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09 Nov 17

Croatia’s ‘King Johnny’ Still Haunts his Subjects

Borna Sor

Croatia’s uncrowned monarch, Agrokor owner Ivica Todoric, may have fled into exile – but the system that created him lives on.

King Johnny's castle overlooking Zagreb. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/LucianoZ

What makes a king? A crown on his head? A sceptre in his hand? A palace overlooking the capital? Hundreds of servants and thousands of subjects?

That and more. His word is law, and his power absolute! Markets need his blessing, cities, his decrees. The ruling class is chosen by him, given titles, offices and a share of power, not to rule over him, however, but for him.

There are king’s forests from which serfs are forbidden. The royal summer residence on a private island is protected by the personal guard. To speak against His Majesty is punishable! To criticise him is treason! The King protects and feeds us! So many people working on his fields, so many in his stables. Without him, we are ruined!

And so the King sits in his castle atop of the mountain, safe, relaxed and certain of his own perpetuity. The system that created him now serves him. Everyone has bent the knee. Maybe some rebels in the woods still oppose him, but they are just brigands and outlaws. The King now turns to neighbouring countries. A new tax is gathered to pay for campaigns. He gloriously invades and conquers their territories. His messengers spread the joyous news. And only the joyous news. With new lands come new spoils. The castle is getting bigger, a new court is adorned with gold and marble. More room for his horses, less for his servants. More lands and titles for his barons. Nothing for his subjects, however, except new taxes.  

Every year the same. Until one year. When the drought came.

We all know what happens then. Hunger, desperation and years of oppression manifest themselves in a shape of an angry mob, burning torches and all. Villages revolt, soldiers are attacked and the castle is stormed. The king and his family are dragged in front of the crowd, where they are judged, sentenced and punished with decapitation – all in time for lunch.

The way they are decapitated varies on the technological and ethical standards of the age. As modern democracies developed, axes and swords were replaced by a guillotine, while sometime later bullets were used. Sometimes, if the King was lucky enough and informed, he would flee in time, and live out his life in exile.

Such stories should be part of the past. After all, Croatia is a republic. Yet, we too have a king – Ivica Todoric, owner and founder of the economic giant Agrokor, known also as “King Johnny the Rich”.

King Johnny lives in a castle above the city, after the descendants of its previous owners, the Kulmer family, lost the case to regain the property seized by the Communists after World War II.

He has hundreds of servants and thousands of employees. King Johnny is so powerful that he changed the laws of the land to suit his purposes. He did it by financing all the major parliamentary parties and by helping prominent politicians and government officials with their careers.

King Johnny controled city councils and their lands, the markets and prices. He is the biggest owner of fields and forests, while he did not pay a penny to the state for a 30-year concession for an island in the Adriatic. To speak against King Johnny risked getting you fired, and to criticise him was to criticise Croatia, treason, basically. King Johnny protects and feeds us! So many people working in his companies, so many in his stores! Without him, we are ruined!

And so Todoric sits in his castle atop of the mountain. Safe, relaxed and certain of his own perpetuity. The system that created him now serves him. Everyone has bent the knee, all the politicians, media and government institutions. Maybe some free press still opposes him, but they are nothing but online portals.

King Johnny now turns to neighboring markets. New credit is gathered to pay for his campaigns. He gloriously invests and conquers their companies. His media, that is, the entire mainstream media, spread the joyous news, and only the joyous news. With new companies come spoils. The castle gets bigger, his new court adorned with gold and marble. More room for his helicopters, less money for his workers. More money and titles for his political supporters – nothing for the state budget.  Every year the same, until one year, when the Great Drought of 2008 came.

We all know what happened then. Or do we? It took ten years and still nothing happened. Hunger, desperation and years of oppression were here, but no angry mob. No burning torches. The system collapsed quietly. First, the spoils ran out, and then the political protection.

One gloomy day, the police “stormed” the castle – to find no one there! King Johnny had been informed in time, and so fled into exile. “Decapitation” will be carried out in the form of ten thousand legal documents. Not a single guillotine has been commissioned. It seems we got tired of chopping off heads. Maybe we feared scaring off future kings? Who would want to rule a country that treats royalty like that? And ruled we want to be; why else give him that castle, those forests, and so much power? Plus, that castle on the top of the hill, overlooking the capital, looks so spooky when abandoned.

Talk about it!

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