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Even before he became president, Donald Trump had turned America's foreign policy rhetoric upside down. For many, this prompts concern for the future, but for Vit Jedlicka, the self-declared founder of unrecognized state Liberland, Trump's unorthodox view of the world has inspired hope.
“Trump being in place definitely opened new doors,” Jedlicka told WorldViews during an Inauguration Day party thrown on Friday by the Washington Examiner in the Del Frisco restaurant in the District.
Jedlicka, a burly, 33-year-old Czech citizen, decided last month to attend the Trump inauguration, eventually securing about 20 tickets from American supporters for Liberland's group and its guests. The trip had soon turned into all-weekend affair, with a special visit on Saturday for Liberland supporters to Thomas Jefferson and Jame Madison's plantation homes in Virginia.
By Friday afternoon, the Liberland group, all clad neatly in suits and ties, were already well into a day of celebration with many hours of partying still to come.
“It's a big show,” Jedlicka said. “I hope we’re not going to miss the parade.”
The teams believe that the Trump presidency might mean good things for Liberland, the country declared by Jedlicka along the banks of the Danube River in April 2015. Liberland, so named because of its emphasis on libertarian values that include optional taxes, is what's known as a micronation: its entire land mass is smaller than three square miles. Technically, neither of its neighbors, Serbia and Croatia, claim the land — which led Jedlicka to decide it was free for the taking.
Liberland has its own flag, constitution, national anthem and motto — “To Live and Let Live” — and it has been the subject of widespread international attention since it was first announced. The fledgling government has seen hundreds of thousands of people sign up for potential membership, including more than 12,000 Americans. The country recently named Thomas Walls, a U.S. citizen, as its foreign minister.
“Not a stone's throw from Mar-a-Lago,” Walls said of his home in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday. Mar-a-Lago is Trump's Winter White House.
But creating a real country isn't so easy. Liberland has run into a number of problems — not least that Jedlicka and other Liberland citizens do not have constant access to the land itself. Plus, no nation, including the United States, recognize it. If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in November, Liberland would almost certainly have stayed off the U.S. government's radar.
But with Trump, there is a sense that anything could happen. Before he took office, the unconventional businessman-turned-politician had suggested he may upend foreign policy in a variety of ways — from moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and implicitly recognizing the city as the Israeli capital, to drastically rethinking the U.S. relationship with NATO. While these moves may cause panic with some traditional U.S. allies, Jedlicka said he is encouraged.
"[Trump's] call with Taiwan was of course a good sign of his openness to changing the paradigm in international politics,” Jedlicka said.
In the past, Jedlicka had come to Washington to meet with members of Congress, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a libertarian leaning politician with whom Liberland supporters often identify.
Now the hope is that the group might be able to reach the executive branch through Trump's Cabinet. It wasn't necessarily a position the group had expected to be in. “Of course the situation would have been different with the Clinton administration,” Jedlicka said.
But Liberland does have some ties to the potential Trump Cabinet, Jedlicka said, although he refused to offer little more detail than saying they were “friends of friends.” He also noted that the country's Polish representative, Jan Fijor, published Trump's most recent book in his home country under the title “Prezydent: Biznesmen" ("President: Businessman").
“He signed a contract with Trump himself,” Walls said.
Both Jedlicka and Walls admit that Trump's ideology isn't as purely libertarian as their own. In particular, they are not so keen on what they see as Trump's protectionist trade policies, but both men agreed there were many areas where they could work with Trump. Liberland was especially enthusiastic about Trump's foreign policy, which Jedlicka described as “Jeffersonian” and, like Liberland's own motto, very “Live and Let Live.”
But what exactly does Liberland want from Trump?
The group has been buoyed by other recent successes closer to home, including its very first mention in the Croatian parliament. While the team members doubt Trump would directly intervene anytime soon, they said they do hope a Trump White House might lend its weight to their plan to help revitalize their small part of the Balkans with a tourism and technology hub — even if it did so very, very quietly.
“What we are looking for here is the silent support for what we are doing with our administration,” Jedlicka said. “And also hopefully get Liberland fully recognized in a couple of years from now.”
What Trump thinks of all this is unclear. In the end, the Liberland team did miss the parade (this president didn't linger too long with the crowds along the parade route this year). And while there were plenty of balls around town to celebrate the incoming administration, the Liberland representatives went to one of the less glitzy and perhaps more fringe-y affairs: the “DeploraBall,” hosted by a group called Gays for Trump that had asked Jedlicka to speak.
But in a phone call Saturday after the party, the president of Liberland was happy. “I don't think [the trip] has changed much, but it has been another step forward in terms of promoting Liberland,” he said. “We got very nice contacts that will be needed for the future of Liberland.”