On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were shot dead while visiting Sarajevo. The shooting followed an unsuccessful assassination attempt earlier the same day, when a bomb was thrown at the cavalcade in which the Duke and Duchess were travelling.
Sarajevo was the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire but administered by Austria-Hungary since 1878. Bosnia-Herzegovina was incorporated fully into Austria-Hungary in 1908.
The assassination was intended to bring about the creation of a Greater Serbia or Yugoslavia, uniting Serbia with "south Slav" territory ruled by Austria-Hungary.
The fatal shots were fired by Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year-old student. He was one of a group conspirators positioned around the city, ready to act on any opportunity that presented itself.
Princip was arrested immediately. According to co-conspirator Borijove Jevtic:
"The officers seized Princip. They beat him over the head with the flat of their swords. They knocked him down, they kicked him, scraped the skin from his neck with the edges of their swords, tortured him, all but killed him."
The assassination was front-page news in Austrian papers the next day, a Monday. The Montags Journal printed an extra edition with extensive coverage of the assassination. Some newspapers elsewhere in Europe seem to have had nothing more than a telegram to work from at the time of going to press. Newspapers in the Netherlands, for instance, carried only brief announcements of the event.
The Manchester Guardian gave the assassination extensive coverage in its Monday edition, but its staff do not seem to have guessed at the consequences that were to follow. It concluded:
"It is not to be supposed that the death of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand will have any immediate or salient effect on the politics of Europe."
Who were the assassins?
The assassins were members of the youth movement Young Bosnia (Mlada Bosna). The Serbian Black Hand group (Ujedinjenje ili smrt ), a secret society created by members of the Serbian military, also played a key part in the operation, as did the Serbian Nationalist group Narodna Odbrana. Membership of the three groups overlapped.
Gavrilo Princip said during his trial:
"The political union of the Yugoslavs [..] was my basic idea [..] I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be free from Austria"
Co-conspiritor Trifko Grabez said:
"I was not acting for Serbia, but for Bosnia alone."
The article below by Sarajevo author Muharem Bazdulj (translated by Celia Hawkesworth) gives an interesting perspective on Young Bosnia and on the way that it is perceived today.
"It is wrong to call them nationalist in a pejorative sense. In the territory of Yugoslavia, and particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, nationalists are seen as people who foster hatred and intolerance towards those who do not share their religious affiliation. That was not the case with the Young Bosnians. They were for the most part in any case atheists and, although the majority of them were Orthodox Serbs, there were also Bosnian Muslims and a not insignificant number of Catholics, Croats and others. If they were nationalists, the Young Bosnians were Yugoslav nationalists."
"A full hundred years since the Sarajevo assassination, this event is again seen, globally and almost without exception, from the perspective of Austro-Hungarian propaganda."
Wasafiri Vol. 29, No. 2, June 2014, pp. 4–9, ISSN 0269-0055 print/ISSN 1747-1508