Two years ago a boy in Indiana looked at pictures of bombed buildings and people living in fear and felt helpless and afraid.The war was in Bosnia--part of the same region where the U.S. and European forces have ended a military conflict and are now monitoring a peace agreement.
Then he came across a news report about a cello player honoring the memory of friends who had been killed by a bomb by playing his instrument while bombs dropped around him. The cellist had decided not to fight back with guns, but to express his anger and sorrow with music.
The boy in Indiana thought the story was too important to die. He's organizing young people around the world to build a statue to be placed in the square where the bomb went off.
He hopes that his efforts will show warring nations that kids in the U.S. are watching and that they care.
REACTING TO THE PICTURES ON TV
Recently, the news has been filled with the faces of ethnic Albania refugees returning to their damaged homes in Kosovo. It looks a lot like Bosnia.
We sit safe in our own houses and maybe wonder what this has to do with us. The situation in Kosovo is complicated and it might seem like a completely different world. What could we do about it, anyway? That boy in Indiana, Jason Crowe, asked the same questions and then came up with some answers.
In 1997, Jason received a newspaper article from one of his teachers. It told the story of Vedran Smailovic, a cellist with the Sarajevo String Quartet. On May 27, 1992, Smailovic
witnessed the massacre of 22 of his neighbors who were hit by a bomb as they stood in a breadline outside a bakery in Sarajevo. The next day, Smailovic, dressed in a tuxedo, took his cello to the bomb crater and began to play. He played for 22 days, one day for each person slaughtered, despite the sniper fire and the bombs rocking the city. One day he got up from playing and a huge bomb fell right here he had been sitting. Smailovic's actions attracted the world's attention and he became a symbol of hope for Sarajevo.
THE ABSURDITY OF WAR
Jason was deeply moved by this story, "I thought how brave this guy was and how absurd war is! To me his musical harmony represented social harmony, and I knew right then, sitting on our couch in the family room, that I couldn't let this story die."
He decided to do three things to spread the message. First, he arranged a cello concert at the local university. 21 cellists played and one chair, covered with 22 roses, was left open to represent the 22 people slain.
Second, Jason organized a memorial service called "Harmony in the Park" on the five year anniversary of the massacre. By bringing together musicians, writers, humanitarians and artists of different races, religions and ethnicities, Jason hoped to "illustrate what the cellist's song represented - harmony as an answer to war."
THE SPIRIT OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
But Jason's largest and most ambitious project is yet to come. He has commissioned a statue of Vedran Smailovic to be presented to Bosnia as message of "peace and harmony" from the kids of the world-sort of like the Statue of Liberty which was a gift of peace from France to the U.S.
Jason wrote to President Clinton about his idea. The president wrote back, saying he's glad there are young people in the U.S. who "care so much about peace and international understanding."
Jason also contacted Smailovic to receive his permission for the statue. The cellist was reluctant. He didn't think of himself as a hero. Jason explains: "Mr. Smailovic will never be 'pleased' about the statue because the statue's 'life' is based on the death of people he loved. He sees it as a useful reminder, a symbolic teacher of sorts, but he will never be 'flattered' or 'happy' about it. How could he be?" Jason asks.
Smailovic approved the project and provided Jason with the names of other musicians who might help the cause. At this point, Tommy Sands, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Yo-Yo Ma and U2 have all offered their support.
A MESSAGE FROM YOUNG PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD
Work has began with the creation of a maquette, a 9-inch miniature that will be offered to large donators. Jason estimates that he'll need $100,000 to have the main statue completed, transported and installed in Bosnia.
To date, the donations have been from individuals and fundraising efforts on the part of kids.
In order to help get larger donations, Jason and his parents have started a not-for-profit corporation, The Cello Cries On, Inc. They are waiting for their tax-exempt status so they can begin soliciting for corporate donations.
It is a slow process. "One thing I am learning from all of this is that everything you do depends on something else that you haven't done yet! I suppose if some philanthropist like George Soros would hear of the project and offer to finance the statue, then it would be very quick. But the likelihood of that happening is minuscule!" Jason says.
So he continues to ask kids and schools for help, a few dollars at a time. "The bottom line is that when kids raise money for the statue, which will be a tangible symbol for our generation and for posterity of the message we are sending, then they are investing a piece of themselves in peace."
The struggle to keep the Bosnian civil war from starting again.
Background on the Dayton Accord, which ended the Bosnian Civil War.
Ejup Ganic, the president of the Federation of Bosnia, talks about postwar Bosnia.
For more on the statue project, visit Jason's page.
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