Friday, 11 July 2014

The Event that Sparked World War I: The Trial and Outcome

There were a total of 25 defendants. Some of their names are as follows:

There were the six main conspirators (Mehmedbasic, aged 27, was missing).

Gavro Princip (aged 19), Nedjo Cabrinovic (aged 19), Danilo Ilic (aged 24), Trifko Grabez (aged 18), Vaso Cubrilovic (aged 17), and Cvjetko Popovic (aged 16).

Then there were others:

Ivo Kranjcevic (aged 19), who had hidden Vaso’s weapons after the assassination; Lazar Djukic (aged 18) who had introduced Vaso to Danilo; Veljko Cubrilovic (aged 28) the ‘teacher gentleman’ who had helped Gavro and Grabez to smuggle the weapons from Priboj to Tuzla; and Misko Jovanovic (aged 36) the cinema owner from Tuzla who his the weapons in his house.

Then there were the peasants who had helped Gavro and Grabez in their travel. These included Mitar Kerovic (aged 65) and his three sons, Nedjo (aged 28), Jovo (age unknown) and Blagoje (aged 34), and their friend Cvjan Stjepanovic (aged 37) who had accompanied Gavro and Grabez in their cart journey from Tobut to Tuzla.

The other peasants who had helped Gavro and Grabez in their journey were rounded up too. These were Mico Mimic (aged 26), Jakov Milovic (aged 43) and Obren Milosevic (aged 38).

Finally the three unfortunate members of the Croatian family where Ivo Kranjcevic had hidden Vaso’s weapons, the Momicinovics, were in the dock: Ivan Mimocinovic (aged 67), his son-in-law Franjo Sadilo (aged 43), and Franjo’s wife Angela Sadilo (aged 38).

Angela was the only woman in the trial.

The heir to an empire (albeit in its terminal decline) had been killed; someone had to hang. The trouble for the authorities was that all those who had directly participated in the assassination and were caught were all younger than 20 (there would be some uncertainty about Gavro’s age, but that would be cleared in due course and he too would be deemed to be under the age of 20) and, according to Austrian law, could not be executed. Only the main conspirators who had gone out with guns and bombs on that morning on 28 June to assassinate Ferdinand could be charged with murder and all five of them were too young to be hanged. The rest—Veljko, Misko, the peasants, and even Danilo Ilic could only be charged with being accessories to murder; and that was not a capital crime.

The Empire charged five of the defendants (Gavro, Nedjo, Grabez, Popovic and Vaso) with high treason. The rest were charged with being accessories to high treason. High treason was a capital crime and being accessory was also a capital crime. Therefore if any of the five charged with high treason were found guilty, the accessories would be found guilty of capital crimes. And although it still meant that the five could not be executed (being too young) some of the accessories who were in their twenties could be executed.

That’s what happened.

The trial began. There was no jury. Instead the president of the court, a judge named Luis von Curnidali, sat with two fellow judges. (After the trial, Curinaldi retired from public life, went to live in a monastery and became a friar.)

There was no public gallery. None of the relatives of the defendants was allowed to attend.

The Empire provided all the defendants with lawyers; however, with the exception of Dr. Rudolf Cistler, who represented the Cubrilovic brothers, the lawyers seemed almost embarrassed to represent the defendants and, at best, put up a half-hearted defence. (It has to be said though that Gavro’s lawyer conclusively proved to the court that his client was indeed younger than 20 years of age.)

Cistler was a German and put up a spirited, if slightly curious, defence. He challenged the legality of the annexation of Bosnia and Hercegovina to the Austrian Empire. He claimed that the Empire had never formally completed the annexation of the region. Therefore the region was technically still under Turkish rule. Ergo, none of the defendants could be charged of high treason. It was of no use; the Judges’ minds were made up. Cistler was reprimanded for showing contempt towards the Emperor.

When the defendants were invited to address the court, only Nedjo Cabernovic took up the offer. His voice cracking with emotion, Nedjo gave a long speech.

Nedjo began his speech by saying that they did not hate Austria, but reminded the court that after taking control of the region 33 years ago Austria did nothing for its people. He went on to speak about his own anarchist ideas. He spoke about how the conspirators came to view that Franz Ferdinand as the enemy of the Slavs and, while no one told them directly to ‘go and kill him’ (an indication perhaps that neither The Black Hand nor Young Bosnians were behind the assassination), they came to have idea in the milieu they lived in.

Nedjo concluded his speech with the following words:

‘There is something else I would like to say. Although Princip plays the hero, all of us play the hero. Nevertheless we are very sorry, because we did not know in the first place that the late Franz Ferdinand was the father of a family. We were deeply touched by the words he said to his late wife, “Sophie, stay here, for our children.”

Think what you like of us but we are not criminals. For myself and in the name of my comrades I beg that the children of the late Heir Apparent forgive us; and you render whatever verdict you like. We are not evildoers, we are honest people, honourable, idealistic, we wanted to do good, we loved our people, we will die for our ideals.’

Nedjo was weeping by the time he finished his speech.

As soon as Nedjo finished Gavro leapt to his feet and said that Nedjo was not authorized to speak in his name. It seems that Gavro by this time was conscious of how posterity would judge him and was keen not to be seen as seeking forgiveness.

The judges took five days to reach the verdict.

On 28 October 1914, exactly 4 months after Franz Ferdinand met his end, the verdict was delivered. By that time the Great War was in its third month.

Out of 25 defendants 9 were acquitted, including all members of the Croat family (the Momicinovics) whom Ivo Kranjcevic foolishly involved in the plot.

Gavro Princip, Nedjo Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez were each sentenced to 20 years of penal servitude.

Vaso Cubrilovic received 16 years while Cvjetko Popovic received 13 years.

All of them were to have their imprisonment intensified by solitary confinement in a dark cell on 28 June each year. Gavro who killed Ferdinand was to, in addition, have one day of fasting each month.

Lazar Djukic and Ivo Kranjcevic were each given 10 years’ sentence.

Old Mitar Kerovic was sentenced to life imprisonment while his son Nedjo and Jakov Milovic were sentenced to be hanged. The sentences of the Kerovics were subsequently commuted to 20 years, while Miovic’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Danilo Ilic, Veljko Cubrilovic and Misko Jovanovic were sentenced to be hanged and were not granted any reprieve or amnesty.

After the conspirators were returned to prison after the verdict, a Jesuit priest visited Nedjo Cabrinovic in his cell. He had with him blanket forgiveness from Franz Ferdinand’s children. The children had forgiven him because he had repented and expressed his regrets. After he handed him the letter the priest proceeded to deliver a lengthy sermon to Nedjo. Nedjo who was an atheist was apparently so surprised that he could not utter a word in riposte.