For two magical hours, the rock band U2 achieved what warriors, politicians and diplomats could not: They united Bosnia.
From a bullet-pocked stadium built for Sarajevo’s last magical moment - the 1984 Winter Olympics - the sound of rock music echoed through a valley that had known only the terrifying explosions of shells and the snarl of bullets during 3-1/2 years of war.
An estimated 45,000 people - Muslims, Croats and Serbs from all over bitterly divided Bosnia, others from the former Yugoslavia and troops from around the world serving in the NATO peace force - joined for a rock concert Tuesday that drowned out any talk of war.
A U.S. soldier, Brian Chilton of Tinker, Okla., summed up an event that for all was momentous. “It is history,” he said. “I wanted to be part of it. Every Bosnian is here tonight. … They are here not to fight, but to party.”
U2 lead singer Bono emerged to a sea of applauding hands Tuesday evening. “Viva Sarajevo!” Bono yelled, as tens of thousands of people screamed in approval.
When the band sang “In the Name of Love,” the audience joined in so forcefully that it overpowered even the walls of loudspeakers. “Sing in Sarajevo,” Bono told the crowd in the local language. “It’s a present from you to us.”
Later, the band sang Ben E. King’s song “Stand by Me.” The crowd again roared back with the chorus.
During the war, U2 dedicated a song to the city’s suffering - “Miss Sarajevo,” which concluded Tuesday’s concert, complete with huge video backdrops of a war-defying 1993 beauty contest.
On his ZOO TV tour in 1993-94, Bono established a direct video link with Sarajevo, broadcasting one of the group’s concerts and bringing it a glimpse of the outside world amid its time of greatest isolation.
Bosnians never forgot it. “Welcome U2,” the main daily newspaper Oslobodjenje wrote on the front page on Tuesday, “and don’t worry about the audience.”
Bono visited Sarajevo weeks after the war ended in 1995, and pledged to give a concert. Tuesday was the fulfillment of that promise. With tickets priced at $18, the show didn’t break even, and all revenues will go to rebuilding Sarajevo hospitals.
“I felt excluded from the world for so long,” said Azra Smailkadic, 18, a student who came from Travnik in central Bosnia. “It’s not only about U2. It’s the feeling of being part of the world.”