The high court in the North Moravian city of Olomouc will hear an appeal on Tuesday in the long-running dispute over the fictional Kingdom of Wallachia. Moravian Wallachia (as opposed to the former principality of Wallachia in what is now Romania) is a historical region, but for the last decade it’s been marketed as a “kingdom” with a king, its own currency and even passports. But the ‘king’ has been dethroned in an ugly spat with his ‘foreign minister’ over intellectual property rights.
Wallachia is a real place and Wallachians are real people. Look on the map and you’ll find the historical mountainous region of Wallachia nestling in a corner on the Slovak border. It was an area gradually settled by migrating Romanian shepherds – known as Vlachs – travelling along the Carpathian mountain range between the 14th and 17th centuries.
Over time they merged into the local Czech and Slovak population, but you can still hear the distinctive Wallachian dialect, bearing several traces of its Romanian origins. The most obvious Wallachian symbol is the large, pointed black shepherd’s hat, which appears on village crests.
One of the most famous Wallachians is Bolek Polívka, a popular comic actor, trained clown and talk show host. Back in 1993, he was ‘crowned’ Boleslav I, King of Wallachia ‘forever’ on his weekly TV show. It was a joke, obviously, but the idea of creating a ‘Wallachian Kingdom’ soon took root. A small group of dedicated Wallachians led by one Tomáš Harabiš, began developing the idea - partly as an amusing practical joke, partly as a serious tourist venture.
Harabiš – who used to describe himself as the kingdom’s ‘foreign minister’ – was soon issuing Wallachian currency and Wallachian passports; more than 80,000 people now have one. There have even been anecdotal reports of Czechs using their Wallachian passports to cross international borders; the border guards, after looking vainly on the map for Wallachia, seem to have decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and waved them through. Whether those reports are true or not, one thing’s for sure; the Wallachian Kingdom has grown from a bit of fun into one of the country’s most successful local tourism campaigns.
Despite that fact – or maybe because of it – all is not well in the Wallachian Kingdom. Initially the relationship between King Boleslav and his ministers was a harmonious one; he allowed them to use his royal seal, they promoted his kingdom to tourists, including his sprawling estate and profitable guesthouse. In 2000 Harabiš organised a lavish coronation ceremony for the monarch.
But then the relationship began to sour, and the two sides began arguing over who owned the rights to the kingdom. In 2001 King Boleslav was overthrown in a palace coup, and the dispute deteriorated into a court battle. Bolek Polívka said the idea was clearly his since it began on his TV show. Tomáš Harabiš said he and his team had done all the hard work, and thought up all the kingdom’s trimmings. In December 2007 a court in Ostrava ruled in Harabiš’s favour.
Since then the kingdom has elected a new king – Vladimír II – though King Boleslav I is still appearing at various events in the region. Tuesday’s appeal hearing may settle the matter once and for all.