In the capital city of Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, on a street corner just across Latin Bridge, hangs a big purple banner that proclaims in white capital letters: "The street corner that started the 20th century". It was on this very place, on June 28, 1914, a 19-year-old Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sofia, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the First World War and changed the course of the 20th century. But the assassination itself was a farce and an almost failed attempt, until a tragic comedy of errors delivered the Archduke right in front of the assassin.
Franz Ferdinand's unpopularity that ultimately led to his death stems from his policies that he intended to apply once he assumed the throne. Ferdinand proposed to replace Austro-Hungarian dualism with 'Trialism,' a triple monarchy in which the Slavic lands within the Austro-Hungarian empire would be reorganized and combined into a third crown. Ferdinand also advocated the idea of a federalism. These ideas were not popular among the ruling elite. A Serbian terrorist group, the Black Hand, resolved to assassinate Franz Ferdinand during his visit to Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, thereby stalling his proposed reforms.
On that fateful day, no less than seven conspirators were positioned along the route the Archduke was to take to the City Hall. Most of them failed to act until the car approached one conspirator Nedeljko Cabrinovic. Cabrinovic threw a bomb, but the bomb bounced off the folded back convertible cover into the street and rolled under the car following it. Its explosion left a 1-foot-diameter crater on the street and wounded several people. Meanwhile, Cabrinovic had swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. At that time the river was only 6 inches deep, and 15 feet below the level of the road. Cabrinovic sprained his ankles and was unable to move. His cyanide pill didn’t work either and only induced vomiting. He was later dragged out of the river and severely beaten by the crowd.
Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie leave the Sarajevo Guildhall after reading a speech on June 28 1914. They were assassinated five minutes later. Photo credit
Having escaped the first attempt, Ferdinand arrived at the City Hall and angrily shouted at the Governot, “I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous!”. Afterward, the Archduke decided to visit the hospital to see the people who were wounded in the bomb attack. However, no one told the drivers that the itinerary had been changed. The car was supposed to go straight but it turned right at the corner. When the error was discovered, the driver applied the brakes and the car came to a halt. Princip, who had missed his chance the first time, was sitting at a cafe across the street, perhaps having a coffee and thinking about his next move. Upon seeing the car, he raced across the street and pumped two bullets into the couple. The first one hit Sophie and the second hit Franz Ferdinand. As they lay dying in the car, Franz Ferdinand pleaded with his wife crying, "Stay alive, Sophie, for the sake of the children."
Gavrilo Princip, the man who started the First World War. Photo credit
All of the assassins were eventually caught and sentenced to either death or long terms in prison. Gavrilo Princip received twenty years in prison but he died 3 years later of tuberculosis. World War I was already underway.
A year later, the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Yugoslavia was born, and Princip became a national hero. The ancient Latin Bridge facing the assassination spot was renamed after him and a concrete cast of Princip’s footprints was embedded in the sidewalk. A small black tablet feting him as “the initiator of liberty” also went up, and so did a memorial plaque which was put up at the spot where Gavrilo Princip stood when he fired the shots.
When the Nazis entered Sarajevo in the spring of 1941, they removed the tablet and presented it to Adolf Hitler as a symbolic tribute from a conquered city. The concrete footprints were destroyed during the 1992–95 war in Bosnia. The building at the corner next to which Princip was standing, and over which the proud purple banner proclaims the importance of the street, was turned into a museum. The memorial plaque can still be seen today.
This picture is often said to depict the arrest of Gavrilo Princip, although several scholars say that it depicts the arrest of Ferdinand Behr, a bystander who was initially suspected of involvement in the assassination. Photo credit
This billboard was put up only recently in 2014. Photo credit
The Latin Bridge over the Miljacka river, into the shallow waters of which one of the conspirators jumped. Photo credit
Another view of the Latin Bridge. Photo credit
The memorial plaque at the corner. Photo credit
The car upon which Franz Ferdinand and his wife were riding when they were assassinated, now in a museum. Photo credit
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