News 08 Jun 17

Bosnia’s Mostar Braces for Croat Nationalist Concert

Singer Marko Perkovic ‘Thompson’, whose concerts have been banned across Europe, is to play in the ethically-divided town of Mostar in support of Bosnian Croat ex-officials on trial for war crimes.

Sven Milekic
A poster for the Thompson concert. Photo: BIRN/Sven Milekic.

Despite concerns that Thursday evening’s concert by the Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perkovic could raise ethnic tensions in Mostar, which is largely divided between Croats and Bosniaks, there were no immediate reports of any incidents in the town.

Thompson’s appearance is a part of a concert in support of six former Bosnian Croat generals and politicians – leaders of the non-recognised Croat-led 1990s Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna – who are awaiting their final verdict before the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for war crimes against Bosniaks between 1992 and 1994.

In 2013, the ICTY’s trial chamber sentenced them to a total of 111 years in prison but an appeal against their convictions is now being considered by the judges at the UN court.

Thursday’s concert will take place at Mostar’s main football stadium, where Zrinjski FC usually plays, and is organised by the Croat National Assembly, which includes Bosnian Croat parties and the Association of the Croatian Heart of Hope, an NGO promoting Croats in Bosnia.

Apart from sporadic posters and a van promoting the concert over a sound system, there were no major advertisements for the concert in the town; the event is mostly being advertised through media and social networks.

A number of NGOs, mostly representing former Bosnian war prisoners, and some political parties, such as the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, have demanded that the concert be banned.

Some referred to the fact that Thompson’s concerts have been banned throughout Europe – most recently in the Slovenian city of Maribor – due to his associations with the Croatian World War II fascist Ustasa movement.

Thompson uses the Ustasa chant “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the Home(land)”) in his 1991 wartime song ‘Cavoglave’, while in 2009, his performance of the Ustasa-praising song ‘Jasenovac and Gradiska Stara’ – the names of Ustasa-run concentration camps – caused outrage in Croatia and across the region.

NGOs and parties also emphasised Thompson’s praises for the wartime Croat-led statelet of Herzeg-Bosna, in his popular patriotic song ‘Lijepa li si’ (‘You are Beautiful’), which was recently sung by the entire Croatian political leadership at an official event in Zagreb.

A cafe-bar in central Mostar on Thursday morning. Photo: BIRN/Sven Milekic.

In November 1991, when the war was starting in Croatia, and before it started in Bosnia, Bosnian Croats founded the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosna, as a territory controlled by Croatia, under the auspices of Zagreb. In August 1993 it was declared a republic – although it was never internationally or internally recognised.

With its armed forces, the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, it first fought alongside Bosniaks against the Bosnian Serbs and the Yugoslav People’s Army.

However, in late 1992, a conflict started between Croats and Bosniaks, with massive war crimes committed on both sides, ending with a US-brokered ceasefire, the Washington Agreement, in March 1994.

This is why Mostar NGO Children of War wanted to organise a protest on Thursday evening on the Spanish Square in the town centre, near the mayor’s office. However, the police banned the protest at this location – claiming it may cause violence – and therefore the NGO decided not to go ahead with it.

Many Mostar locals told BIRN that did not wish to state their opinion about the Thompson concert, claiming not to be interested or saying that they knew nothing about it.

“I don’t care about the whole issue,” one middle-aged man who did not wish to state his name told BIRN, adding that he wants “to stay away from all politics”.

“It’s all nonsense, who needs it? I know that at Thompson’s concerts there are Ustasa and NDH [Croatia’s WWII Nazi-allied government] insignias present. I ask myself, who needs to open up these issues again?” he added.

A 22-year-old student called Mehmed told BIRN that he didn’t think the concert should take place in Mostar, adding that he was against the ban on the counter-protest “because the right to protest is one of the basic democratic rights”.

Pensioner Antonija, 69, told BIRN that she was “neither for nor against the concert”.

“Whoever wishes to go should go,” she said, adding that she did not approve of bans because they “only cause more problems”.

She also said she did not agree with the town’s decision to ban the counter-protest.

Central Mostar was calm on Thursday morning. Photo: BIRN/Sven Milekic.

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