'Serbian Unity, Freedom and Flag' holiday celebrated on September 15 is a two-year-old festivity agreed upon by Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and the Serb member of the BiH tripartite Presidency Milorad Dodik, and is not a non-working day, but people are asked to display national flags.
The celebration is widely linked to a new term, ‘Serb World,’ first officially mentioned by the country’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who said it meant unity among all the Serbs living anywhere in preserving their identity.
That caused worry in the region where the Serbs lived. Some see it as reminiscent of the Greater Serbia idea, which many believe was the main reason for the wars in former Yugoslavia.
Aleksandar Popov of the Center for Regionalism said other countries had similar holidays. Still, they do not call on compatriots from other countries to violate the laws by displaying the flag there.
Besides, Serbia’s Law on Holidays does not recognise it. Popov also points at a contradiction in statements by local politicians about the ‘Serb world’ as the way to unit the Serbs wherever they live, while Belgrade presents itself as a factor of peace in the region.
„In that way, (Serbia) disrupts relations in the region, which is wrong if the country wants to be on the European path, and not just fake it, Popov said.
The Wednesday’s celebration started with a display of new and existing military equipment, witnessed by President Aleksandar Vucic.
The primary manifestation was held at a square dominated by the recently erected monument to the Grand Prince of the Serbian Grand Principality from 1166 to 1196 Stefan Nemanja, 23-meter-high and weighing 69 tonnes. The Russian sculptor and academician Alexander Rukavishnikov’s work was unveiled in Belgrade in January, causing delight in the regime and disgust among many artists and activists.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported from Belgrade that the ceremony „with a display of military power and calls for all ethnic Serbs in the Balkans to unite under one flag, triggering unease among its neighbours decades after similar calls led to the bloody wars of the 1990s.“
The US news agency added that „the muscle-flexing by Serbian officials as well as their calls for the creation of the ‘Serb World,’ or political unification of an estimated 1.3 million ethnic Serbs living in Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Croatia with Serbia, have triggered worries in neighbouring countries.“
The date is chosen to mark an event from WWI when the army of the then Kingdom of Serbia broke through the Thessaloniki Front and scored one of the most significant victories in WW1 on September 15, 1918.
The authorities somehow missed the 100th anniversary but remembered the battle two years later and declared it a national holiday without the Constitution’s definition.
„If we are united, we the Serbs can overcome all difficulties. And this is not just a state holiday; this is a national and all-Serbian holiday,“ Vucic has said.
Commenting on the holiday, Ratko Bozovic, a sociologist, said that „the problem is not in marking (some past events) but in politics that easily transfers to national holidays and symbols. Everything must be under the same hat, without those on the second and third side.“
He added that „populism, by its logic, ends in nationalism. Here, the political sphere’s right side rose so high that it should be put into operation to homogenise the nation completely. And now we have the right side as dominant, decisive and most important.“
Stojan Drcelic, a journalist with Nova daily, believes the flags are flying not because of the holiday but because of the (ruling Serbian Progressive Party, SNS) gathering, paid for with our money. He adds that when this Government calls for unity, it does not call for national unity.
„They call on their electorate to homogenise before the upcoming elections (on April 3, 2022), in an already serious political campaign,“ Drcelic said.
After the SNS’ rule, no one will be interested in this date, nor will anyone remember it,“ he has added.
Republika Srpska (RS) started celebrating the holiday on Tuesday in its main city of Banja Luka.
Dodik has often sent a message that „we have two states – Serbia and Republika Srpska (a semi-autonomous Serb-dominated entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina), but we want to be one.“
He has been advocating the RS secession from BiH despite the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and regulated the country as one state with two entities.
Vucic, who has close relations with Dodik, publicly supports the Dayton Agreement and doesn’t favour the RS secession. Still, Dodik often draws a parallel between RS and Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognised by some 100 world countries, but not by Serbia, whose current authorities say will never do it.
The Serbs in Croatia also marked the holiday at Serbia’s embassy in Zagreb and the headquarters of a main local Serbs’ party.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic described Vucic’s call for the display of Serbia’s flags in the region as a provocation.