First of all, the scheduled visit of Archduke Frans Ferdinand to
Bosnia, was published as early as March. Sarajevo was a volatile
cosmopolitan, half-oriental community of 42,000 people.
For hundreds of years it had been under Ottoman-Turkish-Muslim
The Austrians had liberated Bosnia and Herzegovina from the
Ottoman-Turkish Empire in 1878.
In 1908, the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina were incorporated
formally into the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
The date chosen for the state visit of Archduke Frans Ferdinand to
Sarajevo was a date of painful historic significance for the Serbs –
Those Who Forget the Lessons of
History are Doomed to Repeat It
it was the anniversary of the disastrous defeat, 28 June 1389, at the
hands of the Ottoman-Turks at Kosovo.
Despite Austria playing the leading role in liberating the Balkans
from centuries of Ottoman-Turkish oppression, the neighbouring
country of Serbia was intensely hostile to Austria and wanted to
greatly expand its territory to include all the Slavs of the Balkans,
including Bosnia and Herzegovina into Serbia.
Serbia was a monarchy, and having tasted victory against the Turks in
the Balkan War of 1912,
deluded itself that
it was a great power,
able to even take on the
The head of Serbian Military Intelligence, Colonel Dragutin
Dimitrijevic, known by his code name Apis (after the Egyptian bull
god), also controlled The Black Hand, an international terrorist group
run by Major Vojin Tankosic.
The Black Hand
It was this group which provided The Young Bosnians,
including Gavrilo Princip,
with 4 Browning semi-automatic pistols,
6 bombs and cyanide capsules.
This was in May 1914. Princip received some training in pistol target
practice in the park in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic was described as:
"a revolutionary fanatic, pale, bald, heavy, enigmatic,
like a giant Mongolian."
The Devious Dragutin
Dragutin never married.
He was devoted to the movement of Serb-
nationalism and international terrorism.
He required his revolutionaries to undergo a hooded initiation ritual,
which included a seal engraved with skull and crossbones, a dagger, a
bomb and poison.
Murder had been his business since his involvement in the 1903
assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga of Serbia.
Murder was his Business
The king and queen were murdered in their own palace bedroom
by a group of Serbian army officers which included Dragutin.
Hardly a democracy, Serbia was described by many as a rogue state
whose rulers were intimately involved in international terrorism.
The evidence is
the young Bosnian
from the Serbian
military and their
basic training in
The Serbian Prime Minister Pasic
informed the cabinet at the end
of May that assassins were on
their way to Sarajevo
to kill Frans Ferdinand.
Serbian state documents include details about the movements of the
assassins, and of the bombs and pistols in their luggage.
The Interior Ministry in Belgrade was fully briefed on all aspects of
their mission. Yet no warning was forwarded to the Austrian
authorities of the planned assassination.
From the Austrian side, the lack of rudimentary security arrangements
on that tragic day is astounding. Acts of terrorism in, and from, the
Balkans were a clear and present danger.
"What time is it by
As Archduke Frans Ferdinand left his estate on 23 June to travel by
train to Bosnia, he commented: "Our journey starts…
down there they will throw bombs at us!"
The Emperor of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Frans Joseph,
A Trail of Terror
She was boarding a steamer to Geneva at the time.
In 1908, a 20-year old Slav
the Governor of Galicia.
At the trial of an American born
Croat, who had fired
at a member of the royal family,
the judge asked if he thought
killing people was justified.
When is Murder
The man responded:
"In this case it is!
It is the general opinion in
and behind me are
500,000 American Croats!"
In 1906 an anarchist bombed the wedding procession
of King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
Bombing a Wedding
King Alfonso was marrying a granddaughter
of Queen Victoria.
In June 1908, a young Bosnian, Bogdan Zerajic, had failed in his
attempt to assassinate the Emperor in Mostar.
Shots in Sarajevo
Later he had travelled
to Sarajevo and fired at
It was alleged that
The Black Hand
had provided his
In June 1912, the Governor of Croatia was fired upon in Zagreb.
Although the governor was missed, a member of his administration
Bullets and Bombs
In March 1914, the Vicar-General of Transylvania was killed
by a time-bomb sent through the post from Romania.
Numerous conspiracies to
assassinate officials were
detected and prevented by the
Interestingly enough Gavrilo Princip was known by the Austrian police
to be a potential threat.
Yet, when General Oskar
Potiorek, the Governor of
Bosnia was warned of the
threat from The Young
Bosnians, he only laughed.
The officials at Sarajevo spent more energy discussing dinner menus
and the correct temperature at which to serve the wines
than to issues of security.
So, on 28 June 1914, a date of intense significance for the Serbians, the
Archduke Frans Ferdinand set out in the uniform of a Cavalry General:
blue tunic, gold collar, three silver stars, black trousers with red stripe.
A Date of Infamy
His wife, Sophie, wore a white hat with a veil and long white silk dress
with red and white fabric roses tucked into the red sash.
On the morning of 28 June, in accordance with the published schedule,
the motorcade left Sarajevo railway station
and shortly before reaching its first scheduled stop, a bomb thrown by
Nedeliko Cabrinovic, struck the car of Frans Ferdinand, but bounced
off the hood before it exploded, wounding two bystanders.
As Cabrinovic was arrested
and led away,
he shouted loudly:
"I am a Serbian hero!"
The other conspirators lost their
nerve and failed
to use their weapons.
Despite the attack, the Archduke continued with his published
schedule, meeting the governor general, where he watched two local
girls perform a folklore dance.
A Wrong Turn
and then he went to visit the hospital where those wounded by the
bomb were being treated.
Upon leaving the Town Hall, the driver took a wrong turn, turning
left after crossing the bridge.
The driver was told to stop and turn back. As the car had no reverse
gear, it had to be pushed backwards into the Appel Quay.
It was at this point that Gavrilo Princip walked up to
the open car and fired at Frans and Sophie Ferdinand at
point blank range.
The Shots that Sparked the Great War
The last words of the Archduke
were: "Sophie! Sophie! Do not
die! Stay alive for our children!"
They were survived by
and two sons.
The district judge Leo Pfeffer, commented on Princip:
"It was difficult to imagine that so frail a looking individual
could have committed so serious a deed."
The Remorseless Revolutionary
In fact, when Princip had volunteered to fight for Serbia, in the First
Balkan War in 1912, he was rejected as being too small.
At his first
by the police
people took him
for a weakling,
and he wanted
to prove them
Within days all the conspirators were in custody,
except the Muslim Mehmed Mehemedbasic
who escaped to Montenegro.
As Austria did
was either 17,
or 18, years
old at the
time, he was
20 years in
died of natural
in April 1918.
Before he died, he was asked by the prison psychiatrist if he had any
regrets that his deed has sparked a world war and the death of
millions? Princip made it clear that he had no regrets!
Princip had killed
the one man in the
with either Serbia
was on record
never lead a
I shall make sacrifices to avoid it. A war between Austria and Russia
would end either with the overthrow of the Romanovs or the
overthrow of the Hapsburgs – or perhaps the overthrow of both!"
He once wrote to the
"Let us not play Balkan
Let us not stoop to this
Let us stay aloof and
watch the scum bash in
each other's skulls.
It would be unforgivable,
to start something that
would pit us against
Frans Ferdinand's moderate stand was clearly seen by how, despite all
the threats, he chose to make a state visit to one of the most volatile
cities, in one of the most unstable parts of Europe, in an open car, with
almost no security.
However, it is the practise of terrorists to assassinate moderates,
to provoke reaction.
The British Ambassador in Germany declared that the assassination
was: "a dreadful act of which the political consequences are
In St. Petersburg, Russia, journalists dismissed the assassination as:
"a characteristic bit of Balkan savagery."
Almost every country in Europe
had suffered the effects
of assassinations by communist
like Princip and there was
general sympathy for Austria
and disgust for Serbia's
Yet, just over a month later, most of Europe would mobilise against
Austria’s attempts to deal with the Serbian terrorist threat.
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