Sunday, 29 June 2014

Countdown to War. Day 2, 29 June: fatal incident in Sarajevo

One hundred years ago today, on Monday 29 June 1914, the Manchester Guardian carried news that shocked Europe.

The day before, a bloody event had shaken Sarajevo.

Sarajevo? Martin wasn
’t even sure where it was. A better-informed colleague explained that it was the capital of Bosnia which, with neighbouring Herzegovina, had been reduced to a province of Austria-Hungary, following the Congress of Berlin 36 years earlier. That was the congress that carved up Africa among the European powers, but it also carved up bits of Europe, and Austria-Hungary had taken Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On Sunday, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, had been visiting Sarajevo where he intended to take part in army manoeuvres.

Franz Ferdinand and his family, including Sophie, his wife, who was killed with him
She had been born a mere Countess, so the children were cut out of
the succession to the imperial throne: a countess's blood was
far too lowly
Not everyone was pleased about Austria’s takeover of the provinces. Serbia, next door and independent, felt that the large Serbian population of Bosnia would rather like to be part of a Greater Serbia, and a lot of that population agreed. One of them was a student, Gavrilo Princip. He decided to take dramatic action, and targeted Francis Ferdinand and his wife.

“Assassination of the Austrian Royal Heir and his wife,” screamed the Guardian. “Shot by student in Bosnian capital. Two attempts during a procession.”

Two attempts? In the morning, a bomb had been thrown at the Archduke’s car, but no one was hurt. In the afternoon however:

The Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, nephew of the aged Emperor and heir to the throne, was assassinated in the streets of Sarayevo, the Bosnian capital, yesterday afternoon. His wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, was killed by the same assassin.

The paper pointed out that “the assassin ... is a student named Gavrilo Prinzip. He is 19 years of age... He studied for some time in Belgrade.

Belgrade. The capital of Serbia proper. Clearly a centre for grooming impressionable young men, turning them into extremists ready to take violent action for their cause.

On being interrogated, Prinzip declared that he had intended for a long time to kill some eminent personage from nationalist motives. He was waiting to-day for the Archduke to pass by, and made his attempt at a point where the motor-car had to slacken speed when turning into the Francis Joseph Strasse.

Martin was appalled. He might not think much of Emperor Franz Joseph, but he couldn't help feeling sorry for a man who had suffered so much misery in his life. His brother Maximilian, another article explained, had been made Emperor of Mexico, only to be shot when he was overthrown. Then, as the Manchester Guardian delicately put it, “in 1889 the Crown Prince Rudolf and a lady of the Court to whom he is known to have been attached, died by violence in a mountain shooting lodge. His death is still a mystery. Officially he is said to have committed suicide...”

Also in 1889, a cousin of the Emperor who married an actress set off with her to South America and was never heard of again. And in 1898, Franz-Joseph’s own wife, the Empress Elizabeth, was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist.

This catalogue of disasters deserved at least a wry shake of Martin’s head. Poor bastard. He’d had to put up with a lot. Nasty business.

It wasn
’t, naturally, the only nasty business reported in the paper that day. Sir Edward Carson, the rather loudmouthed leader of the Ulster Protestants, had been making more noise in the Emerald Isle. But there was nothing new about that.

At least there was one heartwarming piece, The Art of the Umpire, about the difficulty of managing a cricket match. It was gratifying to know that a South African cricketer felt that “the umpires in England are a credit to English cricket.”

Something at least was right with the world.

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