Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brena International

By special request of estavisti, today's Gazette has nothing at all to do with a certain general, or even the people who like to sing about them. (Denis Latin responds in Novi list to the Latinica scandal, if you'd rather have today's concession to things political.)

Instead, the Gazette looks further along the Danube to note that where Serbia has turbofolk and Bulgaria has chalga, Romania has manele, the local brand of blingy melodramatic turbokitsch: widely despised, but not so despised that people don't know exactly what it is. Some months ago, a computer virus swept Romania which deleted manele files from users' PCs.

Among the top names in manele right now are Adi de Vito, Adi de la Valcea, and (you don't have to be called Adi, but it helps) Nicolae Guta, while Carmen Serban is one of the few to oblige with an official site. The Gazette is more interested by a certain Lepa Iasna. Iasna sings in Serbian, and her easiest song to find may well be her duet with Adrian Minune, Ghici ghici: nothing to do, as one might fear, with The Cheeky Song, but in fact a cover of Lepa Brena's Čik pogodi.

Yes: over and above kickstarting chalga, Lepa Brena, the icon of 1980s Yugo-consumerism, also has her own Romanian tribute act.

Some might say that Croatia on its own has quite enough Brena tribute acts for any other country to need another, but that's enough of that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Škoro TV

HTV's controversial documentary/talkshow strand Latinica has just provoked one of its strongest polemics yet with Monday's edition marking the sixth anniversary of the death of president Franjo Tudjman. Entitled Tudjman's Legacy, the highly critical documentary has provoked the director of HRT, Mirko Galić, to accuse the show's presenter Denis Latin of 'unprofessionalness, lack of balance, and disrespect for the fundamental obligations imposed by the law on balanced arguments and balanced attitudes'.

The edition has also been debated in the Croatian Parliament, where Novi list reports the most outspoken criticism has come from Pejo Trgovčević of the far-right HSP:

'What television were we watching last night, Croatian television or something else? Quo vadis, Croatia? For the first time, the late president Franjo Tudjman has been presented as one of the greatest criminals. As the man who provoked the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, rehabilitated the Ustaša regime and wanted to mix up the bones of Ustaše, Home Guardsmen and Partisans.'

Even if Tudjman loyalists would be satisfied with Galicć's head on a plate right now, one's still somewhat astounded by the completely unattributed claim in today's Slobodna Dalmacija that lined up as his replacement is... none other than the patriotic singer Miroslav Škoro.

Škoro became Thompson's sidekick in nationalist showbusiness when they collaborated three years ago on a remember-our-fallen-brothers track Reci, brate moj (Tell me, my brother), entered for the then-prestigious Melodije Hrvatskog Jadrana festival. Thompson returned the favour by joining in at the end of Škoro's song Sude mi (They're judging me), which concerns a Croatian 'knight' betrayed by his brothers and imprisoned in a far-off city. (How much might that song have been heard in the last few days? Yes.)

In an interview with Večernji list in June, Škoro set the song inside an extensive mythic-heroic matrix:

'With today's connotations, Sude mi is immediately about Norac and Gotovina, but for me it's also a song about the crucified Homeland, about Zrinski and Frankopan going to Wiener Neustadt to have their heads cut off, about Matija Gubec...'

Striking out on his own, Škoro notched up his biggest hit to date this summer with Svetinja (Sacred thing), released his seventh and highest-profile album, and embarked on his own large-scale promo tour. Here he is on stage holding what some might consider a compromising football scarf.

The sort of moonlighting where Severina stars in Krleža plays is one thing, but with Škoro already the president of the board of Croatia Records, it's hard to know where he'd find the time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gotovina Link Of The Day

Tucked carefully away on the showbiz page of Novi list today is the news that some enterprising fans of Ante Gotovina have been busy Photoshopping classic and not so classic movie posters in his honour on to a ropey old web-server in Slovakia.

It may say something about Gotovina's online fan base that the posters involved are all predictable actioners such as The Last Samurai, Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Troy, and The Lord of the Rings, this last putting Carla del Ponte's head on top of what must have been one would think would be an Orc of some kind but actually turns out to be Aragorn (thanks Ed A!).

Oh, and ET. That's right: 'Ante, Come Home'...

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Predict A Riot 2: Cronulla

Elsewhere, up to 5,000 white Australians were involved in a riot on Sydney's Cronulla beach at the weekend to 'reclaim' the territory from Lebanese youths after two lifeguards were reportedly attacked by men of Middle Eastern origin. Retaliatory attacks have taken place since, incited by text message.

The police minister of New South Wales, Carl Scully, has blamed the violence on provocation by white supremacists who 'are best placed in Berlin 1930s, not in Cronulla 2005', and the prime minister John Howard has been quick to point out that the incident in no way showed that Australia is racist.

This might not bode too well for next year's World Cup, where Croatia has been drawn in the same group as Australia, one of the most important countries in the Croatian diaspora. Melbourne's daily The Age has been quick to run an op-ed that it couldn't happen here.

One aspect few of the reports so far have highlighed is that North Cronulla beach is also the site of a memorial to seven local women who were killed in the 2002 Bali bombing. The Age is an exception, and offers the most useful commentary so far on the community itself, which, being a semi-anthropologist, is precisely what I'm looking for to illuminate all this. Turns out the context involves a history of conflict between 'surf gangs' and immigrants, and a 'pack mentality' described by Kuranda Seyit of the Forum of Australian Islamic Federation as 'Kath and Kim territory'.

Whatever that pacifically entails.

I Predict A Riot?

Or so sang Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs, whose breakthrough songtitle is likely to be the Gazette's most overused cliché of December if things go on this way.

Yakima Gulag and Balkan Baby in particular are covering events in much more depth than the Gazette has time to right now, but the weekend's big Gotovina news is that an estimated 40,000 people took to the Riva in Split on Sunday for a pro-Gotovina rally.

That's still no match for the 100,000 who supported Mirko Norac there in 2001, and oddly enough, one personality who wasn't there this time was Marko Perković Thompson, whose songs have frequently supported Croatian war crimes indictees and who reserved two empty seats at his 2002 concerts for Gotovina and Mirko Norac. In his own words:

'Today I feel like crying, not singing. We'll sing when Gotovina comes back from The Hague. Then we'll have a big party on the Riva and in Zagreb too, we'll sing and celebrate.'

His absence will be news to Željko Strize, a local official from the disabled veterans' group Hvidra, who confidently predicted that Sunday's Split rally would feature not only Thompson but his kum Mate Bulić, Klapa Intrade from Gotovina-worshipping Zadar, and Niko 'Ante, Ante, svi smo za te' Bete. Not to worry: the musical programme suggests he was still there in spirit.

Sunday's Zagreb demo seems to have kept 'more policemen than protesters' occupied, according to Novi list. The historical-mythic placards reading 'Zrinski, Frankopan, Gotovina' and 'Rise up, Franjo [Tudjman], Croatia's calling you' are quite fascinating, though.

Meanwhile, Večernji list reports that pupils at Zagreb secondary schools, where they can play CDs over the PA system during breaks, have been narrowcasting patriotic songs by Thompson and Miroslav Škoro since Gotovina's arrest. According to one headmistress, Milica Medak:

'If playing Thompson songs is also connected with the arrest of General Gotovina, then students have the right to express their attitudes through the choice of music. To me, it's important that there were no incidents or fights..'

Which is all very well, but with the breaktime soundtrack including Thompson's rousing Homeland War hit Bojna Čavoglave, any students with the temporary misfortune to be Serb, left-wing, gay, and so on might be forgiven for keeping a low profile this week.

This is the same educational system criticised on Sunday by president Stipe Mesić after reports that pupils in Zadar schools were wearing Ustaša caps in support of Gotovina, despite the fact that their home town was better known under the Ustaša regime as Italian-occupied Zara:

'Nothing can be resolved on the street, and even less so with Ustaša insignia. Those students do not know what those symbols represent. They don't know where Zadar was during the Ustaša collaborationist regime of Ante Pavelić. Because if they knew, it would be clear to them that one can't give support to Gotovina with Ustaša caps.'

Or by putting a brick through the window of the SDP's office in Zadar and burning an EU flag, but that hasn't stopped Zadar's local chavs doing precisely that.

Miss Alpe-Adria: False Alarm

A 19-year-old economics student and professional blonde, Katarina Manová, is the new Miss Alpe Adria (theirs, not ours). This would hardly be worthy of comment were she not from Bratislava.

No, this isn't another case of Slovenakia confusion (although if the Slovaks do insist on having their own Triglav, what does one expect?). Slovakia do, indeed, participate in Miss Alpe Adria in their own right.

As do Hungary, which is fair enough. And as do Switzerland.

The Gazette has much more important things to do today than comment.

You Try Making A Pun On Csikszereda...

Following Balkan Baby, who points out that he's been going for rather longer than I said he had), two more blogroll additions for the Gazette today.

First up is Csikszereda Musings from Andy H, a British guy living in the Szekely area of Transylvania. Despite the best attempts of Romanian bureaucacy, he's just married. He also likes chaotic football matches.

Also, yet another Europop blog from yet another Edward, this time Umlauts by Edward O. This one deserves special recognition for having a post on Vesna Pisarović's new album Peti on top of the page when the Gazette dropped by to have a look around. What the Umlauts team have to say about the Ukrainian pop chart is also looking rather encouraging for lovers of turbokitsch.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Baby Shower

Ed is clearly an auspicious name for (vaguely) Balkan bloggers - Ed Ley's Hej, pane diskžokej is a good read when it gets updated, and now Balkan Baby by Ed Alexander, an English guy living in Zagreb, has come on the scene.

Balkan Baby isn't more than a week old and has already had Croatia's Davis Cup win and the arrest of Gotovina fall into its lap, so it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Gotovina Watch 2

The Times is reporting that Gotovina's fake passport had been issued in the name of 'Kristian Horvat', or 'Christian Croat'.

Index has much more coverage here, along with a rundown of Gotovina sightings, none of which, strangely enough, involve the Canary Islands.

And Goran Ivanišević may not care to be reminded of this.

In Far More Trivial Other News...

The Glory of Carniola celebrates its 500th post today with a scathing, turbofolk-related, and quite possibly unsafe for work shareholders' report.

(Seems that Ceca has recently happened to Celje, possibly in a way involving ice statues.)


Croatia's most wanted man, indicted general Ante Gotovina, was arrested last night and is on his way to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war for his actions during Operation Oluja in 1995.

Gotovina was arrested in the Canary Islands, so let the conspiracy theories begin. Time will tell whether he spent any time hiding out in a Franciscan monastery deep in Herzegovina, or (as a more imaginative version had it) that a Northern Irish terrorist nicknamed Tony Cascarino, who had fought under Gotovina's command, had smuggled him on to the emerald isle.

Index probably has more, on the offchance that you can actually get it to load. (Does it say anything about Croatia that only Gotovina and Seve can break the Internet?)

No word, as yet, from his official supporters' campaign, or from Niko Bete, performer of the general's theme song Ante, Ante, svi smo za te along with other such delights in honour of Mirko Norac, Franjo Tudjman, and the rest.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: Marko Perković Thompson

By far the most prominent figure on the Croatian far right these days is a musician, Marko Perković Thompson. This suits the scandal-loving Croatian press, but isn't so ideal if you're Anto Đapić, the leader of the Croatian Party of Right (HSP).

Đapić, these days, is set on taking the (relatively) more respectable Jorg Haider/Gianfranco Fini approach to politics, rather than his party's mid-90s strategy of wearing as much black as possible, giving Za Dom spremni salutes, and glorifying the Ustašas' Independent State of Croatia (NDH), the collaborationist last taste of Croatian 'statehood' before 1991. The voters of Osijek, at least, clearly approve, and recently elected him their mayor.

Đapić apart, the most prominent member of HSP used to be none other than Thompson, who recorded their party anthem Lijepo li je Hrvat biti (If it's beautiful to be a Croat).

Almost two years ago, Thompson was accused of having sung the Ustaša-era song Jasenovac i Gradiška Stara, which glorified the NDH concentration camps and its elite Black Legion, and of adding a new verse insulting the Croatian president and PM, both left-wing politicians. (Indeed, the showbusiness scandal of 2004 was recently revived by two male contestants in the Big Brother house.) At the time, Đapić stated on the talk show Kontraplan that, despite Thompson's popularity with the HSP membership, he would be thrown out of the party if he were proved to have sung the song.

Thompson has now confirmed he's no longer a member of the party, although spun it to Jutarnji list as omitting to renew his membership rather than the result of a showdown with Đapić. The online magazine Index was first into 'print' with this one, although has a vested interest in all things Thompson since it broke the JGS story too.

Indeed, what bothers Index most is that Thompson now says that he has never performed Jasenovac i Gradiška Stara despite admitting in 2004 that: 'I am not the author of those songs but I did sing them, as we all know, justifying his use of the songs 'together with hundreds of thousands of Croats at the time of the Homeland War' to strike fear into the opposing side, and after a left-wing government came to power in 2000 to show the 'vampired Communists' that he was not afraid of their challenge to his values. So, yeah but, no but.

Đapić, for his part, is possibly in need of some positive press after his recent visit to Israel - in his capacity of mayor of Osijek - was cancelled on account of his capacity as something else. He went on the quiet anyway, as things turned out.

Croatian showbusiness being what it is, expect several more posts with the same title as this over the coming months. There should have been some already, if the arrival of Thompson's first album form three years hadn't been delayed by the arrival of something higher-pitched but just as patriotically-named.

Thanks Eric!

Then As Beauty Pageant: Update

Possibly not all that safe for work, but it seems An American in Belgrade has also encountered the aforementioned Miss Partisan beauty pageant.

One doubts a camouflage-print thong would really be the most suitable gear for yomping po šumama i gorama, somehow.