UNITED NATIONS — At the conclusion of the Serbian song “March on the Drina” at a concert this week in the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other senior officials rose in a standing ovation — apparently not realizing that it is associated with massacres carried out in the 1990s against civilians who were under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers.
After various Bosnian survivor organizations protested the playing of the song and Mr. Ban’s reaction, the United Nations apologized on Thursday.
“We sincerely regret that people were offended by this song,” the agency’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told reporters. “March on the Drina” was performed as a concert encore by the Serbian choir Viva Vox and had not been listed in the official program, he said.
The song was written to honor Serbian soldiers killed in an infamous battle in World War I. But in the 1990s, during the civil war that erupted through much of the former Yugoslavia, it became a kind of unofficial anthem among Serbian forces that carried out numerous massacres of civilians in Bosnia and elsewhere. Perhaps the most notorious was in 1995 in Srebrenica, where as many as 8,000 men and boys were slaughtered while ostensibly under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers. The Drina is Bosnia’s main river, and the lyrics include references to fighting: “Near cold water/Blood was flowing/Blood was streaming: By the Drina was freedom!”