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Thursday, 28 June 2019, marked the 105th anniversary of the assassination that sparked the First World War.
A Disastrous Date
On 28 June 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Frans Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Considering the catastrophic consequences, it is remarkable how little is generally known about that fateful day, and what led up to it. Security personnel and bodyguards can learn no end of lessons of what not to do from the catalogue of security failings of that day.
Violent and Volatile
First of all, the scheduled visit of Archduke Frans Ferdinand to Bosnia, was published as early as March. Sarajevo was a volatile cosmopolitan, half-oriental community of 42,000 people. For hundreds of years it had been under Ottoman-Turkish-Muslim rule. The Austrians had liberated Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottoman-Turkish Empire in 1878. In 1908, the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina were incorporated formally into the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
Those Who Forget the Lessons of History are Doomed to Repeat It
The date chosen for the state visit of Archduke Frans Ferdinand to Sarajevo was a date of painful historic significance for the Serbs – it was the anniversary of the disastrous defeat, 28 June 1389, at the hands of the Ottoman-Turks at Kosovo.
Despite Austria playing the leading role in liberating the Balkans from centuries of Ottoman-Turkish oppression, the neighbouring country of Serbia was intensely hostile to Austria and wanted to greatly expand its territory to include all the Slavs of the Balkans, including Bosnia and Herzegovina into Serbia.
Serbia was a monarchy, and having tasted victory against the Turks in the Balkan War of 1912, deluded itself that it was a great power, able to even take on the Austria-Hungarian Empire!
The Black Hand
The head of Serbian Military Intelligence, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known by his code name Apis (after the Egyptian bull god), also controlled The Black Hand, an international terrorist group run by Major Vojin Tankosic. It was this group which provided The Young Bosnians, including Gavrilo Princip, with 4 Browning semi-automatic pistols, 6 bombs and cyanide capsules. This was in May 1914. Princip received some training in pistol target practice in the park in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
The Devious Dragutin
Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic was described as: "a revolutionary fanatic, pale, bald, heavy, enigmatic, like a giant Mongolian." Dragutin never married. He was devoted to the movement of Serb-nationalism and international terrorism.
He required his revolutionaries to undergo a hooded initiation ritual, which included a seal engraved with skull and crossbones, a dagger, a bomb and poison.
Murder was his Business
Murder had been his business since his involvement in the 1903 assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga of Serbia. The king and queen were murdered in their own palace bedroom by a group of Serbian army officers which included Dragutin.
A Rogue State
Hardly a democracy, Serbia was described by many as a rogue state whose rulers were intimately involved in international terrorism. The evidence is overwhelming that the young Bosnian terrorists who murdered Archduke Frans Ferdinand received their weapons from the Serbian military and their basic training in Belgrade Park.
The Serbian Prime Minister Pasic informed the cabinet at the end of May that assassins were on their way to Sarajevo to kill Frans Ferdinand. Serbian state documents include details about the movements of the assassins, and of the bombs and pistols in their luggage. The Interior Ministry in Belgrade was fully briefed on all aspects of their mission. Yet no warning was forwarded to the Austrian authorities of the planned assassination.
From the Austrian side, the lack of rudimentary security arrangements on that tragic day is astounding. Acts of terrorism in, and from, the Balkans were a clear and present danger.
British newspapers published cartoons of Serbian anarchists asking one another: "What time is it by your bomb?" As Archduke Frans Ferdinand left his estate on 23 June to travel by train to Bosnia, he commented: "Our journey starts… down there they will throw bombs at us!"
A Trail of Terror
The Emperor of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Frans Joseph, had lost his wife, the Empress Elizabeth, when she was stabbed to death by an anarchist in 1889. She was boarding a steamer to Geneva at the time. In 1908, a 20-year old Slav student assassinated Count Potocki, the Governor of Galicia.
When is Murder Justified?
At the trial of an American born Croat, who had fired at a member of the royal family, the judge asked if he thought killing people was justified. The man responded: "In this case it is! It is the general opinion in America, and behind me are 500,000 American Croats!"
Bombing a Wedding
In 1906 an anarchist bombed the wedding procession of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. King Alfonso was marrying a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Shots in Sarajevo
In June 1908, a young Bosnian, Bogdan Zerajic, had failed in his attempt to assassinate the Emperor in Mostar. Later he had travelled to Sarajevo and fired at General Marijan Varesanin. It was alleged that The Black Hand of Serbia had provided his revolver.
Bullets and Bombs
In June 1912, the Governor of Croatia was fired upon in Zagreb. Although the governor was missed, a member of his administration was wounded. In March 1914, the Vicar-General of Transylvania was killed by a time-bomb sent through the post from Romania. Numerous conspiracies to assassinate officials were detected and prevented by the Austrian police.
Interestingly enough Gavrilo Princip was known by the Austrian police to be a potential threat. Yet, when General Oskar Potiorek, the Governor of Bosnia was warned of the threat from The Young Bosnians, he only laughed. The officials at Sarajevo spent more energy discussing dinner menus and the correct temperature at which to serve the wines than to issues of security.
A Date of Infamy
So, on 28 June 1914, a date of intense significance for the Serbians, the Archduke Frans Ferdinand set out in the uniform of a Cavalry General: blue tunic, gold collar, three silver stars, black trousers with red stripe. His wife, Sophie, wore a white hat with a veil and long white silk dress with red and white fabric roses tucked into the red sash.
On the morning of 28 June, in accordance with the published schedule, the motorcade left Sarajevo railway station and shortly before reaching its first scheduled stop, a bomb thrown by Nedeliko Cabrinovic, struck the car of Frans Ferdinand, but bounced off the hood before it exploded, wounding two bystanders. As Cabrinovic was arrested and led away, he shouted loudly: "I am a Serbian hero!" The other conspirators lost their nerve and failed to use their weapons.
A Wrong Turn
Despite the attack, the Archduke continued with his published schedule, meeting the governor general, where he watched two local girls perform a folklore dance and then he went to visit the hospital where those wounded by the bomb were being treated. Upon leaving the hospital the driver took a wrong turn, turning left after crossing the bridge. The driver was told to stop and turn back. As the car had no reverse gear, it had to be pushed backwards into the Appel Quay.
The Shots that Sparked the Great War
It was at this point that Gavrilo Princip walked up to the open car and fired at Frans and Sophie Ferdinand at point blank range. The last words of the Archduke were: "Sophie! Sophie! Do not die! Stay alive for our children!" They were survived by their daughter and two sons. 28 June 1914 was Frans and Sophie Ferdinand's 14th Wedding anniversary.
The Remorseless Revolutionary
The district judge Leo Pfeffer, commented on Princip: "It was difficult to imagine that so frail a looking individual could have committed so serious a deed." In fact, when Princip had volunteered to fight for Serbia, in the First Balkan War in 1912, he was rejected as being too small. At his first interrogation by the police in Sarajevo, Princip had declared that throughout his life, wherever he went, people took him for a weakling, and he wanted to prove them wrong. Within days all the conspirators were in custody, except the Muslim Mehmed Mehemedbasic who escaped to Montenegro. As Austria did not execute adolescents and Princip was either 17, or 18, years old at the time, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison and died of natural causes (Tuberculosis) in April 1918. Before he died, he was asked by the prison psychiatrist if he had any regrets that his deed has sparked a world war and the death of millions? Princip made it clear that he had no regrets!
Murdering a Moderate
Interestingly, Princip had killed the one man in the Austrian Empire who was committed to averting war with either Serbia or Russia. Frans Ferdinand had been the one member of the Austrian royal family who had good relations with the Russians and was on record declaring: "I shall never lead a war against Russia. I shall make sacrifices to avoid it. A war between Austria and Russia would end either with the overthrow of the Romanovs or the overthrow of the Hapsburgs – or perhaps the overthrow of both!"
He once wrote to the foreign minister: "Let us not play Balkan warriors ourselves. Let us not stoop to this hooliganism. Let us stay aloof and watch the scum bash in each other's skulls. It would be unforgivable, insane, to start something that would pit us against Russia." Frans Ferdinand's moderate stand was clearly seen by how, despite all the threats, he chose to make a state visit to one of the most volatile cities, in one of the most unstable parts of Europe, in an open car, with almost no security. However, it is the practise of terrorists to assassinate moderates, to provoke reaction.
The British Ambassador in Germany declared that the assassination was: "a dreadful act of which the political consequences are incalculable." In St. Petersburg, Russia, journalists dismissed the assassination as: "a characteristic bit of Balkan savagery." Almost every country in Europe had suffered the effects of assassinations by communist revolutionary anarchists like Princip and there was general sympathy for Austria and disgust for Serbia's obvious role. Yet, just over a month later, most of Europe would mobilise against Austria’s attempts to deal with the Serbian terrorist threat.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
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