Danubio Croazia

The sustainable Republic of Liberland

A small independent state on the Danube river is building the urban center of the future under the Green New Deal banner.

by Maria Pia Rossignaud
10 March 2021
7 min read
by Maria Pia Rossignaud
10 March 2021
7 min read

The European Green New Deal offers a new model of development and growth for the European Union that entails a new approach to daily life, social practices, habits – including dietary ones –, and, lastly, behaviours. Faced with this change, which is required of us, a question immediately arises: can the goals set by President Ursula von der Leyen be attained without taking into account a legacy that, inevitably, binds us to the past?

Perhaps they can. This is why some young, enterprising European citizens have founded Liberland: not a fictional tale, but real, contemporary history.

Indeed, Liberland is a tiny state situated between Croatia and Serbia, founded in 2015, once it had been ascertained that neither of the two neighbouring nations claimed possession of this piece of land.  And so it became the ideal place to try and build a world where the past would no longer haunt the present.

“Repurposing is always hard. The legacies of the past, a fear of change, the social cost that change brings are, at times, obstacles difficult to overcome” says Francesco Vatalaro, engineer and professor at the Tor Vergata University of Rome. ”In Liberland, the third smallest state in the world, and also the youngest, it’s all about starting from scratch. Since I learned about this experiment, I’ve been following it with interest and curiosity, because the strength and rigour with which the young self-proclaimed citizens of Liberland choose to approach life is thrilling.”

This small state’s first challenge is building what the rest of the world would call a futuristic city. The goal is to create an urban space entirely managed through methods based on eco-sustainability, in order to transform the 7 square km of land along the Danube into a tangible example of a city founded in line with 21st-century priorities.

“Having the chance to review all our paradigms is stimulating” continues Francesco Vatalaro, ”this is virgin territory, just like the American Western frontier in the 1800s; it’s also an ideal opportunity to reshape the relationships that exist between the real and digital worlds following criteria that embody respect for nature and for the environment in general. Redesigning the world, today, it’s a challenge, a dream. If we had a magic wand and we could rebuild it, how would we do it? I find the notion of a virgin territory very attractive, as introducing change in nation states where rules and laws are already deep-rooted and have become emblematic expressions of national belonging, is a difficult task.”

A bit of history

Liberland was founded on a piece of land on the border between Croatia and Serbia, as neither them, nor other nations or private entities ever claimed the area since the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. For decades, the land remained uninhabited and was considered terra nullius (belonging to no one), until Vít Jedlička, a Czech politician, and Jana Markovicova, an activist from Prague, declared The Constitution of the Free Republic of Liberland on 13 April 2015 and established its borders: the third smallest state in the world, after the Vatican and Monaco, was born.


President of the Free Republic of Liberland, Vit Jedlicka, poses with the Liberland flag and other citizens in the village of Backi Monostor

Goals

The president of Liberland wants to demonstrate that this land can become the symbol of the Green New Deal, also thanks to the collaboration of all its citizens, involved in projects that are wholly innovative. To achieve this goal, a competition was launched, aimed at architects and town planners, for the creation of a sustainable and self-sufficient – in terms of energy – urban centre. This led to a range of solutions encompassing bioenergy, recycling, urban agriculture and vertical elevation, and it’s precisely the latter that is at the heart of a project sent in from Italy, by Studio Bianchi in Rome.

The keyword is harmonisation. According to the architect and creator of the project, the prototype conceived for Liberland could and should be replicated elsewhere: in areas of the planet that are still free and are in need of urbanisation, such as some, still uninhabited, parts of the United States – but also in Africa and some countries of the Middle East.

What is a vertical elevation structure?

Public space is at the centre of this model that, blending in the surrounding nature, makes Liberland feel boundless. The main structure straddles the forested area and is mainly made of shipping containers, as per EU guidelines on sustainable and adaptive reuse. Each living space was conceived with its own autonomous ENEA vertical farming system, in order to make each apartment completely self-sufficient. It’s an entirely new way of life, developments rise up towards the sky – where humankind always turned its gaze – and allows for a reverse relationship between green environment and buildings. Today’s cities consume 80% of the global energy and produce 75% of carbon dioxide emissions.

As indicated by the European New Green Deal and the UN goals, gas emissions and the environmental impact of modern cities must be reduced. Indeed, to address this, an efficient public transport system recalling the 15-minute city concept by Moreno, was created. Moreno is a Franco-Colombian scientist with a passion for innovation, who amazed the world by spreading the notion that every human being should live in an area where every space essential for daily life can be reached in 15 minutes.

The model of this new city state was developed in the shape of a 120-metre mega hexagonal structure raised above the ground – it recalls a space station, though on earth. The energy solutions adopted include both photovoltaic systems (about 175,000 square metres of photovoltaic panels) and geothermal probes that guarantee an adequate exchange with the ground, as well as the implementation of thermal conversion processes for the production of fertilisers to be used on agricultural terraces. The decision to include agricultural terraces, incorporating both hydroponic and aeroponic systems, leads to further water savings (about 80%), a decrease in the use of pesticides and, above all, no CO2 emission.

Not everyone can just up and move to Liberland, but, even so, we could all try to recreate it in our own little corner of the world.

The author: Maria Pia Rossignaud

Journalist and expert on digital media writing,  she is one of the twenty-five digital experts of the European Commission Representation in Italy, director of the first Italian digital culture magazine "Media Duemila" and Vice President of the TuttiMedia Observatory.