Monday, 22 September 2014

Hilary Mantel's Plot to Assassinate Maggie Thatcher

There is a growing body of opinion, which is gaining momentum in the right wing press, that the double Booker Prize winning novelist, Hilary Mantel, has gone bonkers. There are those who are prepared to concede—never let it be said that the right wingers cannot be reasonable—that Mantel might still have some links with reality, but (imagine them nodding their heads sadly) the connection is faulty. Mental illness can strike anyone, and being a talented artist does not make you immune from succumbing (it’s a strange word, succumbing; it denotes that it is somehow the fault of the succumbee that they have succumbed, say, to cancer or to alcoholism; and only if they had the strength of the character, more will power, they would have seen the threat off) to mental conditions. Indeed some might argue that being a genius might even make you vulnerable to losing your mind. It is always sad when a once talented artist’s once talented mind disintegrates into lunacy, but these things happen. When the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung analysed James Joyce’s daughter when she was beginning to lose her marbles, Jung felt compelled to diagnose schizophrenia in not just her but also in her father. There was that mathematician—I forget his name; you know whom I mean; the one on whose life the Oscar winning film Beautiful Mind was based—who was an absolute genius and also a schizophrenic. Perhaps these things are related. (I should point out that the reverse is not necessarily true: just because you are a schizophrenic, you are not a genius.)

Is Hilary Mantel a genius? I think she is. And I say this not having read either of her Booker winning novels. A friend of mine told me that Wold Hall, Mantel’s 2009 Booker winner, was one of the worst books she had ever read. (My friend, that is, not Mantel. I do not know what Mantel thought of her own novel, but I doubt very much if she thinks it is one of the worst novels she has read, although I have also read that many authors choose not to read their own novels; so I don’t know.) She could not go beyond the first ten pages, apparently, my friend. However, since my friend’s literary appetite is more than adequately assuaged by the free Waitrose kitchen magazine, I am not sure that her withering verdict of Wolf Hall is necessarily a reflection on the quality of Mantel’s novel. Why do I think Mantel is a genius? I have based my verdict on two (non-Booker winning) novels of Mantel I have read, both of which, I thought, were superb.

So we agree that Mantel is a genius. This, we also agree, makes her more vulnerable to developing a mental illness than Mr. Shabuddhin, who owns a corner-shop round the corner from my flat. Mr. Shah (as he is known in the area) has not written any book to the best of my knowledge. He once told me that he had never read a book in his life, as he could not see the point, and considered the activity to be a waste of his time which he would rather spend in his shop. (Although I have not directly asked him, I don’t think Mr. Shah would consider himself a genius. While there are downsides of not being a genius, if it protects you from going mad, it has got to be regarded as a plus.)

In addition to Mantel’s (deserving) claim to being a genius, are there any other vulnerability factors that make Mantel more prone—than Mr.Shahabuddhin—to succumbing to mental illness? I have heard that those who go doolally are frequently remembered by their friends as always being a bit weird. Is Mantel weird? She might be. I have read a non-fiction book of Mantel entitled Giving Up the Ghost , which I thought was very readable; but I also remember thinking, when I finished it, that, no offence, but the woman was a bit weird. (Mantel describes in the book a childhood experience—which has stayed with her all her life—when she encountered evil in the back-garden of her house; and she is not talking metaphorically).
Who has diagnosed mental illness in Hilary Mantel? A chap called Timothy Bell—who is a Lord—is convinced that Mantel is a dangerous lunatic. Lord Bell—a friend and a former PR advisor to Margaret Thatcher, according to Independent (and to a number of disgraced celebrities, dodgy companies and third world dictators, according to another article in the Guardian) thinks that Mantel should (a) be investigated by the police and (b) see a therapist. Why is Lord Bell moved to suggest such drastic measures? Lord Bell’s (unsolicited) advice to the police (that they should investigate Mantel) and to Mantel (that she should see a therapist) is in response to a short story Mantel published on line in the Guardian this month, entitled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, which is one of the short-stories which will be published in a compilation at the end of the month (also titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher). The short story depicts a scene in which a Scouser (a bit of a regional stereotype here; why couldn’t the would-be assassin be from Berkshire?) enters the house of an ordinary woman whose kitchen window looks on to the back-garden of the hospital where Thatcher has come for a minor procedure on her eye. In an interview given to the Guardian Mantel admitted that she had a “boiling distaste” for Thatcher. The kernel of the story, she also revealed, occurred to her more than thirty years ago when she spotted an unguarded Margaret Thatcher from a window in Windsor and apparently thought that if she (Mantel) were someone else she (Thatcher) would be dead. (In other words Mantel lacked the guts to kill Thatcher or, like Gandhi, decided that violence does not solve anything.) So Thatcher survived (only to succumb to Alzheimer’s decades later, but not before she had brought ruination on working class communities); but it did not stop Mantel from fantasizing about murdering Thatcher, and she decided to sublimate her murderous instinct through the creative avenue open to her. She wrote a story. Mantel said that it took her more than thirty years to complete the story, a case of a very long writer’s block, although we can’t really say that, seeing as the woman published several novels (two of which went on to win the Booker) and non-fiction work in the intervening decades while she was wrestling with the technicalities of the story.

The right wing, Tory-loving, press has gone nuts after the Guardian published the story. Lord Bell felt—and he should know—that the story was “unquestionably in bad taste”.  Another Tory MP, Nadine Doris—who I believe has written a novel which she is flogging for 77 p or some such price on Amazon Kindle—is “gutted” and “shocked”.  Why? Because the publication of Mantel’s short story is so close to Thatcher’s death. Thatcher, Doris reminds Mantel, still has a living family. Doris concludes—to make this issue absolutely clear—that Mantel’s story has a character, Thatcher, whose demise is so recent.  (Would Doris have minded had Mantel waited for ten more years to publish this story? She had waited for thirty years already; would ten more years have been such a disaster?) Another Tory MP, someone called Stewart Jackson, is convinced that Mantel is a weirdo and her “death story” is “sick and deranged”. A Conservative activist called Tim Montgomery is disappointed that the Guardian chose to promote Mantel’s story full of hateful words about Mrs. Thatcher, his hero.

Is writing a short story about a recently diseased former prime minister of the country who—shall we say?—a divisive figure in the history of twentieth century British politics, in which the author depicts a scenario of the impending assassination of the said prime-minister suggestive of a mental illness in the author? Is it a criminal act? That depends, one would assume, on what is written. I read the short-story on line. Now I am no psychiatrist; neither am I columnist in a right wing, Labour-bashing broadsheet; nor a champagne swigging, minority-hating, homophobic Tory supporter; but Mantel’s short story struck me as a very well written piece with glimpses of Mantel’s trade-mark dark humour. You might accuse Mantel of bad taste or of sick mind but not of a criminal act that would have police arrive at your doorsteps with a search warrant for your mind, or social workers and psychiatrists wanting to put you on a community order unless you accepted antipsychotics. Mantel may be ideologically diseased and suffering from incurable hatred of Maggie Thatcher on the dubious grounds that Thatcher was a disaster for the country, but mad and a criminal? 

Everybody has a good and bad side. However, when one is judging a dead person, I see no good reason why only the best self-manifestations of the diseased should be the basis of the final judgement.

I am currently in the midst of writing a couple of short stories. The premise of the first one is as follows: David Cameron gets kidnapped by an army of cockroaches which tickles his privates with their hairy legs and giant antennae until he either agrees to recommend the cockroach-chief as the next leader of the Tory party, or dies of laughter-induced exhaustion. The second one, which is still in the conception phase, is an erotic fantasy revolving around the love affair between Teresa May and a giant cucumber.  However, I am worried now. I should perhaps wait until Cameron and May are six feet under for twenty years before I attempt to publish it.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Book of the Month: The Betrayal (Helen Dunmore)

In 1952, an ageing and paranoid Joseph Stalin decided that it was time to put the doctors in Soviet Union to the sword. The deaths of high-positioned Soviet apparatchiks convinced Stalin that doctors were agents of the Western powers, out to assassinate Soviet leadership by poisoning it. (The truth, of course, was more prosaic. The men died from natural—and in some cases self-inflicted—reasons such as advanced alcoholism and heart failure; and nothing that the doctors could have done would have saved them.) The last grisly and gruesome episode of Stalin’s “terror” was unleashed, which ended, mercifully, after only a few months with his death.  Innocent doctors—several of them Jewish (Stalin was not anti-Semitic for religious reasons, but he considered Jews to be potential Fifth Elements), were arrested, and confessions were obtained from them by Stalin’s usual tactics (beat, beat, and beat some more). The numbers, initially small, quickly swelled up to hundreds.  Public opinion against the arrested doctors was mobilised; preposterous articles were published in Pravda about the “doctors’ plot”—uncovered by the vigilance of the loyal party members—designed to kill top Soviet leadership including Stalin himself. (The headline of the article, which set the tone of the article, was: “Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians”). The idea was to build up public fervour, leading to show trials. The arrested doctors were lucky in comparison with the millions who perished in Stalin’s ‘terror’ of the 1930s (which probably inspired Mao Tse Tung’s “Cultural Revolution”  in the 1960s) because the dictator died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in March 1953. (According to Simon Sebag Montefiero’s excellent Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Stalin was alone in his study at night when he suffered a “cerebrovascular accident”, and his death was perhaps hastened because no medical help was immediately available.)  The new Soviet leadership quickly distanced itself from Stalin’s last, mostly pointless, act of vengeance. The trials—set to start in March 1953—were cancelled, and the doctors released.

The short-lasting episode against the Soviet doctors, in the last days of Stalin’s dictatorship, is the inspiration behind the Orange Prize winner Helen Dunmore’s 2010 novel The Betrayal.
Dunmore, who won the inaugural (1996) Orange Prize for A Spell of Winter, enjoyed success of another sort with her 2001 novel The Siege which was commercial success. The Siege tells the story of the first (and the harshest) winter during the three-year siege of Leningrad by the Germans during the Second World War.

In The Betrayal we meet some of the characters in The Siege. It is almost ten years since the siege of Leningrad. Stalin, apparently immortal, is still ruling the Soviet Union. Andrei is a young paediatrician (with special interest in arthritic conditions) working in Leningrad’s hospital. His wife, Anna, works in a children’s nursery. Andrei and Anna live together with Anna’s younger brother, Kolya. We learn that Anna’s mother (also a physician) died in childbirth while her father, a writer and poet who fell out of favour in the 1930s and was ostracized (but was lucky enough not to have been sent to Siberia), died, together with Marina—a woman who probably became his partner after his wife’s death—, during the siege of Leningrad. Andrei and Anna are slowly building their lives from the wreckage of the Second World War, in Stalin’s Russia, taking care—as most under Soviet dictatorship did—not to do anything that would make them conspicuous. Then one day Andrei is approached by Russov, a highly positioned doctor in Andrei’s hospital, for a second opinion on a ten year old child who has been admitted with a swelling under his knee. The child is the son of a high ranking KGB officer named Volkov. Andrei senses a trap. Years of living under Stalin have taught Andrei that he should do his utmost to steer clear of anything that has to do with the party officials. He suspects that the child’s condition is potentially serious and Russov is trying to pass on the buck. Anna advises Andrei to call in off sick on the day he is supposed to see the boy. Andrei declines (did I forget to tell you that he is a conscientious doctor?) and examines the boy. His suspicions are confirmed. The child, he reckons, has a tumour growing on his bone. This is not his area of expertise at all and he decides to tell Russov who—Andrei knows—must have known this even before he asked Andrei for an opinion.  What the boy needs, Andrei thinks, is a good surgeon. However, any hopes Andrei might have had of wriggling out of the case are dashed when he is summoned to meet Volkov, the boy’s father. Volkov informs Andrei that his son has taken a liking for Andrei and he, Volkov, wants Andrei to be the doctor overall in charge of the case, never mind that he is not an expert in the field. Andrei recommends a biopsy of the swelling, which, he tells Volkov, is most probably a tumour. The biopsy is performed by a Jewish female surgeon called Brodskaya. The biopsy shows that the tumour is of a particularly malignant variety (called osteosarcoma) with poor prognosis. The only option which has a chance of saving the boy’s life is amputation of leg. Which is what Brodskaya—another conscientious, hard-working doctor—recommends. Andrei conveys the “expert opinion” to Volkov and suggests that in Leningrad Brodskaya is the best surgeon to carry out the operation (thus unwittingly doing to Brodskya what Russov did to him). Volkov is not happy. He is not happy that his son is going to lose his leg; and he is not happy that the surgeon who will carry out the operation is Jewish. In the end he agrees, threatening vaguely that there would be hell to pay if anything goes wrong. The operation is carried out; the boy is discharged; and Andrei thinks his ordeal is over. But it is not (we are only half-way through the novel). Within months the boy is back with symptoms that strongly suggest that the tumour, despite Brodskaya’s extensive surgery, has spread to lungs. The boy is going to die. Volkov is incandescent with rage. It is doctors’ fault; indeed it is more than just incompetence; it is a conspiracy, and the Jews are involved. His son is dying and the doctors will have to pay. Thus begins the nightmare for Andrei and Anna.  I shall not reveal how the plot develops for not wanting to give away too much, but anyone familiar with the “doctors’ plot” will have an idea the direction the novel is going to take.

The Betrayal is not an excessively complicated novel. Dunmore leaves the readers in no doubt as to which side she wants them to be on. It is a novel in which the characters are either black or they are white; there are no shades of grey. It is a battle between those who are beyond reproach and those who are ignorant, paranoid and vengeful. (Vulkov does show some promise at being more than just a two-dimensional, stereotypical KGB monster, but only fleetingly). Andrei and Anna are so perfect—hard-working, idealistic, conscientious, so very understanding of each other (Anna “understands” why Andrei would want to get involved with the Vulkov case even if that means trouble), and so much in love with each other—that you wish at times for them to have at least one good fight, or, failing that, unsatisfactory sex life; but no!, these two enjoy brilliant sex-life. The supporting cast of characters, like the protagonists of the novel, are neatly divided into good (Andrei and Anna’s friends) and weaselly (Russov who lands Andrei in trouble, and Maslov, the professor who refuses to stand by his protégée after Andrei’s fall from grace). As you read the novel, you do feel sorry for the plight of Andrei and Anna, but not excessively—and you feel guilty about it—because you find—there is no kinder way of saying this— them a bit dull.

The Betrayal is a novel of two halves. The first half of the novel is brilliantly paced. There is a sense of urgency and foreboding right from its first sentence (“It’s a fresh June morning without a trace of humidity, but Russov is sweating”) and the tension builds up from there on. Dunmore has done her research thoroughly (there is a page-long bibliography at the end of the novel and the reader is urged, in case he wants to know what other books Dunmore researched, to read the bibliography of The Siege) and she conveys superbly the atmosphere of oppression, suspicion, mistrust, and antagonism that many characters in the novel find themselves in the midst of, and which no doubt engulfed the Soviet society during Stalin’s dictatorship. The mindless drudgery, petty bureaucracy, and obsession of small-minded officials with numbers and statistics (which, they hope, will further their careers) that seem to have been endemic to many a Communist dictatorship, are described very drolly. The exhortations of Anna’s boss (at the children’s nursery) to collect more pointless data and deluge the mothers—tired by the daily grind of hard-work—with simplistic advice and information provide the only light relief in a novel which is grim almost till the end. 

By comparison, the second half of the novel drags a bit. As Dunmore describes, with obvious relish, Andrei’s ordeal in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow (where he is transferred), when he is interrogated, the reader can be excused for feeling a tad impatient, wanting to know how it all ends for him. While there is no doubt that the descriptions of Andrei’s torture in Lubyanka are authentic, they do tend to slow down what until then is an exquisitely paced novel. The end, when it comes, is a bit anti-climactic, but is probably in keeping with the resolution of the historical doctors’ plot. The ending also suggests that the reader shouldn’t at all be surprised if in due course a third novel featuring Andrei and Anna and their child(ren)—Anna gives birth to a daughter when Andrei is in prison— appears.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Book of the Month: The Last Runaway (Tracey Chivalier)

The protagonist of Tracy Chivalier’s 2012 novel, The Last Runaway, is a twenty year old Quaker woman named Honor Bright.

The name of the protagonist and her Quaker background are clues as to the course of the heroine’s life in the novel. Whether Honor Bright is bright can be a matter of opinion; what cannot be doubted are her honourable intentions. The woman is more upright than Gandhi and more honourable Mother Teresa.

Jilted by her Quaker fiancé in England who decides to abandon not just Honor but his faith in order to marry a non-Quaker woman he has fallen in love with, Honor decides to leave the bad memories and the Quaker community of Bridport, Dorest behind, and travels with her more enterprising sister, Grace, who is set to go to Ohio, America to join her Quaker betrothed, an ex-neighbour of the Bright family. Upon reaching America Grace swiftly (and conveniently) pops her clogs and Adam Cox, the man who is set to marry Grace (and does not know of Grace’s death) ,is faced with Grace’s younger sister, who, he doesn’t know, has travelled with Grace to America. After spending a few awkward weeks in the Cox household—Abigail, Grace’s would be sister-in-law, recently widowed herself, and, as subsequent developments show, having marked Adam as a possible replacement for his dead brother, does not take kindly to the uninvited guest, possibly marking her as a rival—Honor, not keen at all on returning to England, although in her letters to her friend back in Bridport she moans endlessly about the brash Americans who lack subtlety, because of her horror of sea-sickness (!), marries into another Quaker family in the community, after making love with her would be husband, Jack Haymaker, in a cornfield (a very un-Quakerish behaviour, if you ask me, although I am no expert on the mores of the nineteenth century Quakers). Honor starts her new life with the Haymakers, with her husband, Jack; mother-in-law, Judith; and Jack's unmarried sister, Dorcas. At this stage Honor is faced with a moral dilemma that threatens to break her marriage (and which gives the novel its title). Soon after she reaches Ohio Honor becomes aware of the so called Underground Railroad, a network of liberal minded Americans who provide shelter and food to slaves who are escaping from South, towards freedom in Canada. Indeed soon after her arrival in America, while awaiting Adam Cox to fetch her, Honor spends a few days with a feisty alcoholic (no cause and effect relationship, here) named Belle Mills, who is heavily involved in the Underground Railroad. Her half-brother, Donavon, on the other hand, is an egg that is bad (and not even trying to be good). Donovan is a slave-catcher, and has the law on his side. Herein lies Honor’s moral dilemma. As a Quaker she is vehemently against slavery and wants to do what she can to help the escaping slaves who are passing through Ohio; at the same time, as a Quaker, she is also expected to obey the law. Her in-laws are in no doubt as to what course of action the family should follow: obey the law and steer clear of the runaway slaves. The slaves have obviously enough wits about them that brought them all the way from the South to Ohio; and the same wits would see them make their way to freedom in Canada. And if they get caught, well, it’s too bad, but what can anyone do about it? Honor Bright begs to differ. She wants to hide the slaves from Donavon, and give them water and such comestible as can be gathered. (Donavon seems to be the only slave-catcher in the area who, for reasons best known to him, has taken into his head that stalking the Quaker community, in particular the Haymakers, would greatly enhance his chances of catching slaves.) The situation in the Haymaker family is fast reaching what the hostage negotiators describe as impasse. Honor Bright refuses to back down, and, even though Jack has managed to put her bun in the oven, decides to leave the marital home to stay with Belle Mills. Belle is not best pleased with this development, not because she does not wish to share her alcoholic beverage (although that could be a reason; the recidivist alcoholics have been known to be notoriously selfish in these matters), but because she is worried that Honor's presence in her house might put her secret activities linked to Underground Railroad in jeopardy. And she is right. Donovan the rapscallion begins visiting his half-sister's house with worrying frequency, giving signals that are hard to miss (and ignore) that while he suspects Honor of harbouring sympathy for the runaway slaves he also finds the pregnant Quaker woman a trouser-stirrer. The end, when it finally comes, is as predictable as it is formulaic. It all ends well for Honor, you will be pleased to know. Donovan meets his comeuppance; and the person who sends him packing to his meeting with his Maker is Belle, who can't be prosecuted for murder as she herself is dying having drunk her way to liver cirrhosis.

Tracy Chivalier, an American novelist who lives in England (and probably has a Quaker background), has built for herself a formidable reputation as a novelist of historical fiction. In The Last Runaway she attempts to combine historical narrative with romance. The result is a strangely unconvincing and anaemic novel. Chivalier, as the afterwards of the novel informs, has undertaken a lot of historical research for this novel. (The Underground Railroad system, for example, was an actual system run by the whites that helped slaves on the run from their masters.) To Chivalier’s credit, for the most part, she does not allow the painstaking research to sit heavily on the novel, and avoids the temptation of showing off. The first half of the novel is full of what can be described period details aimed at conveying the minutiae of the daily life of the nineteenth century Quakers. The readers can be excused for feeling a tad weary after being subjected to a detailed account, that runs into pages, of how quilts are sown, accompanied by a scholarly discourse on the relative merits of the American and English styles (the English type is more intricate and requires more skills, in case you want to know).

The problem with the novel is that the plot does not really go anywhere. There is no drama. It is almost as if Chivalier is too much in awe of the central character. Honor Bright has the conviction of her beliefs that one can expect in the self-righteous. The moral uppitines, combined with the fact that Honor, in reality, is doing not a great deal to ease the afflictions of the runaway slaves (leaving water and dried meat outside of the house must have been of help, but it would stretch the limits of credulity to think that the slaves, who have managed to travel several hundred kilometres, would have been unable to survive without the meagre food rations; and did they really need the Haymakers when the there seems to be only a solitary slave-catcher in the region, Donavon, whose attentions and energies are divided between getting drunk and casting lustful glances at Honor’s loins?) makes Honor Bright, for the most part, more irritating than a kidney stone. The latent sexual attraction between Honor and Donavon remains just that; this strand of the novel remains frustratingly underdeveloped. The main the characters are either two-dimensional or cartoonishly implausible or both.

The strength of the novel is its prose. There is a soothing quality and an understated elegance to Chivalier’s prose that makes The Last Runaway an easy enough read despite its rather lame story that is neither a romance nor serious historical fiction. Not one of Chivalier’s best, I am afraid. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Event that Sparked World War I: Time is A Great Equaliser

The first monument to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand went up in 1917. It was raised in the honour of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.

The monument was erected across the road where the Archduke was assassinated, at the corner of Appel Quay and Latin Bridge.

                                            Latin Bride, Sarajevo

The monument lasted two years.

In 1919 the monument was pulled down.

At the end of the Great War the Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared, and Austria lost control of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Bosnia instead became integrated into a new kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

In 1929, King Alexander dissolved parliament, declared Royal dictatorship, and renamed the country Yugoslavia—Land of the South Slavs. Gavro would have nodded with approval.

After the Great War, Gavro was not celebrated across the Kingdom of Serbia (as it was called then). The new rulers were not overly keen to celebrate Gavro in Belgrade; they wanted to keep it a local, Sarajevo, affair.  He had not yet become a national hero.

In 1920 the remains of Gavro and his co-conspirators (who had died) were brought back to Sarajevo with a great deal of ceremony and pomp. The plan to bring back Gavro’s body and those of the other dead plotters arose in the town of Hadzici, where Gavro’s brother Jovo had once lived. It is not known however whether Jovo took any active part in this. He was not part of the committee that was formed and he did not go to Terezin. Only one relative amongst all the conspirators went out to Terezin to bring back the bodies. That was Nedjo’s younger sister Vukosava, whom, their father feared, Nedjo had influenced with his anarchist ideas. Although he did not go to Terezin, Branko Cubrilovic, the brother of Veljko and Vaso (Vaso, by this time was released from prison and was most probably living in Sarajevo, but does not appear to have taken part in the proceedings) who had become the leader of an organization called Yugoslav Academic Youth, petitioned that a memorial be built for the plotters in Sarajevo.

Thanks to Frantisek Lebl, the Czech prison officer at Terezin where Nedjo, Grabez and Gavro had died, the locations of their graves were known.

By this time in Austria a new Socialist government had come to power, which cooperated with the disinterment of the bodies of the men who had died in the prison in Mollersdorf, Austria (Jakov Milovic, and the father and son Mitar and Nedjo Kerovic), and bringing them to Terezin.

Only the remains of Lazar Djukic were not found, and would never be found.

A temporary podium was erected in the cemetery in Terezin and thousands of Czechs had gathered to accompany the carts carrying the coffins to the railway station. Here the coffins were loaded on to a special carriage decorated with flowers.

The train stopped at the Bosanka Brod in Bosnia for a few days while the bodies of the three men who were hanged (Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic, and Misko Joavnovic) were exhumed and displayed.

The original plan was apparently to carry the coffins in the last part of the journey to Sarajevo on a goods- wagon. However, the transport workers’ Union complained: ‘If a diseased tyrant [Franz Ferdinand] could be transported out of Bosnia in a luxury car, why couldn’t the diseased heroes be transported in the same manner?’ A special train was prepared and travelled slowly from one station to the next, with silent crowds waiting at each station.

As the coffins were transferred, in Sarajevo, to a tram that would take them to the Judicial Hall, the crowd roared, ‘Glory to the Vidovan heroes.’

All the coffins were carried out in a procession to the cemetery where a large plot had been prepared. The coffins were lowered one by one, allowing Gavro’s a slight elevation in deference to his role in the assassination.

In later years, a chapel was built at the sites and the names of all the conspirators were inscribed in an arched plaque of black marble.

The newly created kingdom of Serbia was plagued right from the beginning with internecine hostility amongst the different ethnic groups. The Croats were unhappy about the arrangement right from the beginning. The seeds of discontent were sown which would bear bitter fruits a couple of decades later in the Second World War, and again in the bloody, multi-ethnic conflict in the 1990s, as Tito’s Yugoslavia disintegrated, proving also that Gavro’s vision of the unification of all the South Slavs was only going to be an ephemeral dream.

In 1930, the first memorial in honour of Gavro was erected. It was erected on 2 February 1930 (the day three of the conspirators, including Gavro’s friend Danilo Ilic, hung from the scaffold 15 years earlier). It was erected on the wall of the delicatessen, above the spot where Gavro Princip had stood waiting for Franz Ferdinand. 

A black marble plaque was erected. The plaque proclaimed: ‘Here in this historic place, on St Vitus Day, the 28th of June, Gavrilo Princip proclaimed freedom.’

The plaque was erected in a religious ceremony presided over by the Orthodox Archbishop, The relatives of Veljko Cubrilovic, Misko Jovanovic and Trifko Grabez attended the ceremony.

Years later Vaso Cubrilovic would observe to writer Albertini that the Slavs carry with them the cult of hero worship. Gavro was a Serbian hero associated with the final liberation.

The Latin Bridge was renamed Princip Bridge. Later in 1930 a road in Theresienstadt (the prison where Gavro was initially placed; it was used as a concentration camp by the Nazis during the Second World War) was renamed Principova Aley in Gavro’s memory.

Even at the time when the plaque went up in Sarajevo, there were those in Western Europe who disapproved of the celebratory mood surrounding its erection and the elevation of Gavro to a cult hero.

Winston Churchill, the imperialist future Prime Minister of what was still then Great Britain, was piqued. In his book, The Unknown War: the Eastern Front, Churchill observed bitchily: ‘Princip died in prison, and a monument erected in recent years by his fellow countrymen records his infamy and their own.’

For Churchill Gavro was not a freedom fighter; he was a terrorist who in cold blood had killed a man and his wife in pursuance of his political aims. Never mind that the empire, during the years that it controlled the region, had oppressed the people ruthlessly and reduced them to the level of cattle.

Yugoslavia, as King Alexander had named it, remained unstable. Alexander, who had got ridof his enemy Dragutin Dimitrijevic (Apis) in 1917 by falsely implicating him (Dmitrijevic) in a non-existent plot to assassinate him (Alexander), was assassinated in 1934. An underground Fascist Croat organization, Utasa, was implicated in the murder.

Throughout the 1930s Paul, Alexander’s brother who had become Price Regent, employed repressive policies in a desperate bid to keep the kingdom together. During this decade Communism grew steadily in influence in the region. And the Communist had a charismatic leader: Josip Broz, who adopted the sobriquet Tito.

Tito, who became the leader of the Communist party, as the Second World War broke out, called for armed resistance when Paul allied his country with the Nazi Germany. Paul was deposed by the Communists and the Nazi invaded Serbia (or Yugoslavia as it had come to be known) after bombing Belgrade (the capital would be bombed again decades later, this time by the NATO forces determined to remove Slobodan Milosevic from power). German troops occupied Belgrade and the country was chopped up between the Nazis and their allies: the Italians, the Bulgarians, and the Croatian Fascists, Utasa.

The Utasa took control of Bosnia and Hercegovina and, over the next few years, carried out systematic genocide directed against the Serbs, the Jews, and Romas. It is estimated that Utasa exterminated 750,000 Serbs, Jews and Romas.

The cottage in which Veljko Cubrilovic had spent happy years with his wife and new born daughter when he taught in Priboj, was set on fire by the Utasa Fascists, not because they knew Veljko had resided once in the cottage, but because they wanted to murder Serb teachers who were hiding in the cottage.

Surprisingly, the Utasa left Gavro’s memorial in Sarajevo untouched.

In 1945 Tito’s Communist party won the elections and a Socialist state of Yugoslavia was created, comprising Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Kosovo, in the South of Serbia, became an autonomous region. Gavro would have been pleased. His dream of unifying all the South Slavs, free from the control of the imperialists, had come true.

For the Communists, Gavro’s assassination of an imperialist was an act of utmost bravery and his subsequent ordeal a supreme sacrifice of a man for his ideals.

During the thirty odd years of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia, what Churchill would have described as a cult of hero worship around Gavro Princip, encouraged by the Communist regime, increased.

A set of footprints was cemented in the pavement opposite the delicatessen shop where Gavro had stood on that morning of 28 June 1914. It was symbolic and had no real historic significance, as, by that time, no one knew the precise location where Gavro had stood.

In the 1950s, the old delicatessen was converted into a museum of Young Bosnians. The museum was centred around Gavro and had displays of old artefacts and photographs. 

It seemed that, years after he met his awful end in a prison in Bohemia, Gavro Princip’s fortunes had changed. He was being hailed as a national hero. And his act—of killing the heir of an empire—which was considered high treason by the imperialists was now being hailed as supreme bravery that liberated oppressed people. No one remembered the dead heir of a dead empire while roads were named and museums opened in memory of the man who, with two shots, had terminated two lives and triggered off the Great War.

Not so fast.

Marshall Tito, by sheer force of his personality, kept Yugoslavia from self-imploding. Before he died (in 1980),Tito, in an attempt to prevent the breaking up of the Land of the South Slavs, put in place a power-sharing model where the presidency would revolve annually amongst the member states of Yugoslavia.

It was never going to work. The regional tensions got progressively worse in the 1980s; there were increasing debts from international loans and high unemployment. Croats were fed up with what they saw as the Serb domination of the federation while Slovenia wanted economic independence.

The inevitable happened.

In 1991 Slovenia, after a brief fight, attained independence. This was relatively painless. Next, the Croats followed. The Croatian separation was bloody with a right-wing ultra nationalist government in Croatia employing a policy of systematic terror against the Serbs in the region. More than 200,000 Serbs were estimated to have been driven out of Croatia into Serbia by 1995.

But the bloodiest of the battles was reserved for Bosnia-Hercegovina, the birthplace of Gavro and all of his co-conspirators.

It is beyond the scope of this posting to go into the details of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. In Bosnia-Hercegovina there was a more or less balanced population of Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

Simplistically put, the Serbs wanted to stay with Serbia while the Croats and Muslims wanted to leave the influence of Belgrade.

There then followed one of the bloodiest battles in the Balkans, including the infamous siege of Sarajevo by the forces of Slobodan Milosevic, who insisted on calling himself the President of Yugoslavia (Montenegro and Macedonia were still in the Federation). The three-year siege of Sarajevo was commanded by General Ratko Mladic (who was arrested in 2011, sixteen years after he was indicted for war crimes, the killings of about 7500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebenica, alleged to be the worst single atrocity in Europe since the Second World War, being one of them).

The 1990s multi-ethnic bloody conflict between Serbians, Bosniaks (Muslims of Albanian origin) and Croats has left bitter ethnic divide and hatred. In the Serb majority Srpska regin in Bosnia, there were, until 1991, half a million Muslims. By the time Mladic’s forces were through them only 30,000 were left. In the rest of Bosnia, it was the Serbs who were at the receiving end and, by the end of the Balkan wars, only 20,000 Serbs were left in the rest of Bosnia.

It would be an interesting exercise to speculate what Gavro Princip and his co-conspirators would have made of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s that saw their dream of Yugoslavia—the nation of Southern Slavs, which existed for 40 odd years—disintegrate. Gavro and his friends considered themselves revolutionaries and were fired with the idea of freeing Bosnia and Hercegovina from the oppression of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time there is no doubt that they looked towards Serbia for inspiration—Serbia was the mother country. They wanted Bosnia and Hercegovina to be free of Austria, but linked with Serbia in Yugoslavia. One would like to think that when the inevitable fragmentation of Gavro’s dream country began in the 1990s and the ultra nationalist Slobodan Milosevic presided over the destruction of the region, Gavro would have disapproved. 

The Young Bosnian museum dedicated to Gavro Princip was closed in 1992. With the multi-ethnic conflict gripping the region, Gavro Princip, for non-Serbs, was no longer a symbol of revolutionary drive; he was just a Serb-terrorist.

The museum would re-open again many years later but many exhibits would be lost; and the museum would reorient itself to tell the story of Sarajevo under the Austrian rule; it would no longer be just a celebration of the assassination.  

During the three year siege of Sarajevo (1992 to 1995) when Ratko Mladic’s forces shelled the city every day, it was a common practice of many citizens (presumably non-Serbs) to spit at Gavro’s plaque and the footprints.

The footprints were hacked at too. Eventually they were removed.

The Princip Bridge was renamed Latin Bridge.

The Marble plaque disappeared. No one knows what happened to it. A new plaque has gone up since the war. It is neutrally worded and reads as follows:

‘From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.’

One hundred years after he assassinated Franz Ferdinand (which triggered the First World War, though that was not his intention), Gavro Princip is a divisive figure in Sarajevo and Bosnia. For the Serbs Princip is a heroic figure who stood against an oppressive empire; for the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia, Princip and his fellow conspirators brought to an end a golden era in the history of Bosnia and Sarajevo. For them Gavro is not a hero but a terrorist. The wounds of 1990s' ethnic conflict in Bosnia, in particular the 1425-day siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces, have not completely healed. As Sarajevo marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination, the city's biggest international moment since the end of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the ceremony was boycotted by the President and Prime Minister of Serbia. Bosnia, today, is a divided (for all practical purposes) country: the predominantly Muslim and Croat dominated federation, and the highly autonomous Serb-dominated Serb Republic (RS). The capital (Sarajevo) too is controlled by the Muslims and Serbs. The East part of the capital (Istocno Sarajevo) is under Serb control, and the two parts of the city are not even joined by public transport. The Serbs, in Istocno Sarajevo are highly resentful that an attempt is being made to what they see as changing of history. 

The graves of the most of the conspirators, a loosely bound group of hot-headed, single-minded young men, fired with revolutionary ideas, striking at the heart of an empire, hoping that their heroic act would trigger the building a of a nation, Yugoslavia—the union of Southern Slavs— and also that posterity would remember them for their martyrdom, lie neglected in a grey stone chapel in a cemetery in the middle of a residential area in Sarajevo. On the memorial stone at the back of the chapel are names of all of them except Cvjetko Popovic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Mehmed Mehmedbasic, and Ivo Kranjcevic. Mehmedbasic died in Sarajevo, but being a Muslim, he is presumably resting in a Muslim cemetery. Vaso Cubrilovic died in Belgrade, and although his dying wish was to be buried with his friends in Sarajevo, it was not fulfilled, presumably because of the beginning of the ethnic trouble between the Serbians and Bosniaks by the time of Vaso’s death. (Popovic died in Sarajevo in 1980; it is unclear why his name is not on the memorial stone.)

Above the names on the stone are the words: ‘Heroes of Vidovan’.

Along the line of the arch is the inscription: ‘Blessed are those that live for evermore.’

[The source of this plus all the previous posts in this series, beginning with the assassination; the profiles of the plotters (Gavro Princip, Nedjo Cabrinovic, Danilo Ilic, Veljko Cubrilovic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Trifko Grabez, Mehmed Mehmedbasic, Cvejtko Popovic, and the rest); conspiracy theories, the aftermath, the outcome of the trial, and how it ended for the conspirators (Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic, Nedjo Cabrinovic, Mehmed Mehmedbasic, Trifko Grabez, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvejtko Popovic, and, finally, Gavro Princip) is in the main two excellent books:Origins of the World War I (Joachim Remak), and One Morning in Sarajevo (David James Smith), which, I'd unhesitatingly recommend; plus a variety of Internet publications and blogs.]

The Even that Sparked World War I: How it Ended for Gavro Princip

                                                                 Gavro Princip                             
When Nedjo Cabrinovic, Gavro Princip's fellow conspirator in the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on 28 June 1914,  died in January 1916, Gavro Princip was also experiencing a severe decline in his health. He had been treated most harshly up to that point by the prison authorities, and for all of the 16 months since his 20 year prison sentence began was kept in chains and in solitary confinement. Both his hands were shackled to the wall of his dark cell. Gavro could do nothing but sit and stare into the darkness. It is an indirect testimony to the strength of Gavro's character that he did not lose his mental balance after a prolonged solitary confinement.

Soon after Nedjo’s death Gavro tried to commit suicide by hanging, using a towel. He was not successful. The authorities would not let him die. He would live for two more years.

Soon after the unsuccessful suicide attempt the prison authorities brought in the Viennese psychiatrist, Dr. Pappenheim, to interview Gavro (what the poor man probably needed at that time were good nutrition and medical care, and not an interrogation by a psychiatrist).

Pappenheim had a series of interviews with Gavro. As he got to know Pappenheim Gavro took some pleasure in these meetings, but always kept his reserve. He told Pappenheim that he found the solitary confinement extremely hard to cope with, without books (which he loved reading) and without being able to speak to anyone for days on end. His sleep was erratic, he told Pappenheim. He spoke longingly of the small library of books he had built up. Books for me, he said, signify life. If only he could have something to read for 2-3 days, he would be able to express himself more clearly. He slept no more than 4 hours and nights and dreamed constantly. But they were pleasant dreams—‘about life and love’.

When in lucid mind Gavro thought about his country (Serbia). He would hear snippets of information (presumably from prison guards) and was distressed to learn that Serbia no longer existed. (At the beginning of the war the Serbian army was routed by the advancing armies of Germany, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary, and forced to flee.)

Gavro told Pappenheim that he believed the World War would have started anyway, irrespective of the assassination. He had killed the Archduke for wanting to revenge his people who, in his view, were oppressed terribly by the Austro-Hungarian regime.

Gavro spoke about his suicide attempt. It was about midnight and he was in very low spirits. And suddenly the idea came into his mind to end it all by hanging. It would be stupid to hope, he said.

By this time Gavro was showing unmistakable signs that he was suffering from tuberculosis. Pappenheim noted a fungus like growth on Gavro’s chest and arm.

Pappenheim noted that Gavro was always hungry and nervous. He made the obvious observation that the prisoner ought to have more sun and air. (The good doctor did not make his views known to the prison authorities, presumably thinking it was futile.) Gavro’s demeanour made it obvious to Pappenheim that he no longer had any hopes for anything; his life was finished. Everything that was linked to his ideals, he felt, was destroyed.

Gavro spoke a little bit about the assassination. He told Pappenheim that he was aware that there had been attempts at assassinations before, and the perpetrators were like heroes to young Serbians. He, Gavro, however, so he would tell Pappenheim, had no wish to become a hero. He merely wanted to sacrifice his life for his ideology. Before the assassination, Gavro had read an article by Kroptokin about what one can and should do in case of a worldwide social revolution. Gavro had studied this article and repeatedly talked about it with his friends. He had convinced himself that a worldwide social revolution was possible. (The assassination of Franz Ferdinand was presumably an important first step in the right direction.)

Gavro talked of his friendship with Danilo Ilic, Nedjo Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez, and how Milan Ciganovic came to be involved. He made it clear that the assassination was not the idea of Major Tankosic (of Komite army and a member of the Black Hand); indeed Tankosic had not been made aware of the target of the assassination until the last minute.

Pappenheim gave Gavro a pen and paper and invited him to write something about the social revolution. Gavro was pleased, not least because it was the first time in almost two years he was holding a pen in his hand. But he could not carry on for long. He said he had to stop because he was feeling ill and his thoughts, he said, were gone from his head.

At one stage Pappenheim asked Gavro whether he thought the assassination of the Archduke was a service in the light of what had happened in its wake (World War). At this Gavro became agitated. He said he could not believe that the Great War was the consequence of the assassination; he did not hold himself responsible for the catastrophe; therefore he could not say whether the assassination had been of service or not.

As Pappenheim continued to meet Gavro he noticed that his wounds were getting worse. The wounds were discharging freely and Gavro was miserable yet resigned. He told Pappenheim that he had no sure means to kill himself and suicide was impossible. He simply had to wait till the end.

Pappenheim asked Gavro—the kind of non sequitur only psychiatrists seem capable of making—how he felt and what he thought about. Gavro would have him believe that for most of the time he was in a philosophical mood. He thought about human soul. In his mind he struggled with questions such as what was the essential in human life—intrinsic will or spirit; and what moved man.

Gavro made it clear to Pappenheim that while many people who talked to him had formed the impression—owing to Gavro’s young age—that he must have been influenced by others, it was not so. People, he felt, formed that impression, because he was not a gifted talker—he was more of a reader—and could not express himself properly.

When Pappenheim met with Gavro for the fourth and last time, Gavro’s health had worsened considerably. The wound on the arm had suppurated. The arm, Pappenheim noted, clinically, would have to be amputated. Gavro looked resigned to his fate and was awaiting death.

The death would not oblige Gavro so easily and so soon. There was further suffering to be endured. Two more years, to be exact.

Dr. Pappenheim took notes of what Gavro said to him. He had apparently no intention of publishing them; but neither did he destroy them. In the 1920s, Dr. Pappenheim was introduced to one Ratko Parezanin, a former Young Bosnian who had settled in Vienna. Parezanin persuaded Pappenheim to publish these notes. Pappenheim agreed, ignoring the views of his wife, who was against the publication. The notes were first published in German. In 1927, they appeared in New York Times Current History (Issue 5), under the headline: ‘Confessions of the Assassin Whose Deed Led to the World War’.

The assassin was dead for nine years by the time Pappenheim’s notes were published.

                                                     Dr. Martin Pappenheim

The last years of Gavro’s life were indescribably horrendous. A doctor named Marsch saw Gavro in his last years, wasted to the bone and several tuberculosis ulcers, some as large as the palm of a hand, on his body. There was little doubt in Dr.Marsch’s mind that Gavro had been carrying the disease before his arrest.

Tuberculosis spread to Gavro’s bones and began corroding his elbow joint. There were suppurating ulcers all over his body. At this stage he was removed to the hospital. He was still considered a ‘dangerous prisoner’ who could escape and there was always a soldier in Gavro’s room! The doctors pointed out that this was unnecessary as Gavro could barely walk at this stage. But the soldier remained.

Dr.Marsch’s observations were similar to those of Dr. Pappenheim. At this stage Gavro had grown a long beard over his two years in prison. However when it was shaved off, the doctor felt that his young face was intelligent and full of expression. He seemed resigned to his inevitable fate. His eyes were sunken and had lost the fire. He told the doctor that his earthly life was finished and was waiting for the end. The only time he appeared to come to life when he spoke of the liberation of his people. He spoke about his ‘short life’ and his family. He never mentioned The Black Hand.

This is how Dr. Marsch noted down Gavro’s appearance:

‘The slim, frail body showed a typical tubercular appearance . . . His chest was covered with tubercular ulcers of hand size and full of pus. The disease had destroyed the elbow joint of his left hand to such an extent that the lower part of the arm had to be connected with the upper part with a silver wire. Why the doctors were forbidden to amputate the lower part of his arm which had become completely useless I am unable to explain to this day.’

Gavro required extensive dressing of his wounds every two days, which was provided. His wounds were so extensive the whole of his upper torso had to be covered, requiring bandages that would have covered five people.

A Jewish doctor (who actually was an inmate after he issued some false health certificate) showed Gavro kindness by bringing his pieces of chocolate he had received from home. That ended when the doctor killed himself, upon learning that his fiancé had died.

In his last year, Gavro’s prison guards were predominantly Czech and came to treat him with sympathy.  Many apparently kept him informed of the events, as the Great War unleashed by the assassination Gavro carried out, entered its last phase.

Gavro’s arm was eventually amputated, although it probably did little to alleviate the pain and misery of his last months.

Gavro did not see out the Great War. He died on 28 April 1918 at 6.30 am. The war would go on for a few more months.

The cause of death given was tuberculosis of bones. At the time of his death, Gavro was three months short of his 24th birthday.

Gavro did not live to see the misfortune that befell his mother. Gavro’s mother outlived her son by twenty years and ended her days in extreme poverty, begging on streets. She died just before the Second World War.

The prison authorities ordered five prison guards to take Gavro’s body to a nearby catholic cemetery for a secret burial. The guards were led by a young Czech officer, Frantisek Lebl. Lebl had earlier overseen the burials of Nedjo and Grabez, and secretly noted down the locations.

When Lebl arrived at the cemetery he noted that Gavro would be sharing his plot not with his fellow-conspirators but with a young prisoner who had died. The grave was already dug, in the middle of a path, where he would be forever trampled upon by the passing public. (No doubt, one last calculated insults by the Austrians.) That night Lebl made a sketch of the cemetery, noting down the location of the grave. He then posted it to his father in case he was killed in action.

Frantisek Lebl survived the war. After the war he went straight to the cemetery in Terezin and put a Czech flag on Gavro’s grave.

                                 Prison Cell where Gavro Princip was incarcerated. 

The Event that Sparked World War I: How it Ended for the Plotters

Vaso and Popovic were the youngest of the conspirators and in better physical health. They were the only two with a direct involvement in the assassination who survived the prison sentence. However, Popovic’s health was ruined in prison; he was diagnosed first with tuberculosis, then with rheumatism.

In 1917, after the Russian revolution, the conditions improved. Vaso and Popovic were put in one cell together and the prison guards, many Czechs, but also a few Germans, began treating them with greater consideration.

Both Vaso Cubrilovic and Cvjetko Popovic were released in 1918 at the end of the Great War, and lived into old age.

Vaso Cubrilovic, later life

                     Vaso Cubrilovic, 17 years of age, at the time of his arrest

Vaso in fact achieved modicum of success, both academic and political, in his later life. After his release from prison, Vaso returned to Sarajevo, where he finished gymnasium in 1919. He then moved to Belgrade, Serbia, where he graduated in general history at the faculty of philosophy. In 1929 Vaso obtained Ph.D at the faculty of philosophy (Belgrade), where his thesis was 'The Bosnian Uprising 1875-1878'. For the next forty years, Dr. Vaso Cubrilovic worked as a professor of history at the faculty of philosophy.  

Vaso Cubrilovic was the founder member of the Serbian Culture Club in 1937.

In March 1937, Vaso Cubrilovic presented a memorandum in a meeting which ensured that he would, in the fullness of time, be embroiled in another controversy.

The title of Vaso’s paper was ‘Expulsion of the Albanians’. The paper began with the following sentence: ‘The problem of the Albanians in our national and state life did not arise yesterday.’ The memorandum went on to criticise the ‘intractable character’ of the Albanians. What was Vaso’s solution to the ‘Albanian problem’? Massed resettlement of the tens of thousands of Albanians from Kosovo (in South Serbia) back to Albania and Turkey.

Vaso was blunt about the ‘methods’ that could be used to achieve this goal. Under the section 'The Mode of Evacuation', Vaso commented:

"It is well known that the Moslem masses are generally readily influenced by religion and are prone to superstition and fanaticism. Therefore, we must first of all win over the clergy and men of influence through money and threats in order for them to give their support to the evacuation of the Albanians. Agitators, especially from Turkey, must be found as quickly as possible to promote the evacuation..."

Vaso went on to 'recommend' state coercion and fomenting conflict (which could be presented to the world as the conflict amongst different clans) to gain complete Serbian control in Kosovo.

This was the time when the Nazis were in power in Germany. Hitler was expelling thousands of Jews, while in Soviet Union Stalin was forcibly resettling tens of thousands across the Union. Forced resettlement of a few thousand Albanians, Vaso argued, would hardly start a world war. Plus, he reminded the congregation, he was proposing nothing new. Way back in 1878, when the control of Bosnia and Hercegovina was passed on to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbia had used similar tactics with great efficiency. 

The above lecture leaves the reader or listener in little doubt as to what Vaso Cubrilovic’s views were with regard to the Kosovo problem; however it is unclear to what extent a speech delivered in front of a bunch of academics in the 1930s came to influence the policies of Slobodan Milosevic who was the president of Serbia for almost a decade from 1989 onwards and subsequently faced charges of war crimes and genocide.

While there are those who cite Vaso Cubrilovic as the architect of ethnic cleansing, there is no evidence that the Serbian policies in the 1990s were influenced by Vaso’s lecture more than fifty years earlier. Rather, his speech could be seen as representative of many in Serbia, over generations, who fiercely believed that Kosovo should be part of Serbia. It is beyond the scope of this posting to go into the bloody and destructive Balkan conflict of the 1990s, but it seems pretty clear that ethnic cleansing was practised by all the parties involved in the bloody conflicts, and not just the Serbs.

Vaso achieved some political success too in his mid-life. After the Second World War Vaso was, for a few years, the Minister for Agriculture in Marshal Tito’s Communist regime. It was during this period that Vaso saved the life of his former fellow conspirator and prisoner Cvjetko Popovic.

Immediately after he seized power Tito started a terror campaign against fascist collaborators. Thousands of intellectuals suspected of harbouring fascist sympathies were arrested and executed without trials. Amongst them was Cvetjko Popovic, who by that time, had become the director of a teacher training school (therefore highly suspect in Tito’s eyes). At great personal risk Vaso Cubrilovic wrote a long letter to Tito’s interior minister, vouchsafing Popovic’s patriotic credentials and delineating his role in the 28 June plot to assassinate Ferdinand. Surely a man who was prepared to lay down his life for Serbia couldn’t be her enemy? Popovic was spared (although his brother was executed).

Vaso’s life, however, was not without regrets. His only son Milos fought as a teenage soldier for Tito’s Partisans against the fascists and was involved in fierce fighting in 1945. He lost his mental balance as a result and, to Vaso’s great sorrow, spent the rest of his life in locked psychiatric hospitals. Milos died a few years before Vaso.

Vaso Cubrilovic never really enjoyed robust health after his release from prison in 1918. Despite this he went on to lead a very long life and died in 1990.

                                                    Vaso Cubrilovic in later life

Cvetjko Popovic, later life

After his release from prison Popovic returned to Sarajevo and started teaching. He became a professor of philosophy and eventually became a curator of the ethnographic museum in Sarajevo. According to Wikipedia Popovic died in 1980, in Sarajevo. The archives of an American newspaper show that a reporter had tried to interview Popovic in 1964 about his role in the 1914 assassination of Ferdinand, but Popovic, who, at that time, was living in Sarajevo and was the curator of the Ethnographic Museum had refused to speak. The brief article mentions that Popovic was reluctant to speak about it and certainly not to strangers. 

Decades later, in 1969 Popovic, in an interview to an American newspaper, recalled the morning of the assassination. 'The sun had come up hot in the clear sky,' Popovic recalled. It was a bright sunny morning, which apparently posed Popovic with a problem. It had rained for days prior to that day. He now had to think of a way to conceal the pistol and bomb he was carrying.It was 10 o'clock and the crowds had begun to gather. The seven assassins ('the seven of us') were spread across the area, 'each armed with either grenades or pistols or both'. (This seems like hindsight memory on Popovic's part. It is highly unlikely that at the the actual time of the assassination Popovic was aware that there were six others besides him involved in the plot.) The sound of the royal motorcade grew nearer, the crowd surged forward, and suddenly Popovic knew that he was in 'grave trouble'. The reason he felt he was in grave trouble (so he told the American interviewer in 1969) was because he knew that he had to hit the bomb against something hard, 'like the wall behind me' and wait for 10-11 seconds before he lobbed the bomb. If he moved ahead with the crowd there would be no hard surface available against which to hit the bomb. On the other hand, if he stayed back and hit the bomb against the wall, he would have to lob the bomb over the heads of people in front of him. In the event Popovic did nothing; but that was because (so he claimed in 1969) he heard a muffled sound, 'like a grenade that had fizzled'. There was lot of shouting and 'milling about' and no one noticed Popovic with his grenades and pistol. That did not stop him from panicking. As Gavro Princip, who eventually killed the Archduke after Nedjo Cabrinovic's failed attempt, sat in a nearby outdoor cafe to drink a cup of coffee and think of his next move, Popovic went around in a daze, thinking they had failed. Suddenly he heard 'a great shout over by the river, and I knew I was wrong. I just knew.'

Popovic died in Sarajevo, in 1980.

Ivo Kranjcevic

Kranjcevic was the only Croat involved in the plot to assassinate the Archduke. He only had a peripheral involvement. As seen in an earlier post, Kranjcevic agreed to hide the weapons of Vaso Cubrilovic after the assassination. He did not hide the weapons in his own house but in the house of a relative and implicated them, too, in the plot.

Kranjcevic paid dearly for his foolishness and spent years in prison in harsh circumstances. However, being young and in good physical health, he survived the prison and lived into old age.

The exact year of Kranjcevic’s death is not known, but he carried on living in Sarajevo in relative obscurity (and possibly poverty). In the 1960s, roughly fifty years after the assassination, Kranjcevic was interviewed by an American magazine. A short video clip of the interview is available on the net. In the clip Kranjcevic, a tall, hefty man with white hair, is seen complaining that the world had forgotten the heroes of 28 June 1914.