The flexing of muscles by Serbian officials fuels concerns in neighboring states.
Serbia kicked off a new national holiday with a show of military might and calls on all Balkan Serbs to unite under one flag, sparking unrest among its neighbors decades after similar appeals led to the bloody wars of the 1990s. .
Serbs were asked to display thousands of red, blue and white national flags on Wednesday, whether they live in the region or in the world, to mark the “Day of Unity, Freedom and the National Flag of Serbs.” .
Opening the full day of celebrations, Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic inspected military equipment on display in a Belgrade park and praised the army’s readiness to respond to external threats.
He said the army is “five times stronger” than just a few years ago and announced new military purchases.
The flexing of muscles by Serbian officials, as well as their calls for the creation of the “Serbian world”, or the political unification of approximately 1.3 million Serbs living in Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Croatia with Serbia, have raised concerns in neighboring states.
In the 1990s, Serbian forces with financial and political support from Belgrade led bloody campaigns in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo with the aim of forming a “Greater Serbia”. The campaign unsuccessfully tried to redraw the internal borders of the former Yugoslavia and create a single Serbian state.
Renewed calls for pan-Serbian unity have further increased tensions in the Balkans.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said he could not “believe that the Serbs have nothing more important or smarter to do” than to create vacations that violate the internal affairs of neighboring states.
Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, the most vocal supporter of the “Serbian world,” was quick to respond.
“There is nothing more important than the preservation of Serbian identity,” he said.
The new national holiday coincides with the day the Serbian royal army, together with French troops, defeated the forces of the Central Powers in a famous WWI battle in northern Greece in 1918.