Open letter to the UN secretary general

ban ki moon Your Excellency,

I see that as of yet you have not sanctioned Vuk Jeremic for amongst other arranging that a particulary provocative and hurtful song was played during the celebration of the Orthodox Christian New Year at the UN. A song that for most Bosnians as well as Croats and Kosovars is associated with Serbian nationalism and extremism. As well as its use during the butchery in eastern Bosnia during the genocide of the Bosniaks there. It can also be heard on a large amount of archive footage from the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. While it has become immensely popular with Serbian extremists, who have misused and misappropriated it, to most Bosniaks Croats and Kosovars it a sign of Serbia´s tainted past and most associate it with war crimes and to the survivors it brings back painful memories.

I firmly believe it´s no accident Jeremic chose this song, in his youth he was a member of the “delije” a Red Star Belgrade fan club from where war criminal and warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, Arkan used to recruit members to his paramilitary units. In interviews as late as 2007 in Serbian newspapers Jeremic had expressed his admiration for Arkan, whom he claimed instilled in Jeremic a sence of pride of being a serb and defending what he called “serbianism” I know perfictly well the history of the song, and it´s not my desire to smear Serbia or it´s efforts to defend itself in the WW1 nor the song itself simply to explain that while it was in the begining a military march, it has since been transformed into something else.

Serbian writer Milos Ciric summed up all the reasons why this song should not be played in Serbia let alone at the UN, and be called a “peace march” and he did it back in april 2012, long before mr Vuk Jeremic was elected to chair the UN General Assembly, for the Serbian portal (Full article)

Ciric writes;
“March to the Drina dates back to World War I, and was later appropriated and abused by chetniks, fascists and hooligans of all types, who have been overpopulating Serbia during the last century. In year 1992, on Milosevic’s referendum on new state symbols, citizens voted for March to the Drina to become the new national anthem of Serbia, in the hysterical atmosphere of wars for greater Serbia. However, March to the Drina did not become the national anthem, but is widely perceived in the public as one of ‘the most patriotic songs’.

Today, we can hear this song at almost all football games in Serbia and Republic of Srpska; sung by the hooligans; at Ravna Gora (a highland where celebrations of the chetnik movement take place, tr.); at Guca trumpet festival on the chetnik-stage; at the gatherings of the Serbian Radical Party, and ultra-nationalist organizations Obraz , National Alignment and Dveri . It can also be heard on a large amount of archive footage from the war in Bosnia – ‘Serbian state on the other side of the Drina river’ – this song comes as a backdrop for scenes of ethnic cleansing and genocide, committed by the Bosnian Serb forces and the members of Milosevic’s paramilitary and police forces.

The Democratic Party probably thinks it is rather becoming and ‘authentically Serbian’ to mix March to the Drina, genocide, the Republic of Srpska, Ode of Joy and the European Union. The transfer of vexation and shame some of us feel after such ugly jokes, which have been an integral part of the culture of this society for a very long time (if it can be called culture at all), once again end at the same place – in our silent rooms. And somewhere outside, at the meetings of the biggest pro-European party, trumpet players are performing The Heroes Played, Who is saying, who is lying that small is Serbia and March to the Drina. As I write these words, a group of soccer fans is, passing by the Croatian embassy in Knez Milos street, yelling an incomprehensible song through a loudspeaker.

All I am able to discern is ‘… against ustashas…’. Citizens of Belgrade avert their eyes, in fear of those groups of boys, who were still in diapers, if they had been born at all, in the time of our wars against ‘ustashas and balijas’.
We can thank Slobodan Milosevic, Ivica Dacic, Vojislav Seselj and Tomislav Nikolic for giving birth and raising these children of ours. We can thank Vojislav Kostunica and the Serbian Orthodox Church for showing them the right path, straight into our everyday life; and we can thank Boris Tadic for encouraging them to grow, steadily and bravely, for the Serbian cause. March to the Drina, Kalashnikov and other ‘patriotic’ songs and iconography should be ostracized as symbols of war crimes, and should make us all ashamed, not morbidly proud”

The United States, State Department´s Seventh Report on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia it was shown how the song was used during the mass rapes of bosniak women in the town of Foca.

The report says ;
“Day and night, soldiers came to the house taking two to three women at a time. They were four to five guards at all times, all local Foca Serbs. The woman knew the rapes would begin when ‘Mars na Drinu’ was played over the loudspeaker of the main mosque. (‘Mars na Drinu,’ or ‘March on the Drina’, is reportedly a former Chetnik fighting song that was banned during the Tito years.)
While ‘Mars na Drinu’ was playing, the women were ordered to strip and soldiers entered the homes taking the ones they wanted.
The age of women taken ranged from 12 to 60. Frequently the soldiers would seek out mother and daughter combinations. Many of the women were severely beaten during the rapes.
The witness was selected twice. The first time, soldiers had entered and grabbed an 18-year-old girl, asking her if she were a virgin. She said she was. Licking his knife, one of the soldiers said that if they found she was not, he would butcher her. The witness pleaded with them not [to] take the girl but to take her instead. “We’ll take you too,” they said. While the witness was being raped, her rapist told her, “You should have already left this town. We’ll make you have Serbian babies who will be Christians.” Two soldiers raped her at that time; five soldiers raped the 18-year-old girl in full view of the witness.”
(Full report)

It is perfectly natural to make mistakes and firmly believe that the UN secretary general did not know anything at all about this song prior to the performance on January 16, however Vuk Jeremic must have known, or rather he had an obligation to know that this song is far from uncontroversial, first given that it´s a military march and not a “peace march” as Jeremic calls it and second that it has been appropriated by extremists and that outside Serbia especially in Bosnia Croatia and Kosovo it is mostly associated with serbian state aggression and brings back painful memories. The fact mr Jeremic seems oblivious to that makes it clear that he has no business being in that position. A position of great responsibility, a position which he has in this past year openly used to further his own ambition and to, in his own words “work for Serbia´s national interest”

Someone in that position is supposed to be impartial, willing to compromise, working in the interest of peace and someone who takes initiative but won´t put his own country´s interest first. For a diplomat Jeremic is not very diplomatic, during his time as foreign minister of Serbia he was known for making offensive remarks aimed at Kosovars and the then Croatian prime minister Jadranka Kosor, during a visit to Bosnia in august 2011 he remarked that ; “Those whose best friend is Jadranka Kosor need no enemies,” He made the statement to show his dissatifaction over the fact that Jadranka Kosor had expressed support for Kosovo, and it´s bid for independence.

Jeremic said this after talks with Milorad Dodik whom he has also given support to. Milorad Dodik is a nationalist and a separatist who is a known genocide denier and a destabilizing factor in Bosnian politics and the region. In November last year Jeremic got into a very public argument about the acquittal of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and called the ICTY, a UN tribunal a “group of international criminals” recently he made bizzare comments on twitter where he compered Serbia´s conflict with Kosovo to the plot in a JRR Tolkien novel The Hobbit. Reading his comments it´s clear that he compared the Kosovars to the antagonists in the story, fantasy creatures called Orcs. I shouldn´t have to point out how hollow and dangerous that is, conisdering the fact he is chairing the UN General Assembly nor do I want to dig deeper into the mind of Vuk Jeremic. However given his history prior to all this it´s a bit of a mystery that he was appointed at to this position at all, having said that, sadly we are where we are, and I feel that the time has come for the UN secretary general to show that it is willing and ready to defend its founding principles.

Given the failures of the UN in the former Yugoslavia and especially Bosnia and Hercegovina where an aggression was waged on a sovereign nation for three and a half years and culminated with genocide in Srebrenica and Zepa, both designated “UN safe areas” one of the UN´s most embarrassing failures to date, it should not give space to serbian nationalists to use the UN as a public forum where they can advance their own or their country´s goals and insult the victims of genocide and aggression on Bosnia and Hercegovina. I am sure that the UN secretary general agrees with that. I am also sure that you agree that it´s in the UN´s best intrest that mr Vuk Jeremic be sanctioned for his outrageous behaviour which may gain him political points amongst nationalists in Serbia but can only reflect poorly on the reputation of the UN.


Mirza Hota

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