I have to confess that I am really enjoying my ongoing lawsuits by the Croatian National Tourist Board. The longer the process goes on, the more absurd if becomes, and the blogging material is gold.
But last month’s hearing was epic, taking things to the next level.
It was always going to be a surreal experience, as we all knew that we would gather for three pointless minutes, only to check our diaries to coordinate the next pointless hearing several months down the line, as the timeline of a typical Croatian lawsuit took shape.
Full disclosure, I arrived at the latest hearing on the back of a monumental trip promoting tourism in Slavonia, my body marinated in rakija after one of the best weeks of my 18 years in Croatia. Nothing about the previous week had been normal, and so an appearance in a Croatian court was a natural next step.
I am facing two lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Board:
1. For an article that I didn’t write, on a portal that I don’t own, in which I was quoted. Neither the journalist nor the portal was sued. There was no request for a retraction. The article is still live, and you can enjoy it here. I was sued for defamation for 50,000 kuna.
2. For three days last year, my private Facebook cover photo featured an amended Croatian National Tourist Board logo – from Croatia, Full of Life to Croatia, Full of Uhljebs. Another lawsuit for 50,000 kuna.
The logo attracted 316 likes at the time, 20 comments, and 9 shares. After 3 days it was forgotten. Until…
Once the lawsuits became public, the story was EVERYWHERE. I was on the evening national news, national breakfast television, and Index even did a poll that attracted almost 17,000 votes.
One portal described the lawsuit as ‘the greatest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board.’
I couldn’t possibly comment on that, but it has been fascinating to see how this lawsuit continues to keep alive a piece of satire that would otherwise have been long forgotten after a brief appearance on social media.
Croatia, Full of Uhljebs entered the world of academia this week, as Legendica Extraordinaire, my fabulous lawyer Vanja Juric, used it as a case study in her guest lecture at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb, while talking about the joys of representing journalists, publishers, and fat bloggers.
I would be lost without her.
But I digress. To last month’s court hearing, which was not about the logo, but about the article that I didn’t write on the portal that I don’t own.
I would like to establish the timeline.
June 12, 2020 – Index.hr published the offending article – Fiasco: We brag that we are a corona-free zone, but foreign tourists have no idea about it.
August 2020 – A lawsuit is stamped by the court
October 2020 – The lawsuit is delivered to my address. I panic. Even more so when a second lawsuit appears two weeks later.
October 2020 – I meet Croatia’s leading media lawyer, Vanja Juric. I immediately stop panicking.
April 3, 2021 – I change my Facebook cover photo to inform people I am being sued. I am genuinely humbled at the outrage and hundreds of messages of support and offers of financial assistance.
May 3, 2021 – The first hearing of the lawsuit for the article I didn’t write on the portal I don’t own is delayed until May 31. The lawyer for the prosecution has double-booked his time apparently. Despite the fact that there are 50 lawyers in the law firm, nobody else can represent the plaintiff in this most complicated of cases. Their lawyer calls Vanja to reschedule (I am sure the timing of the hearing, less than 2 weeks from national local elections, played no part). We have no reason to delay, having done nothing wrong, and politely decline. The court then informs us that the hearing will be delayed until May 31.
May 26, 2021 – I learn that it is possible to film proceedings if I apply to the court for permission more than 48 hours in advance. Within an hour of my email, I receive a reply from the court that this it is not possible, as the hearing has been delayed to November 22. Vanja receives an email at the same time, which informs her that the plaintiff’s lawyer has double-booked again. Vanja calls the judge to register her displeasure that this has now happened twice. The judge was unaware that this was the second time he had double-booked and stated that it would not happen again.
November 2021 – I apply to film the November 22 hearing, but am again denied. It is not in the public interest (I would argue that the Index poll would make it so), and there are the epidemiological measures to consider (I am not quite sure how taking my mobile out of my pocket is going to spread COVID-19, but the decision is final).
November 22, 2021 – We are rather surprised to arrive at the court to find another lawyer waiting to represent the Croatian National Tourist Board. The original lawyer, who seemingly is the only one qualified to handle such a complicated case, is stuck in traffic. With no option to delay the hearing due to the judge’s decision after the last postponement, he miraculously found a colleague who was free and available to take his place at very short notice. Quite extraordinary, given that this was not possible with weeks of notice with the previous two postponed hearings.
!We begin, and then after 10 minutes, in walks the original lawyer, pulling his suitcase behind him, as though he was entering a bar after getting back from holiday.
Vanja suggested that we end this farce without wasting everyone’s time further. She pointed out that the plaintiff would need to prove that I had done something against the law. As I had merely stated a value judgment about the work of a public institution, this cannot be deemed as against the law. The prosecution would also need to prove the act of causing damage, the causal link between the act and damages, and to prove that any damages justified the financial damages sought. As this was clearly impossible to do, it made no sense to continue.
The judge said that she had to listen to the witnesses from both sides, so we went into our calendars, and agreed to meet again (assuming no double bookings or traffic jams) on May 5, 2022, just over a year since the first hearing postponement, and almost two years since the article appeared online.
And then something interesting.
Actually two things.
The first was that Croatian National Tourist Board’s lawyer said that they were open to an apology. This was excellent news. I, too, am open to an apology. If they would like to apologise to me, pay for my costs, and treat legendica Vanja and her family to a weekend on the coast as a compensation for her time, I would be happy to move on.
The second thing was very interesting… and a little disappointing. When we meet again in May next year, both sides will be producing witnesses which have already been identified. One of the two for the plaintiff was the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristjan Stanicic, a man I have never met. It seemed that we were destined to finally meet at the next court hearing. But in an unexplained move, the plaintiff’s lawyer has removed Director Stanicic from the list of witnesses, and replaced him with the Head of Global PR for the Croatian National Tourist Board.
I do wonder if we will ever meet.
What does all this mean? Who knows, but to be continued…
See you in January, 2022 for the next installment – the latest hearing in the Croatia, Full of Uhljebs case, and my next eagerly anticipated coffee with legendica Vanja.
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