In Bosnia, WWI Is Commemorated With A Statue Of Assassin Who Started The War

A statue of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who is credited to start WWI, is unveiled in Sarajevo on Friday. CREDIT: AP IMAGES
A statue of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who is credited to start WWI, is unveiled in Sarajevo on Friday. CREDIT: AP IMAGES

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip stood on the corner of Appel Quay and Franzjosefstrasse eating a sandwich.

The 19-year-old Bosnian Serb was part of a group of assassin students called the Young Bosnians who were trying to capitalize on Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s trip to Saravejo. Heir to the Austria-Hungrary throne, Ferdinand was visiting the recently annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina to attend military exercises, and when the Young Bosnians heard of his visit, they smuggled semi-automatic pistols and handheld bombs over the Serbian border. Their first attempt to assassinate Ferdinand ended with a bomb rolling off the side of the Archduke’s car killing a few bystanders. Their second attempt came when Princip was standing on the corner eating his sandwich.

A motorcade carrying Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg, took a wrong turn on Appel Quay, and Princip was simply handed a now-infamous opportunity. Two shots killed the couple, and the assassination catapulted Europe into World War I. In total, 37 million people died in the four-year war; the Archduke and his wife are considered the first.

One hundred years later, Bosnia has erected a statue of Princip in Saravejo to commemorate the anniversary which sparked a chain of almost a century’s worth of conflict in Europe. In attendance of the statue’s unveiling were Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

Bosnia remains divided on its interpretation of Princip’s role in the start of the Great War: some view him as a hero attempting to overthrow totalitarian control and others see him as a disenfranchised nationalist. The unveiling of the statue in his honor coincides with an array of international ceremonies in Sarajevo including a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchesta and a French-sponsored bicycle race, but many Serb leaders are boycotting them saying they depict Serbs as villains of the war.

While Princip is honored in Sarajevo, Anita von Honenberg, the great-grand daughter of the archduke, will remember the start of the war at the Artstetten Castle in Austria where Ferdinand and his wife are buried. “We’re expecting between 1,000 and 2,000 people,” she told FRANCE 24. “There will be a gathering at the family tomb and a bouquet will be placed, followed by a Pontifical Requiem Mass in the basilica.” Von Honenberg said her family would not be attending WWI ceremonies in Saravejo out of respect, but said they made peace with Princip almost a century ago.