The UN apologized on Thursday for the ovation given to a militant Serb nationalist song performed at a concert honoring Serbia’s presidency of the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said.
Nesirky said that “the United Nations was aware that some people were offended by the song March to the Drina, sung in the General Assembly hall on Monday night.”
Ban afterward stood at the podium alongside Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister and current assembly president, for a photograph with the performers, the Belgrade vocal group Viva Vox.
Ban “expressed sincere regret that people were offended by this song,” Nesirky said, adding that the UN secretary-general “obviously was not aware what the song was about or the use that has been made of it in the past.”
March to the Drina was originally written as a nationalist hymn after World War I, about a battle on the Drina River that now separates Serbia and Bosnia. It features lyrics such as “The battle was fought, Near cold water, Blood was flowing, Blood was streaming by the Drina ... for Freedom!”
It became a favorite of Serb nationalists, and was banned by Yugoslavia’s Communist government after World War II. It was reportedly sung in the 1990s during Serb attacks on Bosnian towns along the Drina River.
After the Yugoslav wars of secession, Serbs voted in 1992 to make it their national anthem. Serbia’s parliament bypassed it as being too provocative and adopted an old song from the country’s royalist period instead.
March on the Drina was added to the UN concert as an encore, and delighted the crowd, which was mostly unaware of its connotations.
Jeremic released a statement later on Thursday saying “some outrageous claims have been put forward.”
“With solemn respect for all the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, these malicious misinterpretations of the song performed as an encore ... focus on its alleged misuses during the tragic conflicts. They represent regrettable attempts at twisting the meaning of our musical gift offered to the world last Monday and are deeply offensive to the Serbian people,” Jeremic said.
Meanwhile, the Congress of North American Bosniaks said: “The concert is a scandalous insult to the victims of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina because the orchestra played the infamous and offensive Serb nationalist song March on the River Drina.”
It called on the UN to “remove Vuk Jeremic from his position as the president of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly.”