Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Event that Sparked World War I: The Aftermath

The day Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on Appel Quay in Sarajevo, the first to disappear from the scene was Mehmed Mehmedbasic. Indeed Mehmedbasic did not wait for Gavro’s shooting. He scarpered as soon as he heard Nedjo’s bomb go off.

As mentioned in a previous posting, Mehmedbasic was the only one of the plotters who had a direct involvement in the assassination who escaped and never stood the trial.

The details of Mehmedbasic’s escape are sketchy. What is clear is that he did not hang about in Sarajevo, indeed Bosnia, after the assassination. He stayed in Sarajevo for two nights, in the company of some Muslim men who were studying to be imams. He left Sarajevo on 30 June 1914. By the time Austrian police identified the entire group Mehmedbasic had reached Montenegro.

The Austrian asked for Mehmedbasic to be arrested and sent to Sarajevo to stand trial. Montenegro was a small kingdom at this time, largely neutral but also pro-Serbian in its outlook.

Mehmedbasic, upon his arrival in Montenegro, had wasted no time in bragging about his role in the assassination, although he, the first in the line of the assassins Gavro and Ilic had lined up on Appel Quay to ‘welcome’ the Heir-Apparent, had not actually acted when presented with the opportunity and had run away from the scene at the earliest opportunity. He was arrested by the Montenegro police and he readily admitted to his culpability.

Mehmedbasic was jailed, but he escaped. It is possible that the jailers abetted his escape.

Montenegro informed the Austrian officials that they no longer knew where Mehmedbasic was. The truth was he was still in Montenegro, but quietly, without advertising his heroic role in the plot.

Mehmedbasic stayed in Montenegro for four more months before making his way to Belgrade, where he joined the Komite army.

It was while he was in the Komite army that Mehmedbasic fell under the spell of the charismatic Colonel Dragutin—‘Apis’—Dmitrijevic. Three years later, when Apis’s fortunes nosedived, Mehmedbasic would be charged with the plot to assassinate the Prince Regent, Alexander. Asseen in an earlier posting, these were trumped up charges and there was no plot to assassinate Alexander (a poetic justice, perhaps, meted out to Mehmedbasic). However, Mehemedbasic escaped the 1914 assassination trial. The other plotters were not so lucky.  

Cvjetko Popovic had placed himself at the corner of Cumurija Street when Nedjo’s bomb went off. He was equipped with a bomb and revolver although he used neither even though he must have realised, as the Archduke’s car passed him by after a few minutes that Nedjo’s bomb had failed to kill him.

Soon after the bomb went off Popovic decided to remove himself from the scene. He wanted to run back to his home, but did not want to take the chance of keeping his unused weapons in his home. He returned to Appel Quay and hid his weapons in the basement of the Prosjeta offices. It was from this location that Popovic’s weapons were recovered.

Popovic had resolved to end his life after the assassination, but made no attempt to kill himself afterwards, no doubt the idea appearing less appealing when the moment to act on it arrived.

Popovic stayed on in Sarajevo that night. The next day he left Sarajevo for Zemum where his father and step-mother lived.

Popovic would enjoy five more days of freedom. On 3 July he would be summoned and an accusation of his involvement in the plot would be read out to him. ‘Yes,’ Popovic would reply. ‘Everything is true.’

Trifko Grabez was at the Emperor’s Bridge on Appel Quay when he heard two clear shots, one after the other. Soon after, the news that the Heir Apparent had been assassinated began to circulate rapidly.

Grabez decided that he had to get away from Appel Quay. He went to his uncle’s house in Sarajevo and hid the bomb under the seat in the bathroom and gun under the roof. He then went back to the streets and strolled, happy as a Larry, on Appel Quay.

Grabez spent the next day at the home of another uncle in Sarajevo, but then returned to his parents’ home in Pale. He felt completely calm, he later told the trial, when he was in Pale.

Grabez had a girl friend at that time, a woman named Leposava Lalic. Lalic was to go on travelling the next day and Grabez decided to join her. He decided to go to Visegrad, a town near the Serbian border. He did not inform his parents that he was leaving.

Grabez was arrested later the same day because he was travelling without an official permit. He had a legitimate passport with him. The passport showed that Grabez had entered Bosnia from Serbia on 30 May. This aroused suspicions of the police. He was returned to Sarajevo and put in jail.

The above account suggests that it was Grabez's bad luck that he got arrested. If he had a valid permit he might not have been arrested. However, it seems likely that his name would have been mentioned when the other plotters were arrested, and, had Grabez still been in Bosnia, he probably would have been arrested. If, on the other hand, he had crossed the border and entered Serbia, he might have been able to avoid the arrest.

Vaso Cubrilovic, like Mehmedbasic, did not did not hang about on Appel Quay for the shooting. After Nedjo’s bomb went off, he left Appel Quay to a pre-arranged rendezvous to meet Ivo Kranjcevic, and gave Kranjcevic his weapons. The day after the assassination Vaso went out on the streets with his friends and, as was his nature, began boasting about the killing of the previous day. He even declared facetiously that it was he who had fired the shots that killed the Archduke.

Vaso then left Sarajevo. He was arrested on 3 July, the same day Popovic was arrested, in the town of Dubica.

Kranjcevic, in the meanwhile, had hidden the weapons at a family friend’s place without the knowledge of the head of the family. Kranjcevic was lucky that the head of the family was not at home when he arrived at the doorsteps with a bomb and revolver, and was let in by the women. The family head was furious when he came to know what Kranjcevic had done. His family (the name was Momiconovic) was Catholic and ostensibly loyal to the Emperor. In the aftermath of the assassination a filthy anti-Serb mood had gripped Sarajevo; there were anti-Serb demonstrations and riots all over the city. Momiconovic called at Kranjcevic’s place and demanded that the weapons be removed from his house.

At the trial, Kranjcevic’s father, who was a retired sergeant from the Austrian police force, was at a loss to explain how his son, from a Catholic Croat family, loyal to the Empire, had come to identify with Serb nationalism. ‘He was misled,’ was all that Kranjcevic’s father could offer by way of explanation. This was exactly the same phrase the Emperor Franz Ferdinand had used in his Imperial Manifesto, released in the wake of Archduke’s assassination. The killing, the manifesto said, was carried out by eine kleine Schar irreg eliten—a small group of the misled. Nothing to do with the Austrians.

Gavro Princip in the meanwhile had been brought to the police station. He was initially questioned by Leo Pfeffer, a relatively inexperienced member of the Austrian judiciary. This is how Pfeffer remembered Gavro when he was brought to him:

‘The young assassin, exhausted by the beatings, was unable to utter a single word. He was undersized, emaciated, sallow and sharp featured. It was difficult to imagine that so frail an individual could have committed so serious a crime.’

The clear blue eyes of the ‘assassin’, according to Pfeffer, were piercing and burning; but there was nothing cruel or criminal in them. They spoke of innate intelligence.

After firing the two shots Gavro had turned the gun inwards and was about to shoot himself. However, a spectator standing nearby saw what Gavro was about to do. He lunged at Gavro and snatched the revolver away from him. In the ensuing chaos Gavro swallowed the cyanide, but, just as Nedjo’s cyanide didn’t work, Gavro’s didn’t either. He merely began vomiting as he was being dragged to the police station and received severe beatings on the way. Gavro’s plan of killing the Archduke was successful, but he could not become, as he had wished, a martyr immediately. That would have to wait for a few more years.

Gavro confessed that he had vowed two years previously to avenge the death of Bogdan Zerajic (who had tried to assassinate General Varesanin). When he heard of the Archduke’s arrival, he had decided to take his revenge because he considered the Heir-Apparent as the embodiment of the power that exercised terrible pressure on the Yugoslavs.

At the time of this conversation neither Gavro nor Pfeffer knew that Ferdinand was dead. Gavro was formally charged with murder later in the evening after the Archduke’s death was confirmed.

At this stage the Austrians knew of only two conspirators: Gavro and Nedjo Cabrinovic, both of whom had been arrested straightaway after their attempts of Ferdinand’s life. They had not yet made the connection that Gavro and Nedjo were in the plot together.

Nedjo was interviewed by a different judge in the afternoon of 28 June. This is what Nedjo told him:

‘I am an adherent of the radical anarchist idea, which aims at destroying the present system through terrorism in order to bring in a liberal system in its place. Therefore I hate all representatives of constitutional systems, as the bearers of powers which oppress people. I have educated myself in this spirit by reading socialist and anarchist writings, and I can say that I have read almost all literature available in the Serbo-Croat language.’

Nedjo initially said that he had acted alone, as he could not trust anyone. However he later accepted his connection with Gavro. Typical of Nedjo that he gave the game away while trying to suggest that the two attempts were a coincidence.

Finally, on 30 June Nedjo admitted that he had conspired with Gavro in Belgrade to assassinate the Archduke.

The Austrians put Nedjo and Gavro in chains in isolated cells at the military prison. Their cells were positioned such that they suffered the full glare of the sun. Neither was given water. Their cells looked on to a courtyard where Serbian students, businessmen and peasants who were arrested as a result of the assassination were kept.

Available evidence suggests that neither Gavro nor Nedjo gave away the names of the other conspirators.

Danilo Ilic was arrested fairly soon after Gavro’s arrest. At that time the authorities had no inkling of his involvement in the assassination. Ilic was one of the many radical young Serbs who were arrested that evening. Ilic had a cyanide pill on his person (the one he did not give to Grabez) when he was arrested.

It is generally believed that Danilo Ilic revealed the names of other plotters to the Austrian authorities.

Veljko Cubrilovic, the ‘teacher gentleman’ and Vaso’s elder brother, was rounded up, together with Misko Jovanovic, following Ilic’s disclosures.(Misko Jovanovic was the 'good Serb' in Tuzla who his the weapons Gavro Princip and Trifko Grabez had smuggled into Bosnia from Serbia, and passed them on to Ilic.)  

In due course all the peasants who had helped Gavro and Grabez in smuggling weapons into Bosnia were also arrested. Unlike the main conspirators, all these men were married with families. Veljko, for example, just before his arrest, had become a father for the first time.

Available evidence suggests that Veljko Cubrilovic could have avoided (or at any rate delayed) his fate by escaping to Serbia. He chose not to. It was his sense of honour that stopped him from seeking an escape. In his letter from prison to his wife Veljko wrote: ‘What would have my peasants thought of me if I had fled and left them alone in those trying days?’

Both Veljko and Misko felt (amongst others) that Danilo Ilic had betrayed them.

                                                              Misko Jovanovic