Serbian war veterans celebrated their unofficial remembrance day on Thursday, noting that Serbia is the only country in the region where former soldiers do not have a national day.
|Photo by Beta|
June 28 is Vidovdan [St. Vitius Day], the day of the battle of Kosovo and a Serbian Orthodox holiday. It is also celebrated by the majority of Serbian war veteran societies as their day, since the state has yet to decide which day will officially be marked as War Veterans Day.
Mile Milosevic, the president of the Serbian War Veterans, says that the fact that the former fighters have not been honoured at the national level shows the disappointing attitude of the state towards the veterans.
“We even do not have the Law on War Veterans, so how can we expect to have our day. We did not get any reparations from the state. We are invisible to the state and society, which is shameful. However, we always gather on our own, and celebrate it within our association,” said Milosevic.
A former high-ranking officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, Petar Djukic, known as Pero Paragraf, who lived in Croatia before the war and later fled to Serbia, says that all the war veterans feel betrayed.
“We were betrayed by Yugoslavia, we were betrayed by our countries of origin, we were betrayed by Slobodan Milosevic, and we also betrayed ourselves,” he told BIRN.
The majority of other war veterans feel the same – forgotten, betrayed and angry since the authorities are unable even to agree on a day when its former soldiers can be honoured, the number of which is unofficially estimated at 700,000.
After 2000, the authorities, the war veterans and historians started to debate which day could be celebrated in the name of the former soldiers, but an agreement has still not been reached.
The debate centres on two dates – May 9 and June 28. The first date is traditionally associated with the victory over the Nazis in 1945, an event which was celebrated under both communist and and democratic leaders. Vidovdan, the second date, is considered as a key date in Serbian history, and is celebrated both by the church and the state.
|Monument in the honour of Kosovo battle and its warriors I Photo by Beta|
Vidovdan, or St Vitus Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, has been celebrated for the past seven centuries across Serbia but the main event is organized in Gazimestan, near the town of Pristina, the site of the Battle of Kosovo and a monument to those who fought in it.
The battle resulted in the defeat of the Serbian Tsar Lazar at the hands of the Ottoman Sultan, the eventual consequence of which was the loss of Serbian independence for more than four centuries. Even though it was a defeat, the date remains hallowed in the Serbian calendar, inspiring some of the nation's most celebrated epic poems.
On Thursday, a number of Serbs from Serbia, Montenegro and Republika Srpska gathered in Gazimestan, where the celebration is traditionally held. However, the celebrations followed a number of clashes between Kosovo police and Serbians, resulting in more than 60 injured.
Both sides condemned the violence, accusing each other of causing it. The President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, said that “the prevention of hooligans entering Kosovo was reasonable, since their aim was to endanger the rule of law.”
Ivica Dacic, who is currently the Serbian minister of internal affairs, and received a mandate on Friday to form the new Serbian government, also condemned the violence but accused the Pristina authorities of provoking the violence.
“Vidovdan is a feast for the Serbian people, and every Vidovdan, incidents happen in Kosovo and Metohija. If the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija cannot mark Vidovdan - a day of great Serbian suffering, then the question is how can they ensure the peaceful life of Serbs in Kosovo," he said.
|Photo by Beta|
When arriving at Gazimestan, visitors were stopped by the police and forced to take off shirts with nationalistic emblems, as well as any other symbols of nationalism that they were carrying in from Serbia.
This provoked groups of mainly young Serbians to sing nationalistic songs and chant the names of the alleged war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
The Head of Serbian Church, patriarch Irinej, the Serbian State Secretary in the Ministry for Kosovo, Metohija Oliver Ivanovic, the Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandar Konuzin, and the former Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic also attended a ceremony that paid homage to the Serbian warriors from the Kosovo battle.