Bruce Dickinson’s Concert During the Siege of Sarajevo

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TACOMA, Washington — In the midst of the longest siege in modern history, an event that claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people in the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo, one of the world’s most famous heavy metal singers decided to play a concert. Now, over 25 years later, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson is turning that shocking story of his solo band’s concert during the siege into a motion picture screenplay.

What was the Siege of Sarajevo?

During the break-up of Yugoslavia, ethnic tensions boiled over in Bosnia resulting in war. On April 5, 1992, Bosnian Serb military forces surrounded the capital city of Sarajevo and began firing upon its populace just two days later. The forces heavily targeted Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) during the siege. They regularly directed mortar and sniper fire at the city’s inhabitants.

Conditions deteriorated over the course of the 1,425-day siege. Basic supplies like food and water were scarce and even dangerous to obtain. A February 5, 1994 bombing of a line of citizens waiting for bread at a market resulted in 68 deaths. This attack marked the largest loss of life in any single attack during the siege. It would take well over a year after that bombing for the Bosnian War to end via the signing of the Dayton Agreement in December 1995. However, the Siege of Sarajevo was not officially lifted until February 26, 1996.

Bruce Dickinson’s Stop in Sarajevo

Roughly a year before the war’s end on December 14, 1994, Bruce Dickinson and his solo band, Skunkworks, played a concert in Sarajevo at the height of the siege. How that concert came about for Dickinson was through a mixture of extraordinary and unexpected circumstances.

After a U.N. official failed to secure a concert by either The Rolling Stones or metal icons Motörhead in the city, the call went out to Dickinson. Although Dickinson eventually convinced his band to perform, the concert was nearly canceled anyways after the band’s U.N. helicopter was deemed inoperable after catching fire. Dickinson, however, arranged a rather unique alternative travel arrangement to still make the show.

The band piled into the back of a yellow flatbed truck with the Looney Tunes character, Roadrunner, painted on its side. It made its way to a local community center for the concert. It was there that the band realized they were directly in the line of sniper fire from the Bosnian Serb forces positioned around the city.

Nonetheless, Dickinson and his band played a concert that evening for an enthusiastic crowd of Bosnians. Many of them seemingly found a sense of escape from their horrific surroundings. Many seemed able to enjoy themselves at the energetic show. The next day, Dickinson and his band went to a local orphanage, an emotionally impactful experience for all involved. They visited children whose parents died in the war, before eventually departing from Sarajevo.

Dickinson’s Screenplay and Recent Visit

The experience was an unforgettable one for Bruce Dickinson and his band as well as the people of Sarajevo. Roughly 25 years later, the Sarajevo City Council honored Dickinson for his band’s visit by granting him honorary citizenship in 2019.

“The arrival of Mr. Dickinson in Sarajevo in 1994 was one of those moments that made us in Sarajevo realize that we will survive, that the city of Sarajevo will survive, that Bosnia-Herzegovina will survive,” the Mayor of Sarajevo, Abdulah Shaka said during the presentation to Dickinson.

Today, Dickinson is working on turning that experience told in his aforementioned documentary, “Scream for Me Sarajevo,” into a screenplay alongside director Sacha Gervasi. Heavy metal fans may recognize Gervasi for his work on “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. Considering the harrowing and eye-opening nature of Dickinson’s story, it is easy to see why a motion picture adaptation of this tale could be in store sometime in the future.

Brett Grega
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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