Sarajevo concert belies the discord: Songs in 'town of strangers'

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVANS, most of them young, turned out in force yesterday for the first open-air concert in the city since the Serbian siege began 23 months ago. Hours later the uncertain mood in Sarajavo was compounded by reports that a suspected mortar bomb had injured three people in the Bosnian capital. The UN said the blast was caused by a hand grenade that exploded while it was being handled.

The Moonwalkers, a pre-war Bosnian band, opened the concert with a song about summer in Sarajevo - a season still some way off, judging by the audience's lukewarm response.

But their next number, a song celebrating friends killed in the conflict, brought a more enthusiastic response, with grandmothers, children and young men singing along to the chorus: 'My generation is now walking in heaven, and one by one we will meet up in the sky.'

About 1,000 people came to the concert - an extraordinary sight for those who spent so long dodging shells and snipers.

But the enemy is still there, across the front lines, not yet engaged in the political deal that the Bosnian government has signed with the Bosnian Croat forces, nor in the planned confederation between Bosnia and Croatia.

Bosnian Croats and Muslims released hundreds of prisoners of war yesterday in a show of goodwill one day after their political leaders signed the agreement in Washington. The prisoner release involved more than 860 prisoners of war held in central and southern Bosnia for up to a year.

ICRC efforts to broker Serb-Muslim prisoner exchanges have foundered on the Serbs' inability or unwillingness to account for hundreds of Muslims reported missing in Serb offensives and campaigns of 'ethnic cleansing'.

On Friday John Major, during a brief visit to Sarajevo, stressed the need to involve the Bosnian Serbs in a negotiated settlement. The ink was hardly dry on the Washington deal when Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said international trade sanctions against rump-Yugoslavia must be lifted if the Serbs were to make peace in Bosnia.

In this atmosphere of tentative peace and tenuous political arrangements, there is little optimism that the ethnic hatred that has flourished for three years will ever be eradicated. For the students and 'young intellectuals' who painted the backdrop - 'We don't want war' - at yesterday's concert, the nationalistic divide makes no sense; they are all of mixed blood. But they fear that their town has changed, that it is full of strangers, refugees; that now, after all this, the Western nightmare of an Islamic state in Europe might actually come true.

'I heard some men singing a nationalistic song and it made me very angry,' said Lejla Hodzic, who has a Muslim name. 'They were drunk and it was just a song, but I hate it. I love this town, but I don't like to see the changes, to see women wearing headscarves. I'm not a Muslim and I never will be.

'When you forget the killing, this war is very funny,' she said. 'If it were not so sad - so many of my friends have been killed or wounded. How can I hate Croats when my niece is a Croat? How can I say all Serbs must die - should I kill my mother? It's so stupid.'

It is exactly that attitude, the spirit of live and let live, that Sarajevans fought so hard to defend; it would be ironic if the tolerance that survived the war is allowed to melt away during the peace.

'We will build the stone again, but the question is whether what happened here will be forgotten,' said Nebosja Seric, an artist and musician. Down the road from the concert, groups of men and women are clearing up: burning rubbish in the street and sweeping away acres of broken glass and twisted metal. The authorities have already removed some of the sniper screens that offered a little protection to people coming out to fetch water and food, and traffic has increased dramatically since the Nato ultimatum was issued last month. But people must still queue for humanitarian aid, and the present uneasy calm has not brought unmitigated joy.

'If I'm honest, when there was shelling and war, and it was dangerous, I didn't think about my future,' said Ms Hodzic, 21, who spent the war working at the Obala gallery.

'I now have time to think, and I'm pretty depressed. After all these things, after everything I went through in this war, I've decided to go - anywhere.'

(Photograph omitted)