Rocking The Boat
Monday, November 5, 2007
NEW YORK Here is what we knew about Marko Perkovic before he performed two concerts in Manhattan this weekend:
He's a popular Croatian rock star, accused for years of stoking fascist sentiments among fans in his homeland. Some of these fans show up at concerts wearing T-shirts and symbols that celebrate the Ustase regime, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and operated two concentration camps. We know, too, that the Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced Perkovic, who was slated to appear here in a hall attached to a Catholic church, leading to this memorable headline in the New York Daily News: "Jewish Groups Protest Show of Nazi Band at Church Hall."
So what do we know now that the concerts went ahead, as planned?
The man digs British heavy metal, circa 1975.
And he looks good in black.
"Nazi band"? Nuh-uh. Perkovic, 42, did not "sieg heil" nor did he rant against the Serbs, Jews or any other group, according to the many Croatians who were happy to interpret during the show. (Perkovic does not speak English.) Instead, in the community center of the Croatian Church of Sts. Cyril & Methodius in Midtown, he sang a lot of fervently nationalistic, mid-tempo rock songs, most of which sounded like Iron Maiden doing Eastern European folk. And he harped again and again on his favorite themes: love of God, family and Croatia. Especially Croatia, which in his music sounds like a place abused for centuries and still under siege.
"To battle, to battle for your people," he sang at one point -- that's a translation, of course -- and the words briefly turned into a chant for the room of 600 fans. Combat imagery is part of the brand that is Perkovic, a former soldier who fought against Serbian troops in the war that raged between 1991 and 1995 and who sings under the stage name Thompson, which he took from his submachine gun.
But somehow, the show Saturday night felt more like a family get-together than a flag-waving rally. Most of the attendees were in their 30s and 40s -- a younger crowd showed up on Friday night -- and everyone seemed to know one another.
"He's singing about how beautiful Croatia is," said Mary Ann Lakoseljac, who came with her sister and parents. Like a lot of people, she sounded a little offended by the fuss about Perkovic. "Seriously, they don't even call the Germans 'Nazis' anymore. But you hear that about Croatians all the time."
Now, it's quite possible, of course, that Perkovic delivered a bile-free act tailored for this city. You know -- ixnay on the Ascism-fay, or something like that. Certainly, he knew he was under scrutiny. In the lead up to the show, the Wiesenthal Center publicly asked Cardinal Edward Egan to block the event from happening in a church-affiliated venue. "I urge you to take the lead on this issue and to reaffirm the church's commitment against anti-Semitism, intolerance and violence," wrote Mark Weitzman of the center's Task Force Against Hate and Terrorism.
That did it. On Friday, the night of the first show, the controversy had drawn a handful of camera crews from local TV stations, as well as about 10 protesters, who were ushered by cops to the opposite side of the street, where they began chanting slogans like "Nazis out of New York, Nazis out, Nazis out!" You could sense the media and the protesters trying to turn this into a newsworthy spectacle, but it never quite jelled. There weren't quite enough protesters, for one thing, and none of them really had particularly compelling evidence that Perkovic is a Nazi.
"We actually got a call from the Village Voice about this," said Greg Pason, who helped organize the outing. "We got this white supremacist club in Bergen County shut down recently, and so the Voice called us and asked if we were doing anything about the show. We didn't know anything about it till all the papers started covering."