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April 2009: BILL CARTER BECOMES HONORARY CITIZEN OF SARAJEVO
Read Bill's acceptance speech when his was given honorary citizenship in Sarajevo:
Acceptance speech - honorary citizen of Sarajevo
First and foremost, I would like to thank Alije Behmena, the Mayor of Sarajevo, the Mayors office, his very capable staff, the city council and all the people that have made this honor possible. To receive honorary citizenship of Sarajevo has far more meaning for me than what I can say in a few short minutes, but I will try. I came to Sarajevo in March 1993 and collectively I lived here for over a year. I came here in the darkest of times, as a young man riddled with my own personal grief. I left Sarajevo humbled by its citizens. I left knowing I had been in the presence of Grace Under Pressure.
When I look back, I believe I came to Sarajevo for many reasons, but none of them included standing before you today to accept this honor. I did what I did because for me it was the only choice I had. For almost 15 years I have been attempting to explain Sarajevo and Bosnia to others. Attempting to explain what happened here. Not because I want to relive the war, but because so many are interested in what makes this place special to me. Many people, after reading Fools Rush In or seeing Miss Sarajevo they want to know what is it like to live in a siege. Or did I feel helpless in the face of so much suffering? And of course, they want to know why did this war happen in the first place? These are not always easy questions to answer. But one question is always easy for me to answer: Why did you stay in the war for so long? Why did you keep going back to Sarajevo? Why Sarajevo? The answer to this question is at the heart of why it is so meaningful for me to be standing here in front of you today. And the answer is simple: I fell in love with your city and with the people I met here. And what other choice does a person have when he falls in love. He must give all he has to help the object of his love.
Something about Sarajevo, the soul of Sarajevo speaks very deeply to me. For those who ask me these questions I tell stories of how I shared food, drinks, laughter, stories, fears, and grief with people in Sarajevo. I speak of the people of Sarajevos most seductive quality: their sense of humor, quite possibly mankinds last line of defense when facing insanity or death. I speak of Sarajevians unique talent for accepting strangers into their lives. I speak of a people skilled in the art of living simply, something that I have found to be a precious commodity in this life.
I am from the other side of the world, born and raised in California. I now live in southern Arizona. I am fortunate in my job to travel the world. Yet, no matter where I travel, no matter what country I find myself standing in, I always have a perspective that partially originates in Sarajevo.
During my stays in Sarajevo something happened to the very core of me as a human being. I was altered. Today, when I wake up in Paris, New York or in the wide open desert, part of my mind thinks in terms of seeing that place from the perspective of my experience in Sarajevo. Friendships are more carefully chosen, and mean more than before. When I laugh from deep within my belly, it is coming from being in Sarajevo. And I have learned the art of entertaining, from the very best in Sarajevo. Other things that have stuck with me throughout the years are learned instincts. I always know my primary exit route. When I travel I know where the nearest source of food is. Without consciously knowing it, I often scan a room and quickly establish who is the most reliable person in the room, and who is the most suspicious person in the room. Also I have a keener sense of who to trust, and why. These are not choices I have made. These are molecular changes in me, things I cannot change back, as if inherited at birth. I can never explain these things to other people, because they would make no sense. This honor that you have given me today, although it may still not answer to others why I came here, or why I stayed so long, does help give me some peace. Becoming an honorary citizen of your city helps me to claim a part of myself that I have struggled to identify.
I started by thanking the mayor, his office, the city council; people I have only briefly met. People that have graciously voted to give me this honor. But now I must take a moment to thank the people who effectively altered my life in the best possible ways. These are the Sarajevians and others that compelled me to stay in a place, which upon first glance, scared the living daylights out of me.
When I met them, they were Lejla and Selma Pajavic, two teenage sisters who one day found me standing near Marshall Tito Street. On a whim they asked me to lunch. Of course I didnt know the lunch was across Snipers Alley. But this was to be the first of many sprints across Snipers alley. That day, together with their parents, we shared a small, yet generous lunch. As they told stories I was mesmerized by their sense of humor, by their will to live. It felt like it came from the deepest place: pain mixed with a ferocious desire to survive this place. For this young American, it was a humbling three-hour lunch. From the moment I met Lejla and Selma I knew I was going to be staying in Sarajevo for longer than I expected. For, how can you leave when a friendship has been born? Thank you Lejla and Selma, and thanks to their gracious parents: Muniba and Hussein Pajevic. I want to thank Vlado Kajevic, Mr. Don Guido, who was like a soul bother the day I first met him, on the 7th floor of the UNIS towers telling a joke. Vlado has a knack for impeccable timing, both in his humor and his music, and for so many nights during the war his music was the antidote to the bombs outside. Of course, playing along side Vlado was Dani Pervan and Dutzo Dzihan and Alan Omerovic. Together they completed our small band of brothers in our office in the UNIS towers. I want to send out a big thank you to the Englishman Graeme Bint, the merry prankster of the Serious Road Trip. He is perhaps most responsible for me coming to Sarajevo in the first place. Today he lives in Australia, but a big part of him still resides in Sarajevo. Thank you to Jason Aplon and his wife Ivana Sirovic, who helped with many of the details of getting a hold of U2. A big thank-you to Bono and the rest of U2, a band that gave its heart to Sarajevo. It still defies all reason that they listened to a crazy kid from California with a ridiculous idea: to connect the outside world with the city of Sarajevo. But they did and it worked. And then they took another chance and allowed me to make Miss Sarajevo in their studio. And that worked. And then they wanted to play in Sarajevo. And it worked. Of course meeting U2 took a small miracle, a miracle helped along by various people. One of those persons is Senad Zaimovic from War Art. With great reluctance and a healthy dose of war-fueled cynicism he loaned me both his name and station letterhead, which gave instant credibility to this wild idea. I speak of Senads reservation to assist me only because it was a crucial step in making me even more determined to complete the mission. Thank you Senad, for your ongoing friendship and for believing in me, just enough. Thank you to Boris Siber, the man, the myth, better known as Shibee, a man who in the war was committed to fighting the notion of pity for Sarajevo and its citizens. He, like so many of those I have mentioned tonight was determined to keep the citys urban soul alive. His art is in his purposeful comedy and joyful life. To Ciba and Amra Karisik, I cannot say thank you enough times. They now live in Canada, but were such an anchor in my experience in Sarajevo. They are truly like a brother and sister to me. Without them I would have left much sooner. Without them I may not be standing here today. And of course I must thank Miss Alma Catal, the undeniable shining spirit of the documentary Miss Sarajevo. The true Miss Sarajevo. The film has shown to tens of millions on television and in person I have shown this film in America and Europe to universities, conferences, and in theaters. And each and every time, when the film ends, the first question is who is that girl, and is she okay? Through her unbearable lightness of being, Alma has touched more people in the world than she can imagine. And she continues to do so today.
Finally I want to thank Leigh, my wife. Meeting her allowed me to love again, which really must be the point of surviving this life. She is here tonight, and introducing her to your city is very special for me.
In closing, I want to say that coming to Sarajevo has always felt like coming home, and now it is official. The bonds that have been created here are etched in my memory like a carving in a tree. They cannot be erased. One could argue that besides bringing a beautiful child into this world what I did in Sarajevo constitutes the most important deeds in my life. I say that with no regret, no melodramatic weight. I say it with great pride and humility.
I assume this award has been given on the merits of what I did for Sarajevo during its darkest hours. But let me state as clearly as I can: whatever I have given Sarajevo, it has returned to me many times over. So it is I who wants to say thank you. I would not be the person I am today without my experience in Sarajevo. Without the friends I made here. And for that I am both sad, sad because of what happened here, and grateful, for it is quite possibly the best thing that ever happened to me.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Sarajevo. And God bless.