U2 posters for concert in Sarajevo 1997 and soldier during the war in Bosnia

Concert of U2 and
Miss Sarajevo

Reading the title, you might wonder what could be the connection between the Irish rock band, U2, and Miss Sarajevo.

The concert was held in Sarajevo on 23 September 1997. The band was hosted at Olympic stadium Kosevo, Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina. This concert in Sarajevo was part of the PopMart tour which was launched in support of their new album under the name POP. 

An interesting fact is that U2 were the first major artists that visited the capital of Bosnia since the end of the Bosnian war. There were approximately 45,000 people attending the concert.

First contact

bono vox and bill carter
Bono Vox and Bill Carter

The band came in connection to Sarajevo first time during 1993 during their ZOO TV Tour. That time aid worker Bill Carter, which was in Sarajevo during the siege of the city brought the topic. This led to nightly satellite transmission with people of Bosnia during their shows. 

 “The audience if anything would realize ‘Jesus, lucky I’m here enjoying this concert and not in Sarajevo.’ Maybe they will think about not letting it happen in their country, their city…”

Bill Carter, discussing the rationale behind the Zoo TV Tour’s satellite link-ups to Sarajevo

Not all people reacted the same. Most of the media connected to the entertainment considered this as a bad way of giving attention to human tragedy.

All this war activity in Bosnia actually kept the band far from performing in Sarajevo. That didn’t change their opinion about the city. They vowed that they are going to perform there (Sarajevo) sooner or later.

News about the end of the Bosnian War came in December 1995 meant only one thing for U2 members. “Now is the time to visit Sarajevo.”. Soon after they made arrangements about the visit to Sarajevo. The concert was scheduled and played in September 1997. United Nations ambassadors provided help in the organization of the event.

War in Sarajevo

Skyline of Sarajevo with two tallest buildings in the center of the image burning
Bombardment of Symbols of Sarajevo

The Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia was a country composed of 6 constituent republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Monte Negro, and Macedonia. War was started in 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia. Within Bosnia and Herzegovina – a country in which are living Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs.

Bosnia followed the example of Slovenia and Croatia in 1992. Which led to the rising of the tensions between ethnic communities. Bosnian Serb militias, whose goal was to secede from Bosnia and unite with Serbia, encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of approximately 18,000. Located on the hills around Sarajevo they started with the bombardment of the city. The war was raging through the rest of the country. 

People of Sarajevo were frequently terrorized by sniper fire. Thousand of Bosniak civilians were driven from their homes as they were subjects to ethnic cleansing. The land flooded in blood was mourning, extinguished lives that were lost forever.

Sarajevo suffered 11541 casualties during the period of 1425 days of the siege. This duration time is marking it as one of the longest in the recent history of warfare. The population of Bosnia has decreased for around a million in the period of war, while the number of casualties goes over 100.000.

People of Sarajevo were defending their homes with unwavering spirit. Their efforts led to survival under the siege far longer than it was expected. But even during the siege sounds of rock music could be heard from time to time, in the rare short moments when explosions would stop.

U2's reaction to the situation in Sarajevo

During the 1993 band was performing for the ZOOROPA leg as a part of the ZOO TV tour. The band received a Fax from Radio Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina about the current situation in Bosnia which was in a raging war.

The band agreed to meet with Bill Carter, the American aid worker, who acted as stations, foreign associate. During the meeting with the band, Carter was trying to describe experiences from the period that he spent with the people of Sarajevo. Carter was one of the journalists who tried to help the civilians of Sarajevo while surviving with them tough living conditions. 

Carter’s idea was to reach worldwide media regarding the situation in Bosnia. Thus he sought help from Bono, whom he asked to go to Sarajevo to gain media attention to the war. The goal was to break “media fatigue” which was occurring during the reports about the conflict.

Bono agreed on Carter’s request without consulting with the other members of the band. Upon reveling this idea from Bono to the rest of the band, they gave immediate approval. 

The idea fell apart when it came to the organization of logistics and transportation as the only way in the city was with the UN plane.

Even if they somehow managed to organize the concert during the siege. That most likely would endanger the lives of those in the audience, band and ZOO crew.

Instead of the arrival to Sarajevo, they decided that they are going to connect the city with the band. They achieved this through live video transmissions from the tour. Band purchased a satellite dish that was sent to Carter in Sarajevo, and they also paid connection to European Broadcast Union. People had different views on this action, some were praising it while others not so much.

The first broadcast was aired on 17 July 1993 from Bologna. This was one many nightly hangouts, which band emitted to people of Sarajevo. For this to be possible, Carter with 2 of his co-workers had to visit Sarajevo television station to connect with EBU satellite.

This was a tough call as Carter had to go through notorious “Sniper Alley” to reach the TV station.

The band contributed to Bosnian relief efforts to enhance humanitarian and public awareness of the issue. Bono and Carter collaborated on the documentary Miss Sarajevo, which showcased the war-torn city during Carter’s six months living there. 

In 1995 U2 and Brian Eno wrote “Miss Sarajevo” as a response to surreal acts of defiance that had taken place during the siege of Sarajevo. The beauty pageant was one of such acts organized by women of Sarajevo who planned to fight the war. Their fight was quite different from typical. Their main weapon was their beautiful smile despite the difficulties.

At the beginning of pageant, all participants came together on stage carrying a banner that said: “Don’t let them kill us”. Which could be seen in the documentary film Miss Sarajevo by Bill Carter.

17-year-old Inela Nogic was a pageant winner, which later said that this was a crazy thing to do. But somehow this was like a defense mechanism, in which people of Sarajevo tried to lead an as normal life as possible. Later she was a part of a movie set for Miss Sarajevo film.

Bono described the song “Miss Sarajevo” and this event as a cry for help, but help was nowhere near.

Scheduling and preparations

U2 band members arriving in Sarajevo
Bono Vox and other U2 members in during the arrival in Sarajevo

The Bosnian war ended in 1995, the siege of Sarajevo was brought to an end in 1996. Stability in the region began to improve. This gave U2 a “green light” to start with preparations for the concert that would take place in Sarajevo in 1997. The concert in Sarajevo was a part of the POP MART tour and made U2 first major artists arrive in Bosnia after the war.

The organization of this event in Sarajevo meant a financial loss of 500,000  £ for the band despite the sponsorships. Ticket prices were set for 8 DM (8 £) because of the 50% unemployment rate in the city.

At first, Bono offered that the band performs a benefit gig or a small show in Sarajevo, but the city insisted on full show. This came into question in 1997 when the band was pressured the perform in Basel, Switzerland on the date which was scheduled for Sarajevo.

On 20th September equipment trucks started loading at Sarajevo. The organization was ongoing at full speed. Both the band crew and people cooperated in the preparations. 

The members of SFOR were also invited to Sarajevo, to maintain peace in case of any conflicts. But their only purpose during the concert was to enjoy the beautiful sound of U2 with the rest of the crowd. Despite the big expectations, still, on the day of the concert there were 15,000 unsold tickets.

After the war, trains in Bosnia weren’t operating. But they agreed that they are going to help people who wanted to go to the concert. So trains were running only 2 lines, both heading to Sarajevo. One from Maglaj and another form Mostar. 

Railways weren’t functionating properly, because of political disputes. So they ran only for 2 days, On the day of the concert, and day after to bring people to their homes.

Day of the Concert

Photo of U2 concert on Koševo stadium in Sarajevo in 1997
U2 concert in 1997 in Sarajevo on Koševo stadium

U2 performed in Sarajevo on 23 September in 1997, at Kosevo Stadium with 45,000 guests. At the showtime, it was decided to open the gates and to allow approximately 10,000 people who were unable to afford a ticket. U2 songs could’ve been heard all around Stadium Kosevo.

List of the songs was pretty like every other concert from the tour, Miss Sarajevo was performed in the second encore. This whole event was the celebration of the end of the war. Bono gave a special charm to whole event by shouting “Viva Sarajevo! Fuck the past, kiss the future!”. Despite Bono’s struggle with voice, the concert was far from cancelation. Some of the band’s greatest hits were played during the performance.

From time to time Bono called the audience to sing along because his voice was giving upon him. This was the second time to perform Miss Sarajevo live. But when it came to performing “Miss Sarajevo” in Sarajevo Bono completely lost his voice and messed up the song. Shortly after he said “Sarajevo, this song was written for you. I hope you like it because can’t f*ckin play it”. Thus Luciano Pavarotti couldn’t attend the concert his part was played by a gramophone that was brought onto the stage.

The song Miss Sarajevo was played live many times during the band’s Vertigo tour.

In 1999 we had an opportunity to hear the cover version George Michael Miss Sarajevo.

During the performance of “Miss Sarajevo”, the whole audience was singing alongside U2…

A song that was published on 20 November 1995, involved in the project were: Brian Eno, Luciano Pavarotti, Adam Clayton, Bono Vox, Larry Mullen, the Edge and members of a band Passengers.

After the concert, one thing was certain that the audience is not going to forget the Miss Sarajevo chords that brought warmth around their hearts.

Here you get to see the official video for the song “Miss Sarajevo” and you can sing as well with the lyrics underneath the video.

Miss Sarajevo Lyrics
Passengers U2 and Brian Eno ft Luciano Pavarotti


“Is there a time for keeping your distance?

A time to turn your eyes away?
Is there a time for keeping your head down?
For getting on with your day?

“Is there a time for keeping your distance?
A time to turn your eyes away?
Is there a time for keeping your head down?
For getting on with your day?

Is there a time for Kohl and lipstick?
A time for cutting hair?
Is there a time for high street shopping
To find the right dress to wear?

Here she comes
Heads turn around
Here she comes
To take her crown

Is there a time to run for cover?
A time for kiss and tell?
Is there a time for different colors?
Different names you find it hard to spell

Is there a time for first communion?
A time for east 17?
Is there a time to turn to mecca?
Is there time to be a beauty queen?

Here she comes
Beauty plays the clown
Here she comes
Surreal in her crown

Dici che il fiume
Trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
Giungerai a me

Oltre i confini
E le terre assetate
Dici che come fiume
Come fiume

L’amore giungera
L’amore
E non so piu pregare
E nell’amore non so piu sperare
E quell’amore non so piu aspettare

Is there a time for tying ribbons?
A time for Christmas trees?
Is there a time for laying tables?
And the night is set to freeze?”

Miss Sarajevo lyrics could’ve been read from the lips of the audience.

After the band walked offstage, the audience faced the troops at the stadium and broke into a spontaneous round of applause. Which a few seconds later turned into an ovation, a true sign of gratitude of Sarajevo people.

Aftermath

The day after the concert, local newspapers published an editorial headlined “Today was the day Siege of Sarajevo ended”. In reaction to the event, one student told members of the international press “I felt excluded from the World, it’s not about U2. It’s the feeling of being part of the World.

Associated Press said: “For 2 magical hours, the rock band U2 achieved what warriors, politicians, and diplomats could not: They united Bosnia”

Following the concert president, Alija Izetbegovic presented Bono with an honorary Bosnian passport. This was made in recognition of his humanitarian efforts.

The concert was a soothing odyssey nurturing invisible wounds of people of Bosnia. Which were once again was reminded how to love.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on google
Google+
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email
CLOSE