Diary of a Croatian trial: the deputy lawyer appears miraculously!
December 5, 2021 – Kingdom of Accidental Tourism v The Fat Blogger Round 5, and the most dramatic audience yet.
I have to admit that I really appreciate my pending lawsuits by the Croatian National Tourist Board. The longer the process takes, the more absurd it becomes, and blogging material is gold.
But last month’s audience was epic, taking things to the next level.
It was always going to be a surreal experience, as we all knew we would meet for three unnecessary minutes, only to check our agendas to coordinate the next unnecessary hearing several months later, as the timeline of a distinctly Croatian trial took shape. .
Full disclosure, I arrived at the final hearing on my return from a monumental tour promoting tourism in Slavonia, my body marinated in rakija after one of the best weeks of my 18 years in Croatia. Nothing in the previous week had been normal, so a Croatian court appearance was a natural next step.
I am facing two lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Office:
1. For an article that I did not write, on a portal that I do not own, in which I was cited. Neither the journalist nor the portal has been prosecuted. There was no request for withdrawal. The article is still online 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 a modified logo of the Croatian National Tourist Board – 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. Up to…
Once the lawsuits became public, the story was EVERYWHERE. I was on the National Evening News, on National Breakfast Television, and Index even did a poll that drew almost 17,000 votes.
One portal described the trial as “the biggest public relations objective in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board”.
I can’t comment on this, but it has been fascinating to see how this trial continues to keep alive a piece of satire that would otherwise have been long forgotten after a brief social media appearance.
Croatia, full of Uhljebs entered 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, editors and big bloggers.
I would be lost without her.
But I digress. At last month’s hearing, which wasn’t about the logo, but the article I didn’t write on the portal and don’t own.
I would like to establish the timetable.
June 12, 2020 – Index.hr published the offending article – Fiasco: We pride ourselves on being a corona-free zone, but foreign tourists have no idea.
August 2020 – A trial is stamped by the court
October 2020 – The trial is delivered to my address. I panic. Even more when a second trial appears two weeks later.
October 2020 – I meet Croatia’s leading media lawyer, Vanja Juric. I immediately stop panicking.
April 3, 2021 – I’m changing my Facebook cover photo to let people know I’m being sued. I am truly touched by the outrage and the hundreds of messages of support and offers of financial aid.
May 3, 2021 – The first trial hearing for the article I didn’t write on the portal I don’t own is postponed until May 31. The prosecution lawyer apparently has double booked his time. Despite the fact that there are 50 lawyers in the law firm, no one else can represent the plaintiff in this most complicated matter. Their lawyer calls Vanja to postpone (I’m sure the timing of the hearing, less than 2 weeks before the national local elections, played no role). We have no reason to delay, having done nothing wrong, and politely decline. The court then informs us that the hearing will be postponed to May 31.
May 26, 2021 – I learn that it is possible to film the proceedings if I ask the court for leave more than 48 hours in advance. Less than an hour after my email, I receive a response from the court that this is not possible, as the hearing has been postponed 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 made a double booking and said it would not happen again.
November 2021 – I apply to film the November 22 hearing, but I am again refused. It’s not in the public interest (I would say the Index poll would), and there are epidemiological measures to consider (I’m not 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 in court to find another lawyer waiting to represent the Croatian National Tourist Board. The original lawyer, who is apparently the only one qualified to handle such a complicated case, is stuck in traffic. Not having the option of postponing 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 on a very short notice. Quite extraordinary, given that this was not possible on weeks of notice with the previous two hearings postponed.
We start, then after 10 minutes the original lawyer walks around, pulling his suitcase behind him, as if entering a bar on his return from vacation.
Vanja suggested that we finish this prank without everyone wasting more of their time. She stressed that the complainant would have to prove that I had done something against the law. As I had simply made a value judgment on the work of a public institution, this cannot be considered against the law. The public prosecutor will also have to prove the fact of causing damage, the causal link between the act and the damage, and prove that any damage justifies the pecuniary damage sought. As this was clearly impossible to do, it made no sense to continue.
The judge said she had to listen to witnesses from both sides, so we went into our calendars and agreed to meet again (assuming there were no double bookings or traffic jams) on May 5th. 2022, a little over a year since the first hearing. report, and nearly two years since the article appeared online.
And then something interesting.
In fact two things.
The first was that the lawyer for the Croatian National Tourism Board said they were open to an apology. It was great news. I too am open to apologies. If they would like to apologize to me, pay my fees, and give the legendary Vanja and her family a weekend on the coast as compensation for her time, I’d 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 produce witnesses that have already been identified. One of the two for the complainant was the director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristjan Stanicic, a man I have never met. It looked like we were destined to finally meet at the next court hearing. But in an unexplained move, the plaintiff’s lawyer removed Director Stanicic from the witness list and replaced him with the head of global public relations at the Croatian National Tourism Board.
I wonder if we will ever meet.
What does it all mean? Who knows, but to be continued …
See you in January 2022 for the next installment – the last hearing in the Croatia case, Plein d’Uhljebs, and my next highly anticipated coffee with the legendary Vanja.
You can follow the latest news from the Croatian Trial Diary here.