Many Bosnians, including top officials, mourn the death of one of their most beloved wartime figures, Jovan Divjak, a retired Serbian general who fought for the Bosnian Army and defended the country during the 1992-1995 war.
General Jovan Divjak, seen in Sarajevo as a symbol of multi-ethnic Bosnia, died on Thursday aged 84 after a long illness.
“General Divjak will remain one of the greatest Bosnians and Herzegovinians,” said Zeljko Komsic, the Bosnian Croat member of the country’s tripartite Presidency.
“His great and noble work will remain written in the modern history of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those who remain after us are obliged to pay homage to his work and to study it. General, thank you for everything you have done for our only homeland, Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Komsic said.
Although he was born in Belgrade and was a retired officer of the Yugoslav National Army when the Bosnian war broke out in 1992, Divjak chose to go against the army he served during his career and joined those who defended Bosnia’s independence.
He became the Deputy Commander of the Territorial Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the commander of the Sarajevo Territorial District. In 1993, he was awarded the rank of brigadier general.
In 1994, Divjak founded the Association ‘Education Builds BiH’, which helps the education of children who lost their parents in the war. In July 2001, he was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor.
The Bosniak member of the Presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, noted that “General Divjak made an immeasurable contribution to the defence of BiH and Sarajevo from aggression.”
“In key moments, he always knew to choose the side of good and oppose evil,” Dzaferovic said. “With his impeccable engagement, he became a symbol of the highest military honour. Through his post-war humanitarian work, General Divjak provided assistance and support to the education of many young people in BiH,” he said.
“His death is an unexpected loss for our society. We will always remember his character and deeds and keep the memory of him,” he added.
Sarajevo, the city Divjak loved and defended, paid special tribute to its beloved general. Citizens paid their respect on social media, calling him their hero and posting photos of themselves with him. Divjak would often be stopped on the street by people who asked to be photographed with him.
“Jovan Divjak had no dilemmas in 1992 to put his military knowledge and big heart in the defence of our city and state,” a statement by members of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly and Government said.
“A citizen of Belgrade by birth, and a fighter for justice and truth by commitment, was his mission all his life. He stayed with us in the most difficult times, he never took the easier path, always the right path,” it said.
Foreign ambassadors in Bosnia also paid their respects to the late general.
UK Ambassador, Matthew Field, called Divjak’s death a “great loss, especially for the youth in BiH.”
“RIP General, Humanist, Mensch. Thank you,” EU Special Representative, Johann Sattler, tweeted.
“A great man has left us. Always brave both in his thoughts and in his life and his smile. He has always encouraged others to be courageous. Always free. Dear Jovan, it will be difficult to follow the example of your dignity,” Italy’s Ambassador, Nicola Minasi, tweeted.
Divjak’s wartime comrades, the association of Bosnian Army generals, said that Divjak’s “knowledge and experience, as a soldier, was of great importance to us during the defence against the aggression on the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The association noted that his departure was an “irreplaceable loss”.