Submitted by Tim Jackson:
Czech court to rule on fairy-tale kingdom
by Rob Cameron
BBC News, Czech Republic
October 6, 2008
A court in the Czech city of Olomouc is to deliver its verdict in one of the oddest legal disputes in the country’s history.
Comic actor Bolek Polivka is suing former business partner Tomas Harabis over the rights to the fictitious Wallachian Kingdom.
The court must decide whether Mr Polivka is the true “king” of the fairy-tale realm.
“Wallachia is a real place with real people and real history,” says Tomas Harabis, creator and “foreign minister” of the Wallachian Kingdom.
“But a lot of the attributes of the Wallachian Kingdom are not real,” he adds.
We are standing on the top of a mountain, watching the sun cast its long evening shadow over a forest of maple and spruce. Tomas is trying to explain to me where the real Wallachia ends and the fictitious Wallachia begins.
It is a fine distinction, one somewhat blurred by the four glasses of Slivovica – Wallachian plum brandy – we’ve just downed in a local pub.
“What about the hat?” I ask, referring to the pointy black hat that features on many Wallachian symbols.
“Oh, that’s real, that’s a traditional Wallach shepherd’s hat,” says Tomas.
“But the Wallachian passports, they’re not real passports, they’re fake, right?” I venture.
“They are fake. But I did get into Alaska with one.”
The fake Wallachian passports were Tomas’ idea. As was the make-believe Wallachian currency, the Jurovalsar. And the non-existent University of the Wallachian Kingdom, with its made-up Faculty of Distilling and Slivovica Science.
Wallachia, as Tomas says, is real.
It is a mountainous region in the south-east corner of Moravia about the size of Luxembourg. It was settled over many centuries by migrating Romanian shepherds called Vlachs, herding their sheep westwards along the mighty Carpathian mountain range.
The Wallachian Kingdom is not real. It was founded by Tomas and a couple of friends as an elaborate practical joke.
But as practical jokes go, it has become very serious.
For me the main thing is to stop Mr Harabis preventing us from having a laugh
Since its creation in 1997, the Wallachian Kingdom has grown into one of the most successful tourist ventures in the country.
Local hotels, restaurants and breweries quickly saw the potential of encouraging people to visit this little-known region. Last year, Tomas applied for, and won, EU funding.
Almost 90,000 people now own a Wallachian passport, and 10,000 or so are well on their way to becoming fully-fledged Wallachian citizens (a process that involves many, many glasses of Slivovica). The “kingdom” has “consulates” all over the world.
But all is not well in the Wallachian Kingdom. The foreign minister is being sued by the king.
In 1993, four years before the “kingdom” was created, Bolek Polivka – who is also a trained clown – had had himself crowned “Wallachian King, Boleslav I the Gracious, Forever” on his TV show.
When Tomas Harabis began casting around for a monarch to head his fictional kingdom, “King Boleslav” was the obvious choice.
It was a harmonious relationship at first. Bolek allowed his signature to appear in the passports, and presided over royal events organised by Tomas, including a lavish coronation ceremony in the town of Vsetin in 2000.
Soon afterwards, however, the relationship began to sour, and – listening to Tomas tell the story – the lines between fact and fiction once again become blurred.
“The moment when King Boleslav became king, he started confusing this fiction with a real position in the kingdom,” he explains.
“He was trying to rule the economy of the kingdom, which was very important for the stability and the idea of the whole thing.”
In other words, “King Boleslav” began acting like a real monarch.
In 2001, Tomas led a “palace coup”, announcing that “King Boleslav” had been overthrown. A “Queen Mother” was appointed to rule the troubled kingdom in his place.
‘Having a laugh’
The “king’s” lawyers were not amused. In 2002, they filed a lawsuit to stop Mr Harabis from using the Wallachian Kingdom trademark he had registered in 1998, claiming he was profiting unlawfully from Mr Polivka’s name.
A series of phone calls, emails and text messages failed to procure an audience with “King Boleslav”.
However, he had the following to say in an interview with Czech Television earlier this year: “For me the main thing is to stop Mr Harabis preventing us from having a laugh.”
“He claims that because he owns the copyright to the kingdom, I am not the King of Wallachia, and that I’m misleading the public. I don’t think he should be allowed to get away with it,” Mr Polivka said.
In December 2007, Mr Polivka lost the case, and appealed. The Olomouc court is now due to issue its final verdict on that appeal.
It must decide whether Mr Polivka is truly “Wallachian King, Boleslav I, the Gracious”, and whether he also owns the intellectual property rights to the Wallachian Kingdom as a whole.
Or whether Mr Polivka is living in the realm of fantasy, and King Boleslav exists solely as a figment of his imagination.