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Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, also known as the Sarajevo assassination (Serbian: Sarajevski atentat), was one of the key events that led to the start of the First World War. The complicated geopolitical relationship between colonial powers in Europe in the first decades of the 20th century created an environment full of tensions, which were ignited by the assassination and evolved into the biggest armed conflict known to mankind.



The majority of historians agree that the shot fired at Archduke Franz Ferdinand was not the direct cause of the Great War, but rather the excuse for the escalation of the underlying conflict. Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated on the 28th of June, 1914, during the official visit to Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 and officially annexed it in 1908, causing a dispute with the Kingdom of Serbia and a subsequent annexation crisis. The strategic interests of the Kingdom of Serbia were aimed towards Austro-Hungarian territories, where the majority of Serbs lived.  In the years before the First World War, several national movements emerged, both in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, intending to unite all the Balkan Slavs in one country. The assassins of Archduke Ferdinand belonged to one of those movements, the 'Young Bosnia' (Mlada Bosna).



Archduke Franz Ferdinand was visiting Sarajevo on the 28th of June 1914, to attend military maneuvers. Austro- Hungarian military maneuvers were supposed to represent the demonstration of its power in the Balkans. This was considered a provocation by the local Serbian population because the 28th of June (Saint Vitus day – Vidovdan)  is a day that has great historical and symbolic importance for all the Serbs. On the 28th of June, 1389, a huge battle between the Serbian and the Ottoman army happened on the Kosovo field, leading to the end of the medieval Serbian state. During the battle, the leaders of both the Serbian and the Ottoman army have lost their lives; according to the legend, the Ottoman sultan was assassinated by one of the Serbian knights. The Kosovo battle is the center of Serbian mythology and epics, and its hero, Miloš Obilić, was the inspiration for the Sarajevo assassins.


The assassination was organized and performed by several members of the ’Young Bosnia’ movement, but the decisive shots were fired by Gavrilo Princip, a 19 years old Bosnian-Serb student. Princip has previously tried to join the Serbian guerilla, chetniks (četnici), who fought in the Balkan wars, but he was rejected because of his low weight and poor health. However, he managed to establish contact with the ‘Black Hand’ (a.k.a. ‘Unification or Death!’) a powerful secret organization consisted of rogue Serbian army officers and members of the intelligence service, who were responsible for the murder of the Serbian king Aleksandar Obrenović and his wife Draga in 1903. Princip and other members of 'Young Bosnia' informed the members of the Black Hand about their intention to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand, and they received training and assistance. Princip received a Browning FN M1910 semi-automatic pistol from the 'Black Hand', and that pistol was used in the assassination. The king and government of the Kingdom of Serbia were not fully aware of the planned assassination. An unofficial warning appears to have been delivered by the Serbian minister in Vienna, but it was completely ignored.



On the morning of the assassination, Franz Ferdinand was inspecting the army maneuvers, held outside Sarajevo. He was accompanied by his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, and Bosnia's governor, General Oskar Potoirek, riding in an open convertible car. Seven ’Young Bosnia’assassins were waiting along the motorcade route on the streets of Sarajevo; Muhamed  Mehmedbašić, Trifko Grabež, Nedeljko Čabrinović, Danilo Ilić, Veljko Čubrilović, Cvijetko Popović, and Gavrilo Princip. After performing a brief review of the troops, the procession was headed towards the Sarajevo Town Hall, where Ferdinand was supposed to attend a reception hosted by Sarajevo's mayor. The first attempt on Archduke's life happened on the way to the town hall. One of the assassins, Nedeljko Čabrinović, threw a hand grenade towards the car carrying Ferdinand. The bomb bounced off, injuring passengers in another vehicle, and several bystanders. Ferdinand managed to reach the Town Hall where, after delivering a protocolar speech, he decided to change his daily plan and to visit those injured by the bomb in the hospital.  However, the driver was not notified in time that the route was changed, and he had to turn into a side alley, where Gavrilo Princip was waiting. He shot twice towards the car at point-blank range. He hit Ferdinand in the neck and the Duchess in the abdomen, but General Potiorek survived unharmed. Both Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie died within minutes.



After the assassination, Princip was prevented from committing suicide and arrested. Because he was a minor, he was sentenced to a 20 years-long prison sentence. He died in custody on the 28th of April 1918 in the Terezin prison, being just 23 years old. The Austro-Hungarian empire has long feared the rise of pan-Slavic sentiment on its territory, and the Sarajevo assassination was the perfect excuse to combat it. The Austro-Hungarian – Serbian conflict evolved into a global war, that shaped the 20th century and eventually led to another world war, that claimed the lives of millions of people. One event that occurred during the Second World War witnessed the impact of Gavrilo Princip's shots on Europe. After the German occupation of Sarajevo on April 15, 1941, the Gavrilo Princip plaque erected in 1930 to commemorate the June 28, 1914 assassination was removed. The memorial plaque was then sent to Germany, as a birthday present to Hitler.