Sparking an international event

First posted
Thursday 05/06/1999 06:39
Some projects take time.
Like our 15 year old, so far, legal project.
Thursday December 27, 2007 20:22

Gavrilo Princip

Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans',  Bismarck had once predicted, would ignite a major war. In 1914, as now, the Balkans were an ethnic kaleidoscope. The Austrian Empire controlled most of what between 1918 and 1989 was called Yugoslavia, or the south Slavic lands, between Austria in the north and independent Serbia in the south. This meant that an Austrian and Magyar elite controlled an ethnically diverse and increasingly hostile population. Slav nationalists of many kinds were demanding independence, and their cause was backed by important Russian elements.

Could this inherently unstable mix have continued indefinitely? Probably not.

What is clear is that Austro-Hungarian hegemony was on display on 28 June 1914, when the heir to the throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie visited the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which neighboured free Serbia. The day was poorly chosen: it was the anniversary of Serbias medieval independence. Waiting for him were seven young Bosnian nationalists recruited by the Black Hand. While it is unlikely that this group was simply a pawn in the hands of Serbian intelligence they were not innocent bystanders.

The first would-be assassin did nothing. The second conspirator tossed a bomb at the Archduke's car. The chauffeur saw it coming and sped away. The bomb exploded in the road, wrecking the following car and wounding three aides and several spectators. The nineteen-year-old bomb thrower swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the nearby river to drown. Neither attempt at suicide worked, although he nearly died at the hands of the crowd that hauled him out of the river.

Franz Ferdinand insisted on maintaining the day's agenda. He spoke at the town hail. This took him near other assassins, who made no move. After his speech, he decided to alter his itinerary and visit the hospital where the injured from the earlier bomb attempt had been taken. His driver then took a wrong turn that brought them face to face with the seventh and final assassin, a young man named Gavrilo Princip. Jumping on the running board of the Archduke's car, he fired two shots at point-blank range.

From the street, Franz Ferdinand and his wife seemed to sit quietly through all the confusion and chaos that followed. Inside the car, the Archduke opened his mouth to speak. Blood spilled over his tunic. He turned to his wife, begged her not to die, and collapsed. He had been shot in the neck; she in the lower abdomen. Within minutes, both were dead. Their bloodstained clothes can be seen today in the Austrian Historical Museum in Vienna.

Franz Ferdinand's blood stained
coat. His visit to Sarajevo came
on the anniversary of the Battle
of Kosovo, a medieval defeat of
Serbs by Muslims. Militant
Serbs took this as an offence to
Serb nationalism. In fact Franz
Ferdinand was one of the
moderates in the Austrian
court, and his murder tipped the
balance of argument in Vienna
towards war against Serbia. The
extremists in both
camps had won.

The assassins were arrested. The dead couple were buried hastily, some thought shabbily. Many hoped that the resulting tensions would fade away. But this was not what the Austrian government wanted. On 5 July the Emperor Franz Josef wrote to the Kaiser seeking his support:

The bloody deed was not the work of a single individual but a well organized plot whose threads extend to Belgrade... there can be no doubt that its policy of uniting all Southern Slays under the Serbian flag encourages such crimes and the continuation of this situation is a chronic peril for my House and my territories. My efforts must be directed to isolating Serbia and reducing her size.

The Kaiser gave the Austrian ambassador Count Szogyeny, his assessment. The risks of war were low. 'Russia is in no way prepared for war,' he told the ambassador. Austria could be assured of Germany's full backing. He next wondered aloud to his staff whether he should postpone his annual cruise to the Norwegian fjords. The German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, urged him to go ahead with his plans.

Wherever the Kaiser was, the damage had been done. Both he and his military advisers viewed with little fear an outbreak of fighting in the Balkans. Such a limited engagement could clear the air - both domestic and international - and serve as a positive stabilizing element in central European politics. One precedent was the short, decisive Austro-Prussian War of 1866, which prepared the way for the birth, five years later, of the German Empire. But in 1914 such an estimate of their capacity to control violence in the international system was wildly inaccurate.

With German support, confirmed on 6 July, Austria proceeded two weeks later, on the 23rd, to deliver an ultimatum to Serbia accusing it of responsibility and demanding Austro-Hungarian participation in a commission of inquiry into the assassination. Serbia was given forty-eight hours to reply. Despite the fact that Serbia swallowed its national pride and accepted most of these conditions, the Austrians deemed the demands to have been refused. Austria declared war on Serbia, and Austrian artillery bombarded the capital, Belgrade. 'This means a European war,' the shocked Russian Foreign Minister announced to the Austrian ambassador. 'You are setting Europe alight.' He was right.

Now the alliance system swung into action to heighten the crisis. Most allies responded: Germany to Austria's aid, Russia to Serbia's, France to Russia's and, after the German invasion of Belgium on 1 August (to swing south and attack France), Britain to Belgium's. All followed treaty obligations. As soon as armies mobilized, war was unavoidable. When both Russia and Germany mobilized (Germany slightly later, so as to appear the injured party), nothing could stop the outbreak of general hostilities. The Great War had begun.

And the Shaping of the 20th Century
Jay Winter and Blaine Baggett
 Penguin Studio 1996


On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Austria used the assassination as an excuse to declare war on Serbia. Within weeks, the major powers of Europe were mobilizing their forces. World War I had begun.

Borijove Jeytic was one of Princip's co-conspirators. He wrote the following account, revealing the reason the world was plunged into war was that Archduke Ferdinand just happened to choose the wrong day to visit Serbia.

A tiny clipping from a newspaper mailed without comment from a secret band of terrorists in Zagreb, a capital of Croatia, to their comrades in Belgrade, was the torch which set the world afire with war in 1914. That bit of paper wrecked old proud empires. It gave birth to new, free nations.

I was one of the members of the terrorist band in Belgrade which received it and, in those days, I and my companions were regarded as desperate criminals. A price was on our heads. Today my little band is seen in a different light, as pioneer patriots. It is recognized that our secret plans hatched in an obscure cafe in the capital of old Serbia, have led to the independence of the new Yugoslavia, the united nation set free from Austrian domination.

The little clipping was from the Srobobran, a Croatian journal of limited circulation, and consisted of a short telegram from Vienna. This telegram declared that the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand would visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, 28 June, to direct army maneuvers in the neighboring mountains.

It reached our meeting place, the cafe called Zeatna Moruana, one night the latter part of April, 1914.. . . At a small table in a very humble cafe, beneath a flickering gas jet we sat and read it. There was no advice nor admonition sent with it. Only four letters and two numerals were sufficient to make us unanimous, without discussion, as to what we should do about it. They were contained in the fateful date, 28 June.

How dared Franz Ferdinand, not only the representative of the oppressor but in his own person an arrogant tyrant, enter Sarajevo on that day? Such an entry was a studied insult.

Twenty-eight June is a date engraved deeply in the heart of every Serb, so that the day has a name of its own. It is called the vidovnan. It is the day on which the old Serbian kingdom was conquered by the Turks at the battle of Amselfelde in 1389. It is also the day on which in the second Balkan War the Serbian arms took glorious revenge on the Turk for his old victory and for the years of enslavement.

That was no day for Franz Ferdinand, the new oppressor, to venture to the very doors of Serbia for a display of the force of arms which kept us beneath his heel.

Our decision was taken almost immediately. Death to the tyrant!

Then came the matter of arranging it. To make his death certain twenty-two members of the organization were selected to carry out the sentence. At first we thought we would choose the men by lot. But here Gavrilo Princip intervened. Princip is destined to go down in Serbian history as one of her greatest heroes. From the moment Ferdinand's death was decided upon he took an active leadership in its planning. Upon his advice we left the deed to members of our band who were in and around Sarajevo under his direction and that of Gabrinovic, a Linotype operator on a Serbian newspaper. Both were regarded as capable of anything in the cause.

The fateful morning dawned. Two hours before Franz Ferdinand arrived in Sarajevo all the twenty-two conspirators were in their allotted positions, armed and ready. They were distributed five 500 yards apart over the whole route along which the Archduke must travel from the railroad station to the town hall.

When Franz Ferdinand and his retinue drove from the station they were allowed to pass the first two conspirators. The motor cars were driving too fast to make an attempt feasible and in the crowd were Serbians: throwing a grenade I would have killed many innocent people.

When the car passed Gabrinovic, the compositor, he threw his grenade. It hit the side of the car, but Franz Ferdinand with presence of mind threw himself back and was uninjured. Several officers riding in his attendance were injured.

The cars sped to the Town Hall and the rest of the conspirators did not interfere with them. After the reception in the Town Hall General Potiorek, the Austrian Commander, pleaded with Franz Ferdinand to leave the city, as it was seething with rebellion. The Archduke was persuaded to drive the shortest way out of the city and to go quickly

The road to the maneuvers was shaped like the letter V, making a sharp turn at the bridge over the River Nilgacka. Franz Ferdinand's car could go fast enough until it reached this spot but here it was forced to slow down for the turn. Here Princip had taken his stand.

As the car came abreast he stepped forward from the curb, drew his automatic pistol from his coat and fired two shots. The first struck the wife of the Archduke, the Archduchess Sofia, in the abdomen. She was an expectant mother. She died instantly.

The second bullet struck the Archduke close to the heart.

He uttered only one word; "Sofia" - a call to his stricken wife. Then his head fell back and he collapsed. He died almost instantly.

The officers seized Princip. They beat him over the head with the flat of their swords. They knocked him down, they kicked him, scraped the skin from his neck with the edges of their swords, tortured him, all but killed him.

Then he was taken to the Sarajevo jail. The next day he was transferred to the military prison and the round-up of his fellow conspirators proceeded, although he denied that he had worked with anyone.

He was confronted with Gabrinovic, who had thrown the bomb. Princip denied he knew him. Others were brought in, but Princip denied the most obvious things.

The next day they put chains on Princip's feet, which he wore till his death.

His only sign of regret was the statement that he was sorry he had killed the wife of the Archduke. He had aimed only at her husband and would have preferred that any other bullet should have struck General Potiorek.

The Austrians arrested every known revolutionary in Sarajevo and among them, naturally, I was one. But they had no proof of my connection with the crime. I was placed in the cell next to Princip's, and when Princip was taken out to walk in the prison yard I was taken along as his companion.

On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and the next day began to bombard Belgrade. Russia rushed to assist the Serbs causing Germany to declare war on Russia, thereby joining Austria-Hungary. Because of France's alliance with Russia, Germany declared war on that country as well. The next day Great Britain was forced to enter the fray. Countries continued to join in, with the United States entering the war in 1917. Eventually, it was the countries of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and what remained of the Ottoman Empire all fighting against Serbia, Russia, Frank Great Britain, Italy, Rumania, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Montenegro, Liberia, San Marino, Siam, China, Japan, the United States, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Haiti. World War I was the second most bloody and costly war in modern history. At least 10 million people were killed.

Though the war probably would have start without this assassination, history certainly wowould be very different today if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had chosen any other day except June 28 to visit Sarajevo.

Weird History 101, by John Richard Stephens