The nation-state that wasn’t

What does place branding mean for a new and disputed country?

Liberland is the world’s newest country. It’s already making a splash in the international media. The name is a hybrid of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘land’. Liberland has already stated a set of lofty aims for social freedom and independence, including ‘voluntary’ tax and ‘maximum personal freedoms’, according to a recent article by Quartz.

Sounds like a good idea, in theory. The idea seems popular, as over 250,000 people from around the world have already applied to become citizens of Liberland. Applications can be made via the country’s ‘official’ website.

The problem is that, so far, the only state that recognises Liberland as a nation is Liberland itself. The so-called country was founded on a patch of abandoned ‘no-man’s land’ between Serbia and Croatia. And it’s truly a ‘micro-state’ – as Liberland’s total surface area measure just 7 square kilometres.

Founded just weeks ago, by four Czech libertarians, the mini-republic has assembled an army of elements that could be termed ‘nation branding’.

According to Quartz, who interviewed the self-elected president, Czech politician Vít Jedlička, the country is looking increasingly like a ‘proper nation’. This is partly thanks to the use of place branding tools such as a eye-catching bright yellow national flag, a coat of arms and a motto.

That’s not to mention the website, Twitter feed and Facebook page. Liberland is boldly putting itself out there. Causing buzz is definitely a positive step.

But Quartz makes a dubious claim, that Liberland is ‘already a leader in nation branding’. In that case, Liberland is leading nation branding in the wrong direction. Branding tools such as flags and mottos are not much different to the logos and slogans commonly used by more established nations in attempts to ‘brand’ themselves. This is simply surface-level ‘window-dressing’, which does little to develop a lasting reputation.

Of course, Liberland’s future remains uncertain. The whole thing may turn out to be a gimmick, a stunt designed to grab world attention momentarily. Neighbours Serbia and Croatia may decide to intervene and put an end to Liberland, perhaps by staking a legitimate claim to its land. Liberland has no legal basis for existing.

It will be interesting to follow Liberland’s journey and see where the place ends up. What’s certain is this: if the country wants to become known for its commitment to ‘maximum personal freedom’, it must take a long-term view.

That involves a much deeper strategic approach than just slapping on a bunch of branding ‘ornaments’ and hoping for the best.

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