The shots of Sarajevo

The assassination which triggered the „archetypal catastrophe of the 20th century”

Peter Mulacz

As a final result of the two „Balkan Wars“ of 1912 and 1913, the borders on the Balkans had to be re-drawn. Especially the Ottoman Empire had to concede vast regions to its neighbouring countries, whereas Serbia could extend its area by 80%, emerging highly armed and experienced in war, and was able to become the regional power. This further supported Serbian nationalism in Bosnia, which had been fostered in the various “cultural associations” for a long time already. The different secret societies – the most important were „Mlada Bosna“ (Young Bosnia) and “Unification or Death”, mostly called “Black Hand” – despite variable ideological alignments, had one aim in common: to liberate Bosnia and Herzegovina from Habsburg reign. Leader of the „Black Hand“ was Colonel Dragutin T. Dimitrijević, head of the secret service of the Serbian army, who had considerably taken part in the bloody-minded murder of the then Serbian king Aleksandar Obrenović and his queen in 1903. In the national propaganda, Serbian extremism systematically defamed the successor of the archduke as enemy of the Serbs and also publicly invoked his murder, although in reality he had always rejected the pre-emptive war plans of his chief of general staff G.d.I. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (Conrad’s idea is madness. A war against Russia will be our end. If we attack Serbia, Russia will support them, and we will be at war with Russia. Are the Emperor of Austria and the Czar of Russia supposed to thrust each other from the throne, thus letting the revolution run its course?”), and had intended to strengthen the South-Slavian element in his plans for a federalist reconstruction of the Monarchy. Thus, the planning and preparation of the assassination of the successor couple took place with the support of Serbian national bodies, i.e. of the army and the secret service, and with the government’s knowledge and approval, as well as with the knowledge of the royalty. The domestic political situation in Serbia was extraordinary. New elections were to come, and the king had just resigned (temporarily) in favour of the crown prince Aleksandar. Nikola Pašić, the founder of the Radical People’s Party and prime minister, politically dependent on the powerful head of the secret service Dimitrijević, from then on was in a dilemma. If he had done nothing and the assassination had been successful, Serbia would have been discredited on international stage. If it had become known that he had known about it, he would have been called to account as confidant. On the other hand, if the assassination had not been successful because of his warning to Austria, he would have been a dead man, at least politically. For this reason he instructed the Serbian emissary in Vienna to drop some hints which might have been interpreted according to the result. In addition, he had the borders closed, but at the time of this tokenism the weapons had already been in Bosnia. This essay describes the serious events until the assassination of Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 of the successor couple of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg, on the occasion of their visit in Sarajevo. The shots from the pistol of Gavrilo Princip were, as it were, the first shots of the First World War, which caused three legitimated empires to fall: the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Czar Empire, and the Ottoman Empire; thus the shots actually triggered the “Thirty Years’ War of the 20th century” (1914-1945).