Serbs rally in Belgrade with calls for unity in a volatile region as Russia gives its support

Serbia’s populist president has called for peace and harmony in the Balkans even as he and the Bosnian Serb separatist leader organized a large nationalist gathering that featured calls for “unity” of all Serbs in the region

Dusan Stojanovic
Saturday 08 June 2024 16:40 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Serbia’s populist president on Saturday called for peace and harmony in the Balkans even as he and the Bosnian Serb separatist leader organized a large nationalist gathering that featured calls for “unity” of all Serbs in the region — a message that has raised eyebrows in neighboring states.

The “All-Serb Assembly” with a slogan “One People, One Gathering” included thousands of Bosnian Serbs and those who traveled to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, from neighboring countries including Montenegro and North Macedonia.

The meeting came only weeks after the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate July 11 annually as an international day of reflection and commemoration of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men by Bosnian Serb forces. Serbia and Bosnian Serbs strongly opposed its adoption.

The rally on Saturday included Orthodox Church prayers and folk dancing and carried the main message that Serbs, wherever they live, are one people striving for the same goals.

A resolution adopted at the assembly said, “the All-Serb Gathering notes that the Serb people represent a single entity. The Serb people have had multiple states with different names through history and are entitled to cherish their rich tradition.”

The idea launched by Serb nationalists that all Serbs living in the Western Balkans should be part of the same political sphere and live in a joint state led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many historians and analysts say.

Such ideas are being floated again in Serbia, although its increasingly authoritarian President Aleksandar Vucic and Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik on Saturday tried to downplay any threats to the region from the gathering in Belgrade.

Dodik, who arrived at the rally straight from one of his frequent meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, has been continuously insisting that the Bosnian Serb-controlled half of Bosnia should split from the loose union and join neighboring Serbia.

“The multipolar world that is coming is something different from what used to be the world dominated by one side (the West), and we have to understand those relationships," Dodik said, adding that Vucic "understands this better than others.”

Vucic stated that Serbia will never leave Bosnian Serbs in the lurch.

“My only request for you is to try everything peacefully and in conversation with all other nations (in Bosnia), in accordance with the Dayton Agreement, to solve all the problems,” said Vucic, referring to the U.S.-sponsored peace deal that ended the 1992-1995 war.

The U.S., which has sanctioned Dodik in part for his separatist moves, has said that it will defend the Bosnian unity by all available means.

In his message to the participants of the gathering in Belgrade, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a tacit support for the Bosnian Serb separatists.

Lavrov said that “Russia will never close its eyes to any injustice towards the brotherly Serbian people, and attempts to demonize them, trampling on their legitimate rights.”

“Together with other freedom-loving nations, we will continue to build a new world order — based on equality, dialogue, mutual respect and mutual appreciation of interests,” Lavrov said.

Western officials believe that Russia is trying to destabilize the Balkans to shift at least some of the attention from its war in Ukraine. Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia.

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