NEW YORK – A Croatian rock star set to start a North America tour with two concerts in New York City is drawing protests from groups who say his shows glorify the puppet government in Croatia that collaborated with the Nazis.
Marko Perkovic, whose folk-inspired, heavy metal music has filled concert venues all over Europe, has been criticized for a song that incorporates a slogan used by the Ustasha regime during World War II.
Critics say some of his fans have used the Nazi salute during his concerts and worn black T-shirts and caps styled after the uniforms of the Nazi-linked government.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, is among those who have expressed concern.
Many of his songs "seem to have a positive message of patriotism and peace," spokesman Mark Weitzman said Tuesday. "But there's also an element that appears to glorify the regime that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II and that was responsible for thousands and thousands of deaths of Jews, Serbs and other Croats."
Nenad Milinkovic, a Serbian-American who's president of the board of a Serbian Orthodox church in Manhattan, also had harsh words for the singer.
"It's despicable that in this day and age, a neo-Nazi ultranationalist can glorify the actions of the Ustasha Nazi state of Croatia that murdered Serbs, Jews and Gypsies in Croatian death camps," Milinkovic said Tuesday.
Perkovic goes by the stage name Thompson — for the American submachine gun he used while fighting for Croatia during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s.
The Serbs and Croats accuse each other of massacres that resulted in the deaths of more than a million people during World War II, and hundreds of thousands after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Weitzman is urging Cardinal Edward Egan to cancel Friday's concert, which will be held at a cultural center run by a Croatian Roman Catholic church in Manhattan.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said church officials were investigating but haven't found anything to substantiate the claims.
Perkovic, 42, says his performances have been misinterpreted.
"I've had enough of the unjustified attacks!" he said after a June concert in the Croatian capital of Zagreb that drew 50,000 fans. "I'm a musician not a politician. At my concerts I sing about love, God and the homeland — only about that and nothing else."
The musician declined a request for an interview before the New York concerts, but Marija Blazanin, the Toronto-based independent organizer of the North American tour, released a statement from him saying that he has "always condemned the crimes of the Nazi regime that ruled parts of Croatia."
Thompson claims that he has never made the Ustasha salute and is just a patriotic Croatian performer.
His songs are accompanied by videos showing men dressed as soldiers and carrying weapons. One includes the patriotic slogan "Za dom — spremni!" which means "For the homeland — ready!" The phrase was used by the Ustasha, but also by patriotic Croats since at least the 1800s.
Perkovic's tour will take him to Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose, Calif.