the 23rd anniversary of the U2 show in Sarajevo in 1997. Here’s what I wrote eight years ago for Venia-Mag to commemorate that momentous occasion:
U2 IN BOSNIA – „VIVA SARAJEVO“ – 15 YEARS LATER
Has it really been 15 years since that monumental event, a show, no less, that U2 performed for us on Koševo stadium in Sarajevo, literally minutes after the war ended? Why, yes, yes it has. Full fifteen years. I get shivers down my spine whenever I remember that night. It’s not even the reason that kept me away from writing about this often, it’s the intensity of feelings that overwhelm and threaten to burst through the walls we’ve all built to get through the war, years later – but I owe it to my country to write about this incredible night again and again, and I owe it to U2 and all their fans here to show them just how much it meant – this one, single display of humanity, of music. So, here I go, and don’t hold it against me if I get lost in thoughts, haunted by the slow melody of „Miss Sarajevo“.
I was 14 back then, just fresh out of elementary school and weeks into gymnasium, unaware of how high school and life was supposed to look like, because nothing looked normal then. War-town country, war-torn childhood, people who used to walk before, now on their crutches, others dead, pavements chopped up by grenades, empty homes looking like Swiss cheese from all the holes in them, everything as in a nightmare – slowly emerging from one that lasted for four years. One of the few nice moments I treasure from that time is that of an autumn morning on the town square, decorated with a simple poster announcing the U2 concert in Sarajevo, on September 23rd, 1997. This image is so vivid in my mind – simple yellow letters on a black background, glued on a piece of carton. Announcing what was to be one of the most significant music experiences in the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, U2, the world.
Have I also mentioned that U2 was my favourite band back then? That was love that went way back (1989), but that’s a different story. For now, it will suffice to say that I was among the first ones to buy the ticket in our post office (where else? nothing else worked), and couldn’t wait for the day to come. I remember traveling on a bus full of my school mates, professors, all excited and cheerful, whispering when we were crossing the dreaded part of the territory still occupied by Serbian chetniks, the whole bus in total darkness, because we were less visible for possible snipers. No one didn’t even think about this danger, really, because everyone just couldn’t wait to get to Sarajevo. I remember us arriving near the Town Hall (Vijećnica) – before the place where millions of books found their home, now a burnt shell of its former self, standing sadly over the river Miljacka. I remember us walking to the Koševo stadium, thousands of still fresh graves following us silently on the left side, because people didn’t have place anymore to bury their loved ones.
When we arrived at the venue, I separated from the others in my group, because I was the only one with the field ticket, while others had the stands – but that didn’t cause my concern, since the only place for me was right in front of the PopMart stage. I was 14, this was my first show ever, and of my favourite band, I was free and felt that live concert thrill my peers around the world took for granted – I’d go to the moon if need be! I even bought my first band T-shirt right then – a nice, although 5 sizes too big PopMart classic – a merchandise item I still have with me today. I even vaguely remember some of the „concert-buddies“ I met that night, ordinary young people who were around me – especially a very nice guy who let me copy his stamp to get to the „fanpit“ (mind you, at first I didn’t even know why they secluded an area right next to the stage – the whole concept of that was new to me, but sure as hell, I was in there).
And then – the show. Fifteen years have passed from that night, and I can still remember how the stage looked like – which doesn’t say much about my memory, since it was truly unforgettable, from the lemon to the toothpick and the giant LCD display. But more than that, I remember the feeling of that show. Whoever says music cannot change the world hasn’t been there in Sarajevo, when everything seemed to finally be great, when we finally rejoiced the loud noise of guitars, instead of bombs, when we saw one of the best bands in the world dedicate a night solely to us. The fans – all 45,000 of us – got more than just great songs played live, we got a night like any other fan in Italy, USA, England, Germany or elsewhere enjoyed, but even more than that – man, we finally got the feeling of BEING ALRIGHT. Of peace. Of safety. Of joy. Of excitement. On top of that, U2 spiced up the show with so many memorable performances and guests (Brian Eno on „Miss Sarajevo“, for example), that it was all a big bundle of vivid moments almost impossible to take all in in one night. Did you know that Bono first coined the slogan for 360° tour right there, when he shouted „Viva Sarajevo“! Fuck the past, kiss the future!“? We sang for Bono when he lost his voice and couldn’t sing anymore, we greeted loudly the new tracks, even though we didn’t know them well, we laughed, we jumped, we sang. From „MoFo“ to „One“. And when Bono came right in front of me to sing „Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me“ (you guess right – my fave track back then), I couldn’t wish for anything else. I was happy beyond words and forever infected by that concert-goer bug.
When the show ended, did these feelings also end for us? Did we kiss the future, but not strongly enough? I am tempted to say yes. Fifteen years later, we’re still in a torn country, only this time politically – and the world still doesn’t seem to care less about us. Poverty is abundant, holes still gape from the faces of ruined homes, people were in an EU-prison less than two years ago, when they were not able to travel anywhere without a visa on their blue passports. No one else visited Bosnia after the war, except some DJs and washed-up rockers. Music (good one, that is), is scarce, and that feeling of happiness it’s supposed to provoke is even scarcer. Even the media kept dwelling around the negative things, since there were so many, I guess. On one September 23rd, several years after the concert (was it 2? 5? I can’t recall), I was watching the primetime news, fully expecting to see a piece on this show, instead being utterly disappointed – they forgot about it! Or, more likely, they were oblivious of the importance of this show! Whatever it was, it was also one of the reasons why I went on to study journalism and create something significant, aware of my surroundings, but even more aware of the impact of art on the world.
However, whenever I’m tempted to go down that nihilistic road, I am reminded of everything good that happened since 1997. This night was not only a highlight for Bosnia – it was a highlight for U2 as well. Larry Mullen, Jr. said: “[t]here’s no doubt that that is an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life. And if I had to spend 20 years in the band just to play that show, […] I think it would have been worthwhile.“ Bono and the rest of the gang were also emotional about the night, often mentioning it in their interviews. U2, especially Bono, went on to visit Bosnia after the concert, and that spiritual connection between us is alive even today, among us also present at the two unforgettable nights in Zagreb in 2009, holding signs with „Sarajevo“ and „BiH“ on it (for more on that, check our my review of the two shows). Even some media remembered the event and honoured its 15th anniversary, such as Radio Sarajevo and various net portals. Sarajevo Film Festival is one of the bright lights emanating from this country to the world, we’re not on the black list anymore, able to travel across European countries, tourism and everything else is slowly back on track. All that and more only with the help of people like Bill Carter (a humanitarian worker who made U2 aware of the suffering here, back in 1993), U2 themselves and others willing to help us get back on that road everyone else is traveling. Let it be known – not a single politician today has done more even after four years of „service“ (better say, disservice) for the Bosnian people than U2 have done in that one night – few hours, really. This is the ultimate truth, and one that needs to be told in the future too. Four simple guys who brought peace with one voice, two guitars and a drum.
Now, fifteen years later, we all still carry our war scars, some outside, some inside, but „…only love can heal such a scar…“ Love and music. Thank you once more, Bono, Larry, Adam and Edge, for this unforgettable night. You said it was a gift from us to you, but it was also vice versa. We will never forget our U2 PoPMart gift on September 23rd, 1997.
To all the readers, please, take a moment, watch these videos and remember Sarajevo, remember Foča, remember Srebrenica, remember Bosnia – remember Vukovar, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, remember Croatia. Never forget. Kiss the future!
By: Ilhana Škrgić
(videos and the article appearing on www.Venia-Mag.net)