MMECHO of 1914

MMnApril 1994



Brilliant lilacs are everywhere in Sarajevo in the early spring, in white, lavender, or the fiery purple in the medico's hand.N Sarajevo in April is a festival of flowers.

This is the corner where Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the crown prince of Vienna's trembling Austro-Hungarian empire. The rest is our joint history, in the West, our world of world war born on June 28, 1914, Serbia's National holiday, called Vidovan, which memorializes its collapse in 1389 beneath the Ottoman empire.

Princip was one of six or seven "Young Bosnia" activists with bombs in their pockets along Ferdinand's motorcade route that day. Only one managed to make a toss, and missed his target, wounding people in a trailing car instead. But minutes later Princip chanced upon the Archduke and his consort Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, as they were driving to the hospital to be with the wounded, and seized the opportunity to use his pistol.

Sophie threw herself across Ferdinand after the first shot (Jackie Kennedy comes to mind) and was wounded by the next. Both died within the hour.

The grassy rectangle in the sidewalk, just ahead of the two men above, is where a bronze plate with Princip's footprints marked, through many decades, the spot where he stood before firing.

But in 1992 the footprints, and a commemorative plaque on the wall above, were torn out shortly after Bosnia-Hercegovina declared its independence from Belgrade's rump Yugoslavia, which had already lost Slovenia and Croatia. That declaration, by plebiscite, provoked the Serb nationalist assault, touching off the Bosnian war.

The echo of 1914 is soundly audible.

Most "Young Bosnia" members, including Princip, were Serbs. The focus of their protest was Vienna's annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, and its promise of sovereignty to come.

It seems the latter — the prospect of an independent B-H on equal footing with Serbia — was the flaming catalyst, rather than the annexation itself. For Vienna had been administering and patrolling B-H since Treaty of Berlin, in 1878, subsequent to the loss by Istanbul of Balkan peninsula acreage in the Russo-Turkish war.

Ever since, Belgrade, or elements there — watching the Austrian empire fray (along with the Ottoman) under stress of Nationalist theory and rebellious practice — had anticipated, when Vienna finally withdrew from Sarajevo, expanding to fill the vacuum, west over its long established border (mostly drawn by the Drina river).

Belgrade's concern was in part strategic, about defense posture and trade — about the rivers Drina, Bosnia and Neretva, the latter which runs preciously through the monstrous Dinaric Alps to the Adriatic.

But it was also about civilization. Expanding west to establish "Greater Serbia" would assure that the Serbian Orthodox Church, not Croatia's fervent Catholicism, would be first among equals in the historic and tragic multi-National krajina (borderland) which since Diocletian had divided civilized Europe and, since Constantine, Christendom.

But if Vienna, before leaving, were to create an independent state seated at Sarajevo, with recognition and support from the West's other Major Powers, well, so much for Greater Serbia.

And wouldn't such a Westernized, Latinized, Bosnia-Hercegovina be ripe for poaching by Greater Croatia?

Whether Princip himself, born to poor Serb parents in a Bosnian village, raised in Zagreb, was a Serb Nationalist or, as he said at his trial, a Yugoslav Nationalist (in a day when Yugoslavia had never yet existed), one has no hope of deciding with confidence. The debate is perpetual and distorted by heat and time.

He went to Belgrade in 1912, where (most Authorities agree) he tried to join the Black Hand, a secret society of Serb Army officers dedicated to the Greater Serbia project. Some say the application was rejected, and that the Young Bosnians were loners with chips on their shoulders, and Lone Nuts.

Others, including, the Encyclopedia Britannica, state without qualification that Princip and two others were trained and then sent to Sarajevo by no less than Dragutin Dimitrijević a.k.a. Apis, then director of Serbian Army intelligence, a Black Hand founder, and a legendary Double or Triple Cross figure (or was it Quadruple?) in the history of European espionage.

One may note that Tito's Yugoslavia — with its marxian Universalism and strict repression of Nationalist parties of all stripes — did allow Princip's footprints and a Young Bosnia museum to tarry through its decades. The authorities of Titoism, then, seem to have seen Princip as a Yugoslav first, yearning to be free of the Viennese yoke.

Or did they rewrite the character (who died in prison in 1918), to fill the role of the new kind of patriot that the new postwar state, after the National violence of the 40s, so badly needed?

Whoever Princip may have really been, the assasination of 1914 may best be understood as the conclusion of a revenge play, The Balkan Tragedy (after Kyd), which opens in 1878, with South Slav locals dancing in the streets as the Turk packs his cannon and goes home.

The second act rises to climax with the Crisis of 1908, where Vienna's Foreign Minister, whom Moscow accuses of being a Jew, expresses his view that among the new lands again part of Christendom, Bosnia, with its sui generis Muslims and multicultural mix, should not be governed by Belgrade.

The Crisis then unwinds with the trumpets and parthian triumphs of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 echoing through the streets of Belgrade as the Young Bosnians masticate the jerky of their destinies while compulsively oiling their guns.

The End