Protests are mounting against plans for a Croatian rock star, Marko Perkovic, who critics say glorifies the Nazis, to perform in New York.
The performer, known as Thompson, combines folk-inspired melodies with the electric thrill of heavy metal and nationalistic lyrics.
While Thompson's songs promote love of God, family, and his nation, the singer and songwriter is also said to glorify war and Croatia's Nazi past, and that has groups lining up in protest of his two New York shows at the Croatian Center in Midtown next month.
In past concerts, he has performed an anthem of the country's Nazi-backed military regime — the Ustasha — that references extermination camps where tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, and Gypsies were killed during World War II. He greets adoring crowds with a famous Ustasha slogan — and many respond with the Nazi salute.
"To glorify what happened during the Holocaust is not what we need in the world today, nor do we need it in this city — after the events we have recently been through. To play with that for the sake of music, or even conviction, I find it totally repugnant," the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Task Force Against Hate, Mark Weitzman, said.
Mr. Weitzman said his group is in conversations with the Croatian Embassy, whose government has been trying to distance the country from the strong nationalism of the 1990s as part of a serious bid to join the European Union in 2010.
"I get the sense that they are not very happy about the concert, but I'm not sure how they are going to respond. Hopefully there will be the right response," Mr. Weitzman said.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights nonprofit that has been monitoring Mr. Perkovic's performances for several years, has also asked the Croatian Embassy in Washington to publicly repudiate the band as part of the country's commitment to international treaties denouncing the Holocaust, and to forgo working with any institution that supports the tour.
Last week, organizers of a Thompson concert planned in Toronto next month cancelled after pressure from the Canadian offices of the Task Force Against Hate. The group is now in conversations with the venue that is to host their Vancouver appearance, as well as to police there, said Leo Adler, director of national affairs.
Mr. Adler said in Canada, where there is a lower threshold for what constitutes hate speech, there is a chance that Thompson's lyrics could violate the law. In America, freedom of speech is more protected, he noted.
The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said he hoped education and exposure of the band's background would convince people to not attend their concerts. "The sad part is how popular they are in Croatia and that they are now coming here to appeal to U.S. Croats to almost justify the Holocaust," Mr. Foxman said.
"It's a free country, and people can choose to be offensive. We are not in the business of censorship or shutting people down, but we do hope that when people understand what they are about they will not want to hear them play," he added.
For Serbs living in America, whose minority population in Croatia was decimated during WWII and the Balkan wars of the 1990s between Serbs and Croats, Thompson's songs strike a particularly sensitive chord.
"He is singing about genocide against a people who were ethnically cleansed. It's intolerable," a development officer at NYU, Radosh Piletich, 35, said. Mr. Piletich is part of a loose group of Serbian-Americans in New York who would like to see the concert canceled and have lodged complaints with the office of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, in whose congressional district the concert will be taking place.
"I would like to stop the concert. I would like to stop the hatred. I don't understand how we can be in the 21st century and allow this type of language to take place," a man whose grandmother was killed by Ustasha during the war, Tom Djurdjevich, 37, said.
"If you listen to his lyrics, it celebrates butchery. It's beyond inhumane. He talks about gouging out of eyes and sawing off of heads," Mr. Djurdjevich continued.
One of the New York events' organizers, George Corluka, of Syndicate Productions, did not return calls and emails requesting comment.
But patrons at several Croatian bars in Astoria, Queens, where tickets for Mr. Perkovic's performance are being sold for $45, dismissed the importance of Thompson's extremist rhetoric, saying he is just appealing to a young nationalist sentiment long repressed by the Communist regime that gripped the country following World War II.
"Everybody says he's a good person. He's singing about genocide in the context of a war," said a painter, Marko Marienovich, 42, whose 21-year old daughter has made plans to go hear Thompson play said. "What he's singing about, he went through. He sings about the things he saw."
Many said they respect the fact that Mr. Perkovic is a veteran in the war between the Croats and Serbs. He earned his stage name from an American-issued submachine gun used by the Croats.
"He's a Croatian hero. You are going to see how many people show up for his show," a retiree, Boris Yurisic, 47, said.
So far, tickets for Mr. Perkovic's November 2 concert at the Croatian Center on 41st Street in Manhattan — which holds 700 people — are sold out. Tickets for a second concert the following day, scheduled due to strong demand, will soon go on sale. The Croatian Center adjoins the Roman Catholic Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius and St. Raphael, on 10th Avenue. Calls to the church offices were not picked up.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said he didn't know about the concert or the artist and therefore couldn't comment. "I'd have to contact the Parish about this and we'll have to investigate it, certainly," he said.