Saturday 28 June 2014

Sarajevo 1914 - a bizarre chapter of accidents

100 years ago today, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, went to one of its outposts, Sarajevo, to inspect the army. He had married his wife, a mere countess, in the teeth of opposition from his family, and she was banned from sitting at his side on ceremonial occasions – except when he was acting in his capacity as a field marshal of the army.

So on June 28, 1914, she rode with him in his open top car as a group of Bosnian nationalists lay in wait. One of them threw a grenade, but it hit the car behind. The Archduke insisted on going to the hospital to visit the injured, but no one told the drivers of the motorcade.

In the confusion that resulted, they found themselves having to back up into a narrow street where they came to a stop outside a café. Sitting inside was 19 year old Gavrilo Princip, one of the conspirators, who had gone there after the apparent failure of their plot. He crossed the street and shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife, who both died.

37 days later the first World War began, a conflict that cost the lives of perhaps 10 million military personnel and 7 million civilians. Nobody much wanted the archduke’s assassination to lead to a world war, but a series of bad decisions by politicians brought precisely that outcome. Princip was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In harsh conditions, he died of tuberculosis six months before Armistice Day.

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