Vedran’s Cello Cries for Peace 22 Days for 22 Lives


As American philosopher Robert Fulghum says in his book Maybe (Maybe Not): Second Thoughts From a Secret Life:

“Listen. Never, ever, regret or apologize for believing that when one man or one woman decides to risk addressing the world with truth, the world may stop what it is doing and hear. There is too much evidence to the contrary. When we cease believing this, the music will surely stop. The myth of the impossible dream is more powerful than all the facts of history. In my imagination, I lay flowers at the statue memorializing Vedran Smailovic—a monument that has not yet been built, but may be.”

 

Sarajevo, 1992

Starting April, 1992, the culturally diverse city of Sarajevo succumbed to brutal war after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Situated in Sarajevo valley and surrounded by five major mountains of the Dinaric Alps mountain range, the city was subject to constant sniper fire and bombings. Thousands of civilians were killed. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes.

Shipments cut off to the city, people who remained in Sarajevo struggled each day for scarce food, water, warmth and safety, while mourning the loss of their Muslim, Croatian and Serbian family and friends and the citys their city.

The Sarajevo Breadline Massacre

On May 27, 1992 news spread throughout central Sarajevo that a bakery had received a shipment of flour. Hundreds of people assembled in the market square waiting hours in line for bread.
Suddenly, shells lobbed from surrounding hills struck the square, leaving a large crater. Among the ruble were 22 dead men, women and children and more than 100 wounded.

Nearby, a man named Vedran Smailovic saw the destruction and ran to the square to help his fallen neighbors. Later he returned home.

Unable to sleep, Vedran struggled with the senseless massacre of so many innocent people. He knew he had to do something, but what?

 

The Cellist of Sarajevo

Dressed in a formal evening jacket, Vedran returned to the square the next day and set a simple chair among the rubble. Although many people had returned to the square to wait in line for bread among the rubble of the previous days massacre, a quiet fell as Vedran played Adagio in G minor, a song known as a musical cry for peace.
Principal cellist for the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, Vedran played the same song 22 days in a row, a day for each person who lost their life in the Sarajevo Breadline Massacre. And he played for the people around him who braved the sniper fire and bombings to return to the square for food.

Reportedly a CNN reporter asked Vedran if he was crazy sitting in a crater in the midst of the city’s bombardment playing a cello, to which he responded: You ask me if I am crazy for playing a cello; why do you not ask if they are crazy for bombing Sarajevo?”

Vedran Smailovic at Sarajevo National Library. Source: Mikhail Evstafiev

Vedran continued to play his music of hope until December 1993, in graveyards and bombsites. He had decided to “daily offer a musical prayer for peace”, he said. As his story began to filter into the press, he became a symbol for peace in Bosnia.

 

Vedran never claimed that he was doing anything extraordinary. In fact, when asked about it by New York Times reporter John Burns, he downplayed his action. “My mother is a Muslim and my father is a Muslim, but I don’t care. I am a Sarajevan, I am a cosmopolitan, I am a pacifist. I am nothing special, I am a musician, I am a part of the town. Like everyone else, I do what I can.” Vedran, the “Cellist of Sarajevo”, represents inspiring courage and nonviolent resistance in the face of horrible violence and human suffering.

 

After Sarajevo

In 1993 Vedran left Sarajevo and has performed in many troubled places, now residing in Ireland. Vedran collaborated with Tommy Sands on the CD Sarajevo to Belfast. On the CD are two other musician activists: Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. See Vedran play the cello on the video of Joan’s 1993 trip to Sarajevo.

The Ripple Effect

Beliz Brothers, an artist from Seattle, Washington created a wall sculpture, “22 Adagio” to memorialize the 22 who died the day of the Sarajevo Breadline Massacre and the 22 days that Vedran Smailovic played for Sarajevo. This piece was on display in a store window in Seattle for 22 days in September, 1992. On each of these days 22 cellists played “Adagio” in 22 public places and on the last day, all 22 played together in one place in front of a store window. A video of the event aired regularly on public access television and at international video festivals. For 22 days Seattle remembered of the thousands of people dying each month as the war continued. The sculpture was taken to the White House during the Clinton Administration, and the cellists played for 22 days in front of the Red Cross headquarters, the Holocaust museum, the Senate Rotunda. Vedran Smailovic came to Seattle for the dedication and permanent installation of “22 Adagio” at the Seattle Opera House on May 24, 1995.

Since then, people around he world reacted by his story. Some are every day people like Beliz who felt the same type of yearning as Vedran felt when she knew she needed to do something. Others examples of the ripple effect include:

 

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