Kingdom? Business Venture? Drunken Joke? All of the Above?

by Chris Borgen

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I’ll let the BBC tell the story:

Comic actor Bolek Polivka is suing former business partner Tomas Harabis over the rights to the fictitious Wallachian Kingdom.

The [Czech] court must decide whether Mr Polivka is the true “king” of the fairy-tale realm…

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.

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…

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…

[The Czech appellate court] 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.

One side note. The passports that this venture issues are, as a legal matter, not valid. As Tomas explained to the BBC reporter:

“They are fake. But I did get into Alaska with one.”

Hat tip: Bruce Sterling’s Beyond the Beyond blog

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/10/09/kingdom-business-venture-drunken-joke-all-of-the-above/

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