100 years ago today, a sickly young man with a mission wandered the streets of Sarajevo. Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb, wasn’t happy with Austro-Hungarian rule. Relations between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian empire were at a low point. Serbia had recently regained territory lost since Medieval times, and their growing power made the Hapsburg Empire nervous. Many ethnic Serbs remained under Hapsburg rule in Bosnia, and some of them, like Princip, would have much rather have been tied to Serbia.
A few years before, Princip had been kicked out of school for participating in demonstrations against the ruling regime. He had gone to Serbia and tried to enlist, only to be rejected because he was too small. So instead he joined what most people would term a terrorist group, the Black Hand organization. Their goals included kicking the Hapsburgs out of Bosnia, and assassination was one of their tools.
The Hapsburg heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, was only next in line because his cousin committed suicide. He had angered the emperor, Franz Joseph, by marrying a woman whose pedigree wasn’t quite up to snuff. The couple was still unpopular with the royal crowd, but they had a happy home life and three children. Sophie was often shunted during imperial celebrations, but on June 28, 1914, Franz and Sophie were in Bosnia together to observe military maneuvers and then celebrate the opening of a museum.
During their visit to Sarajevo, one of Princip’s co-conspirators threw a bomb at the Archduke’s motorcade and injured some of the Archduke’s companions and onlookers in the street. After a reception at the town hall, Franz and Sophie decided to visit the wounded in the hospital. No one bothered to tell the drivers what the plan was, so when it was finally sorted out, the drivers had to change course, and in the process, the Archduke’s car stalled, right in front of Gavrilo Princip.
Princip fired his pistol into the open car and shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. Princip later said that he had aimed not at Sophie, but at another passenger in the car, the governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Franz and Sophie both died within minutes.
The train bringing the bodies of Franz and Sophie back to Vienna arrived at night, and the public wasn’t given the opportunity to view the coffins. Due to Sophie’s social status, they were not buried at the imperial crypt, snubbed even in death.
Princip was arrested. He escaped the death sentence because of his age (19 at the time of the crime), but died in prison of tuberculosis.
That event in Sarajevo led to ethnic unrest in Bosnia, ultimatums from Austria-Hungary, pledges of support from Germany to Austria-Hungary and from Russia to Serbia, mobilizations, and the horrible conflict known as The Great War or World War One. It also contributed to revolution and civil war in Russia, a huge flu pandemic, WWII, and the Cold War.
100 years ago today, the world changed. But on June 28, 1914, it wasn’t yet too late to hold back the catastrophes that would come. I wonder if those involved would have changed their plans if they could have seen the future.
On a lighter note, for those of you with an interest in history, this post is hilarious: If World War One Was a Bar Fight.