Wag The Thompson

This sorry little excuse for a country spent much of the past week (and then some) fretting over a seemingly minor issue which – as per usual in this part of the world – was blown way out of proportion. We are, of course, referring to one Marko Perković – Thompson who was scheduled to give a concert in Maribor today but was banned only days ago over security concerns.

Marko Perković – Thompson being all patriotic and shit. (source)

When the concert was announced, everybody freaked out. The charge was led by local press, most notably Maribor-based Večer daily which has national coverage and soon half of the country was in overdrive.

There were just. So. Many. Questions. How can a musician who openly flirts with fascism and the Ustasha movement even think of appearing in a city with a proud anti-fascist history? How can an artist who subscribes to values of Croatian nationalism appear in a city which played a key role in defining the northern Slovenian border after World War I and was a site of an early conflict between Slovenian and Yugoslav federal army even before Slovenia declared independence? Who has the audacity to book a performer who actively uses hate-speech? Who killed JFK?

Calls were made early on to ban the event on the grounds of hate-speech and fostering intolerance. After all, the man’s gigs were already protested in the USA, banned in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and even Croatia itself, while Australian authorities only allowed the concert under the provisio Thompson undergoes tolerance counselling. (shoutout to @simon_w_helper for most of the links)

Andrej Fištravec, the embattled mayor of Maribor went ballistic and said  Thompson is not welcome in Maribor. Mayors of municipalities in the wider Štajerska region soon followed suit (link in Slovenian) and pretty soon the Croatian PTSD poet was the latest of divides that so often consume Slovenian society.

Because it took about point-zero-seven seconds for a vocal “opposition to the opposition” to emerge.  As is often the case in these matters the divisions roughly (but not completely) corresponded to political fault lines. Most of the left-wing was rabidly against the concert, most of the right-wing was rabidly in favour, the liberals were mostly concerned with whether banning the concert constitutes a violation of free speech and lo-behold! Soon enough the country was yet again debating World War Two, who won and who lost (but for real, not like they write in the history books, you know) and whether gigs by Serbia’s Bora Đorđević and Ceca Ražnatović (widow of the late Serbian warlord Željko Ražnjatović – Arkan) or even concerts by the Slovenian Partisan Choir or Kombinatke merit similar charges of hate-speech and subscribing to hateful ideology.

It is as if everyone lost their sense of proportion. Again.

The national press followed suit. Especially those outlets which are closer to the political right-wing were looking to make hay while the sun shone and plastered big fat headlines all over their pages and websites on how the last ounces of freedom are being taken away from us, all the while publishing extensive interviews with Thompson and running ads saying “read it before it get confiscated”.

The political right-wing obviously wasted no time in latching itself onto that particular train and soon enough the country which still keeps an unnecessarily hard-line approach to refugees, where much-awaited health reform is being watered down into oblivion, a country which is still reeling from the 2008 financial meltdown (to name but a few pressing issues) was engulfed in what seemed the single most important existential issue.

Of course, it was anything but.

The main political and subsequent legal charge in support of the concert was and still is held by Maribor city councilman and a former game-show host Stojan Auer who just happens to run the venue where the concert was to be held. He, of course, does not advertise that fact (although it is no secret) and rather signs letters denouncing the ban on concert as “a double masters’ candidate”. Whatever the fuck that means.

And  although the municipal political leadership was keen on the concert not taking place (national leadership for the most part shared the sentiment but tried – unsuccessfully – to stay above the fray) there was much hand-wringing over the possible infringement of freedom of speech. Many people were quite shocked to find out there are no direct legal means to ban an event where hate-speech was expected. And in the end most politicos knew that if they went the whole nine yards on banning the gig, it would come back to bite them in the ass sooner rather than later.

Thus it seemed until a couple of days ago that the event will go forward as planned. In the end it came down to Maribor police providing the cover for pulling the plug on the whole thing with a negative security assessment saying that right-wing extremists from outside the country (mostly Austria and Croatia) were planning on attending and that combined with a counter-rally in front of the venue it was safer to shut the whole thing down.

All in all, the ludicrous amounts of publicity and airtime (including a shamefully softball interview with Thompson on national television) were a major coup for the organiser, one conveniently named Milan Trol.

You can’t make this shit up.

Anyhow, the venue itself is miniscule. It has a capacity of 1500 persons and according to various reports the organiser sold around a thousand tickets. This is quite a climbdown for a self-described shepherd-rocker who once filled stadiums with tens of thousands of fans (his record-setting event was ten years ago almost to the date when he gave a concert in Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium in front of 70,000 people).

Curiously enough, the number of tickets sold for the Maribor gig roughly corresponds to the number of people attending the congress of Janez Janša’s right-wing SDS party which is convening for its annual party congress in Maribor today.

While the time, place and number of people attending are most likely coincidences, Thompson would have provided the perfect soundtrack to SDS’ anti-communist and increasingly rabid conservative agenda. It was even reported Janša was planning to attend the concert with his family in tow and he was pretty incensed by the ban, judging by his never-ending Twitter rants and re-tweets.

But Janša will probably not lose much sleep over it. After all, no Thompson gig means more time for the Glorious Leader of the Party to spend with Viktor Orban, who is visiting the SDS pow-wow in Maribor.

No doubt Janša will have ample opportunity to report on how the state of the mysterious Hungarian investment into Nova 24 TV, a Fox-News-wannabe cable TV mouthpiece for the Party or explain to his Hungarian fellow traveller just why exactly the SDS is opposing the construction of the second railroad track between Divača and Port of Koper which Hungary is apparently co-financing (more on this particular can of worms some time soon).

And in the end, the whole thing boiled over into a yet another diplomatic incident between the two countries with both Croatian president and prime minister demanding explanations (link in Croatian) and with Slovenian government telling Zagreb to take a chill pill.

So we are once again presented with a convoluted scenario, possible only in the Balkans: Slovenian nativists, revisionists, anti-communists and make-anything-great-again-ists who generally despise everything that originates south of the border and once applauded Janez Janša for sending heavily armed police to handle a border dispute with Croatia, are rabidly arguing in favour of a Croatian nationalist musician whose world outlook (at least by association if not directly) includes the belief that Croatia has a right to all the disputed border areas with Slovenia. And Bosnia. And Montenegro. And that they’ve been here forever. And that God chose them.

If you ever wondered, how collaboration with the enemy comes about in this part of the world, there’s your answer.

Be that as it may, the overall omnishambles are not without their uses. This, incidentally, goes a long way in explaining why everyone involved allowed the proverbial faeces to hit the air-cooling apparatus in the first place.

Marko Perković – Thompson is definitely not as hot a commodity as he once was. Going from gigs in front of 70k people to a mere thousand is a bit humiliating. But with his gig getting cancelled in (gasp!) Slovenia, his notoriety skyrockets once again and the amount of free publicity is once more at enviable levels. And to top it all off, he doesn’t even need to demean himself by performing in a shack where most people saw an Ustasha only in a old Yugoslav war film.

Slovenia for that matter is gearing up for election season and with political parties being bereft of both ideas and money most of them are falling back on default positions of WWII as the main fault-line in the political landscape. What better way to practice the moves than on a fringe musician from a neighbouring country which everyone looks down upon a bit.

And if Slovenia is a case of wagging the dog (or wagging the Thompson, as it is) this goes doubly so for Croatia where shit is hitting the fan almost on a daily basis and yet another flare-up between Slovenia and Croatia provides a more-than-welcome diversion. Or, as @nikpavesic put it so succinctly yesterday,

Just imagine what will happen when the Arbitration Court hands down its verdict on the border between the two countries.


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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.