On 23 September 1997
, U2 performed for the first – and as of this date, only – time in the city of Sarajevo. It was a concert that was typical of the PopMart Tour; and yet it was also a concert the likes of which has not been played since. U2’s history with the city is a long one, with the seeds being planted as far back as the Zoo TV Tour during the breakout of the Bosnian War. 2012 marked the fifteenth anniversary of U2’s concert in Sarajevo, and although this article is a couple of weeks late for the exact anniversary we’d still like to celebrate this landmark event in U2’s history with this multi-part look back at what you may, and may not, have known about the road to Sarajevo.
Revisiting the events that led to the beginning of the Bosnian War would be far too long and complicated a process for the purpose of this article. Suffice it to say that the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the former Yugoslavia, the result of a controversial referendum, caused tension in the ethnic communities. The city of Sarajevo, once a shining example of multiculturalism, was placed under siege for four years; earning the unenviable honour of the longest siege of a city in modern warfare.
Beginning in 1992, a force of 18,000 camped in the hills surrounding Sarajevo, subjecting it to repeated abuse from long-range weapons. The Bosnian Army within the city was underequipped; despite outnumbering the siege force by more than 2-to-1, it continued for four long years. We won’t delve into some of the nastier events that occurred in too much detail; many of you will recall hearing about the ethnic cleansing of Sarajevo’s Muslim community, and of the mines painted to look like toys in the hopes that children would innocently pick them up. To put it mildly, the situation in Sarajevo – indeed, the whole of Bosnia – was fairly grim.
Fast-forward to July 1993: U2 were on the road, midway through the Zooropa leg
of the Zoo TV Tour. In between their two concerts in Verona, Italy, a fax from Radio Televizija Bosne I Hercegovina arrived for the band, requesting an interview with them on the Bosnian War. The meeting led the band to encounter Bill Carter for the first time, a man who should need no introduction. Stationed in Sarajevo, Carter discussed his first-hand account of the siege. The primary theme of the Zooropa tour leg – and later the album and song – was the unity of Europe, partially influenced by the Bosnian War. Carter asked the band to help make that vision a reality by going to Sarajevo themselves, an act that he hoped would break the media’s fatigue in covering the war. Bono, being Bono, agreed to the request without waiting for input from Edge, Adam, and Larry.
It was a goal that was impossible to achieve. The members of U2 not named Bono ultimately did agree to the idea, but with many reservations. Chief among these was Larry’s fear that U2 going to Sarajevo would be misinterpreted as a publicity stunt; while publicity was the desired goal it was publicity for the city that they wanted, not publicity for the band. Then there was the issue of what exactly the band would do when they were in the city. One suggestion was an impromptu concert in the bunker where Carter was hiding; but as the only way into the city was on a United Nations aircraft, the logistics of transporting even a portion of the necessary equipment were unfeasible. Paul McGuinness pointed out that going to Sarajevo would put not only the band at risk of being killed, but also the members of their crew. The idea of a concert was abandoned and U2 determined that if they couldn’t go to Sarajevo, they would bring Sarajevo to their audience. From this idea, the nightly satellite linkups to Sarajevo were born.We hope that you have enjoyed this first part of our look back at U2’s concert in Sarajevo. In part two: The satellite linkups and Miss Sarajevo.