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.]