Great heroism behind the Eurovision star who dodged bullets to sing in the show

Terry Wogan stopped talking and the stuttering line began to hiss, so the pointy voices of Bosnia and Herzegovina were barely audible. But that didn’t matter – the European clapping started anyway, and didn’t stop.

“Hello Sarajevo, we are listening to you,” said Irish presenter Fionnuala Sweeney.

Watching video clips of that moment online, you will be moved by the power of her simple words and the emotional response of the audience.

It was May 15, 1993, and Sarajevo was a city besieged by Serbian forces, but despite all the difficulties, newly independent Bosnia Herzegovina won the right to participate in the first European Song Contest. first. It was an incredible display of harnessing the power of music, and this was a moment of hope, connecting with the outside world.

Almost thirty years on, when Ukraine performs at the competition in Italy on Saturday night – once again, a band whose country is desperate is under attack – they can expect the same frenzy of support. heat.

But, back in 1993, Bosnia’s liberal defiant stance was also one of serious physical peril. Little is known about how dangerous young Bosnian singer Fazla really is – Muhamed Fazlagić – and his band risked their lives performing on that stage in Millstreet, Ireland.

Muhamed with his wife Sanda and daughter Sarah

Their journey is a dance to death, with Muhamed, now 55, running from his city in the dark to dodge sniper fire, before sliding and sliding for hours on Igman’s mountain of Igman. Satajevo and finally passed a car before reaching the Croatian border 48 hours later.

While he and his party survived, he later learned that other escapees and soldiers on the treacherous pass on a cold February night had been killed. Six people died and 17 were injured.

Incredibly, even after great efforts, the band had to compete in a semi-final in Slovenia before reaching the Emerald Isle.

“My shoes got muddy so I went up the mountain barefoot,” he said.

“It was below zero, steep, rocky and muddy, I was sliding back and forth. We are constantly under attack, you can be killed at any time.

“But we had no choice but to enter the Eurovision song contest,” he explained.

“It’s dangerous, but it’s also dangerous to live there. In this way, we had hope. “

He also has hope, not only to represent his nation, and feed the souls of those who are starving physically, but to be reunited with the love of his life.

Sarajevo is a city besieged by Serbian troops in 1993

Sarajevo residents stand near a wall as they try to avoid snipers on March 19, 1993


AFP via Getty Images)

His girlfriend, Sanda, had escaped from Sarajevo just a few months before. In the Croatian capital, he was finally able to contact her, and she flew to join him in a singing competition.

“She was shocked, she said ‘I know you’re crazy, but this crazy thing I don’t!’” He laughs.

“We haven’t been broken up since.”

He added: “The applause when Sarajevo gave it its score, I won’t forget as long as I live. And those words – ‘Sarajevo, we are hearing you’.

“I get goosebumps every time I hear that.

“This weekend will be very important for the Ukrainian people. Morale will be high when they see the whole of Europe with them. ”

Muhamed was 25 years old, a footballer and a model, when Sarajevo was besieged and he was forced to flee his home in the Grbavica area and to the other side of the city to stay with an aunt.

The country is made up of a multi-ethnic community of Bosniaks (Bosnia Muslims), Serbs and Croats.

Once a republic of Yugoslavia, when Bosnia Herzgovina declared independence, a power struggle broke out. Bosnian Serb paramilitaries began shelling Sarajevo, and Serb units of the Yugoslav army joined in. The Bosniaks became the main victims of ethnic cleansing.

Scene from Sarajevo when the city was bombed during the Bosnian war


Sygma via Getty Images)

In April 1992, Muhamed passed away so quickly, he took nothing, not even a photo of his late father. His mother and younger brother also fled.

In the Sarajevo valley surrounded by mountain troops, they were locked in a fish cage, with little way out.

“No food, no water, no electricity, no windows,” he recalls their shell house.

“I lost about 50lbs in the first year, we survived on humanitarian aid.

“We have to find the water pipes, but the Serbian forces know those spots and they will shoot people dead.”

Music was a hobby, and he recorded a song. Just he was called up along with other musicians, including many stars, to contribute to the resistance to promote spirit and patriotism.

He explained: “I became a member of the arts platoon, our job is to compose patriotic songs. All pop and folk singers must report to duty.

“We met in secret, we walked to the national television center, five miles, trying to hide.

“One hundred percent of us believe in the power of music,” he added. “You have a good cause, you try to articulate that cause through music. We had to stay mentally strong to stay healthy.”

When he was invited to participate in his song, Sva bol svijeta – All the pain in the world – in the national Eurosong competition, he never imagined he would win. But the words have cooled.

An imam and family members of a victim of the besieged Bosnian capital Sarajevo run for refuge in the Kosevo cemetery as snipers open fire on January 2, 1993


AFP via Getty Images)

“I am recreating how people feel,” he explains. “The world’s pain is in Bosnia tonight… I’m not afraid to fall, I won’t stop singing, they’ll never take my soul.

“That’s the message of the song, that’s how people feel. We will fight and prevail.”

In Ireland, he felt he had landed on another planet.

“From nothing to having everything,” he explains. “People don’t understand how it is. The biggest benefit to us was using that platform to tell our stories to ordinary people in their living rooms. “

Muhamed has no way of contacting his family, or them.

“My mother found out about me through the media, I didn’t know if she was alive or dead while I was performing,” he recalls emotionally.

That night, either by pickpocketing or crooks, Sarajevo watched him sing.

The song ends at number 16, but at home he’s a hero. Today, most can remember where they were that night. The song is still sung in schools.

“Even now when I walk in the street, they scream ‘Fazla’,” he said.

After the competition, the band recorded an album and held humanitarian concerts to raise funds, but within a few months, they were back home.

In Croatia, Muhamed marries Sanda, and they go to Sarajevo together, despite the danger taking place.

He traveled around the country, performing for the army. It was only after the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in year 5, a NATO-backed ceasefire, that the couple left, moving to the United States to study, where he lived and worked until his return. country two years ago for political activities. .

They have one daughter, Sarah.

“My conscience will haunt me for the rest of my life if I don’t come back,” he explained at the time.

“There are grenades every day, but I perform for the army. It’s important for them to know I’m with them.

“It’s the least I can do.”

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