23 September 1997
Sarajevo show - Difference set aside
Sarajevo show - Difference set aside. A historic day for Sarajevo, the trains run for the first time since the war and U2 fans from every ethinic community head for the same stadium, as do UN troops. A rare moment of unity.
Sarajevo, showday. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984, and one of the sporting venues was this stadium in which U2 are playing. The stadium itself is in remarkably good condition - nice curving grandstands, lush green playing field and so forth. The same cannot be said of the Zetra Ice Arena next door, which we are using for dressing rooms, offices, catering and so forth. This is the arena where Torville and Dean won their gold medal skating to ëBolero', but now it looks like... well it looks like a bomb's hit it. The top half of its modern tubular metal structure is twisted into a surreal crow's nest of girders and practically all the windows are missing or covered with plastic. However, inside its reasonably functional, if a tad Spartan. The offices were used by the army until one month ago, and all the walls are covered in the graffiti of their farewell notes and poems. Another surprising use for the arena was to house around 3,000 fans for the night after the show. clearly a good many of the audience were not going to be able to get home after the show, so the battered arena's basement was to be used as a huge dormitory.
Other unique events of the day included the running of the first passenger trains since the war. A train full of U2 fans came to Sarajevo from Mostar, and another from Maglaj. The railway system has been potentially functional since last year, but no trains have run because the Muslims and Croats haven't been able to agree on who's going to run them. People came from all over Bosnia and other former Yugoslav republics, in the greatest movement of civilians across this country in years. Special buses brought fans from Zagreb, Ljubljana and even Bosnia's Serb Republic, from where at least 500 fans made a rare journey across the ethnic boundary line into the Moslem-Croat Federation. Even the requirement of Slovenian visas was suspended for the day - one might have expected some cynicism toward the concert from some quarters, but you really felt that the whole country was responding positively to our being there.
Come show time, the atmosphere in the stadium was like the Cup Final meets Christmas morning. One entire grandstand was filled with uniformed troops - not there as a safety measure, but there because they wanted to have a good time. They were singing, dancing and having a high old time, it was quite touching. Like old newsreel footage of the troops coming home and dancing in the street. The show included the first (and probably last) live appearance of all five "Passengers" for the tour's first performance of 'Miss Sarajevo'. Brian Eno was at the show and joined the band on the b-stage to provide some backing vocals and operate the antique wind-up gramophone which was substituting for Luciano Pavarotti. The Edge plyed a solo version of Sunday Bloody Sunday instead of the karaoke, which was another spine tingler.
After the show, as the crowd was leaving a rather curious but very moving scenario occurred. The troops were waiting in the grandstand whilst the bulk of the audience filed out, and somehow spontaneously the crowd began to applaud the troops. This turned into a big cheering standing ovation, and when it was over the soldiers applauded the crowd in return. Beautiful moment.