Today is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. They were shot at 10:45 am, by the nineteen year old Gavrilo Princip, a member of the group Young Bosnia and one of a group of assassins organised by the Serbian Black Hand. This particular Balkan assassination led to a chain of events that eventually triggered World War I.
The events of that day and the subsequent drift to war have been well documented. What the anniversary has done is to put some focus on the personalities, who have otherwise been largely forgotten.
This week’s New Statesman has good piece on Franz Ferdinand by Simon Winder. This reminds us that he was one of the most important figures in Central Europe at the time. He was of the same generation as the Tsar and Kaiser, however, his father Franz Joseph survived much longer than anyone expected. Franz Ferdinand, unlike his father, insisted that war would be a disaster for Austria-Hungary and bitterly argued his case against the incompetent Austrian Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hotzendorf. The other irony is that he was something of a reformer and opposed Austria’s occupation of Bosnia – the eventual cause behind his death at the hands of Princip.
The assassin, Gavrilo Princip has received even less attention over the years. He was a Bosnian Serb, brought up in a poor village, who became radicalised after a secondary education in Sarajevo. Tim Butcher has written a book ‘The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War’, that for the first time looks at Princip and what motivated him. He puts an emphasis on his Bosnian roots rather than his Serbian links. While this may be true, he wouldn’t have been in any position to carry out the attack without the support of Serbia, through the Black Hand.
As Butcher says, the Archduke was shot “through a series of strokes of serendipity and fortune. It was the rest of the world’s bad luck that his actions triggered the first global conflict.”
The site of the shooting has changed little since 1914 and there is a small museum nearby that is worth a visit.