Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Cellist of Sarejevo

At this time, I have my iPod on, listening to Yo-Yo Ma playing "The Cellist of Sarejevo" by David Wilde. During the 1990's Siege of Sarajevo, a group of civilians in a breadline were killed by a mortar attack. Vedran Smailovi?, principle cellist of the Sarejevo Opera Orchestra, spent the next 22 days playing his cello in the crater of that mortar attack in their memory. In the open, amidst the mortars, bullets and debris of war. During the seige, he would play at funerals, in an environment where snipers hid in cemetaries to target those mourning their dead. This was a turbulent time. A Yugoslavia, which to the outside world a model of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, fell apart after the death of its strongman. And after two generations of being a nation together, they set upon themselves in an orgy of destruction. It was a time when soldiers went in under the UN banner, and were themselves targeted by those who wanted nothing of peace. And then the Americans and NATO went, and people who were facing genocide saw a future.

I'm listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Wilde's lament, and I am around some of those who, as young men and women, went to Bosnia in time of war. I'm listening to the sadness of a musician mourning the death of friends, while earlier this month Americans and Bosnians celebrate the transfer of Tuzla airbase in Bosnia, once the main NATO base in Bosnia, celebrating the end of that suffering, and a hope that a war can end, even as others rage.

Americans have a much deserved reputation of not listening, as a rule. But there are exceptions, as the Bosnians in Tuzla bear witness to as they celebrate. I don't know if there was a young American in Tuzla in the 1990s who did as I am doing, listening to a cello lamenting the Siege of Sarajevo while serving in their defense. But for myself, to listen to Yo-Yo Ma play, or a piece of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven or Ravel, is to listen to stories they have to say. And my world would be that much poorer and smaller if I did not have it to listen to.
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