The sound of music breaks out in former war zone

30th January 1998 at 00:00
When you drive into Bosnia from Croatia, off the Split-Dubrovnik road and up the valley leading to Mostar, you go from a prosperous agricultural flood plain, with stalls and baskets of satsumas and mandarins and vegetables, across the border and into a war zone. You pass villages of burned-out, bombed-out houses, wrecked machinery, ruined farms. A few houses have escaped the destruction and carnage: there are still flower pots on balconies, lights in windows, cars on drives. They are the ones that belonged to Bosnian Croats. The destroyed ones belonged to the Muslim community.

On the edge of Mostar all the factories are destroyed too - roofs collapsed, walls shelled. No reconstruction seemed to be going on. There are avenues of blackened burned tree stumps, shell holes in the roads, bullet-scarred walls.

It was my first visit: two of us: my driver and guide had seen it before. We drove, stunned and silent, into the centre, to the Hotel Eros, the one that the war correspondents had used, now full of glamorous young people from all over Europe. There was an American general in battle fatigues.

It all felt slightly unreal: a large and luxurious hotel where you could order smoked salmon sandwiches and drink Jack Daniels; the general, the cosmopolitan young people with their mobile phones, expensive cars - lots of Mercedes - in the car park. It could have been Paris, or Munich, or almost anywhere in Western Europe. And outside were British, American, German, French and Spanish troops and all their armoured cars, and all the mortar holes and the bombed and burned-out buildings, and the blackened trees and the bullet holes. There's hardly a building intact on the eastern side of the city, whole streets that have been destroyed. There was more than two-and-a-half years of war and bombardment.

I was there for the opening of the Pavarotti Music Centre, invited because Solihull College is on the list of sponsors of the charity War Child, the driving force behind the centre. We donated some computer hardware and software.

The music centre is an impressive building, light, spacious, and reassuringly whole, built on the site of a destroyed school. It is a brave venture, both a symbol of hope and reconstruction and a real and practical contribution to new opportunity for the Bosnian people. It has Pavarotti's name, the support of many other people in the music business, and a carefully-planned strategy to its work.

The centre has four departments: music therapy, educational development, the recording studio and the middle music school. The first will use music in dealing with specific clinical problems, such as post traumatic stress disorder. It will be a clinic, and postgraduate training centre, validated by the faculties of medicine and of music at the University of Sarajevo. The educational development unit seeks to train music teachers - many specialist teachers have gone, either as refugees or as victims of violence. The universities of Edinburgh and Hanover are actively involved. Nigel Osborne, an Edinburgh professor, has been there from the start, and is chief adviser to the centre.

The recording studio will be a high-level professional facility and a community resource for Mostar. Two studio engineers are now in post. The middle music school aims to recreate in Mostar what it had before the war - one of the most distinguished music schools in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On the day of the opening, thousands stood in torrential rain waiting for Pavarotti, who was late. While we waited, I walked in the rain to the bridge over the Neretva, bombed into the river in a piece of stupendous and wanton hooliganism in 1993. It was one of the most beautiful things in a once beautiful town. At either side now - you can cross on a wire suspension bridge slung across the narrow gorge - you can see the lovely stones that made up the 16th century structure, the carefully-crafted ridges that stopped the cartwheels from slipping, gleaming white, polished by generations of feet - Muslim, Christian, Jewish and no doubt atheist - of the people that shared the city.

Pavarotti and his friends arrived, and there was a concert given by children, and a great scrum of television cameramen and photographers, and then Pavarotti declared the centre open, and gave a press conference. It was a good day, a kind deed in a naughty world. Those who have made it happen - Bill Leeson and David Wilson who founded War Child, Nigel Osborne, Jim Kennedy, Pavarotti and his friends can be very proud. But they know too how much more needs to be done.

Bosnia was for centuries a model of a multi-ethnic society. One cannot begin to guess if or when it could ever be that again.

Colin Flint is principal of Solihull College

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