A Lecture by Professor Nigel Osborne, Edinburgh University, on 25 February 1998

Professor Osborne is a well-known musician and composer. He holds Chairs at several European Universities. Warchild is a charity which besides providing life-supporting food and medicine also supplies children in war zones with cultural stimulation through art and music.

The speaker set the scene by describing the historical background to the war in Bosnia-Herzogovina, which is an ancient state, primarily Slavs who came from Poland and Eastern areas, including perhaps Iran (Persia) before the 11th century. Its geography defined its boundaries and led to it developing its own church, which had no buildings and travelling friars as pastors. This independent church was attacked from both Rome and Serbia and eradicated in the Middle Ages. The result was that different members of the same family became Catholics, Sufi Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Jews, but all lived together in harmony. In the 19th century nationalist movements in Serbia and Croatia tried to insist that all Orthodox Christians were Serbians and all Catholics Croatians, but 80% of the present population retain their wish for harmonious relationships between all religious opinions. Trams in Sarajevo used to issue tickets written in Cyrillic, Arabic and Latin scripts. Ethnic cleansing is the work of the remaining 20 % and the invading armies.
In Mostar there was no ethnic hatred and no civil war; the town was attacked by agreement between Milosovic of Serbia and Tudgman of Croatia who wanted to divide Bosnia-Herzogovina. Large parts of the Serb population did not join the Serbian forces and the Croatian army ethnically cleansed the Muslims. The Orthodox fled to Serbia but the many mixed marriages suffered terribly.
Sarajevo was surrounded by Serbian army units and suffered a siege which denied the inhabitants food, light, fuel, medical supplies, clothes and water — so they had only their culture to support them. The artists put on the ‘Witness of Existence’ exhibition with exhibits made from broken glass and distorted metal scrap; the musicians formed a string quartet and a philharmonic orchestra, and one cellist played solos in white tie and tails in the street. The children were traumatised, becoming either depressed or aggressive but it was found that cultural workshops in music and art helped them; a discovery now accepted by the medical profession as a way of helping autistic patients and those with Parkinson's Disease. In 1995 the children and artists made an opera. Nigel Osborne was there helping all this musical activity before moving on to Mostar in 1994.
The Mayor of Mostar gave the site for a Music Centre and Brian Eno, manager of U2, the pop group with whom Pavarotti wanted to perform, persuaded Pavarotti to do so in Mostar. This raised the money, much of which came from Pavarotti himself, to build the Music Centre named after him. It has a therapy department, a Symphonietta, and a 200 -pupil school and publishes a song book which it uses in every primary school in the area when teaching music. Mostar is still split between the Croatian dominated western side and the Muslim eastern part, where the centre is built, but children from the west are beginning to come to it, especially rock musicians.
The dynamic power of culture is not only therapeutic but also provides considerable economic input to Mostar, more than businesses have achieved so far.
Warchild is also working in other war-torn areas and planning to do so in more, adjusting to the local culture, so any donations intended for Mostar should be specified as for the Music Centre or the Symphonietta and sent to Warchild at 7-12 Greenland St. London, NW1 OND.
Don Lovell