Crowds across ex-Yugoslavia republics mourn singer's death

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Large crowds gathered on streets in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb on Saturday, lighting candles and laying flowers to pay respects to one of former Yugoslavia’s most beloved singers who died of coronavirus.

Djordje Balasevic, 67, who had been appointed goodwill ambassador of the United Nations High Commissionaire for Refugees in 1998, passed away on Friday evening in a hospital in his hometown Novi Sad in northern Serbia.

Balasevic, known for his emotional lyrics and soft pop music, was among the most outspoken anti-war activists during a decade of wars that followed the breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He was among the first singers to cross borders right after armed conflicts ended and held concerts in packed stadiums and concert halls throughout the region.

“That unique man who wrote the most beautiful love songs, the kindest versus about our childhoods, the saddest rhymes about our misfortune and the funniest verses about our mentalities should be celebrated,” said Rade Serbedzija, a Croatian-born actor who starred in several Hollywood movies.

On Saturday afternoon, crowds gathered in Croatia’s coastal towns, Split and Pula. In the evening, fans in his native Novi Sad laid candles in the shape of a heart in the city square. In Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb hundreds gathered in main squares singing his most popular songs.

“For me he is a symbol of a great time that has passed and that will never be repeated,” said Ivana Kurtesvki, of Belgrade, who joined mourners in front of the concert hall where Balasevic held concerts every December.

“He was a man who marked our growing up, our youth, someone who through his songs was present at all our celebrations and parties,” said Zdenko, a fan on the streets of Zagreb.

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Additional reporting by Antonio Bronic in Zagreb and Marko Djurica in Novi Sad; Editing by Richard Chang