I am beginning to think that the lawyer for the prosecution is seriously cool, and when this is all over in 2063 or beyond, I am going to ask him out for a drink. If we are both still alive.
When I first met him, I thought he was polite but perhaps a little incompetent. One of my lawsuits was delayed not once, but TWICE, for the simple reason that the prosecution lawyer had double-booked his time. And with interest of 8% per year accruing on the demand of 50,000 kuna for the case, just delaying the first hearing from May to November could potentially cost me an additional 2,000 kuna. Watching everyone checking their calendars for our next hearing – in SEPTEMBER, some 8 months away and a potential additional 3,000 kuna in interest – made me wonder if the delays were actually a deliberate tactic.
This thought was reinforced by his appearance at two other hearings, where he presented additional motions to my lawyer, Vanja Juric, just 2 minutes before the hearing. One of these necessitated a 3-month delay (a potential additional 1,000 kuna in interest) in that hearing.
And so we come to the hearing of January 20, 2022, which must surely rank as one of the most surreal experiences of my 18 years in Croatia. The Kingdom v The Fat Blogger, Round 6, and a hearing where both myself and the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristjan Stanicic, were called upon to give evidence on the logo, Croatia, Full of Uhljebs, which I posted on my private Facebook page with no comment for 3 days in August 2020. It attracted 316 likes, 20 comments, and 9 shares.
And then it was completely forgotten until the ensuing lawsuit was made public, and suddenly the logo was on the morning and evening national news, the front page of many news portals, and even a poll on Index, with almost 17,000 people voting – 95% for me. As one journalist described it – this is the biggest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board.
The January 20 hearing was set back in July (another potential 2,000 kuna interest to add to the bill), the same time as the FITUR Travel Expo in Madrid was announced. We all knew the date for 6 months. This was the hearing where I and Director Stanicic would be called to the witness stand to give evidence. I was quite excited by this, as I had never been on the witness stand before and had no idea what kind of ‘evidence’ I could give about posting a meme on my Facebook page without comment for three days. I had also never met the Croatian National Tourist Board Director, so this would be an opportunity for that. I made arrangements for a court interpreter so that my words would be properly conveyed.
On Friday, January 14 in the evening, as we had all packed up for the weekend, an email from their lawyer saying that Director Stanicic had to go to Madrid from Tuesday January 18 to Friday January 21 to attend the fair in Madrid, and so would not be able to attend. As evidence, the lawyer supplied a copy of the director’s plane ticket.
Vanja advised me not to give evidence before the plaintiff, but to go to court on the 20th. So I cancelled my court interpreter with apologies.
And so came the day of court, Thursday, January 20, with the hearing set for 12:00, with the director supposedly far away in Madrid. Just before 09:00, a phone call from Vanja saying that she had just received an email from their lawyer saying that Director Stanicic was not in Madrid and would be coming to give evidence after all. Having presumably not taken the flight two days earlier, for some reason they had waited until just before the hearing to say that he would now appear.
My court interpreter was now busy and it seemed that it would be impossible to find another. What to do? Vanja advised that we meet at 11:15 for a couple of pints to discuss what I should say if I had to give evidence without an interpreter. Thankfully, at around 11:00, I managed to find one, and we agreed to meet Dominik in front of the court at 11:50.
And then it began… a legal boxing match, with the heavyweight prosecution trading blows with my extremely elegant and bantamweight Vanja. She was dancing around the courtroom with such style with her statements, questions, and objections.
One interesting revelation from her questioning of the director was that the only blogger or journalist sued by the Croatian National Tourist Board in 2020 was me. Twice. Those who shared the meme were not pursued.
Stanicic’s testimony was extraordinary (and you can see a translation of the court minutes in full below – these contain most but not all of what transpired). You have to remember that the testimony was about a meme. He talked of the extraordinary tourism numbers, how he has been in tourism all his life, of the mental anguish his staff had been subjected to be being labelled uhljebs. He just kept on talking about things that were totally irrelevant to the case, but seemed to make him feel better.
We have a saying in Manchester – what does that have to do with the price of fish in Istanbul?
Vanja’s questions were technical, focused, and to the point. And then came my turn, and so I took to the witness stand for the first time in my life in a courtroom and was invited to give my statement.
What to say? How to give evidence about a meme? I said I had no idea why I was here. I had posted a meme on my private Facebook page which was satire. I was not familiar with Croatian law, but I was 100% confident that if this went to the European courts, I would be vindicated based on EU precedent. Although I didn’t want to drag Croatian tourism’s image all the way to Strasbourg in 2063 (or whenever the case would be heard there), despite the enormous PR this case is giving TCN, I was fully prepared to do so. The meme was posted without comment, and if the plaintiff recognised himself in the meme, that was hardly my issue.
And then the cross-examination started. I remind you again that the case surrounds the posting of a meme.
The questions were extraordinary. What jobs was I doing before I came to Croatia? How many employees did I have? What was the history of my company in Croatia? I was half-expecting to be asked my favourite sexual position, and did I like blue Smarties. Vanja objected to some of the questions, and most of those objections were sustained.
The question of what I was doing before Croatia was particularly interesting, as director Stancic declared that he had worked in tourism all his life. According to the court records, he was born in 1983, and he would have been just 5 when I had my first job in tourism, managing the night shift when The Rolling Stones came to play in Munich, and changing Henry Kissenger’s ashtray among the highlights.
I am not sure how it related to the case itself, but it seemed that they wanted to prove that I was not a tourism expert. In answer to how many fans I had on Facebook, I answered close to the limit of 5,000. At this point, their lawyer pulled out a printout of my Facebook homepage (yes, that is how much I seem to be in their head) to show I only had about 1,500 fans. Ah, ok I replied, I thought you meant Facebook friends (currently 4,998). And I asked myself…
If I only have 1,500 followers, and I only posted the meme on my private Facebook page for 3 days with no comment, and if nobody else was sued all year (including those who shared the meme), and if they never asked me to remove the meme (it is still on Facebook), do I really deserve to be singled out for a punitive lawsuit of 50,000 kuna for a piece of satire few people knew about before their actions turned it into a national news story?
And in order to keep more wasting of public funds, let me state for the record that I am not a tourism expert and never claimed to be.
Director Stanicic seemed a little obsessed with the notion that I was singling out the Croatian National Tourist Board as an uhljeb organisation, which I was not. I went on record as saying that one of the best people in Croatian tourism, in my opinion, is the Head of Global PR, Lucijana Jerkovic. You can read the rest in the minutes below.
Things were becoming quite heated in the courtroom – the hearing went on for well over two hours (and I knew Vanja had another client and was already late) and then the most extraordinary part of the whole day.
Their lawyer said that the Croatian National Tourist Board would be open to ending the case if I was to apologise. Vanja declined. Their lawyer said that he was asking me, and even when Vanja pointed out she had Power of Attorney to speak on my behalf, he persisted. And so I opened my mouth and uttered my first sentence ever in Croatian in court.
And so we got our calendars out again in 8 months. At the next hearing, each side will bring in expert witnesses. For the plaintiff, the Head of Legal for the Croatian National Tourist Board. For the defence, Kresimir Macan, former Communications Director of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia.
It really is that nuts…
And then, the boxing match over, the prosecution lawyer was all smiles and a handshake for dear Vanja, and one for me. I really do think he might be a seriously cool guy.
I have still not met the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board.
You can follow the latest in our Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature.
The Minutes from January the 20th, 2022 from the hearing held at the Municipal Civil Court in Zagreb
Present from the court:
Judge: Davorka Ćurko Nasić
Plaintiff: Croatian National Tourist Board/CNTB
Defendant: Paul David Raymond Bradbury
Clerk: Ina Gotal
Prosecutor/Plaintiff (the director of the aforementioned) Kristijan Staničić, father’s name Petar, born on October 1, 1983, in Koper, Slovenia, mag. of Economic Sciences by profession, residential address: Vlade Grozdanića 17, Rijeka, OIB: 80726996870, declares:
The subject of the publication/post on the defendant’s Facebook page/profile was noticed by the CNTB’s service, which monitors posts/publications placed on Facebook, considering that the CNTB itself has its own Facebook page. The plaintiff/prosecutor is an organisation of economic entities established with the aim of promoting Croatian tourism and in accordance with Art. 4 of the Law on Tourist Boards and the Promotion of Tourism, the slogan “Croatia full of life/Hrvatska puna zivota” is used as a sign of Croatian tourism.
As such, it is protected by the Croatian Intellectual Property Office and can be used only with the consent of the prosecutor/plaintiff. The controversial [part of] the Facebook post [in question] is the use of this slogan in a distorted form, which actually alludes to the fact that the organisation of the plaintiff/prosecutor is full of greed, so such a revelation hurt the prosecutor’s employees who all carry out their jobs professionally. I must also say that this publication/post followed a previous series of negative posts about the plaintiff via various media outlets and, among other things, from various authors, and I do not remember whether or not the defendant was among them. I would like him to explain what he meant by posting the distorted version the plaintiff’s slogan and what he meant by that, and that we are ready for a peaceful settlement of the dispute in that case.
To that, I declare that in relation to [Croatia’s] competing countries, in 2020, when the slogan was published on the defendant’s Facebook profile, we had 10-15% better results than our competition in that tourist season, which speaks [highly] of the entrepreneurial work of the plaintiff’s employees. I declare that all data on the work of the CNTB and the results of that work are available on our website and are updated on a monthly basis so that they would have still been available to the defendant before [that] publication.
I declare that before I started working as the director of the organisation which is prosecuting (the plaintiff), I worked in the private sector in managerial positions for 15 years, and I have been involved in tourism all my life. I declare that I perceive the term ”uhljeb” negatively, just as everyone does. I state that the number of people employed by the prosecutor is more or less the same and has not increased since I became the head of the CNTB. I must say that there is really a professional circle of people working in the field of marketing, digital marketing, public relations, etc. I declare that the defendant did not contact us or offer us his services. When asked why we did not initiate proceedings for trademark infringement, I stated that I was not a lawyer and that I had left it to my lawyers [to deal with].
I declare that the plaintiff was established on the basis of the Law on Tourist Boards and does not represent a public authority, and its founders are economic entities that pay tourist dues/fees and based on that our work is partially financed. [Our] members are not only companies engaged in tourism but also banks and other economic entities. I declare that the plaintiff does not have any public authority. I declare that the membership fee(s) is (are) collected on the basis of the law, that is, they are not made voluntarily.
I declare that the law prescribes mandatory membership, ie the obligation to be a member of the organisation, ie the establishment of the prosecutor/plaintiff. As for the slogan Croatia full of life/Hrvatska puna zivota, I declare that it means Croatia full of life/Hrvatska puna zivota and it is a sign/logo/slogan of Croatian tourism, which was determined by the decision of the Tourist Board as such, and confirmed by the Assembly of the Croatian Tourist Board.
In practice, it means that everything Croatia can offer in the context of the Croatian tourist offer as part of the attempt to make Croatia a year-round tourist destination, ie to extend the pre- and post-season tourism season.
[When asked/Upon request] if we have protected the label “Croatia, Croatian National Tourist Board” which are on our materials attached to the list of file(s) 51 in the upper left corner, I declare that it is part of the Croatian tourism sign/logo/slogan and declare that it is registered separately in this slogan which is the subject of the dispute, and is the same visual identity of the CNTB, ie the plaintiff.
I declare that the plaintiff is not obliged to conduct a public tender when hiring employees, but only when hiring a director. When asked if we filed a lawsuit against some media because of these articles, which were negative, I declare that I do not remember whether we filed a lawsuit in 2020, but we had filed lawsuits against the media before.
I declare that I think that in 2020 we did not file any lawsuits against persons who expressed negative views about the plaintiff. I declare that we did not contact the defendant before initiating the procedure regarding the [Facebook] publication/post of the disputed slogan in the sense that it should be removed from his Facebook page/profile. I declare that I have no information as to whether the plaintiff is listed in the list of public authorities of the Republic of Croatia. Upon request, I declare that according to the Statute of the Prosecutor, I do not have to have the permission of the Tourist Council to initiate such proceedings because according to the law and the Statute, I represent the plaintiff/prosecutor and am responsible for the legality of its work.
I have nothing else to say. There are no further questions.
Defendant Paul David Raymond Bradbury, father’s name Terence, born 11 March 1969, in Bury, Great Britain, a journalist and publicist by profession, declares:
I published/post the controversial slogan on my private Facebook page, which has nothing to do with the work I do, and otherwise I am a journalist and publisher by profession. It was a satirical publication, and I think that similar publications/posts created the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and that it would not be nice for this procedure to end in that instance because it would be bad for Croatia’s image in Europe.
I did not specifically intend to accuse anyone [of anything] with this publication/post, it was [instead] my reference to the situation that the [coronavirus] pandemic brought to tourism and the reaction of public bodies to that situation, ie, I meant the reaction of the Croatian Tourist Board, the Ministry of Tourism and other tourist boards and ministries, which I felt was insufficient for the situation we all found ourselves in.
I must say that I founded a Viber group with my colleagues with the aim of promoting Croatian tourism and providing timely and up-to-date information regarding the situation in Croatia related to tourism and this group received 7 international awards. For example, in 2020 there was not even timely information on the possibility of tourists coming to Croatia and I personally monitored the situation and how this information was presented, for example, in the Irish Times, there was information that tourists could not enter Croatia. I reacted and sent an e-mail to the editor-in-chief and said that was not true, after which this incorrect information was corrected.
All my involvement in the promotion of Croatian tourism was voluntary and awarded several times and I communicated with the then Minister of Tourism [Gari] Capelli, although I do not believe that he did what we agreed on and over recent days I have had meetings with today’s tourism minister to make available my possible assistance to tourism in Croatia. It is true that in several articles I have written I have pointed out some things which [I believe] are not good. I pointed out that we have an 18-hole golf course in Zagreb, which was not emphasised anywhere in the promotional materials, after which this information was added to promotional materials. I pointed out that we have 3 airports on Hvar, so this information was added, with some tourist boards, such as those of Dubrovnik and the City of Zagreb, I have a very good cooperation.
I believe that my task as a journalist and given my engagement in terms of a positive contribution to the promotion of Croatian tourism is to criticise everything that is not good in order to help improve things. Some see this as a positive incentive, for example, the ministries to which I pointed out that they still use fax in communication and not e-mail communication have corrected this after my remarks.
I would like to add that in 2020, I lost clients due to the [coronavirus] pandemic that affected the world, and as a volunteer I got involved in helping Croatian tourism in the way I described it, and my dissatisfaction is that as a volunteer, I noticed and reacted to situations that I thought the authorities needed to pay attention to, and it resulted in a satirical publication/post [on Facebook] aimed at pointing out that there is not enough involvement of the public bodies in Croatian tourism, and I think that this did not only apply to tourism but to the information [being given out] in general. I refer to the pandemic that I think was not so bad in Croatia compared to other countries, and owing to which other countries had a higher rate of infection than Croatia then did.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the director of the prosecutor/plaintiff on the excellent results that Croatia has had in tourism during these pandemic times, and they should acknowledge the fact that this is not only the merit of the prosecutor/plaintiff but also other individuals who appeared in a similar way as I did.
I would also add that thanks to that Viber group, ABC News sent its journalists to Dubrovnik for 6 days, which really helped in the promotion of Croatian tourism, as did the article in the Good Morning America show which is very highly watched. I would add that other people published this logo in the same way as me and as far as I know the plaintiff/prosecutor did not sue those persons, and the plaintiff/prosecutor initiated [against me] another procedure in which he seeks damages in the same amount due to an article/publication on another portal with which I have no connection, and the said portal quoted me.
As for employment, I declare that I have my own company, and I actually have two companies, one of which I am the owner of, and in the other I have three employees, unlike the first one in which I am the only employee. To the question of what my work experience is, I declare that I have owned this company for 18 years, which initially dealt with real estate and now deals with media publishing. I declare that I started a website in 2011 that dealt with the tourism of the island of Hvar, and I can say that I have written more than 9,000 articles about the island of Hvar which he thinks is more than anyone else in history.
Upon request, I declare that I know what the term uhljeb means, and it comes from the Serbian word hljeb which means bread and means people who are engaged in work or possibly got a job in public bodies through a connection and do not do work with the highest professional standards or explore their maximum potential.
Upon request, I declare that the posts on my Facebook page are mostly [written] in English, and three years ago I may have had about 3,000 followers of/on my Facebook private page/profile. That is in response to the plaintiff pointing out that I have about 1,500 Facebook followers, I declare that it is possible that I have so many, and I have 5,000 friends (the Facebook-imposed limit). I declare that I do not remember the font in which this slogan was published, and it is certainly a similar font to the original. I know that font is used by the plaintiff/prosecutor.
I believe that the slogan I published did not refer to the Government of the Republic of Croatia, and when asked if it referred to the Ministry of Tourism, I declare that it referred to a number of experiences I have had.
I declare that it was not aimed at any public body or institution specifically in response to the question of whether or not the publication/post was aimed at the entire state apparatus, when asked whether its criticism was directed at the entire state apparatus, which, due to its functioning, is not able to respond to changed market responsibilities as stated in the submission of January the 11th, 2022, so that it would certainly not cooperate now with the tourist board of the City of Zagreb and Dubrovnik, and I would show, for example, good cooperation with Minister [Davor] Božinović who gave me an application for a border pass and with whom cooperated extremely well. For example, I sat with the officials of the Ministry of the Interior in a special department that answers inquiries from foreigners regarding the possibility of entering the Republic of Croatia, who were literally drowning in e-mails that they could not answer until the prosecutor did something about it. And it didn’t do much about it.
During the pandemic, so 2019, 2020 and 2021, I declare that the last meeting I had with the prosecutor/plaintiff was in March 2020, during which I presented three ideas, one of which was the idea of tourism in the form of digital nomadism, and I planned that it would be in the form of some kind of contractual relationship, that is, that we would cooperate on that project together, but we did not go so far as to talk about engagement in that sense at all. But I can say that I had my first business collaboration with the prosecutor in 2016 and after a constructive article I wrote and published in the Croatian media and then I got a call from the previous director of the prosecutor/plaintiff (CNTB) because there were a lot of negative media reactions to what I wrote.
In other words, they invited me to cooperate after such negative reactions, so I would like to point out that when I had a meeting with the former director of the prosecutor/plaintiff, I agreed with him on a project within which I wrote 20 articles on tourism in Croatia for a fee of EUR 10,000 which was duly paid, and the articles in question were duly written but have never been published. When I asked one year later what was going on with the 20 articles I wrote, they told me they would get to them and publish them, however, they have not published them yet, in my opinion, like this lawsuit, this is another example of the bad use of plaintiff’s funds, ie taxpayer money. Bearing in mind that the director of the prosecutor/plaintiff is sitting in this courtroom with us, while at the same time Croatia Airlines has a promotion in its magazine about Osijek – a city on the Danube, speaks enough for itself.
When asked if I think that the employees of the plaintiff/prosecutor are uhljebs/uhljebi, I state that there are extraordinary people who are employed there and I cooperate with many of them, for example, I have an exceptional opinion about the prosecutor’s spokesperson, ie the head of international public relations, ie global PR. I think there are people who do their job well and those who do it much worse.
I have nothing else to say. There are no further questions.
The director of the plaintiff has a complaint about the truthfulness of the defendant’s testimony because the plaintiff published information on the possibility of tourists coming to the Republic of Croatia on their website, and this information still exists today and was published on March the 8th, 2020 and further points out that the prosecutor is open to constructive cooperation with all those who can contribute to the betterment of Croatian tourism.
You can follow the latest in our Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature.