News / Europe

Sarajevo Marks WWI Centenary

Tourists looking at exhibits in Sarajevo museum, including portraits of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sofia von Hochenberg, in Sarejevo, Saturday, June 28, 2014
Tourists looking at exhibits in Sarajevo museum, including portraits of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sofia von Hochenberg, in Sarejevo, Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sarajevo marked the centennial on Saturday of a prince's murder that lit the fuse for World War One, offering a message of unity to a divided country and a continent buffeted by deep social and economic strife.

The centerpiece of a string of cultural and sporting events will be a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra in the Bosnian capital, where the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot dead with his wife on a bright June morning in 1914.

The murder of Franz Ferdinand by a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip set the Great Powers marching to war. More than 10 million soldiers died, as empires crumbled and the world order was rewritten.

Sarajevo closed the century under siege by Bosnian Serb forces during Yugoslavia's bloody disintegration. Still coming to terms with that conflict, Bosnia's former warring communities met Saturday's centennial deeply at odds over Princip's motives and his legacy.

Leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs, who consider the assassin a hero, are boycotting the official commemoration in Sarajevo, angered by what they say is an attempt to link the wars that opened and closed the 20th century, and to pin the blame on them.

They will instead re-enact the murder and Princip's trial in the eastern Drina river town of Visegrad, scorched into the memory of many in the Balkans for some of the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 war by Bosnian Serb forces driving out Muslim Bosniaks.

In Sarajevo, the Vienna Philharmonic will perform a repertoire harking strongly back to the days of the Habsburg Empire, including Haydn, Schubert, Berg and Brahms.

The concert will take place in the capital's restored City Hall, known as Vijecnica, where Ferdinand attended a reception on June 28, 1914. He left in an open car with his wife, Sophie, but the driver took a wrong turn and Princip shot them from a Browning pistol on the banks of the river.

The Austrians attacked Serbia a month later and the Great Powers, already spoiling for a fight, piled in. The neo-Moorish Vijecnica, which later became the National Library, went up in flames in 1992 under fire from Bosnian Serb forces in the hills, almost 2 million books perishing in the inferno.

“Never again”

“This is a symbolic concert in a symbolic location,” Professor Clemens Hellsberg, the orchestra's president and first violin, told a news conference on Friday. “We want to provide a vision of a common future in peace,” he said.

The conductor, Franz Welser-Most, noted that the Austrian composer Alban Berg “was in favor of the outbreak of World War One”. But, he said, the “Three Pieces for Orchestra” that he wrote at the time and was to be performed on Saturday “describes the marching to war and what disaster it brings”.

Asked about the significance of a Viennese orchestra marking the event, Welser-Most said: “You should not deny the burden of history.” The message, he said, was “never again”.

Leaders of the 28-member European Union marked the centennial on Thursday in Ypres, the Belgian city synonymous with the slaughter of the war, papering over divisions borne of economic crisis and growing support for the anti-EU right.

For visitors to the city, guides offered tours of Sarajevo, Princip's haunts and the key locations on the day he killed Franz Ferdinand. Performers rehearsed for a midnight musical planned on the bridge near where he fired the fatal shot.

On Friday, Serbs in Bosnia unveiled a statue of Princip in East Sarajevo. They have rebuilt his family home, razed during the 1992-95 war, and will open it on Saturday as a museum.

Serbs see Princip as a freedom fighter not just for Orthodox Serbs but for Bosnia's Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats too, his shot bringing down the curtain on centuries of imperial occupation over the Balkans.

That was the official narrative for decades under socialist Yugoslavia. But the collapse of their joint state shattered perceptions of Princip, whom many Bosniaks and Croats regard as a Serb nationalist with the same territorial ambitions as those behind much of the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s.

Bosnia was divided into two autonomous regions after the war, in a highly decentralized system of ethnic power-sharing that has stifled development and, critics say, only cemented divisions.

Asked about the absence of official Serb representatives from the Sarajevo commemoration, the city's Croat mayor, Ivo Komsic, told reporters: “They demonstrate their attitude not to the past but to the future.” 

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Comment Sorting
by: Mark from: Virginia
June 29, 2014 9:25 AM
The shot fired that morning ended up killing millions, most certainly that was not on the mind of Gavrilo Princip when he jumped up on the running board of that open topped car. Princip was one of many who were lining the route with the intent to kill the Archduke. It was (luck, fortune, coincidence?) for Princip to have been in position to take that opportunity. A bomb was thrown at the car earlier in the day and missed.

If history and memory still serves me...the event on that 28 June morning ignited World War I, and really did not officially end until 7 May 1945. The interlude between the world wars was just a breather for Europe to prepare for another round. While 11 November 1918 saw the end of fighting in WWI, it was an armistice, not an actual surrender by Germany, which gave birth to the idea that Germany could have fought on, even going so far as to say the Germany could have won that war. It raised such sentiment in Germany itself of the "November Criminals" (the German politicians who signed the Armistice) that bolstered the rise of the Nazis and precipitated the start of WW2. Between the two world wars, nearly 100 million people died; soldiers and civilians, in and out of combat and from diseases and crimes of all sorts.

I wonder if Gavrilo Princip and those who still honor him as a hero, have considered those facts.....

by: Glauro Campello from: Brazil
June 29, 2014 8:14 AM
It's unbeliveble that after the stupidity of the carmificine of the 90's, an all destrucions an pain, people proof that the human race is stupid indeed. Proudness is one of the most ambiguos feeling of all of us. Clever people don't have it. After millions of deaths destruction of inteire cities and thousands of years of culture destroied, stupid people still feel hungry. We don't deserve what the nature has given to us. Poor us. Por Serbians, Bosnians, Croats, Russians, Ukranians, Afegans ... Catholics, Muslins, Jeweshs, etc. Fighting for money power and stupidity.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
June 30, 2014 3:24 AM
The things we celebrate, anywhere, just doesn't make any sense at all! There is nothing to mark nor celebrate about this! Nothing! What ever happened to leaders who actually led his people into battle? Back in those days, eons ago, kings, lords, emperors, were the first to charge his enemies, but nowadays, the leaders sit in their comfortable offices, sipping tea, eating fresh baked scones, smiling for the cameras, smoking hookas, and telling his common people, "OK, men, go fight a battle that I just started! Oh, and I support you! (hehe) OK, go!!!"

We even celebrate Columbus' Day. Why? What did Columbus do? He discovered land?
Oh yeah, when he said "I have discovered America!"
The PEOPLE already here said, "Awe man, I didn't know that the LAND WE HAVE BEEN LIVING ON FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS was called America?
(Sitting Bull) Thanks alot Tecumseh!
(Geronimo) Yeah, Tecumseh, it's your fault! And you too, Incan King Tupac! I told you guys we should have a game show called "Name this land before somebody else does"
(Tupac) Wait I was in Peru the whole time guys! You know the internet there sucks!
(Tecumseh) I get blamed for everything, the heck with you guys, I'm going to McDonald's, I've got the munchies! What was in that peace-pipe, Sitting Bull? And stand up for once!
(Dances with Wolves) What the heck is McDonald's? I've got the munchies too!
(Great Eagle) Dances with Wolves, hehe, what a stupid name! Guess it's not as bad as Raping Chicken over there.
(Raping Chicken) Hey, come on, it was consensual! Eating Poo can vouch for me.
(Eating Poo) Anyone have mouth-wash, I have a hot date tonight and she eats a lot of fiber!

by: Andy from: UK
June 28, 2014 5:51 PM
Have just finished "The Sleepwalkers" by Christopher Clark, bit heavy but an amazing history of stupidity. I read, there were two shots, the first killing his wife Sophia.

by: Scott Boggs
June 28, 2014 3:59 PM
Unbelievable. No one beat me here to commemorate; here I am an old fool American...from Florida! Well, at least I know a thing or two about divided nations, political subdivisions, and families. My great-grandfather fought on the side of some 1860's Kentucky wild men who wanted to raid Cincinnati, burn it, and return south to continue farming their tobacco using slaves. But lo and behold, failing that ambition the poor young fool returned to his father's house only to discover that his dad had allowed Union troops to camp on the front lawn before continuing their Atlanta-bound invasion. Filial and neighborly schisms aren't exclusive to Europe by any means. The pride and jealousy that results from suspicion and, especially, insult and injury yields a type of societal machismo that can hardly ever be eradicated. Too often, the younger generation has to wait for elderly ex-combatants to pass away; then the turf under all those blue and white UN flags with the doves holding olive branches becomes a little bit safer to walk upon without hawks swooping down and--well, you know what I mean!
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
June 29, 2014 3:47 AM
Well said Scott. Wars are never about who's way of life if just, it's about who is better equipped, and most of all, who wins! So what for this centennial. Thanks for the Civil War reference, after all, when we commemorate the Civil War, we honor both sides of the coin. Shame on Sarajevo for not honoring 'all' that were responsible for bringing about WWI. But since this flame of bitterness is still smoldering, they should not have done this centennial, period!

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