Croatia's Top Court: Politicians Can Talk Sh*t While at Work

By 17 April 2020

April 17, 2020 — Want to insult someone in Croatia with limited legal repercussions? Win an election.

If one average Croat turns to another and shouts, "I f*ck your mother!", the recipient could prosecute for "defamation" and "insult". If an elected official, however, declares a colleague a "piece of sh*t" while both are at work, the nation's top court considers it political expression.

An elected official cursing out a colleague on the premises of the representative body does not constitute defamation or insult, the Croatian Constitutional Court decided, according to Jutarnji List.

The decision muddies the already-murky interpretation of Croatia's defamation laws. Up until now, insulting speech and cursing opened the door to legal proceedings, though the outcomes weren't always guaranteed. The laws are often used by politicians to silence unfriendly media coverage, or ornery citizens with thin skin and cash to burn on legal expenses.

The decision opens the floodgates to some of the Croatian language's best expressions. Politicians can now freely deploy these terms during legislative sessions and within government buildings.

The court's decision offers two legal hurdles to provide one with the freedom to curse without legal consequences: the speaker and recipient must both be elected officials, and the four-letter words must be uttered, shouted or angrily hissed while within a government building.

That means "I f*ck your mother!", "You piece of sh*t!" and “And I really do f*ck your mother!” all now belong in Croatia's political vernacular, but can still get one in trouble out on the street.

The Constitutional Court's decision came thanks to a complaint filed by the Independent Councilor of Korcula City Council, Tin Andrijic. In 2013, at a session of the City Council, he verbally attacked the director of the Korčula Sports Facilities Dalibor Antunović. Knowing that everything was transmitted by Radio Korcula, the councilman told Antunović, "I f*ck your mother!", "You piece of sh*t!" and “And I really do f*ck your mother!” among other things.

Antunović sued Andrijić for defaming his honor and reputation, a widely-interpreted legal premise that's a catchall for any speech or expression which makes a person feel like a "piece of sh*t", regardless of whether or not they are one.

Other western defamation and libel laws require a second hurdle: the speaker's intent to defame or hurt must be proven. Croatia's does not. The person calling someone a "piece of sh*t" is wrong simply if it makes the alleged "piece of sh*t" feel bad. Even their behavior may merit someone telling them "I f*ck your mother!"

The Dubrovnik Municipal Court ruled Councilman Andrijić committed the offense of insult and fined him HRK 5,000. In the proceedings, Andrijić invoked the immunity guaranteed by the Law on Local and Regional Self-Government, according to which a member of the representative body cannot be prosecuted or held accountable in any other way for voting, statements or opinions and opinions expressed at sessions of the representative body. The court dismissed his argument. 

"It was not a statement or an opinion or a position at a sitting of a representative body within the meaning of the said legal provision, but a mere curse and a pure insult, and such words have no purpose or meaning other than to offend and disparage," it wrote in its decision.

The Constitutional Court disagrees. It stated lower courts violated the constitutional right to a fair trial, and referred to a precedent set in a similar case, which said legislative immunity included such situations. The Constitutional Court's decision was not unanimous, however. Three constitutional judges opposed it and wrote separate opinions. Among them are two former SDP members, Josip Leko and Ingrid Anticevic Marinovic, and Judge Andrej Abramovic.

So if any citizens want to insult each other with full legal immunity, consider running for office.