I’m writing this while people…a tiny minority within a minority who bothered to vote…are trying to make sense of the Euro elections. For most of us it seems that life just carried on. We didn’t bother to vote as we were too confused, irritated or apathetic to take the 5 minutes it usually occupies. I don’t understand that, but then there are so many aspects of modern life I fail to get that I can only put this information alongside the bin currently holding Game of Thrones, old-taxi-drivers-who-seem-to-love-dance-music and tanning salons.
I’m thinking more about it this week having spent a fair amount of time last week in Sarajevo, Bosnia. It’s a city surrounded by hills into which, for nearly four years, the neighbouring Serbian Republic placed soldiers to visit hell upon the population. Under siege for nearly four years from 1992, Sarajevo survived by transporting supplies through a tiny tunnel running underneath the International Airport. Despite this between 4- 5 thousand civilians were killed in the city alone due to the war.
As part of a delegation visiting Bosnia with Remembering Srebrenica Scotland, I walked through a section of the Tunnel of Hope (often called The Tunnel of Rescue or Life) and tried to imagine what life was like for people in that city. There was no electricity and no running water. On every day of the siege up to 100 bombs were aimed at the civilian population and snipers took pot-shots at pedestrians.
On the second day of our visit we took in the horror of what happened in Srebrenica itself. There thousands of men and boys trying to flee the Serbian army were forced to walk 60km to Tuzla. 8,000 of them were killed by shelling or by execution. Buried in mass graves their remains are still being identified. I visited the cemetery where over 6,000 of them have been interred. It was chilling and gave me cause for thought.
Is this what happens when we can no longer find ways of talking to each other, when we stop listening and when the spaces we inhabit become so noisy and confused the only voices we hear are the ones shouting loudest? If so, what happened there has a very real possibility of happening closer to home, and sooner than we might imagine.
Making informed decisions together, engaging in dialogue, understanding the perspectives of those on the other side of argument is vital for any healthy democracy. Listening is essential too. When the noise level reaches fever pitch it gets harder to hear the voices of the left-behind, the marginalised and stateless….but listen we should.
It’s for that reason I’ve always loved songs. When Woody Guthrie wrote ‘I ain’t got no home in this world any more’ and I find myself singing it and asking an audience to join in, it reminds us all of the humanity we have in common. When Johnny Cash explains he wears black ‘for the poor and the beaten down,’ that he wears it ‘for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,’ I’m thankful that singers and songs compensate for the voices we can’t hear because of all the other noise.
Maybe in these strange times it’s as healthy to stop and listen as it is to charge in with another argument, whatever it might be. That’s where music comes in and helps us understand the world a little better.
On this week’s Another Country we’ll hear some of those voices. We have an intriguing conversation with our special guest, Hayes Carll where he talks about the bits of his life he got wrong and the priorities he has now. He’s a brilliant satirist as well as writing songs straight from the heart. Listen this Tuesday to Hayes singing ‘In Times Like These’ and consider where we are going.
Also listen to the voice of the great sage and civil rights activist Mavis Staples as she sings “We get by on love and faith, no matter what happens I’ll be there for you.’ Listen too to Justin Townes Earle as he sings ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ and it reminds us that we may not be in the darkness that descended on Bosnia in the nineties, but if we fail to learn, the possibility that evil can triumph will always be there.
In Sarajevo, where they are pleased to see us and to tell us the history, they know how quickly tides can turn. The horrors of their own genocide were stirred up by the forces of injustice, inequality and economic hardship. How we deal with all of those things determines whatever happens next.
Songs can be a balm that binds the heart. They can also be a clarion call to action. This Tuesday evening we shall let the songs be both.