimacy you're looking for, is it from major international organisations and state apparatuses?


We consider ourselves a legitimate state with right to the land under international law, but we want the world to support us, and we want the world to recognize us. it's extremely important for Verdis to get recognition from UN member states. We actively work to get us more and more involved in the international community.



What kind of relationship do you have with Serbia? Have you had similar kinds of interactions with Serbia as with Croatia?


It’s been more positive. We haven't had a any problem with Serbia. The only problems we've ever had is with ultra-nationalist groups that believe in Velika Serbia or Greater Serbia. We've never had a problem with the Serbian state.


We've always made it clear we're open for cooperation and dialogue, we want to work with them, and I'd say it's been relatively positive. We've spoken to a few officials, and I've been into Serbia a few times. They're not as concerned as Croatia because it's on the other side of the Danube River. Serbia has expressed that they're completely happy with the current status quo.



What kind of trouble have you come into with ultra-nationalist Serbian groups?


Online pressure and threats. But I can't say much more than that because we are still having a few problems with them. We’re looking into it, and you know a lot of the problems began when we started providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. There's a lot of Serbian nationalists there that are also in support of Putin’s Russia. Verdis is officially a neutral state but the whole point of Verdis abroad is to give humanitarian aid regardless of the state or entity. It’s entirely neutral even though officials such as myself may have different personal positions.



Would you provide humanitarian aid to Russia?


If it is necessary for communities there to receive such humanitarian aid, only humanitarian aid, yes. I personally stand with Ukraine but if it was safe for Verdis’ workers to go into Russia into areas that might have been impacted by the spill-over of conflict, we would see if we could provide strictly humanitarian aid.


The provision of humanitarian aid isn't relative to the government or the state it's relative to the needs of citizens, global citizens.


We want to be a sort of non-religious humanitarian version of Vatican City’s Holy See. So, you know we could do all this stuff abroad and have our own state be a hub for NGOs. A neutral zone, a place for people to work together.


We also have many other goals such as testing out new government structures and such but a lot of what's gone on in the past year, aside from the settlement, has been aid. And that’s been important for us to build our relationships with other countries as well as show that we're that we have something to contribute to the international community.



This isn't this isn't just a publicity stunt, is it?


No, no! I first travelled to Verdis in 2023. I made about five trips, in which we did full cadastral mapping and we spent numerous nights on the land. I think we spent more nights there during the cadastral mapping than we did with the permanent settlement thanks to the Croatian police. We never had a problem with them previously they used to wave at us as they went by. The former chief of police used to actually take us up to Verdis himself.


When youtuber Niko Omilana posted a video about Liberland up north and their situation with Croatian police, a video that’s received nearly 10 million views, well it basically embarrassed the police. I think they became concerned about something similar happening to Verdis down south as well.




What is your relationship like with Liberland? is it one of necessity?


we're two different states with two very different values. Liberland is more crypto-based, we're more humanitarian based. We do find our relationship with them important and we do work together on numerous matters. For instance, we were going to be lending them a boat, we gave them you know the outboard motor and stuff but that's been taken by the Croatian police. They've also been helping us with humanitarian aid.


While we do have different views, at this end of the day we have the same goal of getting recognized and building our states. I would say that we're sister states in a way.



Regarding permanent settlement is there a reasonable path to permanent settlement left?


We still have plans in place. However, it depends on our progress with the Croatian government. It's really unpredictable right now. If the blockade was suddenly lifted that would be great but be it could be like five years. Either way we'll continue to push until it is lifted and we are back on the land. And we believe it will be lifted.


We are aware that Croatia soon needs to resolve its border disputes with Serbia. Serbia won't be able to join the EU without this border dispute being resolved and we're hoping that eventually this will lead to Croatia recognizing what they're doing is wrong and they will have to abide by international law.


There are already a bunch of journals that are going out in favour of Verdis and Liberland's situation. We have to get as much public pressure as possible to make sure that Croatia eventually abides by international law. But as I said it's all unpredictable right now. We can’t say what will get Croatia to buckle.



Is your support still growing?


Support's growing, I'd say it's bigger than ever. Since everything happened [with the Croatian police] we wanted to prove that we were very serious in our goals, and we started that permanent settlement. And I think support is bigger than ever at the moment. We have a lot more traffic coming in through our websites and we have a lot more applicants coming in for those that want to get involved in Verdis.



What is the application process?


So there's many ways to get involved in Verdes, we have two main programs though e-residency and of course citizenship. E-residency is more of a pathway to citizenship so, if you're an e-resident for one year you may be eligible to apply for citizenship depending on how you've contributed. There's also citizenship by naturalization, citizenship by investment, citizenship by contribution. So you know it is quite a wide range of eligibility to get involved in Verdes.



Where is your government at the moment?


We’re all in Dover [UK]. The only person who isn't is Verdis’ foreign minister. He's in Osijek, Croatia, not far from Verdis itself. He's a Croatian citizen so they couldn't get rid of him.



Why are you living in Dover with?


A lot of us lived in Dover before this. It’s almost our capital-in-exile. We considered seeing if we could open something up in London but because of  the aid we do and also because mainland Europe is just an hour away on the ferry, being in Dover allows us to really easily access London and we’re easily able to access mainland Europe.



Who are you living with right now?


I'm living with a family Friend. All of my family still live in Australia but the rest of my family originally from England all lives there and were all born there - except me.



When was the last time you were in Australia?


2022. But I used to visit England a lot when I was younger because I do have a lot of family here and I am a citizen for the fact that my parents were born and raised here.



Do you feel patriotic towards Verdis?


Absolutely! We all consider Verdis a country and we love our country! We feel proud to be Verdisian. We have already done what we can even with such limited capacity and that's something we're very proud of.



Your national anthem is Ode to Joy the same as the EU anthem.


Temporarily, yes. We have had actual compositions of new anthems but we have declined to make any of them official until Verdis’ provisional government has come to an end or until we have a new government structure and elected government in place.


A lot of what there is right now such as the current government structure, Verdis’ basic laws, the anthem it’s all mainly provisional until we've re-established the settlement and we start to develop more.



So, a lot is dependent on being able to physicalize yourself in Verdis?


Yeah, it's dependent on making sure that we're back on that land and that's when the nation-building will thrive.



Practically, how do you carry out the settlement?


Well, we were going to start off with temporary structures at first, container homes and such. Those were going to be brought down on barges. Obviously a lot that's been halted. Since Croatian authorities have kicked us off our land we're also using this time to figure out what we can do to develop Verdis as fast as possible once we are back on the land.




Is there any way to get to Verdis from land?


No it is not safe to access it via land because you would have to go through a large nature park and there are a lot of landmines. We don't think there's in Verdis any landmines except potentially in the southern side where it floods a lot but the northern side is relatively safe.



What do you think the capacity is on that land for settled people?


We’re looking at potentially 10,000 people because it is roughly the size of the Vatican and that is small but it depends on how we fit everyone in whilst we make sure that everyone has a good standard of living.



Practically how do you raise the funds to provide that sort of standard of living in a state like this?


When it comes to initial nation-building a lot of it is investment. When Verdis is further developed, Verdis will have to have taxes. Otherwise, how are we going to build roads and provide essential services. A lot is going to depend on how Verdis develops at the start. We hope that a lot of tourism and investments and, potentially even e-residency will help our economy.



How would how would people make a living?


It would probably be a lot of you work from home and such. We want to see if we can reach an agreement with neighbouring countries for freedom of movement too. I imagine it's probably gonna end up being a bit like Monaco: a lot of wealthy people will probably live there but we want to make sure that we still have a bit of a quota to make sure that we can help people coming into Verdis. We also want to be able to provide aid abroad.


There are plenty of jobs that will come, especially because there are more and more digital jobs. We will see a lot of opportunities progress as Verdis progresses.



So what is what is Verdisian politics? Is there like a political wing that you might associate yourselves with or does this focus on humanitarian aid make you apolitical in a sense?


I would say we're Centrist We're not left-wing, we're not right-wing we're basically dead centre on the political scale.



What does that mean to you in the context of Verdis?


We want to make sure that our citizens will have a good life and we want to make it clear that we're not left we're not right we're neutral. We want to make sure that everyone that we work benefits and that there's no political divide.


No country will ever have a perfect government but we believe that we are trying to do our best to fulfil what people on both the left and the right want. That we can compromise.



Will you hold elections anytime soon or will you remain president?


I'm not interested in remaining president once the provisional government has ended. Once Verdis has developed enough and you know we've received recognition from Croatia and Serbia Verdis’ provisional government will announce elections. From there on a new constitution will also enter and a new government will begin and this is provisional government will be disbanded.


I don't plan to run in it either I plan to just be a normal citizen once the new government is in place.



So you mean to have democratic Party politics?


Yes, we do.



Do you have conversations about who would run and what kind of politics they would have?


Yeah! There are a lot of people that want Verdis’ politics to come into place as soon as we're back on the land, but you know we will see how involved people get in the politics of Verdis. Because we are a small state it’s relatively easy to - it's easier than a country of 50 million people - but we will see how things go.



Why wouldn't you want to stand for election?


Because I'm pretty much tired enough. Maybe maybe depending on how the country's going I might see if I could run for elections in the future, but I do want to see Verdis under a newly elected government once this provisional government has ended.



So for you this is about creating a nation to live in that nation?


Yeah, I'm not interested in power. Power’s not something that's important to me.



Image: YouTube Screenshot from @verdisgov

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