Shooed away, the Liberty parked up on the opposite riverbank, on the Serbian side, just outside Liberland territory. Its passengers disembarked on a makeshift ramp made of planks and a ladder. The others had already arrived. “You haven’t been arrested yet?” said Štern-Vukotić. “Well, the day is still young.”

In spite of the police presence, the scene was a happy one; it was easy to forget, temporarily, the strangeness of the situation. Davide’s twins had built a fire on the bank and were toasting food on sticks. On the middle deck of Liberty, meats were barbecued and served with salads and bread. Liberland-branded wine, made from local grapes, was passed around.

After people finished eating, Jedlička called for attention. It was time to award the newest citizens their Liberland passports. The group applauded and hollered as the passports were handed over and presidential handshakes accepted, and broke into a chorus of “Lib, lib, lib, lib, lib, lib!”—a chant that came out whenever there was cause for celebration.

For the next month, Liberty remained parked on the opposite side of the river to Liberland, with someone stationed aboard to provide support for the settlers coming down the river from Hungary, and to relay Wi-Fi to any that managed to make camp inland.

The rest of the party returned to Apatin on the other boats, but not before another go at setting foot on Liberland. A small craft attempted the crossing, but a police boat shepherded it away from the shore, whipping water into the hull with sharp turns. On this occasion, the would-be settlers were easily repelled.

On the boat ride home, wrapped in a blanket to shelter from the wind, Rubio, the ex-pastor, sat ruminating. For all the celebrations, the weekend had left him worried about the future of Liberland. “Where are all the followers?” he asked.

It was a fair observation. Of the 70 to 80 people at the anniversary, few were not directly affiliated with the Liberland government. Once the president and his cabinet, the delegates, and the speakers were counted, Rubio was one of only a few “followers” that had made the journey. By Jedlička’s reckoning, only 300 or so people have ever set foot on Liberland soil.

Part of the problem is the emphasis on crypto, Rubio believes, which threatens to alienate those for whom Liberland is primarily a political endeavor. “I found the idea of Liberland attractive—the romantic idea of freedom and living in peace. But they are centering the message in technology,” said Rubio. “It’s part of the bones, the skeleton—but you need the heart.” If Jedlička aims to attract the support of libertarians, said Rubio, he should be preaching the new country’s values openly on social media. Nation-building requires activism, after all, and a careful topping-up of momentum.

But Liberland, like crypto projects before it, may not be able to count on its founder to carry it forward forever. Although Jedlička has promised to dedicate his full energy to Liberland at least until “things are really on track,” he has grander ambitions. “I’m quite excited about space exploration,” he said, “and the area of longevity.”

“I think Liberland would already survive without me. But of course it would lose momentum,” Jedlička continued. “I will do my best to make sure that Liberland gets internationally recognized first.”

As the boats headed back through Serbian waters, they passed the ruin of a larger boat, abandoned near the mouth of the Apatin marina. The fallen vessel, also owned by the Liberlandians, had caught fire, sunk, and been sold for scrap. The wreckage listed to the side, the lower deck almost fully submerged. Rubio gestured to the wreck: “I hope this is not a premonition for Liberland.”

This article appears in the September/October 2023 edition of WIRED UK.