In our pursuit of an interesting topic for our first fact check analysis, we decided to watch the most popular weekly Croatian TV talk show Nedjeljom u 2. In one episode, the guest was Mislav Kolakušić, a prominent judge in Zagreb’s Commercial Court who has become popular for his strong views on politics and current issues in Croatia. At first, we wanted to fact check Kolakušić’s numerous claims about the popularity of politicians and their potential results at European and other elections. The judge also claimed that his “surveys” already confirm his popularity in case he stands as a candidate at the upcoming European Elections. However, the way Kolakušić talked about the surveys and the numbers was so confusing that it was difficult to distinguish separate claims that could be fact-checked. We tried to do this for some of them, but it turned out to be a dead-end.
At the moment when we almost lost hope, we realized that the biggest and the most controversial claim was right there before us: the fact that an active judge wants to become a MEP. As Kolakušić’s announcement that he will participate in the upcoming EU elections became big news across Croatian media outlets, we decided to check if something like this is even possible.
First we decided to examine what Croatian laws say about active judges and political participation. Two main laws we focused on were The Republic of Croatia European Parliamentary Elections Act and the Judiciary Act. We found them, along with other laws, on one website that includes all Croatian laws and bylaws. This saved us a lot of time. We were thrilled when we realized that the two laws have opposing regulations. Of course, we felt bad for our legal system, but we were conscious this would also be an interesting topic for analysis.
However, we are not law students or experts, and we haven’t had any experience so far with interpreting laws and potential outcomes when there are opposing regulations. As judge’s announcement he would run for the European elections was top news for days in Croatian media, news articles were also referring to this opposition. Many influential Croatian scholars were interviewed. This was also a useful resource for our analysis as they referred to different regulations and interpretations of the mentioned laws. One of the main problems is intelligibility and applicability of laws, along with potential loopholes. We also talked to some of the experts and professors at our Faculty of Political Science and at the Faculty of Law. This helped us navigate through the data with more ease.
Eventually, we were proud of our findings, because it showed that judge Kolakušić found a loophole between two regulations. We marked his claims as mostly true, but they surely do come with a twist.
The law he mentioned, The Republic of Croatia European Parliamentary Elections Act, does in fact let him stand as a candidate, so this part is true. Kolakušić clearly knows about a contradiction between this law and the Croatian Judiciary Act and has decided to use this space in his advantage. When we realized that we couldn’t figure out which law should prevail only based on the laws themselves and experts’ opinions, we decided to consult other international or European regulations. We didn’t look for long until we found the Doctrine of Supremacy of European Union that states that, in case of contradiction between national and EU laws, the EU one prevails.
The funny part is that Kolakušić, therefore, can’t participate in his own campaign, but his name will definitely be on the list for the upcoming European Elections. He is already smiling at us from billboards and he will continue to smile until the 26th of May. If he doesn’t want to violate nay laws, he won’t be able to say one word about what he plans to do if he becomes a Croatian member of the European Parliament, but he may have others to do it for him.
Ultimately, the question remains if the National Judicial Council will do anything about this issue or if they even consider this an issue. As we are Croatians, nothing can surprise us. However, as researchers and future journalists, we are happy that we have learned to apply different fact-checking tools to discover and examine stories like this. It will be exciting to analyze Kolakušić’ actions in the next two months. Now we look forward to see how both national and international institutions will react in this case where two conflicting laws became two conflicting facts.