Monday, April 30, 2007

Ivica Račan: 1944-2007

Ivica Račan, founder of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia and Croatian Prime Minister 2000-03, has died. A national day of mourning has been declared in Croatia, although the funeral will be strictly a family affair rather than a state occasion.

Obituaries from Jutarnji list, Davor Butković, Mladenka Šarić, Milan Jajčinović, and Index.

UPDATE: No national day of mourning after all.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Piramida Affair: Homeland War vs. Oprah

The resignation of Tanja Šimić as director of programming at HTV is on its way to becoming a fully-fledged scandal: while Jutarnji list implies that her 'punishment' for allowing Croatian Serb politician Rade Leskovac to appear on the Piramida talk show threatens to reintroduce the socialist-era crime of verbal delict, her opponents continue to accuse her of an inappropriate attitude to the Homeland War.

Milorad Pupovac, the parliamentary deputy from the Serb national minority, considers that the affair is 'a witch hunt, rather than looking for responsiblity for hate speech':

On HTV certain reporters and editors continually use hate speech, praise the NDH [WW2-era Independent State of Croatia], insult members of the Serb community, relativise war crimes. But to date they haven't been punished.'

HDZ deputy Andrija Hebrang, however, accuses Šimić of not treating the memory of the war with the respect it deserves:

'She apparently can't stand the truth about the Homeland War. When I complained because one programme about the war was being shown at 4pm on a Friday, she said that the Oprah show goes out at the same time as well. With that she was equating the importance of the Homeland War and the Oprah show.'

Were Leskovac's comments a justifiable expression of free speech? Not according to Hebrang, who told JL that 'it isn't an expression of free speech, but an expression of attitudes against the Croatian state'.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Showbusiness Ethnopolitics (Or Not): Eurovision 2007

From an ex-Yugoslav perspective, the Eurovision Song Contest has come around quietly this year - compared to 2006's ethnomusicological controversies in Croatia and the collapse of the last joint Serbia-Montenegro entry. For a proper Severina-style row over visions of national identity and the right image to present to Europe, one has to turn to Ukraine and drag queen Verka Serdyuchka, whose character of a kitsch village housewife resulted in protests - although further Verkanalysis is the province of the experts.

Potential scandal two involves the Israeli entry, Teapacks' Push the button (another song channelling the overworked spirit of Gogol Bordello), depending on whether it's taken as referring to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinajad or to a generic nuclear madman of one's choice (after all, there are a fair few around): however, the lyrics have been approved by the European Broadcasting Union, despite its rules against 'political propaganda' which caught out Ukraine in 2005 when they entered the anthem of the Orange Revolution.

Climate change being the nuclear disarmament of the noughties, it's no wonder the theme seems to have made its way to Eurovision. Apparently in the green corner: Andorran teen skate-pop band Anonymous (result of a school trip to An Inconvenient Truth?), and possibly Ireland's Dervish (They can't stop the spring), although the Gazette might be thinking of Rachel Carson there. Inadvertently in the other one: the Easyjet-worshipping, innuendo-loving Brits. (Britons who don't agree that Scooch are a perfect snapshot of the national character may have an alternative, for once: Wikipedia currently states that Greek representative Sarbel was brought up in London.)

While Romania has high expectations after several years of showstoppers, Croatia's low-key rock entry by Dragonfly and Dado Topić hasn't attracted the euphoria that surrounded Severina in 2006, but not very much would: indeed, the suspense this time round isn't whether Croatia might win the thing but whether the country will maintain its perfect record of qualifying for every final since its debut as an independent state in 1993. More HTV heads may roll if Vjerujem u ljubav breaks the chain, but otherwise the most newsworthy thing likely to happen in Helsinki from a Croatian point of view would be for the public televote to give maximum points to Serbia again (the Croatian dvanaestica to Željko Joksimović in 2004 made headline news).

This may be immortalising a hideously bad prediction, but the Gazette won't be surprised if the Croatian public develop a sudden affection for Montenegro instead, or rather, for Stevan Faddy's Ajde, kroči. Whatever the European public at large may think of the formula of folk-song-style lyrics plus electric guitar, it's tended to do well in Croatia: ask Siniša Vuco, or Marko Perković Thompson, or for that matter Bijelo Dugme, who started it all in the first place.

Especially after the Severina case, though, it's hard to picture Croatia selecting it for Eurovision...

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Piramida Affair: Tanja Šimić Resigns

Two significant movements in Croatian television today: comedian Zlatan Zuhrić Zuhra is leaving Nova TV despite being one of the channel's flagship stars, but, more seriously, Tanja Šimić has resigned as programming director of the state broadcaster HTV after taking responsibility for the comments of Croatian Serb politician Rade Leskovac on the Piramida talk show.

Leskovac, currently president of the Party of Podunavlje Serbs and once the leader of the Serbian Radical Party in eastern Slavonia during the Homeland War, appeared on Željka Ogresta's show on 11 April. His words verbatim aren't easily to hand, but it appears that 'among other things, he stated that Croatia is not a democratic state of law and that the Serbs in Croatia and BiH are not to blame for the recent war.'

Over 350 telephone complaints (and the usual discontent from veterans' groups) followed the broadcast, and a HRT Council meeting the next day held Šimić responsible and accused her of 'not taking into account the protection of national interests, particularly those connected with the Homeland War, and the highest professional standards and ethical principles'. The subject had apparently been tabled by councillor Jure Njavro, who had complained that Piramida had never invited a leading member of any Homeland War organisation on to the show, and that Ogresta had not warned Leskovac 'not to use hate speech'.

Šimić, often a close collaborator of the current director of HTV Marija Nemčić, has been temporarily replaced by sports editor Željko Vela. Hopefully the process to name her permanent replacement won't be as difficult as last month's selection of Mirko Galić's successor as director-general of HRT (overseeing both television and radio): after a closed council session ended in no clear victor and the deputy president of the council hitting a female councillor with a shoe, the position had to be re-advertised and an acting DG appointed (who turned out to be the pre-vote favourite Vanja Sutlić) so that Galić could take up his appointment as the new Croatian ambassador to Paris.

All bets are off on where this leaves Nemčić's standing in the race to formally take over from Galić, having surprisingly not entered the original election for DG)...

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Thompson, Insignia And The War

Coincidence being what it is, who knows whether the beginning of Thompson's tour in Vukovar on Friday or the escalating controversy over its Sarajevo leg prompted the singer to give an interview to Jutarnji list at the weekend.

Needless to say, the opening exchanges relate to the Sarajevo concert, regarding which Thompson emphasises that 'the most important reason for me going to Sarajevo is the charity concert whose profits are intended for the construction of a Croat Catholic Home, at the invitation of the Croat Catholic Society and Father Ante Jelić' - and that the rumour that 'they are even calling on Sarajevans, Bosniaks, to come to the [concert venue] Zetra and demonstrate' is an unneccessary 'invitation to conflict'.

As regards the Ustaša merchandise often seen among sections of the audience at his concerts, Thompson argues:

'As far as iconography is concerned, on stage I've often said that everyone who feels the need to wear military insignia ought to wear the insignia of the victorious Croatian army from the Homeland War. I always emphasise that, but again, I repeat, I can't dictate what people wear. Moreover, if there's anything illegal there, services exist which are responsible for dealing with that.'

There's a fair point here: why has 1990s military iconography failed to resonate with young people (or with the people who order and sell the merchandise in the first place) in the way that Ustaša imagery has done, for all the short-lived cult status which attached to various contemporary army brigades in 1991-92? Where are the T-shirts, caps and football scarves commemorating the 1st Guard Brigade (Tigers), the 4th Split Guard Brigade, the 101st Zagreb or the 204th Vukovar? Why should it be so much easier to find Jasenovac i Gradiška Stara on the internet than the briefly famous anthem of the 101st?

Talking of Jasenovac, which Thompson was infamously accused of performing in 2004, he'd be glad to clear that up as well:

'I have my own official repertoire, and that song has never been in it. Of course, I didn't even write it either, I've never recorded it nor do I stand behind those lyrics. Those aren't my principles, nor are they any sort of human principles. My songs are about love of God, the family, the homeland and man. There's no way I'll allow people to attach things to me which are nothing to do with me.

--But there were still occasions when you used to sing that song too.

--Those weren't occasions, that was a time when everyone sang all sorts of things. The Honmeland War wasn't just a physical fight with the Četniks, but also a psychological war. We know what all the Četniks sung and how people sang to them. Dragging all that out of the context of that time isn't fair. All that was a crazy time. But, I say again, I won't allow people to burden me with that. Only a sick mind could have done what Denis Latin did when he played that song on his show edited with footage of corpses floating down a river and then asked his guests "What do you think of this Thompson video?". I still have lots of problems because of that today.

That would be that for the Thompson interview, if the interviewer himself hadn't dedicated his regular column in the same newspaper today to a post-mortem of it, reflecting particularly on Thompson's defence of the 'Za dom spremni' slogan (used as the introduction of his wartime debut hit Bojna Čavoglave (Čavoglave Platoon)) and going on to lament that:

'there are few people who can and will express with equal strength both their love for their homeland and disgust at every sort of crime which has ever been committed under the mask or in the name of that love. Just as there are terribly few people who are prepared to defend the principles of antifascism and, with the same bitterness and with no excuses, reject and condemn all the hideous crimes committed under the mantle and insignia of that civilisational and human commitment.'

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Irregular Blog Round-Up

Belgrade Blog and Bosnia Vault are supporting Dejan Anastasijević, the Serbian journalist whose home was attacked a few days ago.

And Dumneazu posts on the relationship between Hutsul/Ruthenian music (the source of a certain Ruslana's folkloric identity) and Jewish Klezmer music:

'Perhaps this is why Hutsul identity is so enticing to Ukrainian pop culture - it offers Ukrainian-ness without the Petlura massacres. It juxtaposes Ruthenian partisans fighting a guerilla war into the 1950s as opposed to the Ukrainian Wermacht divisions fighting for the Nazis. Notice: there is a severe historical difference between the Western Ukraine and the Eastern Ukraine, especially as regards violence aginst Jews. Should the inhabitants of the modern Ukraine be held responsible for history? What is Ukrainian history? And what will Ukrainian history become?'

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Second Kontakt: Thompson In Sarajevo

The ongoing row over whether the Croatian patriotic singer Marko Perković Thompson should be allowed to perform in Sarajevo to mark the 10th anniversary of the papal visit to the Bosnian capital has now made its way on to Nova TV and Hloverka Novak-Srzić's Kontakt talk show. Kontakt's last musical excursion, into the question of whether the Folk revija concert ought to be allowed in Zagreb, achieved swift results, with the event being cancelled less than 24 hours later. Judging by the outcome of the Kontakt phone-in vote (viewers were asked whether they considered Thompson a 'rocker-patriot' or an 'Ustaša', 77% of them opting for the former), the majority of its audience won't be hoping for the same effect in this case.

This time out, Novak-Srzić hosted Senad Avdić (editor of the newspaper Slobodna Bosna), Boris Kožemjakin (president of the Sarajevo Jewish community, and one of the first to protest against Thompson's planned concert), and Ante Jelić, president of the Croatian charity which had invited Thompson in the first place.

However, Jelić's determination that the concert will go ahead unless actually banned by the Bosnian authorities may now be tested by the government of Sarajevo canton and its culture minister Emir Hadžihafizbegović, who considers that the case has been escalated into a political scandal and that no contract has yet been signed for the use of the advertised venue, the Zetra arena. While the local authority certainly plans to commemorate the Papal visit, Thompson's appropriateness for the anniversary is another question, the local authority's attitude being that 'xenophobic messages of the kind there are at Marko Perković's performances do not belong in this city, which has much experience of the consequences of national misanthropy.'

UPDATE:: Reuters has now picked up the Sarajevo story - and there's an extensive interview with Thompson in Jutarnji list this weekend. (Thanks Shaina and Observer!)

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

All Hail The Barracudas

If you happened to work in the cultural department of Zagreb council, Croatia's victory at the world water polo championships in the early hours of Sunday morning meant primarily: less than 48 hours to organise a two-hour concert on Zagreb's main square to celebrate the fact that - in the words of Baruni's ever-adaptable football song - 'Neka pati koga smeta, Hrvatska je prvak svijeta' ('If you don't like it it's your problem, Croatia are champions of the world').

A similar doček on Trg Bana Jelačića four years ago, honouring Croatia's world-champion handball team, ended up remembered for the wrong reasons when Marko Perković Thompson was greeted by fans near the stage with raised-fist salutes - much to the dismay of Zagreb's then mayor Vlasta Pavić, who had allegedly never wanted him there in the first place. Pavić's deputy at the time, one Milan Bandić, is now in the mayoral seat himself, but the politician who endeavours to be all things to all Zagrepčani couldn't repeat the invitation: even with a major new album to promote, the devout Thompson doesn't perform during Lent.

Indeed, as late as Tuesday morning, nobody seemed to know very clearly who was coming; Oliver Dragojević arrived as planned, but despite expectations there was no sign of Miroslav Škoro - although his place and Thompson's was ably filled by Tomislav Bralić, whose ubiquity over the last six months is owed entirely to his patriotic klapa mega-hit Croatijo, iz duše te ljubim (Croatia, I love you from the soul) - originally performed at an army song festival (Hrvatski pleter) in 1997, but revived in 2006 for a klapa spectacular in Hajduk Split's Poljud stadium. In fact, for the coastal-dominated water polo squad (who specially requested Mišo Kovač to play them out), Bralić is somehow more appropriate than his Slavonian or Zagoran models - offering patriotism and the sea in the same package.

Representing the hosts, meanwhile, was the task of veteran rock band Prljavo Kazalište (that's as in veterans of rock, not rock by veterans, although their guitarist Damir Lipovšek-Keks has been moonlighting as producer of the new Thompson album) and a surprise opening act - Žiga i Bandisti, whose album of Medjimurje folk songs arranged for a brass band turned out to be another of late 2006's sleeper hits, if not quite northern Croatia's answer to the Bralić phenomenon.

That said, Bralić and Žiga have both been responsible for some surreal musical experiences of late. If klapas aren't supposed to perform in stadiums, then Ljubav se ne trži (a Medjimurje standard) really isn't supposed to have a trumpet bridge. And teenage girls really aren't supposed to link arms when they hear that trumpet bridge at, say, a waterpolo doček in the middle of Zagreb and start dancing a kolo to it the way that can be guaranteed to happen at any house party when somebody thinks it's a good idea to put on the Goran Bregović soundtrack to Underground.

And somewhere there were water polo players, weren't there?

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Surrealist Hit Parade

A heavyweight of retromaniac ex-Yugoslav TV (re)launches tomorrow on Bosnian federal television and Croatian RTL: a revival of the 1980s Sarajevan sketch show Top lista nadrealista (Surrealist Hit Parade), renamed Nadreality show for noughties use. Most of the original nadrealists have been reunited for the thirteen-episode occasion, although the new series is without Branko Djurić (acting in Slovenia) and Nele Karaljić (who moved to Belgrade on the outbreak of war in Bosnia).

However, another Croatian-Bosnian showbusiness axis is a little strained at the moment - specifically, the one relating to Marko Perković Thompson's upcoming concert in Sarajevo, scheduled for 10 May to mark the tenth anniversary of the Papal visit to the Bosnian capital and organised by a Croatian Catholic charity organisation. The Sarajevan Jewish community has protested against the concert on the grounds that Thompson represents fascism and, in the words of Sarajevo Jewish president Boris Kožemjakin:

'Sarajevo and BiH nurture centuries-old religious tolerance, and so we're sure that neither this city nor this state needs a concert like that.'

The concert's organiser, Father Anto Jelić, has replied that he never heard Thompson sing a nationalist song, so Bosnian portal, with the assistance of YouTube, has offered him the opportunity to find out. Indeed, 24sata also reports that the Bosnian Jewish community, the Veterans' Union and the League of Anti-Fascist Combatants are promising an anti-fascist counter-concert if the Thompson event goes ahead.

(In its time Thompson's debut wartime hit, Bojna Čavoglave (Čavoglave Platoon), also acquired a Sarajevo-themed version performed by persons unknown, but that isn't quite the point.)

And lastly, to complicate the transnational web of ex-Yugoslav showbusiness even further: factoring in the Montenegrin side of the polygon is probably overdue. Leo Miler's overview of Montenegrin pop for T-Portal concludes that 'Montenegrin showbusiness is closer to Split than Belgrade', focusing on the ballad-dominated repertoires of Vlado Georgiev, Sergej Cvetković and Bojan Marović:

'Their lyrics and music, arrangements, and the choice of instruments itself, has no folk elements whatsoever. There's no sign of the (folk-style) accordion, let alone the leading instrument, various sorts of pan pipe.

Some people complain they sound too like each other, but one could say the same about, for instance, [Dalmatian singers] Giuliano or [Goran] Karan on first listening.

Seems Montenegro has coped pretty well with the absence of the doyen of Yugoslav-Mediterranean pop, Oliver Dragojević...

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