November the 4th, 2023 – Croatian artist Nik Titanik (Nikola Plečko) is a well known individual in the domestic media space. His hilarious depictions of various politicians and other public figures are often cited as a ray of sunshine amid the grey, even if some of the people they’re aimed at aren’t the biggest fans. It seems that one person in particular, and that is Krešimir Antolić, has taken such a disliking that he is suing the artist.
As Slobodna Dalmacija/Vinko Vukovic writes, Nikola Plečko (Nik Titanik) has openly stated that what is currently facing him is ”an unprecedented case in the entire history of the Croatian state”. The Croatian artist’s trial will begin on Monday, November the 7th at the Municipal Criminal Court in Zagreb. What for, you might ask? For publishing caricatures. Ridiculous, you might be thinking. You’d be right.
A dangerous precedent for media freedom
The lawsuit against Nik Titanik was filed by Krešimir Antolić, the former head of GNK Dinamo, who quite clearly didn’t really like the fact that the famous cartoonist portrayed him on several occasions in a less than flattering light and with even less flattering connotations. One such connotation was of him being a henchman of the notorious Zdravko Mamić, currently enjoying holding BiH citizenship and avoiding the long arm of Croatian law in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. The caricatures Antolić has an issue with (to say the least) were published back at the end of March 2020 in the sports section of the 24sata newspaper, with Antolić also suing Nik Titanik’s employer for causing him “emotional pain” at the beginning of this year. It’s also important to note that that case actually ended in Antolić’s favour, believe it or not.
Judge Mario Klarić asserted that the caricatures violated the plaintiff’s personality rights in the most gross way, explaining that the text “depicts and describes the plaintiff in an extremely inappropriate, offensive and vulgar manner, primarily by using a series of extremely insulting and humiliating expressions which are used in an ironic and in a derogatory way, to describe the duty he holds as a member of the GNK Dinamo Management Board”.
Stunned (and rather understandably) by that verdict and the entire situation deciding in his favour, Antolić has now filed a private lawsuit against the talented cartoonist himself, which Nik Titanik assessed as an unprecedented case in the entire history of the Croatian state.
Lawyer: A lack of understanding of the basics of freedom of expression
“A private criminal lawsuit was filed because of a caricature, and in the event of a final verdict declaring me guilty, this case can serve as a legal precedent for all future cases in which the actions of public figures are criticised, which will significantly threaten media and democratic freedoms in Croatia and limit free the work of all cartoonists, humorists, satirists, stand-up comedians, photo editors and other similar artists, but also of all journalists who write critically about public figures and topics important to the public,” stated Croatian artist Nik Titanik in a recent statement.
Vanja Jurić, the Croatian artist Nik Titanik’s lawyer, pointed out in her own statement for Slobodna Dalmacija that the criminalisation of caricatures and obvious satire shows a lack of understanding of the basics of freedom of expression and the standards that should be the basis of any advanced society.
“Such procedures are a heavy burden for both journalists and artists who, through their forms, deal with important social issues. We must not allow them to become something that we consider normal, and I’m sure that in the process we’ll prove that this isn’t a criminal offence, but instead that it’s a permissible way of expressing criticism,” assured the top media lawyer.
The caricatures that are the subject of criminal proceedings, added Vanja Jurić, dealt with public figures and the situation in Zagreb’s biggest football club, and they problematise a topic of public interest and events about which there was a wide public debate. In other words, Croatian artist Nik Titanik was quite literally just doing his job.
A message to Antolić: This is not going to work out for you
The Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND) was also appalled by this lawsuit. Hrvoje Zovko, president of the HND, claims that this is an utterly terrifying act taking place in a democratic country that supposedly guarantees its citizens freedom of speech and the right to take public action.
“A few years ago, we had a verdict against a satirist from News Bar (a satirical news show), so this unfortunately doesn’t come as a shock. In fact, all it does is simply prove that Croatia is a truly terrible country when it comes to SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuits against the actions of the public, op.a.),” stated Zovko, adding that HND representatives will come to Croatian artist Nik Titanik’s upcoming trial as observers and for support.
“This lawsuit isn’t only an attack on the freedom of artistic expression of a cartoonist, it’s also a message to all of our colleagues engaged in investigative journalism. It lets them know what awaits them if they dare to question the image and work of the powerful people in this country. However, we also have a message for Antolić and everyone like him, and it reads: This is not going to work out for you!” said Zovko resolutely.
Marušić: Imagine the arrogance…
Joško Marušić, a university professor, one of the most awarded Croatian caricaturists, pointed the finger at the “general fiscalisation of society”.
“Imagine the arrogance you’ve got to have to do something like this: people who, for years, have stolen millions of euros from fans who are looking for a little space for their dreams in something as dilettante and insignificant football, dare to sue a modest caricaturist whose job is to make people laugh by making caricatures of public figures, if caricatures of such individuals are even possible to create,” concluded Marušić.
If his colleague Nikola Plečko calls him up as a witness, he will testify, he said, that he created those drawings deliberately and totally in his right mind.
Croatian artist Nik Titanik did an incredible job of designing and creating our book cover for Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners last year, and we offer him nothing but support through his upcoming legal battle.