UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations apologized Thursday for the ovation given to a militant Serb nationalist song performed at a concert honoring Serbia's presidency of the U.N. General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman said.
Martin 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 Monday night. Ban afterward stood at the podium alongside Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister and current assembly president, for a photo 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 U.N. chief "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 fascists and 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 separating the newly separated countries.
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 U.N. concert as an encore, and delighted the crowd, which was mostly unaware of its connotations.