It was the fulfillment of a promise made two years ago. Back in 1995, Bono visited Sarajevo just weeks after the Bosnian war ended, and pledged to return with the band. Tuesday night at Kosevo stadium, he kept his word. An estimated 50,000 people from all over the war-ravaged country paid $18–with all profits going to help rebuild Sarajevo hospitals–to see the Irish band play the city’s first major concert since the end of the war. “I think they wanted, more than anything, a return to normalcy,” said Bono. “That’s what these people want, it’s what they deserve. They don’t need any kind of patronizing from people like me.”
“Forget the past, live the future, viva Sarajevo,” Bono yelled to the cheering crowd at the beginning of the show. The atmosphere was so charged that the audience didn’t even mind when Bono lost his voice early on. “My voice is gone but your voices are strong, and I ask you to carry me like you carried each other those weeks, months, and years,” he said. As the band played “(Pride) In the Name of Love,” the crowd’s singing grew so loud that it even overwhelmed the giant speakers. “Sing in Sarajevo,” Bono said in the local language. “It’s a present from you to us.” Later, as U2 covered Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” the crowd again sang along.
The concert ended with U2’s first live performance of “Miss Sarajevo”–a song written as a tribute to the city’s suffering during the three-and-a-half-year war–which centers on a 1993 beauty contest held in the city. As the band played, the hundred-foot video screen played footage from the event, during which the contestants held a banner that read, “Do not let them kill us.” The song was originally recorded with Luciano Pavarotti to raise money for a children’s charity.
U2 holds a special place with the Bosnia people. During their 1993-1994 Zoo-TV tour, the band set up a direct video satellite link with Sarajevo, broadcasting one of their concerts and giving the isolated city a glimpse of what was happening in the world. This week, Bosnians welcomed the group with open arms, with the main daily newspaper declaring, “Welcome U2,” on its front page on Tuesday. In fact, the crowds of people coming from outside Sarajevo were so large that for the first time since the war, trains ran from Mostar in the south and Maglaj in the north. The trains have been in working order for some time, but have remained inactive because Muslim and Croat politicians have not been able to agree about who would operate the railway. But they set their differences aside for the concert, at least for the day. After the show, Bono said it was “one of the toughest and one of the sweetest nights of my life, that’s for sure.”
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