Sunday 28 June 2009

A sombre anniversary

On this day…..95 years ago, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. The killing set off a chain of events that resulted in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, Germany declaring war on Russia on August 1, then France on August 3, and Britain entering the war on August 4.

Princip, a 19 year old Bosnian Serb, wanted to liberate the whole of the Balkans from Austro-Hungarian rule. While Franz Ferdinand was on a visit to the Bosnian capital, then part of Austria's empire, one of Princip’s comrades threw a bomb at his car. It bounced off and exploded beneath the next vehicle, injuring two of the occupants and about a dozen people in the crowd. While the Archduke and his wife were on their way to a hospital to visit the injured, Princip shot them.

While the First World War was raging, Princip was tried and sentenced to 20 years in gaol – the maximum allowed for someone under 20 – on October 28, 1914. He was kept in harsh conditions and died of tuberculosis in April 1918.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed exactly five years after the assassination on June 28, 1919. The war is estimated to have cost the lives of about 8.5 million military personnel, and perhaps 13 million civilians from starvation, disease, being caught up in military action or massacre. It also put paid to the Austro-Hungarian empire.

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