A court in the central Croatian town of Slunj dismissed a public disturbance charge against popular singer Marko Perkovic a.k.a. Thompson on Wednesday, over the use of a nationalist salute in his concert held in Slunj in August 2017.
The singer was charged with using the “For the Homeland Ready” salute during a performance of his 1990s wartime song at the concert organised as part of the celebration of the 22nd anniversary of the 1995 Operation Storm, a Croatian military offensive which overran areas held by rebel Serb forces and ended the 1991-95 war.
The salute, originally used by World War II-era Croatian fascist Ustashe regime, was revived and used by some Croatian paramilitaries in the 1990s, and is still in use by a few modern-day right-wing and nationalist groups, and is considered controversial by the mainstream public.
In its ruling, the judge said that Perkovic’s use of the salute could not be classified as hate speech, as the slogan is an integral part of the lyrics to his 1990s hit song.
“Performing this song did not cause any public disturbance, there were no political messages there which might upset citizens, and the accusation that it was hate speech was not proved (by the prosecution),” she said.
During the trial Perkovic’s lawyer, Davorin Karacic, argued that the song in question, titled “Bojna Cavoglave” and dedicated to Thompson’s wartime paramilitary unit, has been publicly performed including the slogan since 1991. Karacic also argued that according to data collected by music copyright association HDS the song has been played 1,700 times by Croatian TV and radio stations between 1998 and 2017, and also in live concerts, without any legal ramifications.
“The song has never been performed without these lyrics, they are part of the song as published on CD by the record label Croatia Records, and are part of the music video which showed footage of Marko Perkovic and his comrades from the HOS (paramilitary) unit, which he had joined to defend the village of Cavoglave from Serbian agression in 1991,” Karacic said.
Concerts by Perkovic – nicknamed Thompson after the submachine gun brand he was issued with during the war – traditionally attract right-wing Croatian youths, and his fans sometimes sport nationalist insignia and slogans. For this reason, his concerts in Croatia and abroad have a long history of vocal opposition by various NGOs and human rights groups. Over the years, his concerts have been either banned or cancelled in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.