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.”
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
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
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 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.
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.
- Composer David Wilde wrote a piece for cello called “The Cellist of Sarajevo” in his honor which was recorded by Yo Yo Ma.
- Canadian author Elizabeth Wellburn worked with Smailovic to create a children’s book called “Echoes from the Square”
- Folk singer John McCutcheon also penned a song in his honour, “In the Streets of Sarajevo.”
- Inspired composer Paul O’Neill wrote the song Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by Savatage and Trans Siberian Orchestra.
- Canadian author Steven Galloway used Smailović’s act as the basis for his bestselling 2008 novel, “The Cellist of Sarajevo.”