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"The fact that we're not easy to digest means we're a lump in the throat, and a lump in the throat has far more guts to it."

-- Bono

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Column: off the record..., vol. 14-628

@U2, July 20, 2014
By: Liseth Meijer


off the record, from @U2

When traveling, it's always nice to see some U2-related sights and events. Recently I had such an opportunity when I visited Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina to attend an international peace conference. This event was held to commemorate the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand -- the event that led up to World War I 100 years ago -- and to provide a platform for peace organizations to meet and exchange information and ideas. Its goal was to close the past 100 years, which was so full of wars, and hopefully mark the beginning of a new, more peaceful period of 100 years. Throughout the weekend there were many workshops, meet-ups and round-table discussions.

I was there on behalf of a local peace organization I've been volunteering with for several years (Eirene Netherlands). This NGO supports a project in Fakovici, a small village in Bosnia-Herzegovina, so it was convenient to combine attendance of the peace conference with a visit to the project. Since another volunteer went with me, we also had a good time strolling through the city after the conference.

Let me point out that Sarajevo looks like a normal city now that the war ended almost 20 years ago. It has lots of nice bars and terraces, a good shopping area and a huge shopping mall. The old Ottoman part of the city has a cozy atmosphere (even though it's very touristy, I still loved it).

During one afternoon walk in the city, I stumbled upon a mural of the banners held up by the models during the beauty pageant featured in Miss Sarajevo, saying "Don't let them kill us." The mural is on a small street behind the Academy of Fine Arts, a beautiful building that can be viewed only from the outside, unfortunately.

OTR: Miss Sarajevo banner

Most of the buildings damaged in the war have been restored remarkably well, giving the city a fresh look. One of the museums had a remarkable exhibition of photographs taken in 1996, at the end of the war, and 15 years later, in 2011. Photographer Jim Marshall took pictures in the exact same spot, showing how structures had been rebuilt and others had been torn down and replaced. The information sign explained it quite eloquently: "The combined photos show that enormous changes and improvements have occurred over the last 15 years. They illustrate the wonder of the human spirit. They indicate that Sarajevo's future is not preordained but can be shaped and always improved."

OTR: Sarajevo before/after

However, as we toured the city, we saw one building that had clearly not been rebuilt: a big block of apartments, in ruins and full of graffiti. We were told it was left in this state to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war. We were quite shocked to learn it had been a retirement home.

We also saw the Holiday Inn hotel, shiny and yellow. Home to most journalists who covered the war, it was heavily shelled. U2 also stayed there when they played Sarajevo in 1997. In U2 By U2 Larry comments on his room: "I was in a room with mortar shrapnel embedded in the walls and bits of the floor missing. Nothing could have prepared me for this."

During a tour through the city our guide told us about some of the cultural activities the Sarajevo people organized during the siege of the city to retain some sense of normalcy. One of the plays was Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. Bill Carter's book about the citizens of Sarajevo, Fools Rush In, says performances of the musical Hair were popular at the time. And of course there were the satellite link-ups during U2's European Zoo TV tour. Unfortunately, I didn't see the tour at the time it took place, but I read about some of the satellite link-ups in Fools Rush In. The one that especially struck me was the Glasgow show, when U2 reunited a mother and her son who hadn't spoken to one another in one and a half years. Both thought the other had died. Although the link-ups were mostly meant to give the Sarajevo people mental support and to create awareness among the audience of what was going on in the city, it was great that this time it made an immediate difference in the lives of two people.

When U2 finally played Sarajevo, the audience applauded the NATO peacekeepers in the stadium, which to me really symbolizes the spirit and generosity of the people. After all, the international community hadn't been very quick to act and put an end to the siege. But I'd like to think the citizens of Sarajevo also have a special place in their hearts for U2. While I was looking for a small souvenir to take home, I came across this fridge magnet:

OTR: Sarajevo fridge magnet

For those of you who are curious, the other texts on it refer to music as well: Crvena jabuka means red apple and is the name of a Sarajevo-based band that was formed in 1985. Bijelo Dugme (white button) was a Yugoslav band active between 1974-1989. Sarajevo, ljubavi moja (Sarajevo, my love) is a tribute to Sarajevo, by Kemal Monteno, a Bosnian songwriter. Unfortunately I couldn't find what the middle text box says.

So, if you're ever in the region, be sure to visit Sarajevo. It's a really cool place.

(c) @U2, 2014.

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