In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, according to a report from the Associated Press, an English school billboard Melania Trump threatened a lawsuit over has been pulled down. The billboard, an advertisement for an English language school, had shown a picture of the first lady of the United States delivering a speech, with accompanying text that referenced her being a non-native English speaker.
"Just imagine how far you can go with a little bit of English," the billboard said. The italicized portion was as-written on the billboard, too, making it clear that the ad is taking a jab at her English skills. A native of Slovenia, Trump ― born Melania Knauss ― first immigrated to the United States in 2001, and ultimately became a U.S. citizen in 2006.
She's a fluent English speaker, and is reportedly fluent in four other languages too ― German, Serbian, French, and her native Slovenian ― although she has a thick and noticeable accent. In short, it doesn't sound like she appreciated her image being used for this advertisement, as her lawyer reportedly threatened to sue the school responsible (known as the American Institute) if the billboard wasn't taken down. The lawyer, Natasa Pirc-Musar, told the AP she was "satisfied" with the outcome.
I'm satisfied with the fact that the school admitted that they violated the law and that they are ready to remove the billboards and (Facebook) ads. We are still analyzing possible further legal steps.
The AP also quoted a spokesperson for the school, Ivis Buric, who maintained that the ads were not intended to be offensive to the first lady. To the contrary, Buric claimed the billboard was intended to present Trump as a role model.
We are very sorry that the billboards were misunderstood as something intended to mock the U.S. first lady. It was meant to be something positive, to show her as a role model.
Last week, the same spokesperson commented on the first lady's presence in their ads to The New York Times, and for what it's worth, it doesn't read like a particularly mocking or joking observation. Specifically, Buric noted that by virtue of her hugely high-profile role, Trump often has to address large crowds in a non-native language.
There are different opinions about Melania Trump, but the fact is that she is the first lady. She had to do a lot, including delivering speeches in English and addressing huge crowds in a foreign language.
According to the Daily Mail, the school's founder, Boston native Brett Campbell, said the following about the school and the level of demand for English lessons in Croatia in a local interview.
We are witnessing the great wave of emigration of Croatians who are looking for their fortunes in Anglo-Saxon countries, such as Ireland, Canada, Australia etc. If you are well-versed in English, in these markets you can go very far. And we can help you.
Regardless, however, reports indicate that the American Institute has removed Trump's picture from its ads following her legal threat. It's not the first time that the first lady has threatened or initiated legal action since her husband entered the political fray; she sued a Maryland-based blogger for defamation in 2016, and ultimately settled the case for a "substantial sum," according to Politico.
She also threatened to sue People magazine last year for a lengthy story that accused her husband of sexual assault. The story ― which then-candidate Donald Trump strenuously denied during the campaign, calling his multiple accusers "horrible liars" and threatening to sue in his own right ― included descriptions of interactions between its author, Natasha Stoynoff, and Melania. These details were disputed and denied by Melania, and nothing ever came of the threats, as no litigation was pursued after the presidential election.