Nga Paul Miller-Melamed
“The first shot of the Great War” is what the famous historian AJP Taylor calls it in his book “The First World War: An Illustrated History” (1963). It was carried out by a young Serb-Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. And the “first victims” of that war were Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary (Habsburg Monarchy) and his wife his, the Duchess of Hohenberg.
Of course, this is a metaphor. As there was no immediate war when the infamous Sarajevo assassination took place, and there would be none for the following month. Moreover, if anyone is to blame for the outbreak of war in July 1914, it is the leaders of the Great Powers of Europe, not the peasant Gavrilo Princip.
And yet it is all too easy to assume a synonymous connection between the Archduke’s assassination and the Great War. It is precisely this assumption that makes the study of the Sarajevo assassination so fascinating. Most reporting on the Sarajevo assassination, whether in scholarly publications or newspaper reports, tries so hard to make the act fulfill his legacy that they often distort it and take too much out of context.
And that’s a bigger problem than a clever metaphor, it’s a myth. In contrast to the popular descriptions of “terrorist killers” employed in such jobs, the young Bosnians were entirely amateurs. They had only recently learned to shoot a gun or light a grenade.
From the “violent” Balkan setting to the messy execution, Ferdinand’s political assassination has been manipulated into an almost mythological event. This event must surely have taken place in this “wild area of civilized Europe,” wrote one historian in the 1930s, following a long and continuing tradition of stereotyping the Balkans as dangerous and unruly, as primitive and unruly. prone to war.
Nearly 80 years later, another researcher described the killing as a “random event.” Of course, Sarajevo was not Vienna, although since taking it under its administration in 1878, Austria-Hungary had invested huge resources in the development of Bosnia. And after unilaterally annexing it in 1908, the Habsburg monarchy itself came very close to provoking another influential power in the Balkans, the Russian Empire, by risking a war of continental proportions.
When tensions eased and the Habsburg Kaiser visited the disputed provinces in May 1910, an assassin followed him to Sarajevo. Franz Ferdinand himself was warned against going to Bosnia for military inspections in 1914, due to numerous assassination attempts in the region.
Even on the eve of his parade in Sarajevo, Ferdinand was warned by Bosnian officials and people in his circle about the dangers of traveling through the capital in an open car on the very day of a Serbian national holiday. It was Vidovdani, or Saint Year’s Day.
Serbian nationalism is another part of the alleged Balkan brutality. Although it was 1/10 the size and population of the Habsburg empire, Serbia coveted its Slavic provinces to the south, and above all Bosnia. The prince and his associates were mostly Bosnian Serbs, that is, Orthodox Bosniaks, not Serbian citizens.
Indeed the assassination was carried out during Vidovdan, but there is no evidence that this time was intentional. More important to the conspirators was their innate hatred of Habsburg rule, rather than their strong love for Greater Serbia, let alone socialism, anarchism or any other dominant ideas in the late 19th century.
Even more serious and subversive are the accusations that insidious nationalist forces within Serbia planned the murder and recruited Bosnian “puppets”. A “secret” organization, the Black Hand, was behind the Sarajevo plot. But again the evidence is insufficient. The Black Hand really existed and was a military faction that really threatened the Serbian government. But its leaders were not stupid, and they knew that an assassination of the Habsburg heir risked a war for which Serbia was unprepared. The assassination of Sarajevo did not “light the fuse” of the first world war. On the contrary, the latter was caused by a diplomatic crisis, which the leaders of “civilized” Europe failed to resolve diplomatically.
It may indeed have been a member of the Black Hand who helped the killers find the weapons and train with them in Belgrade. But this has no direct connection with the organization, let alone with the Serbian government. Not even Austria-Hungary claimed anything like that in its July 23 ultimatum to Serbia.
According to one historian, the political assassination was an event that remained in the minds and memories of all contemporaries, just like September 11, 20001 or the assassination of President John Kennedy for Americans. In fact, countless accounts speak of relative apathy and indifference to this political murder.
It was certainly considered a tragedy, but not of such proportions that, as the British Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicholson, wrote ominously to his ambassador in St. Petersburg, it would “lead to further consequences”.
What “changed everything” were not the bullets of a “Serbian hero”, but a historical mistake on the part of Europe.
First of the Great Powers, who joined the ultimatum of Austria-Hungary addressed to Serbia on July 23. At that time, the assassination of Sarajevo was being forgotten, because after all, it was an era in which political assassinations were very common. Or as one American newspaper wrote at the time, there were other Austrian heirs to replace the Archduke.
Note: Paul Miller-Melamed, lecturer in history at Pope John Paul II Catholic University in Lublin, Poland, and McDaniel College in the US.
Taken with abbreviations from “History Extra” – Bota.al
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