Saturday, 12 July 2014

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.