100 years on, Sarajevo still divided about assassination that sparked firt world war

It's been 100 years since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that led to world war

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 10:39pm


Today Sarajevo marks 100 years since the assassination that triggered the first world war, but without the leaders of Europe and with its people still torn over the legacy of that fateful day.

Five weeks after a Bosnian Serb nationalist shot dead the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Europe's great powers were sucked through a complex network of alliances into four horrific years of war.

The former foes marked the centenary of the Sarajevo assassination with a low-key ceremony on Thursday during an EU summit in Ypres, Belgium.

But plans for heads of state to come together in the Bosnian capital on June 28 turned out to be wishful thinking, in light of the old Balkan divisions stirred up by the centenary.

Wildly differing interpretations of 20th-century history endure in a region scarred by the conflicts that marked the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

And the figure of the archduke's assassin, the 19-year-old Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip, is particularly divisive.

In Sarajevo today, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra - symbolic envoy from what was the capital of a once-loathed empire - will perform in the newly rebuilt national library, destroyed during the 1992 siege of the city by Bosnian Serb forces. But there will be little sign of Balkan or European officialdom.

The Muslim majority in today's Sarajevo see Princip as a terrorist - all the more loathed for being associated with the Bosnian Serb forces that besieged the city in the 1990s. Two plaques in the city commemorating Princip have been ripped up and a bridge named after him has reverted to its pre-1914 name.

But for Serbs he was a hero seeking to "liberate" Slavs from the Austro-Hungarian occupier. Serbian leaders have refused to join the ceremonies in Sarajevo, resenting the notion that Serb nationalism was to blame for triggering the war.

Instead they will hold their own events, backed by Milorad Dodik, the president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, and the filmmaker Emir Kusturica.

Princip's brazen attack dragged almost half the world's population into a cycle of violence of unprecedented scale. Over four years and four months, some 10 million died and 20 million were injured on its battlefields, while millions of civilians perished.