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A Croatian rock singer who critics accuse of glorifying ethnic cleansing is scheduled to perform to sold-out audiences in New York next month, despite protests.
While many of the popular singer Marco Perkovic's songs are about love of God and his country, he is also said to glorify war and Croatia's Nazi regime, the Ustasha. Critics say he greets his crowds with the famous Ustasha slogan, and that many respond with a Nazi salute.
He is known by many by his stage name "Thomson," a reference to a submachine gun he carried and given to him during the Balkan wars when he fought in the Croation.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has been monitoring the Croatian performer, is protesting his New York appearance at a Croatian Center in midtown Manhattan owned by a Catholic church. Mark Weitzman, director of the Center's Task Force Against Hate is asking the archdiocese to distance itself from the event. In a letter addressed to Cardinal Eagan, Weitzman said it would be "a tragedy for the Church to be seen as being supportive of Marko Perkovic's message in any way." The Archdiocese of New York has been pioneering in working together with the Jewish community, said Weitzman.
"Any glorification of the Ustashe regime, with its murderous record against Jews, Serbs and other Croats, especially one that uses popular culture to appeal to a new generation, must be firmly rejected," Weitzman wrote.
Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwelling said they are "looking into the matter," but haven't yet found anything that documents the accusations against the singer.
Meanwhile, organizers of a concert by the Croatian planned in Toronto next month cancelled it following pressure from local offices of the Task Force Against Hate. But one organizer of the New York appearance, George Corluka of Syndicate Productions, defended the singer.
"We challenge all his critics and accusers to listen to all of his recorded work and learn the truth for themselves," Corluka wrote in a statement. He claims Perkovic is not the author of the song "Jasenovac & Gradiska Stara," which references the concentration camp, and that it does it appear on any of his albums.
"Once again, we challenge all to obtain copies of his official albums, and kindly ask to refrain from viewing or listening to propagandistic montages constructed and posted on the Internet by anonymous Thompson-haters."
According to a New York Times article published last summer, Perkovic has been trying to distance himself from the Ustache association. In an interview with the Times, the singer said he had never raised his own arm to make a fascist salute, nor did he encourage people to wear Ustashe uniforms. He claimed the Ustashe slogan he uses is a traditional Croatian salute that predates World War II.
Croatian diplomats have nonetheless distanced themselves from the event, according to Weitzman, who said, the Croatian ambassador to the US assured him no Croatian diplomat had invited the singer to perform. The Croatian government has been working to improve its image to up its chances of joining the European Union.
Following a June concert in Croatia, with 40,000 in attendance, the government issued a statement criticizing the outward display of Ustashe slogans and memorabilia.
The controversy hasn't prevented New Yorkers from buying tickets. The 700-seat hall is already sold out for the first of Perkovic's concerts scheduled for November 2. Tickets for a second show the following night will go on sale soon.