SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina—Tomorrow is the centennial of the assassination of an Austrian prince that touched off World War I—and, ironically, the key event of the commemoration is a concert by Austria’s leading orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. The concert, funded by the European Union (EU), will be in the city’s just-reconstructed City Hall, but the in-person audience will number only about 100 foreign and Bosnian dignitaries. Ordinary Bosnians, suffering from sky-high unemployment and waste-high flooding in some areas, will have to watch on television.
I’ve just come from the symphony’s dress rehearsal. It took place after an EU press conference featuring the conductor and various officials. The press conference panel explaining the event included nine individuals and consisted of mini-speeches, with only two substantive questions allowed. Clemens Hellsberg, chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, said the concert is “more than a concert,” because it will be the main event “on a very symbolic day at a very symbolic location,” a short walk from the spot where Serbia’s Gavrilo Princip shot to death Austria Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie.
Other sweet comments: European Broadcast Union director Annika Nyborg Frankenhaeuser said the concert was evidence that “when you get to know each other you can develop new ideas,” and it represented “an opportunity to raise public awareness of the value of coming together.” EU representative Natalia Dianaskova spoke of how World War I “inspired great minds to think on how not to have future conflicts.”
Since I often criticize The New York Times, I want here to give credit to veteran Times correspondent John Burns, who asked the Vienna Philharmonic officials if it was strange for the orchestra to “come to where your archduke was assaulted.” He did not get much of an answer, but a Reuters reporter fared better by asking if it was disappointing that Bosnian Serbs, who run half of the country—a civil war ended 19 years ago with 100,000 to 250,000 deaths and a division of territory—were boycotting the events in Sarajevo and holding their own commemoration in their half-nation.
The Reuters question provoked responses that veered toward going off-message. Orchestra Maestro Franz Weiser-Most said, “Can’t force people into something. It’s sad.” But Sarajevo Mayor Ivo Komsic seemed more mad than sad. He said he had invited his colleagues from throughout Bosnia, and “some had a legitimate excuse, [but] some of them wanted to make a declaration with not coming. They showed a lack of interest in the uniting of this region.” The press conference was just starting to heat up, but a man in a suit rushed to the young woman emceeing and apparently told her to cut off the proceedings, which she did.
Later came a dress rehearsal worth waiting for. It began with the Bosnian anthem and continued with Franz Hayden’s tune from 1797, “Austria,” which may have come from a Croatian folk melody. Some WORLD readers will have sung it with John Newton’s words:
Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God;
he whose word cannot be broken formed thee for his own abode:
on the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded, Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
Then came Franz Schubert’s lovely Symphony No. 8; other music from Berg, Brahms, Ravel, and Strauss; and a stirring conclusion, the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s ninth, which the EU now calls the European anthem. Conference attendees exiting the city hall will see a banner strung before them declaring, “A Century of Peace After the Century of Wars.” But Bosnia is still divided and gridlocked, and such a century will come here and elsewhere only if “Glorious things of Thee are spoken”—and acted upon.