Photos, sometimes with Commentary, from a lay Catholic.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic

This image was taken during the war in 1992 in Sarajevo in the partially destroyed National Library. The cello player is local musician Vedran Smailović, who often came to play for free at different funerals during the siege despite the fact that funerals were often targetted by Serb forces. (Mikhail Evstafiev)

In 1991 a terrible war broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The stories of strife and the images that came to us in the nightly news and news magazines captured my imagination and tore at my heart.

Of the many troubling images, one stands out to me still. It was of a man, a musician, a cellist, who in his own outrage and grief, began playing his music in the streets and destruction of Sarajevo.

Please forgive me for even trying to speak of this time, because I do not understand the history of the troubles that led to the terrible war in Bosnia, Croatia, and Herzegovina in the 1990s. I tried to understand and the most I can really grasp is that there were boundary issues, and differences between the cultures that had previously lived together peacefully. The atrocities that followed were something I found horrific, and incomprehensible. Neighbors against neighbors in some instances. And unnecessary cruelty. It left a profound impression on me for many reasons. The same is true for other areas of the war torn world. I will never understand man's inhumanity to man. Greed and self interest do not seem enough to account for the hatred and meanness that wars bring about. However, the image below was something I could understand. I have lost loved ones. I understand grief and loss. Somehow the gesture of playing cello, doing the small thing that one can, to retain a sense of humanity, has left an indelible impression on me of the largeness of the human spirit.

The image below is not mine. It was published in Time Magazine around 1991. I ripped the picture from my copy of Time Magazine back then, and kept it to remind me to pray for those who are living surrounded by grief, and to remind me that there is value in doing whatever we can to elevate the human condition. I have made a significant effort to locate the original and to give credit to the photographer. My best guess is that it was taken by Roger M. Richards.

Vedran Smailovic

(click on image for a larger view)

A short movie by Roger M. Richards.


Andrea said...

Blessings and prayers,

Peter Olson said...

Very sad

marylea said...

Originally I posted a video of music. That original video content is no longer available. There is a video on Vimeo of Mr. Smailovic playing cello on his return to Sarajevo 20 years later. Quite moving. I am unable to share the link on the blog but you should be able to find it without too much trouble: