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A Message of Peace In the Language of Music

By Alf McCreary / March 9, 1994



THE haunting strains of the beautiful Irish melody ``Londonderry Air'' hung in the thin cold of a winter's day in Belfast. A small group of people listened to a cellist playing passionately. This impromptu street concert had a special poignancy, because the cellist played outside a betting shop in a Catholic area of the city where five people had died not long before in a hail of gunfire from so-called Protestant loyalists.

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But this was no ordinary cellist: Vedran Smailovic had come from the horrors of Sarajevo to show solidarity with the people of Northern Ireland through the language of music, which crosses all international barriers. His message, in halting English, was simple: ``I lived for 20 months in Sarajevo. During that time, 12,000 people died, including 2,000 children, and nearly 60,000 civilians were injured. I have seen so much suffering and heartbreak. I say to the people of Ireland ... please, no more suffering. I say to those who bomb and shoot innocent people ... please, no more blood.''

The people of Belfast have had many international visitors, but few like Vedran Smailovic.

BORN in Sarajevo, Smailovic is the only son of the Bosnian composer Avdo Smailovic. His four sisters are also full-time musicians. (Moria Smailovic plays the piano, and Vildana, Dika, and Violeta all play the violin.)

Under the direction of his father and together with his sister Vildana's husband, viola player Vlado Repse, the family formed a group called Musica Ad Hominem - music for the people. Instead of waiting for an audience, the group took the music to the people. They made a point of playing in villages and also devised special programs for children.

This philosophy later led Smailovic to pick up his cello and play on the streets of Sarajevo. He has ``performed'' outside the city's National Library, at the site of the ``bread-queue'' massacre, at cemeteries, and at a stadium on the front line. He was frequently fired on by snipers, but this did not deter Smailovic, who claimed his cello was his own special weapon.

When asked his religion, the cellist replies, ``Musician.'' When asked his ethnic origins, he replies ``Musician.'' When asked about the warring factions, he will tell you that there are only two sides, ``the sane and the insane.''

He has seen enough insanity to last a lifetime. With the siege of Sarajevo, he was trapped in the city. With the destruction of the national theater and concert halls, he took to the streets to play with a group he had formed, the Sarajevo Opera String Quartet. Within months, two members of the quartet had been killed by mortar fire or snipers. Thus Smailovic began playing as a soloist, a living memorial to the dead. He risked his life daily as mortar shells and bullets flew around him. His courage soon attracted international attention. Last December, friends brought him out of the country.

Since then, Smailovic has played live before tens of thousands of people, has been seen around the world on television, and has given dozens of interviews. Yet he has no home of his own.