20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years: 17. Getting Sued by a State Institution

Total Croatia News

Updated on:

“Finally you became a local. What took you so long?”

“Now you can get citizenship. You finally became a Croat after 18 years.”

I used to think that the British had the best sense of humour in the world. To be fair, our humour is pretty good. And, as an aside, below is a quick guide into what the British say, what you think the British say, and what the British ACTUALLY mean. And this table is incredibly accurate. Listen in next time you are talking to a Brit. 


But the longer I live here, the more I get to appreciate Croat humour. It is dark, for sure (as is all the best humour), and as a foreigner, it almost feels that there is a rite of passage in one’s Croatian journey. That when you get to a level of understanding about the way Croatia really functions, it feels as though you are entering a secret kingdom, where the humour is a darker shade of black. 

I felt it first when I came across the word ‘uhljeb’ (of which much more in Chapter 19 of this series, but for those a little unclear – A Tale of Two Croatias: Before and After the Uhljeb Discovery) – and my relationship with some Croatian friends changed that day. I had become a little more like one of them, and less a foreigner living in his perfect Croatian bubble. 

And so too when I received my first lawsuits at the tender age of 51. It was almost as if you were not really Croatian if you hadn’t been sued. It was almost part of the path to citizenship.

While I was terrified at being sued for 100,000 kuna in two separate lawsuits, I was struck that not one single friend expressed sorrow at my news. Shock yes, outrage, to an extent, good humour for sure. But not sorrow.

“I wouldn’t worry,” said more than one. “It will go on for years, and you will be dead before they find you guilty. For if you are being sued by the Croatian State in a Croatian court…”

I am sure they meant well, but they only terrified me even more. How would I even respond, and where to find a good lawyer to defend me at a price I could afford?

I hadn’t done anything wrong either, of that I was pretty confident, but I found myself in the rather bizarre situation after a decade promoting Croatia and its tourism, of being sued twice by the Croatian National Tourist Board, once for defamation for an article I did not write on a portal that I don’t own which quoted me. Neither the journalist nor portal were sued, there was no request for a retraction, and the article is still live today in its original format

The second was for a meme, playing around with the national tourist board logo with a bit of satire, ironically including that word ‘uhljeb’. It was the cover photo on my private Facebook page for 3 days, got 316 likes, 20 comments, and 9 shares. It was entirely forgotten a day later. 

Until the lawsuit brought it back to life and onto the national evening news and all over most of the national media when news broke of the lawsuits. 

I really had no idea what to do. Friends gleefully (did I mention the lack of sorrow expressed?) explained that the cases would be delayed and adjourned for years, then the judgment would probably go against me in Croatia, and I would probably win in Strasbourg in 2063 in the European courts.

Oh, and there was the small matter of the 8% interest on the amount per year. So if the case was adjourned and delayed for years as my friends predicted, I might have to sell both the kids, not just my first-born.

“And of course, you know that they are not actually paying for any of it, so they probably don’t care how long it takes. This is public money of course, paid from your taxes. So, in a way, you are paying for the privilege of suing yourself. Ah, Hrvatska. Welcome to the mad house. Cheers!”

I didn’t really know any good Croatian lawyers, apart from a brief association with Vanja Juric, a leading media laywer who represented Index.hr, whose summons to the courts were a lot more frequent than mine. Index had kindly asked Vanja to give me some advice a couple of years ago when the Mayor of Jelsa announced he was suing me in a public meeting (see above), but strangely never followed through on his promise. 

We were distant Facebook friends, and I decided to send her a message, saying that I knew she was the best and probably very expensive, but could she at least tell me how much trouble I was in, and how many children I would have to sell to engage her services. 

I will never forget the first thing she said when we met in her office:

“Paul, the first thing I want to tell you is don’t worry. This will be fine. I will be happy to represent you.”

And from that moment, my attitude to these lawsuits has moved from one of blind panic to a curious fascination and window into the wonderful Croatian legal system. Vanja is so calm, and so majestic in the courtroom that if she says everything will be ok in the end, then I know it will be. As nobody seems to write about the realities of the lawsuit process in Croatia, at least in English, I decided that I would, starting a mini-blog to document my journey to Strasbourg some 40 years hence. If you want to follow the blow-by-blow account, check out Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit

My last hearing was in early May, and the next hearings for both are in November – remember that 8%?

And the following January, both lawsuits will be entering their fourth calendar year. 

The lawsuits arrived in blue envelopes from the municipal court in Zagreb in October 2020, after the case had been opened in August 2020. The first hearings for each were set for April 10 and May 3 the following year. Did I mention something about 8% interest?


A week before the first hearing, I asked Vanja if it would be ok to announce that I was being sued on social media, which she confirmed. I guess I was expecting a little reaction from posting the summons as my cover photo, but what happened next was really quite incredible.

Within an hour, my phone rang – a journalist from the national media, RTL Direkt, asking where I was currently. At home in Varazdin, I replied why? Be at Hotel Park in 2 hours for an interview on the lawsuit. And so there I was that evening, on the national news, story number  2.


The press had a field day. What had been a 3-day Facebook cover long forgotten by all had turned into one of the biggest stories of the day. 

There was even a poll on Index.hr, asking which side readers were on. Almost 17,000 people took part in the poll.


Offers of money for my legal defence came in from SO many kind strangers; it was truly humbling. I thanked but refused them all. 

Meanwhile, in the Croatian Parliament… 

… my case was raised by Centar MP Marijana Puljak, calling for the dismissal of the Croatian National Tourist Board director, the quashing of the case, and the introduction of anti-SLAPP legistlation into Parliament. 


The Minister of Tourism was apparently not very happy with the lawsuit and allegedly summoned the director to demand an explanation.

Meanwhile the media invitations kept on coming. 

Good Morning Croatia,  the main breakfast show on national television.

N1 television. And several more. An awful lot of publicity, which one journalist referred to as the biggest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board. I couldn’t comment on that, but it was fab PR for me and TCN. Although I am forever known as ‘the blogger the tourist board sued’ if I meet people at parties who have never heard of me.

Instant recognition.

Even though I had the soothing voice of Vanja by my side, I was very nervous before my first court appearance. For some reason, I felt that there was a stigma about being sued (obviously I was not Croatian, for here it is a national sport – years ago, I was told that in a population of 4 million, there are about 3 million ongoing lawsuits, most of them property related. If they all took years to conclude, no wonder the country was in such trouble). What would my day in court look like?

“It will be over in 3 minutes,” predicted Vanja, “and then a new date will be set in a few months. And so it will go on. But we can go and have a beer after and catch up.”

And – as always – she was right. The prosecution produced a last-minute motion which they did not have time to share with Vanja in advance, and the case was adjourned by several months. The first hearing of the other lawsuit was postponed for 3 weeks as the prosecution lawyer had double booked, then it was postponed by 6 months when he had double booked again. When I learned that their lawyer was one of six partners in a firm with 50 lawyers, I marvelled at the fact that he perhaps could not afford a secretary to manage his diary or find a colleague to cover for him.

Remember that 8% interest?

Somewhere into Calendar Year 3 of the meme case, both the director of the national tourist board and myself were called to give evidence about the meme. I was fascinated; what kind of evidence can you give about a meme? It was a meme, satire, posted without comment. What more is there to say? And yet I found myself on the witness stand for about an hour, having to answer questions on what jobs I was doing before I moved to Croatia in 2002, how many Facebook fans I had, and how would I define an ‘uhljeb’. It was extraordinary. My proudest moment was learning how many journalists and bloggers had been sued by the national tourist board in the calendar year of 2020. 

Just one.



The director almost didn’t come to give evidence. The hearing was set for Thursday the 20th, at midday. After busines hours on Friday the 14th, Vanja got an email from her colleague from the prosecution, informing me that the director had to go to a tourism fair in Madrid. As proof, he sent a copy of the ticket, from Tuesday the 18th to Friday the 21st. Even though both our hearing and the fair had been announced 6 months ago (remember that 8%?), we were informed going into the weekend just a few days before. 

I cancelled my court interpreter, and it was agreed that I would appear but not give evidence alone.

Tuesday came and the director was presumably en route to Madrid, representing Croatian tourism on Wednesday too, and not due back until Friday. Imagine Vanja’s surprise then when she got an email on Thursday morning, just 3 hours before the hearing, that the director would in fact appear, as he was not in Madrid. Quite why could not have informed us on the Tuesday is anyone’s guess. A last-minute scramble to find an interpreter was one more unnecessary stress. 

Both cases rumble on, and they are attracting some interesting and high-profile participants. Next up in November, for example, is the head of legal for the national tourist board, as well as the former Communications Director for Prime Minister Plenkovic giving evidence on my behalf.

The last hearing was perhaps the most surreal. I was co-organiser of a digital nomad conference in Dubrovnik in early May, and the national tourist board kindly sponsored the first evening event. The next hearing in court was in Zagreb the following day. I had the rather unusual experience of greeting the head of global PR at the conference, as she was hosting the evening, then both of us due to fly to Zagreb the next morning for the hearing so that she could give evidence against me. In the end, Vanja told me to stay and enjoy Dubrovnik, but how to go from conference partner to the accused in the courtroom in under 16 hours. Ah, Hrvatska. 

How do I feel about being sued as it drags on for years? I actually don’t mind. As I wrote in an earlier chapter, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years: 3. Bureaucracy and Mindset, dealing with Croatia is all about mindset. Go in with a positive attitude and a little humour, and all will appear totally different. It has been a fascinating journey to document, and I am sure there are many more twists and turns to come. 

And the prospect of a visit to Strasbourg when I am 94 is rather appealing… 

One does wonder if the public time and money could be put to better use, however. 

Away from the courtroom, it has been fascinating to see how the whole thing plays out in the media. To see which portals are truly independent in Croatia, and those who do not report on it at all. My favourite moment was a big sponsored article in a major national newspaper and portal (I will not say which) which covered a conference I co-organised. There were 5 speakers at the opening, and the article was comprehensive, including photos of 4 of the 5 speakers in the text. And the text was considerable but managed to omit mention or photo of both me and TCN, the co-organiser. 

Quite impressive. 

There are a lot of other things I could write, but I should probably stop before I get myself into trouble. Being sued has made me see things a little differently, and it has definitely made me feel more Croatian and the realities of the authentic Croatian day-to-day reality.  

And while I am not looking to get sued again, the experience has definitely enriched my time here, and whatever the outcome, I am sure there will be quite a story. 

And quite possibly that 8%…


And I would be very interested to see what – if anything – happens with this social media post of one of the biggest names in the Croatian media – the twist of the slogan Croatia Full of Life to Croatia Full of Deception. Perhaps we will end up in the dock together. Or not.


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email [email protected] Subject 20 Years Book



Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment