Thursday, June 28, 2007

Feral, Thompson, And Some Czechs

Feral Tribune is back on its feet after a month of uncertainty - not independently, but as a member of the EPH press group, which already owns Jutarni list, Globus and a variety of other publications including the family/showbusiness magazine Arena. Feral's managing editor Zoran Erceg has cosily told JL that the satirical weekly will continue to be editorially independent, although broader coverage and a graphic redesign are likely now that Feral is financially secure.

Meanwhile, some showbusiness ethnopolitics from further north than usual: the lustration debate in the Czech Republic is spreading into entertainment after the singer Václav Neckář, formerly a member of the late 1960s Golden Kids trio with Marta Kubišová and Helena Vondráčková was accused by Lidové noviny of reporting on his colleagues (including Kubišová, a Charter 77 signatory) to the Czechoslovakian secret police between 1978 and 1987.

Radio Prague reports that Neckář's participation at the annual Trutnov festival (the oldest and largest Czech open-air festival) is now in question unless he provides a written explanation of his conduct at the time, according to a statement by its organiser Martin Vechet:

'Trutnov festival has a very specific tradition which is unusual in western countries. The festival began on the basis of police persecution in communist Czechoslovakia, when police broke up gatherings and illegal concerts, held secretly on various farms. Young people met at such concerts and were dispersed by the police. It would be crass for anyone who even indirectly supported the regime to play at a festival like this one.'

Trutnov first took place as an underground event broken up by the secret police in 1987, and thus celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, with headliners including the Boban Marković Orchestra.

Lastly, Večernji list reports that a New York Times journalist interviewed Marko Perković Thompson after his Maksimir stadium concert. Not that it sounds as if Thompson told us anything we didn't know:

'We talked about my songs, the Maksimir concert, and he was also interested in the iconography. I said that I and my audience, who are people from 7 to 77 years old, are patriots, not fascists. I also mentioned that on several occasions before the concert I said that those who want to wear uniforms ought to wear the uniforms of the victorious Croatian army which won the Homeland War.'

Not that they ever seem to listen...

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

All Over For Feral?

Readers of Feral Tribune haven't been in a position to appreciate the weekly satirical magazine's take on Marko Perković Thompson's concert, or, for that matter, on anything else: after 15 years as an independent publication (separating from the Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija when the state took SD over in 1992) the newspaper has controversially been forced to cease publication due to an unpaid VAT bill of €68,000.

From a British perspective, it might be hard to see why the press are liable for VAT at all, but from a Croatian one, that might not be the point: a statement from the Social Democratic Party last week alleged that the government chooses not to pursue the tax debts of certain publishers 'because of the ideological character of their publications' (not to mention those owned by the state - the daily Vjesnik and the national broadcaster HRT), while sticking to the letter of the law in the cases of more oppositional media such as Feral.

Although the government announced its intention to reduce VAT on magazines to 10% from its current level of 22% when news of Feral's debt crisis broke earlier in the month, the magazine is already unable to service its existing debt - a financial situation which its editor Viktor Ivančić blames on 'a cruel corporate diktat' by which large corporations avoid advertising in media which are opposed to government politics.

However, among the widespread hand-wringing on Feral's behalf, there's one note of caution from Jurica Pavičić, a former contributor: namely, if the market is so unforgiving towards publications like Feral, why have its editors never followed the lead of Bosnia's Dani or Serbia's Vreme and elevated it from often puerile satire into a mature news magazine? A case in point is the Croatian weekly Globus - which began as a sensationalist tabloid flirting with the radical-right party HSP, but developed after a change of editor into the focus of support for Mirko Galić's Forum 21 initiative which aimed to detach HRT from direct state control.

Nonetheless, it would be a sad day for Croatian civil society if Feral finally petered out, seven years after losing its 'natural enemy' with the death of the nationalist president Franjo Tudjman. The Galić era, meanwhile, did its petering out some months ago when he took up an ambassadorial post in Paris and was replaced - eventually - by Vanja Sutlić. It's taken some time for HRT to assume its post-Galić shape, but the decisive stroke may have come today when the director of HTV Marija Nemčić resigned - along with her radio counterpart Ivanka Lučev - leaving both no 2 positions free for Sutlić appointees.

Nemčić's resignation is likely to have repercussions in the news department (don't forget 2007 is an election year) - and also at entertainment, long thought of as a Nemčić stronghold under its current editor Aleksandar Kostadinov. The Gazette won't be surprised if the new Mr Music Man turns out to be Mario Sedmak, who'd look like a safe pair of hands after the success of the Strictly Come Dancing and Just The Two Of Us formats.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Once Upon A Time In Maksimir

The first leg of Marko Perković Thompson's concert tour to promote his Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj (Once upon a time in Croatia) concluded at the weekend, in front of anything between 35,000 and 50,000 people at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb. Not that one can be sure of the exact attendance: with the concert delayed for 24 hours after a thunderstorm, many attendees from outside Zagreb or Croatia were thought to have gone home, so the gates were thrown open to ensure a full house for the event extensively billed as 'the concert of Thompson's career'.

Thompson's most famous concert to date, at Split's Poljud stadium in 2002, was always going to be a tough act to follow. Poljud came at the height of protests against the indictments of Generals Ante Gotovina and Mirko Norac for war crimes (not to mention the Hague Tribunal's demand that Croatia extradite its former chief of staff Janko Bobetko, made only a few weeks before the concert), and during a thriving movement of Homeland War veterans opposed to the centre-left government of the late Ivica Račan's SDP - a situation which may or may not have been ripe for political manipulation, depending on which magazines you read.

What really elevated Thompson to the status of a social problem was the behaviour of young audiences at Poljud and elsewhere on the 2002 tour, wearing clothing with the Ustaša logo or pictures of Ante Pavelić (the leader of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during the Second World War) and performing raised-fist salutes. A scandal in 2004 when Thompson himself was accused of performing a Pavelić-era song in the diaspora didn't help matters, so over and above presenting a new album, the Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj project has an ulterior motive: to show that Thompson represents all patriotic Croats, rather than a political faction.

To this end, concert organiser Miljenko Ćurić announced before Maksimir that Ustaša insignia were banned by law, although enough U-logo caps slipped through for press photographers to come back with the expected pictures - and in a crowd of howevermanythousand people there's not much one can do about spontaneous chants of the best-known Ustaša song Evo zore, evo dana, evo Jure i Bobana ('Here comes the dawn, here comes day, here come [Crna Legija commanders] Jure and Boban') without causing a more serious incident. (How honoured the said Jure and Boban would actually have been is another question. The average Evo zore-quoting teenager seems to know enough about it to understand that it seriously winds up adults, but struggles with the lyrics as soon as s/he gets into the second couplet.)

Part of the problem is defining what should and shouldn't be thought of as 'an Ustaša symbol'. Evo zore, evo dana, referring to the NDH's elite Black Legion, is pretty unambiguous, but Pavelić's recourse to Croatian history in developing the iconography of his state makes some of the classifications problematic. For the Jewish community in Zagreb, which put up the most resistance to the Maksimir concert, the slogan 'Za Dom spremni' ('Ready for the Home') is unequivocally Ustaša thanks to its adoption by the leader of the Independent State of Croatia, Ante Pavelić. For Thompson, the slogan has legitimate historical precedents in the battle cries of earlier leaders, and it opens his breakthrough hit from 1992: Bojna Čavoglave (The Čavoglave platoon), with which he described his front-line experience with his fellow villagers at the start of the Homeland War.

Thompson's stardom since has been inseparable from his persona as a veteran (an authenticity which surely helped him capture the moment during 2002), and his appeals to respect the memory of fallen soldiers are still prominent throughout Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj.

Nonetheless, between Poljud and Maksimir the singer has experienced another masculine archetype, fatherhood, and family relationships are a stronger theme on the current album than on any of his previous ones, which were more concerned with relations between grown men (not least comrades in arms). This time around, commemorations of the dead are balanced with songs in honour of Thompson's grandfather, his sons, and his daughter (this last a song in praise of 'Diva Grabovčeva', a Herzegovinan princess remembered for dying in a state of grace when murdered by the Turks) - completing Thompson's triad of values, 'God, the family and the Homeland'.

For the first time in Thompson's career since his 1998 comeback with Prijatelji (one of the first Croatian songs to articulate veterans' resentment), the memory of the war isn't the only aspect of his image, although it remains essential. The concert's organisation itself seemed to point to a subtle reorientation, breaking the tradition of opening the set with Bojna Čavoglave (which was still the plan as late as Thompson's cancelled Sarajevo concert in May) and replacing it with the first track from the new album, the appropriately-titled Početak (Beginning), a song which deals with peace and God's love. Meanwhile, official concert T-shirts have been produced for the first time in green (matching the new album's cover) as well as the traditional black, although unofficial vendors have stayed faithful to the old colour scheme.

(Of course, the most emphatic thing to do would be to drop Čavoglave and the black outfits entirely, but for the sake of consistency it might be a step too far.)

Whether Maksimir reflected Thompson the mature father or Thompson the corporate edition, Sunday's concert seems to have lived up to its billing as a landmark in his career. The evening was just as significant for Tomislav Bralić and Klapa Intrade, who confirmed their place on Croatia's patriotic showbusiness A-list by appearing in the only guest spot to perform their unavoidable hit Croatijo, iz duše te ljubim (Croatia, I love you from the soul) - the cornerstone of the current klapa revival.

No report of the concert was complete without at least one picture of audience members (usually teenage boys) playing up to the camera with Ustaša salutes, although Jutarnji list at first took the trouble to take a wider-ranging look at the crowd - such as a 67-year-old woman who enjoys Thompson's 'national folklore', or a younger woman who has no problems reconciling her Croatian patriotism with her intention to vote for SDP. The most emphatic thing to do might be to deny the Ustaša-cap-wearing types the satisfaction of a photograph rather than framing them with sanctimonious captions about 'the unwanted images' and the like.

Except that then there'd be no scandal to be made, which for the Croatian media (or anybody else's) would probably be a step too far.

UPDATE>: Lupiga and Balkan Baby have been to the concert too.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

In Lieu Of A Proper Post

Croatia's Social Democrats have a new leader: Ivica Račan's foreign policy expert Zoran Milanović, who impressed on his talk-show debut with Aleksandar Stanković, put the wind up PM Ivo Sanader, shows every chance of bringing some West Wing-style gravitas to the Croatian left - and, perhaps most importantly for many SDPites, isn't the populist mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić.

Marko Perković Thompson's concert in Zagreb's Maksimir stadium in two weeks' time, ending the first leg of the promotional tour for his 2006 album, is being positioned as the domestic concert spectacular of the year (hence the 30-metre swords transferred from his album artwork to the set design). A future leg may well culminate in a similar extravaganza at the Poljud stadium in Split, the site of Thompson's most famous concert in 2002.

Anthropology blog Savage Minds has been watching Eurovision from Finland, in what's presumably the last word on that show this season. Not that one should ever speak too soon.

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