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The Cellist Of Sarajevo

The Cellist Of Sarajevo
The Cellist Of Sarajevo

Read or tell the story. It is based on and inspired by real events. 

You do not have to be rich or famous or even an adult to make a difference in the world. You do not need to have special training or be the ruler of a country. Many people who feel passionately about injustice in the world speak up about it. Speaking up can take many forms because different people have different ways of expressing themselves.

Here is one example:

In 1992, the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina was involved in a civil war. In a civil war, different groups within a country fight against each other for control. War always affects not just soldiers but everyday people, too. This war was no different. One day, at 4 p.m., a bomb exploded in the city of Sarajevo and killed 22 everyday people who were waiting in line to buy bread.

Near the bakery lived Vedran Smailovic. Sometimes, he himself bought bread at that bakery. He was terribly distraught at the violent acts being committed in his hometown and he decided to speak up. The day after the bombing, at 4 p.m., he entered the square where the bomb had exploded, sat down, and began to play the cello. You see, Vedran Smailovic was a cellist with the opera orchestra in Sarajevo. Music held a special place for him. And it was through his music that he decided to speak to anyone who would listen about what had happened in the bakery line.

For the next 22 days—one day for each person who had died—at exactly 4 p.m., Mr. Smailovic played the same piece of music. Mr. Smailovic said his music was "a daily musical prayer for peace."

Mr. Smailovic spoke up with his cello, and people listened. One person who heard was Beliz Brother, a performance artist in Seattle, Washington, in the United States. She arranged for a performance of 22 cellists to play at 22 different public places for 22 days. This performance echoed Mr. Smailovic's musical prayer and was her way of speaking up.

Both of these acts came to the attention of a young boy in Indiana. He started a campaign to let other people know about Mr. Smailovic's performance. He thought it was important for people to know that they were not alone in their call for peace and reconciliation. Perhaps he also wanted Mr. Smailovic and Ms. Brother and others to know they had been heard.

The boy, Jason Crowe, wrote about these acts of inspiration in a newspaper that he published called "The Informer." He also started a fund-raising project called The Cello Cries On, to raise money to build a statue for the city of Sarajevo, to be placed on the site of the bakery. It is called the Children's International Peace and Harmony Statue. The statue would not only honor those who had died, it would also remind everyone of the high price too many people pay in war.

Jason Crowe hoped it would inspire people to work harder for peace. Perhaps if everyone thought of how war harms the children, they would strive for peace. Maybe children just like you will see the statue. Perhaps your generation will listen to all those speaking up for peace, and war will become a thing of the past.

It might be unreasonable to expect people to never disagree or argue. That is not what most people mean when they talk about working for peace. They hope we will someday have a world where people will settle their differences not with violence, but by peaceful negotiations.

Someone, in a terrible act of violence, took the lives of 22 people in Sarajevo. No one remembers this person's name. But the people who reacted to that violence—not with more violence, but in a universal call for peace and reconciliation—we do remember. We honor them by passing on their story. When you tell their story, you are speaking up for peace, too.

About the Author

  • Jessica York is Co-director of Ministries and Faith Development and the Director of the Faith Development office of the Unitarian Universalist Association. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, she previously served the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham as director of...

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