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news 18 Jan 13

UN Regrets Offence Caused by Serb Ballad

After protests that it was nationalistic and offensive to victims of the Bosnian war, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has apologized for the performance in UN headquarters of the Serbian song, "March on the River Drina".

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN
Sarajevo

Ban Ki-moon on Thursday expressed regret over the rendition of a Serbian song that many find nationalistic, performed at a concert marking the Orthodox Church New Year on Monday in UN headquarters.

Martin Nesirky, spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, said the UN was aware that some people were offended by "March to the River Drina,"adding that Ban Ki-moon “obviously was not aware what the song was about, or the use that has been made of it in the past”.

Several Bosnian diapsora organizations sent a protest letter on Wednesday, urging the UN to apologize for placing a video of a Serbian choir singing what they called a nationalistic song on its website.

“This Fascist song has been used to inspire ethnic and nationalist hatred against everything non-Serb and was used as a tool to inspire the murder of thousands of non-Serb civilians,” the letter said, referring the mass killings in the Bosnian conflict of 1992-5.

An audience of some 2,000 guests, including diplomats, businessmen, artists and public figures, on Monday heard the Serbian choir Viva Vox perform several songs, among which was “March on the River Drina”.

“The concert was a scandalous insult to the victims of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the protest letter added.

Hatidza Mehmedovic, of the Association of Mothers Srebrenica, said families of war victims were shocked to hear such a song played in the headquarters of the United Nations.

“Victims of the genocide in Srebrenica are embittered by the fact that in the headquarters of the UN...a manifestation was held that glorifies war crimes and their authors,” Mehmedovic said, referring to the slaughter of thousands of Bosniaks at the hands of Bosnian Serbs in the eastern town of Srebrenica in 1995.

The joint letter to the UN chief from the Congress of North American Bosniaks, the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bosnian-American Genocide Institute from the US and the Institute for the Research of Genocide from Canada, said the concert was offensive to Bosnian war victims.

“Because of the shameful role of the UN in the genocide committed by Serbian forces in cities across BiH, it is dreadful to see the UN Hall be used for a performance of a warmongering song under which war crimes and genocide in BiH were committed,” it said.

"March to the River Drina" was written after World War I about a battle on the Drina, which forms the natural river border between Serbia and Bosnia.

The Viva Vox choir did not sing the lyrics at the concert, only the melody. Still, protesters deemed it provocative due to its historic links and popularity among Bosnian Serb fighters during the Bosnia conflict.

Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian President of the UN General Assembly, who organized the event, said that “misinterpretations of the song... focus on its alleged misuse during the tragic conflicts [in former Yugoslavia].”

However, he accused the protesters of “twisting the meaning of our musical gift offered to the world last Monday".

He said that Serbs remained proud of the song, “which has been performed countless times over many decades not only in the Balkans but also worldwide, by prominent musicians”.

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