Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Event that Sparked World War I: the Plot and Plotters

                                                          Cvjetko Popovic

Cvjetko Popovic was the youngest member of the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. Not much is known about his background. His mother had died when he was young and his father, a retired school teacher, had remarried. Like most of the conspirators, Popovic was very young. He had just turned 16 and was in the third year at the Teacher’s College.

Popovic was recruited to the plot to assassinate Ferdinand by Vaso Cubrilovic, a month before the assassination. Apart from Vaso and Danilo Ilic, Popovic, at the time, was most probably unaware of the identities of the other assassins.

Popovic was on the Appel Quay, equipped with a pistol and a bomb, one of the five assassins lying in wait for the Heir-apparent.

Popovic was standing on the corner of Cumurija Street, the turning off the Quay, near a pastry shop. He was the fourth in line to assassinate the Archduke, after Mehmed Mehmedbasic, NedjoCabrinovic, and Vaso Cubrilovic.

Standing near Popovic was Danilo Ilic, who, although he was not taking part in the assassination, had decided he did not want to miss out on the spectacle of the slaying of the Heir-Apparent.

Like the rest of the plotters, Popovic had received cyanide pills. Indeed both he and Vaso had received their poisons almost three weeks before the assassination, even before they were given the weapons.

Popovic, however, failed to make an attempt on Archduke’s life even after it was clear that Nedjo Cabrinovic’s bomb had failed to kill Ferdinand (although Popovic thought it was Vaso’s bomb.)

Popovic was also one of the few plotters who survived to tell his tale. In an interview given to the author Joachim Remak, who, in 1959 published an account of the assassination, Popovic claimed that he did not throw the bomb because there were people in the way. However, according to the transcript of the trial (which was not available to Remak) Popovic’s nerves left him at the last minute. ‘I didn’t have the courage,’ he told the trial. ‘I don’t know what happened to me.’ He was only 16 at the time.

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.'