Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: HTZ Director Kristjan Stanicic Talks Uhljebs

February 1, 2022 - A quite extraordinary day in court in the latest installment of Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, as Croatian National Tourist Board Director Kristjan Stanicic talks uhljebs. 

I am beginning to think that the lawyer for the prosecution is seriously cool, and when this is all over in 2063 or beyond, I am going to ask him out for a drink. If we are both still alive.  

When I first met him, I thought he was polite but perhaps a little incompetent. One of my lawsuits was delayed not once, but TWICE, for the simple reason that the prosecution lawyer had double-booked his time. And with interest of 8% per year accruing on the demand of 50,000 kuna for the case, just delaying the first hearing from May to November could potentially cost me an additional 2,000 kuna. Watching everyone checking their calendars for our next hearing - in SEPTEMBER, some 8 months away and a potential additional 3,000 kuna in interest - made me wonder if the delays were actually a deliberate tactic. 

This thought was reinforced by his appearance at two other hearings, where he presented additional motions to my lawyer, Vanja Juric, just 2 minutes before the hearing. One of these necessitated a 3-month delay (a potential additional 1,000 kuna in interest) in that hearing. 

And so we come to the hearing of January 20, 2022, which must surely rank as one of the most surreal experiences of my 18 years in Croatia. The Kingdom v The Fat Blogger, Round 6, and a hearing where both myself and the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristjan Stanicic, were called upon to give evidence on the logo, Croatia, Full of Uhljebs, which I posted on my private Facebook page with no comment for 3 days in August 2020. It attracted 316 likes, 20 comments, and 9 shares.

index-poll.png

And then it was completely forgotten until the ensuing lawsuit was made public, and suddenly the logo was on the morning and evening national news, the front page of many news portals, and even a poll on Index, with almost 17,000 people voting - 95% for me. As one journalist described it - this is the biggest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board.  

The January 20 hearing was set back in July (another potential 2,000 kuna interest to add to the bill), the same time as the FITUR Travel Expo in Madrid was announced. We all knew the date for 6 months. This was the hearing where I and Director Stanicic would be called to the witness stand to give evidence. I was quite excited by this, as I had never been on the witness stand before and had no idea what kind of 'evidence' I could give about posting a meme on my Facebook page without comment for three days. I had also never met the Croatian National Tourist Board Director, so this would be an opportunity for that. I made arrangements for a court interpreter so that my words would be properly conveyed. 

And then... 

On Friday, January 14 in the evening, as we had all packed up for the weekend, an email from their lawyer saying that Director Stanicic had to go to Madrid from Tuesday January 18 to  Friday January 21 to attend the fair in Madrid, and so would not be able to attend. As evidence, the lawyer supplied a copy of the director's plane ticket. 

Vanja advised me not to give evidence before the plaintiff, but to go to court on the 20th. So I cancelled my court interpreter with apologies.  

And so came the day of court, Thursday, January 20, with the hearing set for 12:00, with the director supposedly far away in Madrid. Just before 09:00, a phone call from Vanja saying that she had just received an email from their lawyer saying that Director Stanicic was not in Madrid and would be coming to give evidence after all. Having presumably not taken the flight two days earlier, for some reason they had waited until just before the hearing to say that he would now appear. 

My court interpreter was now busy and it seemed that it would be impossible to find another. What to do? Vanja advised that we meet at 11:15 for a couple of pints to discuss what I should say if I had to give evidence without an interpreter. Thankfully, at around 11:00, I managed to find one, and we agreed to meet Dominik in front of the court at 11:50. 

And then it began... a legal boxing match, with the heavyweight prosecution trading blows with my extremely elegant and bantamweight Vanja. She was dancing around the courtroom with such style with her statements, questions, and objections. 

One interesting revelation from her questioning of the director was that the only blogger or journalist sued by the Croatian National Tourist Board in 2020 was me. Twice. Those who shared the meme were not pursued. 

Stanicic's testimony was extraordinary (and you can see a translation of the court minutes in full below - these contain most but not all of what transpired). You have to remember that the testimony was about a meme. He talked of the extraordinary tourism numbers, how he has been in tourism all his life, of the mental anguish his staff had been subjected to be being labelled uhljebs. He just kept on talking about things that were totally irrelevant to the case, but seemed to make him feel better. 

We have a saying in Manchester - what does that have to do with the price of fish in Istanbul? 

Vanja's questions were technical, focused, and to the point. And then came my turn, and so I took to the witness stand for the first time in my life in a courtroom and was invited to give my statement. 

What to say? How to give evidence about a meme? I said I had no idea why I was here. I had posted a meme on my private Facebook page which was satire. I was not familiar with Croatian law, but I was 100% confident that if this went to the European courts, I would be vindicated based on EU precedent. Although I didn't want to drag Croatian tourism's image all the way to Strasbourg in 2063 (or whenever the case would be heard there), despite the enormous PR this case is giving TCN, I was fully prepared to do so. The meme was posted without comment, and if the plaintiff recognised himself in the meme, that was hardly my issue.

And then the cross-examination started. I remind you again that the case surrounds the posting of a meme. 

The questions were extraordinary. What jobs was I doing before I came to Croatia? How many employees did I have? What was the history of my company in Croatia? I was half-expecting to be asked my favourite sexual position, and did I like blue Smarties. Vanja objected to some of the questions, and most of those objections were sustained. 

The question of what I was doing before Croatia was particularly interesting, as director Stancic declared that he had worked in tourism all his life. According to the court records, he was born in 1983, and he would have been just 5 when I had my first job in tourism, managing the night shift when The Rolling Stones came to play in Munich, and changing Henry Kissenger's ashtray among the highlights. 

I am not sure how it related to the case itself, but it seemed that they wanted to prove that I was not a tourism expert. In answer to how many fans I had on Facebook, I answered close to the limit of 5,000. At this point, their lawyer pulled out a printout of my Facebook homepage (yes, that is how much I seem to be in their head) to show I only had about 1,500 fans. Ah, ok I replied, I thought you meant Facebook friends (currently 4,998). And I asked myself... 

If I only have 1,500 followers, and I only posted the meme on my private Facebook page for 3 days with no comment, and if nobody else was sued all year (including those who shared the meme), and if they never asked me to remove the meme (it is still on Facebook), do I really deserve to be singled out for a punitive lawsuit of 50,000 kuna for a piece of satire few people knew about before their actions turned it into a national news story?

And in order to keep more wasting of public funds, let me state for the record that I am not a tourism expert and never claimed to be. 

Director Stanicic seemed a little obsessed with the notion that I was singling out the Croatian National Tourist Board as an uhljeb organisation, which I was not. I went on record as saying that one of the best people in Croatian tourism, in my opinion, is the Head of Global PR, Lucijana Jerkovic.  You can read the rest in the minutes below. 

Things were becoming quite heated in the courtroom - the hearing went on for well over two hours (and I knew Vanja had another client and was already late) and then the most extraordinary part of the whole day.

Their lawyer said that the Croatian National Tourist Board would be open to ending the case if I was to apologise. Vanja declined. Their lawyer said that he was asking me, and even when Vanja pointed out she had Power of Attorney to speak on my behalf, he persisted. And so I opened my mouth and uttered my first sentence ever in Croatian in court.

"Ne."

And so we got our calendars out again in 8 months. At the next hearing, each side will bring in expert witnesses. For the plaintiff, the Head of Legal for the Croatian National Tourist Board. For the defence, Kresimir Macan, former Communications Director of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia. 

It really is that nuts...

And then, the boxing match over, the prosecution lawyer was all smiles and a handshake for dear Vanja, and one for me. I really do think he might be a seriously cool guy. 

I have still not met the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board. 

You can follow the latest in our Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature

The Minutes from January the 20th, 2022 from the hearing held at the Municipal Civil Court in Zagreb

Present from the court:

Judge: Davorka Ćurko Nasić
Plaintiff: Croatian National Tourist Board/CNTB
Defendant: Paul David Raymond Bradbury
Clerk: Ina Gotal
Settlement: Damages

Prosecutor/Plaintiff (the director of the aforementioned) Kristijan Staničić, father's name Petar, born on October 1, 1983, in Koper, Slovenia, mag. of Economic Sciences by profession, residential address: Vlade Grozdanića 17, Rijeka, OIB: 80726996870, declares:

The subject of the publication/post on the defendant's Facebook page/profile was noticed by the CNTB's service, which monitors posts/publications placed on Facebook, considering that the CNTB itself has its own Facebook page. The plaintiff/prosecutor is an organisation of economic entities established with the aim of promoting Croatian tourism and in accordance with Art. 4 of the Law on Tourist Boards and the Promotion of Tourism, the slogan "Croatia full of life/Hrvatska puna zivota" is used as a sign of Croatian tourism.

As such, it is protected by the Croatian Intellectual Property Office and can be used only with the consent of the prosecutor/plaintiff. The controversial [part of] the Facebook post [in question] is the use of this slogan in a distorted form, which actually alludes to the fact that the organisation of the plaintiff/prosecutor is full of greed, so such a revelation hurt the prosecutor's employees who all carry out their jobs professionally. I must also say that this publication/post followed a previous series of negative posts about the plaintiff via various media outlets and, among other things, from various authors, and I do not remember whether or not the defendant was among them. I would like him to explain what he meant by posting the distorted version the plaintiff's slogan and what he meant by that, and that we are ready for a peaceful settlement of the dispute in that case.

To that, I declare that in relation to [Croatia's] competing countries, in 2020, when the slogan was published on the defendant's Facebook profile, we had 10-15% better results than our competition in that tourist season, which speaks [highly] of the entrepreneurial work of the plaintiff's employees. I declare that all data on the work of the CNTB and the results of that work are available on our website and are updated on a monthly basis so that they would have still been available to the defendant before [that] publication.

I declare that before I started working as the director of the organisation which is prosecuting (the plaintiff), I worked in the private sector in managerial positions for 15 years, and I have been involved in tourism all my life. I declare that I perceive the term ''uhljeb'' negatively, just as everyone does. I state that the number of people employed by the prosecutor is more or less the same and has not increased since I became the head of the CNTB. I must say that there is really a professional circle of people working in the field of marketing, digital marketing, public relations, etc. I declare that the defendant did not contact us or offer us his services. When asked why we did not initiate proceedings for trademark infringement, I stated that I was not a lawyer and that I had left it to my lawyers [to deal with].

I declare that the plaintiff was established on the basis of the Law on Tourist Boards and does not represent a public authority, and its founders are economic entities that pay tourist dues/fees and based on that our work is partially financed. [Our] members are not only companies engaged in tourism but also banks and other economic entities. I declare that the plaintiff does not have any public authority. I declare that the membership fee(s) is (are) collected on the basis of the law, that is, they are not made voluntarily.

I declare that the law prescribes mandatory membership, ie the obligation to be a member of the organisation, ie the establishment of the prosecutor/plaintiff. As for the slogan Croatia full of life/Hrvatska puna zivota, I declare that it means Croatia full of life/Hrvatska puna zivota and it is a sign/logo/slogan of Croatian tourism, which was determined by the decision of the Tourist Board as such, and confirmed by the Assembly of the Croatian Tourist Board.

In practice, it means that everything Croatia can offer in the context of the Croatian tourist offer as part of the attempt to make Croatia a year-round tourist destination, ie to extend the pre- and post-season tourism season.

[When asked/Upon request] if we have protected the label "Croatia, Croatian National Tourist Board" which are on our materials attached to the list of file(s) 51 in the upper left corner, I declare that it is part of the Croatian tourism sign/logo/slogan and declare that it is registered separately in this slogan which is the subject of the dispute, and is the same visual identity of the CNTB, ie the plaintiff.

I declare that the plaintiff is not obliged to conduct a public tender when hiring employees, but only when hiring a director. When asked if we filed a lawsuit against some media because of these articles, which were negative, I declare that I do not remember whether we filed a lawsuit in 2020, but we had filed lawsuits against the media before.

I declare that I think that in 2020 we did not file any lawsuits against persons who expressed negative views about the plaintiff. I declare that we did not contact the defendant before initiating the procedure regarding the [Facebook] publication/post of the disputed slogan in the sense that it should be removed from his Facebook page/profile. I declare that I have no information as to whether the plaintiff is listed in the list of public authorities of the Republic of Croatia. Upon request, I declare that according to the Statute of the Prosecutor, I do not have to have the permission of the Tourist Council to initiate such proceedings because according to the law and the Statute, I represent the plaintiff/prosecutor and am responsible for the legality of its work.

I have nothing else to say. There are no further questions.

Defendant Paul David Raymond Bradbury, father's name Terence, born 11 March 1969, in Bury, Great Britain, a journalist and publicist by profession, declares:

I published/post the controversial slogan on my private Facebook page, which has nothing to do with the work I do, and otherwise I am a journalist and publisher by profession. It was a satirical publication, and I think that similar publications/posts created the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and that it would not be nice for this procedure to end in that instance because it would be bad for Croatia's image in Europe.

I did not specifically intend to accuse anyone [of anything] with this publication/post, it was [instead] my reference to the situation that the [coronavirus] pandemic brought to tourism and the reaction of public bodies to that situation, ie, I meant the reaction of the Croatian Tourist Board, the Ministry of Tourism and other tourist boards and ministries, which I felt was insufficient for the situation we all found ourselves in.

I must say that I founded a Viber group with my colleagues with the aim of promoting Croatian tourism and providing timely and up-to-date information regarding the situation in Croatia related to tourism and this group received 7 international awards. For example, in 2020 there was not even timely information on the possibility of tourists coming to Croatia and I personally monitored the situation and how this information was presented, for example, in the Irish Times, there was information that tourists could not enter Croatia. I reacted and sent an e-mail to the editor-in-chief and said that was not true, after which this incorrect information was corrected.

All my involvement in the promotion of Croatian tourism was voluntary and awarded several times and I communicated with the then Minister of Tourism [Gari] Capelli, although I do not believe that he did what we agreed on and over recent days I have had meetings with today's tourism minister to make available my possible assistance to tourism in Croatia. It is true that in several articles I have written I have pointed out some things which [I believe] are not good. I pointed out that we have an 18-hole golf course in Zagreb, which was not emphasised anywhere in the promotional materials, after which this information was added to promotional materials. I pointed out that we have 3 airports on Hvar, so this information was added, with some tourist boards, such as those of Dubrovnik and the City of Zagreb, I have a very good cooperation.

I believe that my task as a journalist and given my engagement in terms of a positive contribution to the promotion of Croatian tourism is to criticise everything that is not good in order to help improve things. Some see this as a positive incentive, for example, the ministries to which I pointed out that they still use fax in communication and not e-mail communication have corrected this after my remarks.

I would like to add that in 2020, I lost clients due to the [coronavirus] pandemic that affected the world, and as a volunteer I got involved in helping Croatian tourism in the way I described it, and my dissatisfaction is that as a volunteer, I noticed and reacted to situations that I thought the authorities needed to pay attention to, and it resulted in a satirical publication/post [on Facebook] aimed at pointing out that there is not enough involvement of the public bodies in Croatian tourism, and I think that this did not only apply to tourism but to the information [being given out] in general. I refer to the pandemic that I think was not so bad in Croatia compared to other countries, and owing to which other countries had a higher rate of infection than Croatia then did.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the director of the prosecutor/plaintiff on the excellent results that Croatia has had in tourism during these pandemic times, and they should acknowledge the fact that this is not only the merit of the prosecutor/plaintiff but also other individuals who appeared in a similar way as I did.

I would also add that thanks to that Viber group, ABC News sent its journalists to Dubrovnik for 6 days, which really helped in the promotion of Croatian tourism, as did the article in the Good Morning America show which is very highly watched. I would add that other people published this logo in the same way as me and as far as I know the plaintiff/prosecutor did not sue those persons, and the plaintiff/prosecutor initiated [against me] another procedure in which he seeks damages in the same amount due to an article/publication on another portal with which I have no connection, and the said portal quoted me.

As for employment, I declare that I have my own company, and I actually have two companies, one of which I am the owner of, and in the other I have three employees, unlike the first one in which I am the only employee. To the question of what my work experience is, I declare that I have owned this company for 18 years, which initially dealt with real estate and now deals with media publishing. I declare that I started a website in 2011 that dealt with the tourism of the island of Hvar, and I can say that I have written more than 9,000 articles about the island of Hvar which he thinks is more than anyone else in history.

Upon request, I declare that I know what the term uhljeb means, and it comes from the Serbian word hljeb which means bread and means people who are engaged in work or possibly got a job in public bodies through a connection and do not do work with the highest professional standards or explore their maximum potential.

Upon request, I declare that the posts on my Facebook page are mostly [written] in English, and three years ago I may have had about 3,000 followers of/on my Facebook private page/profile. That is in response to the plaintiff pointing out that I have about 1,500 Facebook followers, I declare that it is possible that I have so many, and I have 5,000 friends (the Facebook-imposed limit). I declare that I do not remember the font in which this slogan was published, and it is certainly a similar font to the original. I know that font is used by the plaintiff/prosecutor.

I believe that the slogan I published did not refer to the Government of the Republic of Croatia, and when asked if it referred to the Ministry of Tourism, I declare that it referred to a number of experiences I have had.

I declare that it was not aimed at any public body or institution specifically in response to the question of whether or not the publication/post was aimed at the entire state apparatus, when asked whether its criticism was directed at the entire state apparatus, which, due to its functioning, is not able to respond to changed market responsibilities as stated in the submission of January the 11th, 2022, so that it would certainly not cooperate now with the tourist board of the City of Zagreb and Dubrovnik, and I would show, for example, good cooperation with Minister [Davor] Božinović who gave me an application for a border pass and with whom cooperated extremely well. For example, I sat with the officials of the Ministry of the Interior in a special department that answers inquiries from foreigners regarding the possibility of entering the Republic of Croatia, who were literally drowning in e-mails that they could not answer until the prosecutor did something about it. And it didn't do much about it.

During the pandemic, so 2019, 2020 and 2021, I declare that the last meeting I had with the prosecutor/plaintiff was in March 2020, during which I presented three ideas, one of which was the idea of ​​tourism in the form of digital nomadism, and I planned that it would be in the form of some kind of contractual relationship, that is, that we would cooperate on that project together, but we did not go so far as to talk about engagement in that sense at all. But I can say that I had my first business collaboration with the prosecutor in 2016 and after a constructive article I wrote and published in the Croatian media and then I got a call from the previous director of the prosecutor/plaintiff (CNTB) because there were a lot of negative media reactions to what I wrote.

In other words, they invited me to cooperate after such negative reactions, so I would like to point out that when I had a meeting with the former director of the prosecutor/plaintiff, I agreed with him on a project within which I wrote 20 articles on tourism in Croatia for a fee of EUR 10,000 which was duly paid, and the articles in question were duly written but have never been published. When I asked one year later what was going on with the 20 articles I wrote, they told me they would get to them and publish them, however, they have not published them yet, in my opinion, like this lawsuit, this is another example of the bad use of plaintiff's funds, ie taxpayer money. Bearing in mind that the director of the prosecutor/plaintiff is sitting in this courtroom with us, while at the same time Croatia Airlines has a promotion in its magazine about Osijek - a city on the Danube, speaks enough for itself.

When asked if I think that the employees of the plaintiff/prosecutor are uhljebs/uhljebi, I state that there are extraordinary people who are employed there and I cooperate with many of them, for example, I have an exceptional opinion about the prosecutor's spokesperson, ie the head of international public relations, ie global PR. I think there are people who do their job well and those who do it much worse.

I have nothing else to say. There are no further questions.

The director of the plaintiff has a complaint about the truthfulness of the defendant's testimony because the plaintiff published information on the possibility of tourists coming to the Republic of Croatia on their website, and this information still exists today and was published on March the 8th, 2020 and further points out that the prosecutor is open to constructive cooperation with all those who can contribute to the betterment of Croatian tourism.

You can follow the latest in our Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: Substitute Lawyer Miraculously Appears!

December 5, 2021 - Round 5 of the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism v The Fat Blogger, and the most dramatic hearing so far.

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. 

To recap. 

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. 

index-poll.PNG

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. 

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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. 

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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... 

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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. 

You can follow the latest from Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit here.  

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

24Sata Reports on Lawsuit against Paul Bradbury by Croatian National Tourist Board

November 25, 2021 - I am very grateful to 24Sata for taking an interest in - and reporting on - the latest installment of my ongoing lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Board.

Monday was back in court at the third attempt. After twice double booking - leading to the case being postponed twice in May, the lawyer for the Croatian National Tourist Board did manage to show up, arriving with his suitcase halfway through the hearing. Much more on that in the latest edition of Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit shortly, as soon as I get a minute to reflect and report on what was an epic day in the twilight zone of Croatian justice. While you wait for that, here is the report from my kolegica, Laura Siprak from 24Sata. 

The Croatian Tourist Board sues Paul Bradbury for HRK 50,000 for damaging their reputation: 'They want me to apologize. What for?'

After being postponed twice, the first hearing was held in the CNTB lawsuit against an English blogger who has been living in Croatia for years. His lawyer says this is a textbook example of a SLAPP lawsuit

The Croatian National Tourist Board is suing a Briton living in Croatia, Paul Bradbury, for damaging their reputation. The first hearing was held on Monday, and they are asking a compensation of 50,000 kunas.

- One web portal asked me to compare the campaign of the Croatian Tourist Board during the pandemic with other countries, specifically Greece. I did that and explained my opinion. I pointed out a few issues around the ‘corona free’ campaign. More precisely, I wrote in my response that Greece came out with a strong message and a clear plan, and at the same time when you look at the foreign media, you see that Croatia is sending very bad messages. When it was announced that Croatia was opening their borders for 10 countries, it was an automatic message to all the other countries that they were not welcome. The Irish Times wrote that their citizens cannot come to Croatia, which was not true, but the Croatian government has created this confusion - Bradbury says.

He first came to Croatia as a tourist, bought a house in Jelsa, where he fell in love and got married. There he founded the portal Total Croatia News, through which he promotes tourism to foreign citizens, and since English is one of the most widespread languages, foreigners who come to Croatia often seek advice and recommendations there. In addition to promoting all that is good, he also warns of what he considers to be the mistakes made by the Croatian Tourist Board. He made the criticism, but he also contacted the Irish Times when they wrote the incorrect information that their citizens could not enter Croatia. The article was corrected within an hour after his intervention.

- It is insane that the article with my statement is still online, and as far as I know the CNTB did not ask for a correction from that portal, nor did they sue the journalist or that portal. Just me - Bradbury tells us and adds: - I never thought this was possible, that someone would sue me for my opinion, based on the evidence, that offended noone. It’s insane.

His lawyer, Vanja Juri

, says that this is a textbook example of a SLAAP lawsuit. The Ministry of Culture and Media defines SLAAP lawsuits as strategic lawsuits against public participation, ie proceedings initiated by powerful individuals in the society, aimed at intimidating and silencing critical voices in society, in matters of public interest that are contrary to the interests of plaintiffs.

- The lawsuit is obviously completely unfounded, and I think that much is clear to anyone who has dealt, at least minimally, with the topics of freedom of expression. It is an attempt to intimidate a man who is intensively and very successfully engaged in tourism, who has expressed his opinion on what the CNTB has been doing. That is why we are convinced that this is a textbook example of the so-called SLAPP lawsuit. Paul Bradbury has, while answering the question of the journalist of the Index.hr portal, politely and reasonably brought the marketing strategy of the Croatian Tourist Board into question, ie the actions of a governmental body. I think that there is no doubt that this is the right of every member of the public and every media - Juri

said.

Their defense is based on the fact that the CNTB cannot prove that Bradbury did something illegal, because he claims that expressing his opinion does not violate any laws.

- Paul will primarily defend himself by proving that the basic preconditions prescribed by law when suing someone for damages have not been met. The plaintiff, for example, has not and will not be able to prove that Paul did something unlawful, given that, in legal theory and case law, it is quite clear that by giving his statement, he did not violate any law, but exercised his constitutional right to freedom of expression, specifically to express an opinion on the actions and procedures of public authorities - says the lawyer.

Bradbury made the statement considered disputable by the CNTB on June 12, 2020, and the lawsuit was delivered to his home address in October of that year. However, the first hearing was held on Monday, November 22, 2021, because the law firm representing the CNTB twice postponed.

- Paul's rights were not violated in the proceedings, nor do I expect that they will be, that is what, after all, us lawyers are for. However, several hearings have so far been unjustifiably postponed, at the request of the CNTB, which can be treated as a delay in the proceedings, which, in this type of proceedings, certainly does not favor the defendants - concludes Juri

.

Bradbury also wanted to record the hearing, in order to broadcast it on his portal, but the request was denied.

- The first hearing was supposed to be on May 3rd, but they asked for an postponement with the explanation that their lawyer had accidentally arranged something else at the time. It was then postponed to May 31st. Couple of days before that, on May 26, I sent a request for media coverage of the hearing, but it was denied, explaining that their lawyer had again accidentally made an appointment at the same time, so the hearing was postponed to this Monday. The judge did not allow another postponement, so the hearing was held. They also had three months to give additional evidence that I had damaged the reputation of the CNTB, which they did not do. Their lawyer came to the hearing with three folders filled with evidence, but the judge rejected those because they broke the deadline, and all this 'evidence' has nothing to do with the statement for which they are suing me - Bradbury explains.

He is convinced that the lawsuit was filed solely because of ego. - I was told today that they would withdraw the lawsuit if I apologized. What for? I will not apologize for the stating my opinions based on facts and for preventing foreign media from disseminating information that is inaccurate and negatively affects Croatian tourism. I didn't do anything wrong, they are only doing this because of their egos, as I sometimes criticize them - he concludes.

This is not the only lawsuit CNTB brought against Bradbury. After this lawsuit, they sued him for toying around with their slogan 'Croatia full of life' and wrote 'Croatia full of uhljebs'. They are suing him for 50,000 kunas for that as well, although in that satirical creation he hasn’t even mentioned the CNTB.

We reached out to the Croatian National Tourist Board, asking them what they thought was disputable in the statements given by Bradbury.

- Since the court proceedings are ongoing, at this time we are not able to provide any details of it. However, we remind you that these are two proceedings, one for damaging the CNTB reputation by presenting incorrect and untrue allegations in the article, while the other proceedings are for damaging the reputation of the CNTB by unauthorized and illegal use of the official Croatian tourism logo, used by the CNTB and the system of tourist boards in the promotion of Croatian tourism, and which is additionally protected according to the regulations on intellectual property protection and registered as a trademark with the State Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Croatia - CNTB says, adding that they were not obligated to require permission by the Tourist Council to bring these law suits, but that it was discussed in the meetings and they cannot produce the minutes.

- Regarding the lawsuit itself, it was initiated by the Croatian National Tourist Board, in accordance with the Law on Tourist Boards and the Promotion of Croatian Tourism, represented by a director who is also the only legally authorized person to represent. Although your allegation that any lawsuits must be considered by the Tourist Council is incorrect, the Council meetings where this topic was discussed are actually part of the ongoing proceedings and for this reason we are not able to submit the requested material.

We also contacted the Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac, who is also the president of the Tourist Council. - The President of the Tourist Council has not been sent anything for approval in this matter, so we ask you to contact the Croatian Tourist Board for any information – the Ministry says.

 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: Entering the 3rd Calendar Year

July 8, 2021 - Part 2 of Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, documenting the speedy Croatian justice system with two lawsuits against the TCN CEO from the Croatian National Tourist Board. 

Athough it is not pleasant being sued, I must confess that my first experience has been fascinating. And while I don't necessarily look forward to trekking to the Zagreb Municipal Court, the blogging material and post-court coffee with the legendica that is my lawyer, Vanja Juric, more than make up for it. 

For those looking to get up to speed, here is the first part of Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, documenting the wheels of justice turning (if they are turning at all) in two lawsuits against me from the Croatian National Tourist Board. Both were issued almost a year ago, one for an article that I didn't write on a portal that I don't own that quoted me, the other for a satirical use of the national tourist board logo, which I posted on my private Facebook account, without comment, for about 3 days last summer. Total damages sought for defamation - some 100,000 kuna. 

Interestingly, the article I didn't write on the portal I do not own is still live, while the Facebook photo accumulated 316 likes and 20 comments at the time, and was totally and utterly forgotten until the ensuing lawsuit became public. It was then plastered over the television news and many portals, having far more impact than the original innocent post. Scales of defamation work in mysterious ways in Croatia. 

I wasn't really sure what to expect from the lawsuits, and I listened a little disbelievingly when friends said they would go on for years. Both cases seemed pretty simple to me, surely we could sort them out in an afternoon?

As I mentioned last time, the speed of Croatian justice seems to be somewhat linked to the ability of Croatian lawyers to get organised. 

My first hearing (for the logo) was on April 10. As I prepared for my first court case at the tender age of 52, Vanja was informed by the prosecution lawyer that he had filed a last minute motion, which she had not been a copy of. The reason for the late sumission was that the lawyer had apparently been in hosptial for the previous 7 days and could not do it any earlier. It was only later I learned that the law firm, of which he is a partner, has no less than 50 lawyers, all of them who were presumably too busy - or too ill - to submit the motion in time. 

The hearing took three minutes, and the judge declared that the new evidence should be considered, and that we should all reconvene on July 7. 

Meanwhile, the lawsuit for the article I didn't write on the portal I do not own, which was scheduled for May 3 was postponed until May 31, as the same lawyer was double booked that day.

On May 31, the rescheduled hearing was again postponed, this time until November. The reason? You guessed it - the same laywer had double booked that day. 

And so to this week's hearing. Half expecting the lawyer to be double booked again (and the other 49 lawyers in the firm unavailable), I was not even convinced that the hearing would take place. But we heard nothing to the contrary, and off I went to the court, ready for what would surely be another fascinating look into the world of Croatian justice. 

The prosecuting lawyer - who is always friendly and polite - was there before us, two minutes before the hearing began. He explained to Vanja that he had a last minute motion to submit, but that he had not been able to do so becuase he had been abroad for medical tests for the last 15 days. There is apparently nobody else of the 49 lawyers in the office who can take on such a complicated case as mine (what is so complicated, really?). Vanja refused to accept the copy of the last-minute motion, and we entered the courtroom. 

As the prosecution lawyer tried to file the last minute motion, the judge refused to accept it, stating that such motions had to be filed electronically. The lawyer then exercised his apparent right to read out the motion in court, so that the stenographer could document it.

It was pages long, but did not seem to say anything new. As the lawyer read through his mask, I marvelled at just how much money this whole procedure was costing - money which could, and should, be being used for tourism promotion. And then I caught sight of the case file with my name on. It was literally the biggest file I have ever seen - about 15-20 cm of papers. Were most of them blank and the size of the file there to intimidate? Or were all the pages relevant to the case, in which case how much money was being spent on this?

The judge listened to Vanja's reply, then decided it was time to move on to the next stage of the case - in January, 2022! 

At that hearing - if it is not postponed due to double booking or last minute motions filed almost straight from hospital -  apparently two people will be asked to present their evidence pertaining to the case. For the prosecution, Kristjan Stanicic, Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, and for the defence, little old me. It promises to be an interesting day (if it is not postponed again), and I am looking forward to it for several reasons. Among them is the chance to finally meet the Croatian National Tourist Board director. something which has not happened so far in his five years in office. 

So there we are. Timeframe of Lawsuit 1

August 2020 - post on Facebook

October 2020 - lawsuit served

April 2021 - First hearing, lasting 3 minutes and postponed until July due to last minute motion filed.

July 2021 - Another last minute motion filed. The case is postponed until the following year.

January 2022 - The next scheduled installment. Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, here is the timeline of Lawsuit 2, for the article I didn't write on the portal I do not own.

June 2020 - Article appears online (and remains online today).

August 2020 - Lawsuit is served.

May 3, 2021 - First hearing is postponed, as prosecution lawyer has double booked.

May 31, 2021 - Rearranged first hearing is postponed, as prosection lawyer has double booked again.  

November 2021 - The rearranged, rearranged first hearing for the case on the article which appeared online 17 months earlier. 

And so, there we have it. The wheels of Croatian justice in action. 

And so now I do well believe my friends when they say these cases will take years. Assuming the January hearing does take place, the judge can then call expert witnesses for both sides (CNTB have named two) at a date presumably several months after January.  Then I assume there will be a verdict at some point, then an appeal, then possibly an appeal to a higher Croatian court, followed by a trip to Strasbourg, where there is precedent for both these cases. 

Years of fun. 

To be continued in November, 2021. Unless, of course, there are double bookings, last minute motions, or other unforseen circumstances. 

Your prediction for the year that these cases will be concluded? 

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: 50 Lawyers, No Secretary, No Hearing

May 27, 2021 - Now I know why Croatian justice takes forever - there is a shortage of legal secretaries. Welcome to Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, ongoing commentary on the elusive plaintiff, the Croatian National Tourist Board against the defendent, Paul David Raymond Bradbury. 

When I decided to start a section on TCN called Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Story, I really didn't think I would be writing about lawsuits filed against me. 

Little did I know that being sued in Croatia would be as fascinating as this. And so far, I have only spent 3 minutes inside a courtroom. I knew this would take some time, but I am genuinely stunned at how the Croatian judicial system is working (I use the last term with some reservation). There is also very little information online in English about the process of being sued, so I thought it might be a useful public service to document my cases. Perhaps someone who is in a position of power can intervene. Not in my case, I am happy to defend myself on both lawsuits, especially with the legal legendica Vanja Juric at my side. By intervention, I mean that the more publicity this farcical system gets, perhaps someone will step in to stop wasting people's time and public money. 

Have you poured yourself a large glass of wine? Let's begin.  

On June 12, 2020, an article appeared online in the Croatian media. Part of the article featured me, including some quotes. The article was written by someone else on a portal I have no official connection to. In October, I received a lawsuit form the Croatian National Tourist Board, seeking 50,000 kuna in damages for alleged defamation in that article. The journalist who wrote the story was not sued. The portal which published the lawsuit was not sued. No request for unpublishing or a retraction was made. Indeed, the article is still live on the Internet and you can see it here

A couple of weeks later last October, I received another blue envelope from the Zagreb court. Another lawsuit from the Croatian National Tourist Board, also for 50,000 kuna. This time, the lawsuit was related to uploading a satirical version of the tourist board logo, without comment. 

I will confess to being a little intimidated. At least until dear Vanja assured me that all would be alright. Probably the most effective lawyer in media law, she has her hands full dealing with lawsuits with the likes of Index.hr, so this was a tiny case for her. 

My first hearing was set for April 10. This being Croatia, the second case (logo satire) was heard first. In we went, my first lawsuit in 52 years. It was really happening. 

There were five of us in total - the judge, the CNTB lawyer, Vanja, myself and the stenographer. Three minutes later, it was all over. 

Vanja started with a couple of logical arguments why the case should be thrown out, but then the judge informed us that CNTB had filed another motion the previous evening. Such a late filing, in fact, that my lawyer was not given a copy before the hearing. Apparently, the reason for the late filing was due to the fact that the CNTB lawyer had been in hospital the previous week.

It was only later that I learned that the law firm consists of 6 partners and 50 lawyers. I hope that they were not all unwell for the whole week. 

The judge ruled that this new motion had to be considered, and we rescheduled for July. 

170362886_10159698932839073_1841627427182812003_n.jpg

I actually didn't mind too much. Vanja is a very cool - but extremely busy - lady, but we agreed that we would have pints after each hearing. Thanks to these lawsuits, I will have more quality Vanja time than I could have imagined. Thanks for that, guys. 

May 3 was destined to be an historic day. At 09:40, the first hearing in the first lawsuit - defamation for the article I didn't write on the portal I don't own. Then at 10:00, the launch of our Total Croatia portal in Dubrovnik, a project directly inspired by these lawsuits.

While the Total Croatia launch went ahead as scheduled (see the press conference with Croatian and English subtitles), things did not go so smoothly with the lawsuit. Four days before the hearing, Vanja received a request form the CNTB lawyer,requesting a delay in the hearing as he was double-booked. When Vanja refused, the court ruled that the hearing would be rescheduled until May 31. 

The law firm must be incredibly busy and successful, as none of the other 49 lawyers were in a position to take the appointed lawyer's place. Given that I knew the date of the hearing three months ago, so too presumably did the CNTB lawyer. The only possible explanation for the double booking, therefore, must be that the firm has 50 lawyers and no secretary to manage the booking.

Guess what date it is on Monday?

May 31! The rescheduled court case for the defamation case for the article which is still online a year later, written by someone else on a portal I don't own (I was the only one sued). In rather exciting news, I learned that if I applied in advance, the court could give me permission to photograph and even video the proceedings. How cool would that be?

I fired off my application this very morning. The response was not long in coming: Curiously - and I am sure it was a coincidence, as I am a big believer in coincidence after many years dealing with life here - Vanja got an email at almost exactly the same moment. 

My email informed me that my application had been denied because. my case had been postponed AGAIN. I messaged Vanja to ask if she knew anything. 

Her email was to inform us that the CNTB lawyer had double-booked again, and so the hearing would have to be rescheduled. 

You see the problem with not having a secretary? These double bookings seem to be a big issue. I assume that none of the other 49 lawyers in the firm were available (or perhaps they were all in hospital), and so we get to do this again on - wait for it... 

November 22. 6 months from now, and almost 18 months since the article which is still online went online. 

Having said 6 months, I must confess that I did not check with Vanja if that was November 22, 2021, or perhaps 2026. 

And so there you are, dear readers, fully updated on the current situation. I must confess a touch of sadness at the latest postponement, as i had been looking forward to morning pints with Vanja. And we have much to discuss since these lawsuits were brought up in the Croatian Parliament by another legendica, Centar MP Marijana Puljak. You can read more in You Promised Not to Sue Me, PM: Will You Also Back Anti-SLAPP Bill?

On the other hand, I now have at least two more articles for the series, Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Affair. One in July and one in November. The publicity that this case has generated for our new Total Croatia portal in many languages, is literally priceless - have you checked out Total Croatia yet? 

Croatian justice, the blogging gift that keeps on giving. Stay tuned for more updates in our Croatian Bureaucracy, a Love Affair section

 

 

 

 

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