10 Things I Learned from my SLAPP Lawsuits in Croatia

January 19. 2023 -  SLAPP lawsuits in Croatia (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation) are a well-established tool to dissuade criticism. Having just emerged from a 2.5-year SLAPP experience, here are some thoughts and observations.

It all starts with the blue letter. 

The postman knocks, requiring a signature. There is rarely good news inside the official blue envelopes. 

"It is from the Municipal Court in Zagreb," said my wife. 

I wonder what they want, I thought to myself. I haven't done anything wrong, to the best of my knowledge. Nevertheless, my heart started beating a little heavier. I had no dead relatives in Croatia to inherit property from, so in all probability, there was bad news inside.

A lawsuit from the Croatian National Tourist Board seeking 50,000 kuna in compensation for defamation. Now my heart really started to beat. Plus costs. And interest. For an article that I did not write, on a portal that I do not own, which quoted me. 

My mouth went dry. 

Two weeks later, it was Groundhog Day. ANOTHER blue letter, another lawsuit, and another 50,000 kuna demanded, this time for a meme I posted on my private Facebook page, where I changed the official tourism slogan from Croatia, Full of Life to Croatia, Full of Uhljebs. 

 (The lawsuits made the national news)

1. Self-Doubt

What the hell to do? I was panicking. I didn't have that kind of money spare, and what did this mean for my future writing? I was comfortable that I had done nothing wrong, but how to prove that in the Croatian legal jungle and where to turn for help? Perhaps I should stop writing anything critical and just concentrate on saying how beautiful Croatia was. 

In my panic, I failed to analyse the message being sent, turning this into a major situation instead:

The plaintiff points out that in the case of a public apology made by the defendant, done so in a manner that fully corresponds to the manner of publishing the disputed statements, i.e. in the same or equivalent place, it is ready to accept without the further continuation of this litigation.

I. The defendant is ordered to pay the plaintiff the amount of HRK 50,000.00 together with the corresponding statutory default interest rate from 04.08.2020 as the date of filing the lawsuit until payment at the rate of the average interest rate on loans granted for a period longer than one year to non-financial companies calculated for the reference period preceding the current half-year, increased by three percentage points, within 15 days under threat of enforcement. 

With a little more detachment, the message was clear. Publicly apologise and lose credibility among your readership, be silent in the future, and all this goes away. Otherwise, the lawsuits will take their course. I had 15 days to respond.  

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2. Costs include 8% interest

As I was weighing up my limited options, the route to a public apology looked the most likely, especially when I learned that there would be 8% annual interest fee, I believe, from the moment the lawsuit was issued, until the verdict. I had heard that these cases could go on for years. It had somehow taken 2 months for the issuance of the lawsuit from the court to be delivered to my home. Some 8% divided by 6 of 100,000 kuna. The clock was ticking. Should I just apologise and move on?

The only person I could think to ask for advice was a smart young lawyer called Vanja Juric, regarded as the best in the region for media law, and a very successful defender of Croatia's biggest and most controversial news portal, Index.hr. Index owner Matija Babic, a personal friend, had kindly made Vanja's advice available to me a couple of years earlier when the Mayor of Jelsa, Niksa Peronja, announced in a public meeting that he was suing me over my reporting of a questionable tender - you can read more in Mayor Niksa Peronja: If Carpe Diem Really is Coming to Jelsa and Zecevo, Then...

Here is Mayor Peronja publicly announcing the lawsuit against me. He never actually followed though, and 4 years later, I await the lawsuit he promised. 

But the announcement of the lawsuit shook me up, and Vanja gave me some great advice. And so I knew that she would be the person to turn to with the case of the Croatian National Tourist Board. The first thing she told me was to relax, there was no way I would lose. 

And from that moment, I started to relax, and I decided that I would document the whole experience in a mini-blog on TCN called Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit

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3. Delays

And yet, despite Vanja's considerable reassurance and calming influence, that 8% would not leave me, especially when I learned that the first hearing of the first case would not be until the following April, and the second one in May, 8 and 9 months respectively after the lawsuits were issued. Around 6,000 kuna in interest, and we had not even started!

And then when I went to my first hearing, only to have the prosecution lawyer present an additional motion one minute before the hearing started, which necessitated an adjournment of 3 months (1,000 kuna more), and then their lawyer double booked not once, but twice, necessitating a delay in the other case from May to November (2,000 kuna), I began to have my doubts. It was almost 18 months from the lawsuit to the first hearing that actually took place. 

Delay, delay, delay. Perhaps it was all accidental (this was the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism after all), but it felt a little more coordinated. After all, the lawyer who had double-booked twice was from a firm with 50 lawyers. This was hardly a complicated case, and yet no other lawyer was able to take his place. 

On not one, but two occasions, their lawyer submitted last-minute motions to my lawyer literally one minute before the hearing started on each occasion. The apologetic excuse was that he had had health issues. There was no mention of the other 49 lawyers in his office who could have helped out. Perhaps these were all genuine reasons, but I slowly began to form the opinion that all this seemed to be a deliberate tactic. This feeling was solidified for the hearing where I was supposed to give evidence on the meme, Croatia, Full of Uhljebs, as was Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristjan Stanicic. 

The hearing was announced in July 2021, to take place on Thursday, January 20, 2022, so 6 months to prepare. Although I speak Croatian quite well, Vanja advised that I hire a court interpreter, which I did. Six days before the hearing, late on a Friday evening after office hours, Vanja received an email stating that Director Stanicic could not attend the hearing the following Thursday as he had to go on urgent business to a tourism fair in Madrid, attaching the director's flight details (Tuesday to Friday). The Madrid fair had been announced 6 months before, about the same time as this hearing, but for some reason, this trip had been put in the calendar at the last minute. I cancelled the interpreter, and Vanja advised me to attend the hearing, but not to give evidence in his absence. 

And so the following Tuesday came, with the director presumably off to Madrid. And Wednesday. The hearing was scheduled for midday on Thursday. At around 09:00, Vanja received an email to say that, in fact, the director was not in Madrid after all and would be attending court and giving evidence. He had presumably known this on Tuesday when he was supposed to fly, but for some reason waited until the last minute to tell us. Trying to find an available court translator with less than three hours notice was an almost impossible task. Almost. 

If I had been a cynic, I would have questioned the additional motives behind some of these delays and double bookings, as hearings which were scheduled before elections managed to get delayed until after elections, thereby avoiding any negative publicity. But obviously, I am not a cynic... 

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4. Filming 

One of the most interesting aspects of the whole process was learning that I had the right to apply to photograph and film proceedings if I applied to the court more than 48 hours in advance. The chance to put the absurdity of what I was subjected to on YouTube was very appealing. It would have greatly added to showcasing my story. I applied as advised and was stunned at the speed of the reply, an email just one hour later. My request was denied, as filming was only applicable to cases deemed to be in the public interest, which mine was not (despite being all over television and the national media when the story broke). A second email to Vanja at the same time gave another reason why I would not be filming any time soon - the case suddenly got delayed 6 months (lawyer double-booking) - another 2,000 kuna in interest.  

5. Intimidation

I can only imagine going through this process without the expertise and calming support of Vanja. Once she told me to relax, I knew I was going to be ok. But without her, this would be a terrifying ordeal, as I am sure it is for the many others who are subjected to SLAPP lawsuits here and elsewhere. Indeed the support of certain sections of the media (big shout out to Index, Telegram, Morski, RTL and N1) was a huge boost, as was MP Marijana Puljak calling for the dismissal of Director Stanicic, the withdrawal of the lawsuit, and the introduction of anti-SLAPP legislation (see video below).

We are shocked by the bizarre news about the lawsuits of the Croatian National Tourist Board against Paul Bradbury, journalist and owner of the Total Croatia News portal. It is a classic way of intimidating and stifling freedom of speech, in order to silence criticism of the dysfunctional system of the Croatian Tourist Board, which spends a lot of taxpayers' money. We demand the immediate withdrawal of the lawsuits and the removal of director Kristjan Staničić.

The CNTB should see a partner in Paul Bradbury. He is a man who has undoubtedly indebted Croatian tourism with his actions, and instead they are trying to intimidate and destroy him. This is just another proof of the justification of our request for the introduction of voluntary membership in the CNTB. If taxpayers were given the opportunity to choose who to finance, many would certainly prefer to invest money in tourism promotion in the knowledge and work of experts like Bradbury, rather than in any of the 300 or so directors of tourist boards.

The Center Party will always vehemently oppose any form of intimidation and attacks on journalists, activists and citizens. Any attempt to restrict freedom of speech, and we witness them in Croatia almost every day, we consider unacceptable, so we will send to the procedure legal changes that would prevent such lawsuits from occurring at all.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any democratic society and the first line of defense of all other freedoms. In addition to believing that an open public debate on any topic has no alternative, history teaches us that persecuting and silencing dissidents throughout

it makes society intellectually but also economically poorer. Only an open exchange of ideas, but also criticism, is the guarantor of intellectual and economic progress.

I was grateful for all the support and fully aware that many others facing SLAPP lawsuits do not have such exposure. I felt the whole process to be quite intimidating. As I stated in a previous article, I get the impression that the CNTB lawyer is a pretty cool guy that I would enjoy having a drink with (he was always very friendly outside court, making a point to shake my hand each time), but his questioning and tactics in the courtroom were very intimidating. I spent an hour on the witness stand being cross-examined about the meme on topics such as how many Facebook fans did I have, what was I doing before I moved to Croatia in 2002, how many employees did I have, and did I speak French. 

My favourite moment in the second hearing was seeing a HUGE file with so many papers inside that a whole forest must have been sacrificed. On the front of the file, two words - Paul Bradbury.

If that file was full of documents about me, just how big was my legal bill going to be on top of the interest and claim? Intimidating. Or at least it would have been without Vanja. An intern who watched proceedings asked me after if I also thought that a lot of the pieces of paper in the folder were blank. 

As I could see that this was an intimidating process, I decided to document my case from start to finish. Knowing that the cases would take years to resolve, I started a mini-blog called Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit on TCN. Apart from being extraordinary free PR for me (thanks, CNTB!), keeping the case in the public arena could only help my cause, especially if I detailed all the absurdities. But I also wanted to show others going through the same process that they were not alone. And that it was possible to win. 

But had I had to face that alone... And then there was the option to publicly apologise and it all goes away...  

When talking about intimidation, I thought back to the Mayor of Jelsa, Niksa Peronja, who publicly announced he was suing me, but never did as mentioned above. Just the threat of a lawsuit - it does focus the mind on writing about less controversial topics in the future.  There is not much net reward for writing a great article and then having to pay thousands in court for the privilege. There is a reason why these lawsuits are called Strategic Lawsuits against Public Prosecution. 

6. Doors close and the stigma

I am currently in the search for a new identity. For the last two years, I have been known as the 'guy getting sued by CNTB.' That's it. My epitaph on my tombstone. I have lost count of the number of people I have met who have only heard about me for that one reason. It is something that I guess will be with me forever. it is not something I would have chosen to be remembered by, but I have tried to turn that into a positive and approach this reality with humour. 

What has been a quite extraordinary lesson, however, has been how people and institutions in Croatia reacted to being sued by a state institution. It was the same with the threatened lawsuit from Peronja and the national tourist board. Certain people unfriended me on Facebook, looked the other way when I walked down the street, and generally distanced themselves from me. To be seen to be with me (and this was especially true in Jelsa 5 years ago) meant that there were in the enemy camp. Why risk a cafe concession of an extra two tables as a cafe owner by being friends with the pariah?

The reaction of the Croatian media was very instructive, and it was then that I could see clearly who were the most independent media (named above) and those who were not. Not only was my case not covered, but in one famous example, I was completely erased from history on a big media report from the opening of a conference I co-oganised, as well as being told I would not be allowed to speak at the opening of my own conference, as I would be sharing the platform with the Deputy Minister of Tourism. 

Paid contracts dried up. Sorry, Paul, we hope you understand, but you are being sued by CNTB...

The lawsuits became the big elephant in the room, particularly in topics where I was very active (digital nomads being a prime example) where the national tourist board was starting to get involved (and with a budget to spend). Sorry Paul, the national tourist board are funding this so... 

It was a lesson, and one I am glad I had, for it forced me to diversify, which I have done. And now I am in a much better space. So thanks to all for that. 

7. Winning is not the aim

As time went on, I began to realise that finding me guilty and actually winning the case was not the main aim of these lawsuits. It was intimidation and an invitation to silence. Zoran Pejovic, a respected tourism expert and defence witness in my case, who had also been quoted in the article that got me sued, reflected on his day in court as a witness in the case on LinkedIn (you can read Zoran's full post here):

Ever since I learned of the case against Paul I have reduced my Croatian media appearances. Several times I was asked to comment on some of the ongoing challenges of Croatian tourism and I politely declined. It only today dawned on me that I chose the path of lesser exposure to stay out of the limelight and avoid similar litigations, regardless of how pointless and ultimately unsuccessful they tend to be.

Perhaps they never aimed for victory in court.

The verdict in the first case was set for January 13, 2023. After the fabulous testimony in the hearing last November of both Zoran and Kresimir Macan, as well as Vanja's magic, there was no way in a normal country that I could lose. There simply was no case. Recognition of that fact came (again at the last minute - delay, delay, delay) when Vanja receive a request to withdraw the first case, giving us 8 days to agree. Just enough time to inform the court the day before the verdict. If they withdrew, they would not lose, I suppose was the logic. Their justifications for withdrawing the lawsuit were quite special, an explanation of which I may save for another time. 

What started 2.5 years ago as a demand for a public apology or 50,000 kuna plus costs ended with a polite request to forget about the whole thing. If I accepted, the case went away and my costs would be paid. If I refused, the court would deliver its verdict, an expected victory for me, and another PR own goal for the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism. I decided to try and put an end to the whole farce by suggesting that if they dropped both lawsuits and paid my costs, then I would agree. If they only wanted to drop one, then I would refuse. Their counter-offer was quite special (but let's leave that for another time), and we agreed that they would withdraw both.   

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8. Accountability 

And so here we are, 2.5 years later. A public institution sues someone using public money, demanding either a public apology or compensation of 100,000 kuna plus costs. Two and a half years later, having wasted an enormous amount of time, energy and public money, they withdraw the cases and are required to pay all the costs - with public money, of course. 

And accountability? 

Absolutely zero, and nothing to stop this happening again to someone else, someone who might be a little more intimidated than I was (post-Vanja reassurance).  

9. Legacy 

And the legacy? 

I will be known as the guy who got sued by the Croatian National Tourist Board, and apart from that?

Plus ca change. 

At least by highlighting my case on TCN (and soon on my YouTube channel with a very detailed look at it), we have raised a little awareness of the realities of SLAPP lawsuits in Croatia. I have been very encouraged by the number of European lawyers who have been following my case on LinkedIn, and their messages of support have been very welcome.

10. Remarkable individuals are building a better Croatia

 And where to end but with my fabulous laywer. 

Over the years, I have met several people who are passionate about their niche, and whose determination and dedication have brought positive change. Marko Rakar is one of my all-time heroes, and his efforts to hold the government accountable and to improve the system are truly admirable. One of his biggest achievements was effecting the removal of 800,000 fake names from the electoral register - this in a country of 4.2 million people at the time. 

In the media space, you may love him or hate him, but Matija Babic, the owner of Index.hr has made a considerable contribution over the last 20 years with his portal's reporting and exposing of corruption. 

And Vanja, as a bastion of protection of free media speech, is right up there in her own niche. As Vice President of GONG, she was also appointed expert group member of a European task force on SLAPP lawsuits. And only last week, she held the first GONG workshop on SLAPP lawsuits. I feel honoured that my case is one that is highlighted.

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Vanja is also using the case in her education of the next generation of lawyers. Perhaps this will be the best legacy of all for Croatia, Full of Uhljebs...

You can follow the whole story, including the publication of both lawsuits in English, in Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit.

****

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.

Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Thursday, 19 January 2023

Obesity in Croatia in Alarming Second Place in Europe

January 19, 2023 - If there is anything as diverse as Croatia's landscape, it's the cuisine. From meats and paprika dishes in the east to olive oil, truffles, and cheese on the coast, the country eats well. Maybe a little too well. Apparently, obesity in Croatia has reached an alarming level. The country ranks second in Europe in terms of the number of overweight people, with a part of the population still unaware of their obesity.

As stated in their press release, the new WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022, published on 3 May by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, revealed that overweight and obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions across the Region and are still escalating, with none of the 53 Member States of the Region currently on track to meet the WHO Global Noncommunicable Disease (NCD) target of halting the rise of obesity by 2025.

They further emphasize that “Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no single country is going to meet the WHO Global NCD target of halting the rise of obesity,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The countries in our Region are incredibly diverse, but every one is challenged to some degree. By creating environments that are more enabling, promoting investment and innovation in health, and developing strong and resilient health systems, we can change the trajectory of obesity in the Region.”

In Croatia, as HRT / Poslovni report, a part of the population is unaware of their obesity. Therefore, until the end of the year, various activities will be implemented to promote a healthy lifestyle. Their mission will primarily be to encourage Croatian citizens to start changing their eating habits and exercise levels.

Varaždin County will draw attention to this major social problem with the project "Recipe for Health - Promoting Obesity Awareness," which is 85% financed by the European Social Fund. Until the end of the year, various activities will promote a healthy lifestyle, primarily by encouraging citizens to change their eating habits and exercise.

"The project will be implemented through several levels and studies. A round table is scheduled for our general hospital doctors, as well as healthy eating and regular exercise workshops for the general population. The involvement of our students of the University of North, that is, of young health workers in this story of encouraging awareness about obesity, is great," stressed Assoc. Ph.D. Alen Pajtak, Head of the Department of Abdominal Surgery of Varaždin General Hospital.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Indian Unicorn Amagi Opens First Foreign Development Centre in Zagreb

January the 19th, 2023 - The Indian unicorn Amagi has chosen the Republic of Croatia, more specifically Zagreb, for the opening up of its very first development centre outside of Indian borders. This is excellent news for the country and job opportunities are set to open up.

As Josipa Ban/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, while a fairly decent number of Croatian technology companies are moving their headquarters outside of this country's borders, we're also seeing the opposite, which is very important news for all of Croatia. The Indian unicorn Amagi has decided to open its very first research and development centre outside of India right here in Zagreb.

The office has only just opened, and hiring should begin soon, according to the media technology company founded back in 2008, which provides "cloud" content broadcasting services and targeted advertising solutions for broadcasting on TV and streaming platforms.

The Indian unicorn Amagi is, therefore, a global SaaS leader that provides video solutions "in the cloud". It isn't yet exactly known how many people will be employed by this company here in Croatia and just how much will be invested. However, the company has stated that they decided on Croatia because they had already cooperated with local experts, so they decided to use that cooperation for further development.

"The high level of productivity of Croatian experts, along with a good balance between private and business life, makes Croatia an excellent location for a successful high-tech company like Amagi. We plan to expand and we will do so both in and outside of Croatia," said Sanjay Kirimanjeshwar, the vice president of the Indian unicorn Amagi, who is also in charge of marketing.

As for the development centre here in Zagreb, he says that it is difficult to go into details about product development. "But what we can confirm is that their work will be instrumental in accelerating the growth of streaming TV and FAST, especially in technologies that include big data, UHD Graphics, Dolby Vision, JPEG-XS, machine learning and personalisation," revealed Kirimanjeshwar.

The brand new centre here in Zagreb will be led by Igor Marinic, Marko Horvat and Danijel Peric, and it should enable this successful Indian company to expand more into the European market.

"Thanks to the research and development centre in Croatia, we'll be closer to our users and will be able to offer them the technological support they need in real time," said Baskar Subramanian, the CEO and co-founder of the Indian unicorn Amagi, a company that sells its solutions across more than 40 countries of the world, whose client list includes the likes of ABS-CBN, AccuWeather, A+E Networks UK, Cinedigm, Cox Media Group, Crackle Plus, Fremantle and numerous other impressive names.

The arrival of Amagi here in Croatia was actually not publicly known, but preparations had been underway for some time now, according to an inspection of the Court Register, which shows that the company in Zagreb (Amagi Eastern Europe d.o.o.) was founded in April last year.

Besides the fact that the Indian unicorn Amagi certainly has its own calculations when it comes to the opening their first foreign development centre in Zagreb, it's clear that this is a great thing economically for Croatia and its experts who will now get the opportunity to work on the development of some of the most advanced video and communication technologies. This was also confirmed by a statement from Igor Marinic, the general director of Amagi Eastern Europe.

"Croatia has successfully established itself on the global technological map as a country which creates the best talent, therefore we're confident that the newly opened Amagi development centre will be one of the key drivers of further growth and success," he pointed out. The company also received an investment of slightly more than 100 million US dollars just two months ago (in November 2022) from the American investment company General Atlantic.

With the capital raised, the value of the company increased from 1 billion dollars, which was what they were worth back in March 2022, when they received an investment of 95 million dollars, to a whopping 1.4 billion dollars. They achieve 100% annual revenue growth and employ more than 800 people worldwide. Part of the investment will obviously also be invested in the newly opened development centre here in Croatia, but the exact amount is currently unknown.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated business section.

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Much Loved Croatian Company Pipi Aiming for Foreign Markets in 2023

January the 19th, 2023 - The much loved Croatian company Pipi is set to spread its wings this year, with aims at conquering foreign markets and having them love the recognisable brand as much as the domestic market does.

As Mladen Miletic/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Croatian company Pipi, known for its funny marketing campaigns for its famous drinks, has entered 2023 with reinforcements in the team, Marketing, sales and project manager Zoran Kosanovic was hired as an advisor to the company's Management Board, and will be in charge of co-creating strategic and development decisions of the iconic Pipi brand.

With this appointment, Kosanovic has officially joined the Pipi team, whose main focus for this year is to expand its share here on the domestic market even more, and to enter and conquer new foreign markets.

"By bringing in Zoran Kosanovic, we made an additional step forward in terms of our company's overall development. We've been joined by an investor from our niche who will help us to further capitalise on the potential of our brand. We did a great job with the rebranding of the Croatian company Pipi, we recently sent our first container of our products off to the USA, we made numerous contacts with other markets, and the goal now is to achieve growth abroad," said Pipi CEO Luka Diel-Zadro.

Zoran Kosanovic has otherwise worked in the FMCG industry for the past twenty years, holding the position of Marketing Director of Red Bull Croatia, and therefore bringing a wealth of priceless experience to the domestic brand.

He also worked in managerial positions at the Procter&Gamble company, he is one of the global pioneers of Shopper Marketing.

"Pipi represents a challenge for me, primarily because of the potential of the brand. It has been going on for more than fifty years now, it's always been innovative, different, and because of all of that, the challenge is greater. A special strength is the community which is all for the classic #bolimepipi philosophy, and the launch of the Pipi boutique was a small revolution within the niche of beverages," stated Kosanovic of his new appointment within the Croatian company Pipi.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated business section.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Croatian Roaming Charges in Serbia, BiH, Macedonia to be Abolished?

January the 18th, 2023 - Expensive Croatian roaming charges for those with Croatian phone packages visiting Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are set to be abolished through a new agreement, much to the delight of many.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, this year, a new and very welcome agreement on roaming should come into force, thanks to which those using Croatian roaming services could pay for telecommunication services abroad at the same prices as we pay here at home, and this would span a considerably wider area than before.

In particular, with the exceptions of countries of the European Union/European Economic Area (including the UK) which are mutually covered by an agreement, Croatian roaming users should soon pay the same prices as we do at home when paying visits to the non-EEA countries of the Western Balkans, and the same would apply to their citizens when they're here in the EU.

"The point that was discussed at the Committee for European Affairs, and now will be discussed at a plenary session. Those are the Prime Minister's reports from the meetings of the European Council last year. In that report, among other things, it has been written that an agreement was reached with the teleoperators at the level of the European Council that the matter should be initiated this year," MP Bojan Glavasevic confirmed for N1.

"Perhaps by the end of this year, a new form of roaming will come to life in which residents of the EU and those living in the non-EEA countries of the Western Balkans would pay the same prices as they would with their own national tariffs," added Glavasevic.

This agreement would therefore cover all the countries of the Western Balkans that are currently in accession negotiations with the European Union, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia.

"This is a very good message to send out to those countries, it's an incentive for further reforms, which will be followed by further benefits", Glavasevic assessed when discussing the welcome new move.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated news section.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Despite Croatian Euro Price Hikes, Prices Actually Fell in December 2022

January the 18th, 2023 - Despite all of the panic and in many cases confusion surrounding Croatian euro introduction, ongoing inflation and price hikes, prices for an array of products actually fell back in December last year.

As Jadranka Dozan/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, quite on the contrary to public perception and the current clamor and naming and shaming of the culprits for price increases in the context of Croatian euro introduction, December 2022 ended with a monthly drop in consumer prices.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (CBS), at the end of the 2022, prices were on average 0.3% lower compared to what they were in November, which brought the annual inflation rate down from 13.5% in November to 13.1% at the end of December. Looking at the annual average, consumer prices last year were 10.8% higher than they were just one year before.

Last month's decline is, admittedly, primarily the result of lower transportation costs, i.e. the price reduction of petroleum products during December. In addition, seasonal reductions in clothing and footwear, as well as somewhat lower housing and utility costs (in the part influenced by fuel prices) also contributed to the monthly decline to a slightly lesser extent.

In short, as the transportation category accounts for about 15 percent of expenses within the consumer basket, their drop by 4% "overpowered" the price increases in the food and non-alcoholic beverages group. The share of this group in the expenses of the average household budget is significantly higher (26%), but the prices of food and beverages on a monthly level, according to the CBS, increased by a significantly smaller 1.2%. That's what the average more or less looks like, but some food products went up in terms of cost significantly more in December.

For example, when compared to November, the price of butter in Croatia rose by as much as 11% (22.8% on an annual basis), eggs by 9.2% (compared to December the year before, they were 64.5% more expensive), and more than the average monthly increase in food prices also increased the prices of bread, pork, fish, milk and dairy products, fish, olive oil, and so on.

Overall, the annual inflation rate for food and non-alcoholic beverages stood at 19% at the end of the year. If only food is considered here, then annual growth has only been slightly moderated, from 19.7 to a barelt different 19.6%.

However, in addition to the aforementioned prices of eggs and butter, a number of foodstuffs on an annual level record price increases of more than 20 percent; from bread, cheese and sugar, which at the end of 2022 compared to the end of 2021, increased in price by more than 30% (bread by almost 33%, cheeses by 34%), to, for example, frozen vegetables which carried almost 45% higher prices on average.

Although last month's prices of oil derivatives indicated that it would be a significant inflation shock absorber, some analysts will say that they still expected inflation to remain at around 13.5% at the end of December.

For the Croatian Employers' Association (HUP), the latest data from the CBS isn't remotely unexpected. They also pointed out that the annual rate could culminate in January, after which it should fall once again over the coming months. The rise in service prices basically reflects the incomplete recovery of aggregate demand after the coronavirus pandemic finally subsided, as well as the labour shortage and the delayed adjustment to last year's input price increases - these are just some of the main points of the comments of HUP and their chief economist Hrvoje Stojic.

In addition to all of the above, they are reminiscent of signals related to core inflation. If volatile food and energy prices are excluded from all of this, the basic measure of inflation simultaneously shows its annual growth at 9.7%, from 8.9% back in November.

"This indicates that inflation will remain at high single-digit levels for the foreseeable future," they stated from HUP. In terms of the twelve-month average, after last year's 10.8 percent, according to their forecasts, this would mean a drop to the still relatively high 7.5 percent inflation this year. The expectation of lower monthly inflation dynamics is explained by the expected decline in aggregate demand, i.e. the technical recession over the first half of the year, as well as the stabilisation of energy prices, the normalisation of supply chains and a certain decline in the prices of food raw materials.

Energy prices, which are currently in decline thanks to an extremely mild winter across all of Europe, are still being calculated with a relatively high uncertainty factor.

"Despite government subsidies, electricity prices are still about four times higher than pre-2021 levels, which is symptomatic of a long-term energy crisis. This summer, a new race between EU member states to fill gas storage will begin, so the European Commission (EU) needs to provide new mechanisms for stabilising those energy prices,'' they pointed out from HUP. If the proposed price limit had been in effect last summer, the EU probably wouldn't have provided sufficient quantities of gas even to those who were perfectly able pay at the prices above the typical price limit.

The simultaneous fall in inflation across the Eurozone during the first half of the year could encourage speculation about the end of the cycle of growth of the ECB's reference interest rates. However, HUP is remaining strong in its belief that core inflation across the Eurozone, as well as right here in Croatia, will remain well above the ECB's inflation target of around 2% in the foreseeable future.

"Furthermore, fiscal expansion continues and wage growth accelerates, which may also affect price expectations. For this reason, a further increase in the deposit rate to 3.25-3.50 percent by the summer of 2023 is to be expected in the ongoing and seemingly tireless fight against inflation. The rise in interest rates along with the simultaneous planned reduction of the ECB's balance sheet at a rate of 15 billion euros per month from March onwards will also contribute to the deterioration of financing conditions in a situation where financing needs are growing strongly in many Eurozone countries, including in this country, where Croatian euro banknotes and coins are now the new currency.

If we stick to the latest figures from the CBS on inflation across the country in the month preceding Croatian euro introduction and the confusion surrounding conversion and ongoing inflation, it remains to be noted that in 2022, in addition to food and non-alcoholic beverages, above-average price growth was also recorded in the categories of restaurants and hotels (17.1%), furniture and household equipment (16.1%) and housing and related utilities (16%).

Due to the market movement of oil prices, and due to the Croatian Government's various economic measures, the transportation sector ended in 2022 with an annual growth of only 8.4 percent. If only fuels are considered within that category, where annual inflation stood at a whopping 21.5 percent in January last year, 2022 ended with a price increase of only 6.7 percent.

For more on Croatian euro introduction and inflation, make sure to check out our news section.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Slavonia Full of Heartbreak: Demographic Decline of Vukovar-Srijem County

January 18, 2023 - Slavonia is trying its hardest to remain full of life, but how is everything in and around it doing in reality? Not well. Vukovar-Srijem County is indeed still full of heartbreak. As much as things are starting to look up in some ways in the county's central point with the city of Vukovar looking better and better, some of its citizens deciding to stay, fight, and drive the economy themselves, tourists visiting more and staying longer; the area is still in significant social, moral, and demographic decline. 

As SiB / Danas.hr write, after the final results of the population census were finally released last year, there was a decrease in the number of inhabitants in the Vukovar-Srijem County compared to 2011. The county lost 35,083 inhabitants (a drop of 19.54 percent), with 13.6 percent fewer residents in Vukovar.

The Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat) has published data on the places where the most significant depopulation occurred from 2015 to 2020 and the most significant increase in the number of inhabitants

The Vukovar Srijem County has had the highest rate of population emigration in the European Union, amounting to -2.5% per year. On the other hand, the Greek island of Ikaria recorded the highest increase of 2.8% per year.

Recall, after the final results of the population census were finally released last year, there was a decrease in the number of inhabitants in the Vukovar-Srijem County compared to 2011. The county lost 35,083 inhabitants (a drop of 19.54 percent), and there are 13.6 percent fewer residents of Vukovar.

Požega Slavonia County ranks second in the EU in terms of emigration rate, with it being -2. From 2015 to 2020, Osijek-Baranja County recorded an emigration rate of -1.7%. Brod-Posavina recorded -2.1%, and Virovitica-Podravina -2.1%. The Sisak-Moslavina County is also ranking quite high (or low) with -2.1%, while all other Croatian counties recorded a much lower rate of emigration, around -1% or less. The City of Zagreb, on the other hand, has seen a positive change of 0.2%.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Croatian Glovo Tipping Culture Tops List in 25 Countries

January the 18th, 2023 - Croatian Glovo tipping culture has well and truly topped the list when it comes to the 25 countries in which the wildly popular delivery service operates.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Glovo delivery service, recognisable for its bright yellow bags, is one of the world's leading applications for the delivery of several product categories. It recently presented its ordering trends for the year 2022 based on the activities of Croatian Glovo users spanning 29 cities.

When it comes to ordering food, users of the Glovo application here in Croatia prefer American, Italian and Middle Eastern food, and their favourite dishes are hamburgers, pizzas and of course - kebabs. However, Glovo data shows an encouraging and growing preference of Croatian residents for traditional food (+118% in orders when compared to 2021) and healthy food (+60%).

One of the most popular categories in the Q-commerce vertical of the Glovo application for year 2022 was the products "Flowers and gifts" with 65% more orders having been processed by the company.

That romance is still alive and kicking was shown by the data for Valentine's Day last year, when Croatian Glovo users ordered flowers most of all in 2022. Moreover, one Croatian Glovo user made as many as 65 flower orders throughout one single year!

Pet owners also made 162% more orders through this vey handy app last year. What is particularly interesting is that most orders intended for animals were made during the morning hours - between 10:00 and 11:00. When we hear Glovo delivers anything, we first think of food, but Glovo is much more than that and that will have become obvious to anyone who has ever used the service. One of the requests with the most comments registered in the "Anything" section of the app was for: moving boxes, curtains and bicycle tyres.

Croatian Glovo users utilise this application the most on Fridays, and the time of day with the highest consumption in 2022 was between 19:00 and 20:00, most likely for ordering dinner. During 2022, the day with the most orders on Glovo of all in Croatia was February the 4th.

The Croatian record holder for the number of orders in 2022 is a user with a total of 648 orders, while the highest order value in 2022 was achieved by a user from Split: 8,500 kuna for a smartphone.

How much Glovo means to those of us living in Croatia has also been showcased by the large number of tips given to Glovo delivery people, and Croatian residents have ranked first place out of the 25 markets on which Glovo operates. Last year, the cities where Croatian Glovo users tipped the most were Sibenik (with more than 23% customers tipping), Cakovec (22%) and Rijeka (21.5%). Zagreb is only 11th place in the list of tipping cities in Croatia (with 19.21% of users in Zagreb tipping Glovo delivery people).

In 2022, an increase in scheduled orders of as much as 174% was recorded by Croatian Glovo users. Although the people of Zagreb used the "Scheduled orders" option the most, Bjelovar and Cakovec are the cities where this trend recorded the highest growth of all, with it increasing +572% and +426% respectively when compared to 2021.

For more, make sure to check out our news section.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

How To Deal With Online Trolls in Croatia (and Beyond)

January 18, 2023 - A look into the realities of running a news portal in the modern era, and dealing with an unavoidable reality - online trolls.

I don't think I have ever had as much abuse in my life as running a news portal in Croatia. At first, I was a little shocked and intimidated, but after a while, I came to appreciate my online trolls, and to celebrate them. So much so that I dedicated a whole chapter of my latest book to them.

When I started Total Hvar almost 12 years ago, I was SO sensitive about comments, and I would consider changing articles on the basis of comments. I didn't want to offend people. It wasn't long before I learned that you can't please everyone in this beautiful land, and that being true to oneself was the best course. 

And, slowly, over time, I came to quite enjoy the abuse, and I decided to celebrate it. I even started to feel a little affectionate towards my online trolls. So much so in fact that I genuinely find it hard to get out of bed unless there is a ton of abuse in my inbox. 

And now, a vlog on my new YouTube channel, Paul Bradbury Croatia Expert. To the Keyboard Warriors of Croatia, I salute you.

As true patriots, may I suggest that for every negative comment you post on the trip, you pick up a piece of trash on a Croatian beach. What a clean country we would have then.

****

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.

Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2023

How to Croatia - New People, Expat Groups, Homesickness and More

January the 18th, 2023 - In this edition of How to Croatia, I'm going to take you through some of the sometimes rather surprising and unpleasant motions (and emotions) living abroad can stir up. From expat groups to dealing with homesickness and more, making it work means getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Remember when you were a kid and it was enough to tell another random kid you’d never met before that you liked his toy dinosaur and that was it, you ended up being friends with no questions asked. How simple life once was. As adults who obsess over our insecurities, what others might think of us, and worst case scenarios, we tend to overcomplicate making connections, especially genuine ones. Spoiled by being older and wiser, we add layers of complexity to things that should be simple, create barriers where there doesn’t need to be any, and sometimes even seek to protect ourselves from discomfort or embarrassment by not putting ourselves out there.

Did you know that we make our minds up about others within about ten seconds of meeting them? It’s subconscious and automatic. This is because back when we were living in caves and trying to avoid being killed by sabre toothed tigers, we didn’t have the time to spend getting to know others on a deeper level. I suppose when your life is all about churning out offspring and becoming old and decrepit at about 25, things like that aren’t quite as important. Times have changed dramatically, but we still tend to make up our minds to a certain degree about others based on the energy we feel from them when we first meet. First impressions are everything, as they say. Meeting people in Croatia might be a bit more complicated because of the language barriers, but deep down - we all speak the same language, and decency transcends everything else.

Many foreigners tend to think Croats are a bit standoffish because they tend not to walk around with beaming smiles plastered across their faces. While people in the UK have even been known to apologise to inanimate objects when bumping into them, you’ll likely not notice that here. Despite typically not being seen grinning from ear to ear, the truth of the matter is that Croatian people would usually give you the shirts off their backs if asked. 

Croats speak English to an extremely impressive standard, but even an attempt at speaking Croatian (which is notoriously difficult and most Croats are aware of that), will win you instant appreciation with most people. A friendly ‘dobar dan’ (good day), ‘dobro jutro’ (good morning) or ‘doviđenja’ (or just ‘đenja’ for short) will elicit a smile and help develop connections. I’ll jump more into language a bit later on.

Expats who like to live their lives in expat bubbles full of their own nationality or indeed different nationalities who have also come to live in Croatia do so understandably. Humans are social animals, we seek out what feels most comfortable, and the craving for something familiar can be extremely strong when spending extended periods of time abroad, and that doesn’t really fade no matter the length of time spent outside your home country. 

I still have cravings for Greggs sausage rolls and every time I go to England, which is every few months or so, I transport myself back in time with the taste of them, proper fish and chips and Irish bacon. My mum’s Sunday dinners are something irreplaceable, and even if they could somehow be made in Croatia, I honestly don’t think I’d want to eat them anywhere else but in my childhood home. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here (the thought of sausage rolls does have that effect), but my point is that feeling homesick and longing for home comforts isn’t unusual, and what might be a hard pill to swallow is the fact that while it will fade in and out, this will likely never go away. It’s human, and while frustrating, it’s completely natural.

Don’t limit yourself to other expats only

Feeling like you don’t quite belong here (being home) or there (being Croatia) often leads expats in Croatia to associate and build relationships solely with those from their country of origin. While understandable, doing so will limit your understanding of Croatia and Croats enormously. Becoming friendly with the locals will see doors open up to you in a way you might not expect, despite how obvious and logical it might seem to read it. Understanding the country you’re in on any deeper level gives you the opportunity to see the wood from the trees, broaden your horizons and grasp another way of life, even if not entirely. 

While I’m a huge proponent of immersion, I am absolutely aware that saying ‘just speak to people’ is a daunting task and much more easily said than done. Feeling comfortable in a new place is a gradual process which happens over time and isn’t straightforward, so if you’re just interested in meeting others who will more than likely share the same struggles, have the same problems, and be feeling the same feelings as you for now while you get settled and find your feet, I’d recommend introducing yourself to some expat groups. There are several large and very active and helpful ones to be found on - you guessed it - Facebook.

Expat groups

There are expat groups for various locations all over the country, from Osijek to Dubrovnik and everywhere in between, and most of them are very active. Asking questions there will help get you realistic answers from people who have experienced things themselves, introducing yourself there will quickly gain you some friends, and observing what’s posted there will keep you up to date on events and the like which you might not have known about otherwise, especially if you’re still working on learning Croatian.

Expats in Zagreb [Official], Expats meet Split, Dubrovnik Foreign Circle, Expats of Dalmatia, Expats in Dubrovnik, Expats on Brač, Korčula, Hvar Comunita Degli Italiani Spalato, Croatian Australian NZ-ers and Friends in Split, Expats in Trogir, Americans in Croatia, Chilenos en Croacia, Indians in Croatia, Latinos en Croacia, Svenskar i Kroatien, South Africans in Croatia… I could go on, but you probably get my drift. These are just some of the expat groups on Facebook, so you’ll find something that suits you without any problem at all.

There are usually local Croats who are members of these groups, too.

For more on finding your feet in Croatia, be it regarding setting up your health insurance and finding a job and somewhere to live, to driving and learning to avoid snakes and bears, make sure to keep up with our dedicated lifestyle section and our How to Croatia series, which is published every Wednesday.

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