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Sarajevo: the slaying that set off World War I


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- A century after Gavrilo Princip ignited World War I with a shot from his handgun, the baby-faced Serb teenager who assassinated the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo in 1914 still provokes controversy.

His legacy has been molded time and again to meet political agendas in the Balkans, which remains a smoldering patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries.

Nikola Princip crossed himself and stood silently recently in front of a Sarajevo chapel plaque that read "The Heroes of St. Vitus Day." The list starts with Gavrilo Princip's name for the assassination he carried out on that sacred Serb holiday of June 28.

"He lived and died for his ideas to liberate and unite the southern Slavs. May he rest in peace," the 81-year-old man said, lighting a candle.

A few blocks away, another plaque marks the spot where Princip killed Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand. There, Halida Basic, a 72 year-old Bosnian Muslim, has a different view.

"He was a killer, a terrorist. He did it because he wanted Bosnia to be part of Greater Serbia," she said.

Barely a month after the 19-year-old fired his shots, Europe, and eventually the world, was at war.

Austria accused Serbia of masterminding the assassination. Backed by Germany, Austria attacked Serbia, whose allies, Russia and France, were quickly drawn in. Britain, its sprawling Commonwealth empire and the United States also joined the fighting.

When the mass slaughter known as the Great War ended in 1918, it had claimed some 14 million lives - 5 million civilians and 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen - and left another 7 million troops permanently disabled.

For his part, Princip was immediately arrested and died in captivity months before the war ended.

With the centenary remembrance of the assassination approaching in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, the old entrenched positions are resurfacing.

"Gavrilo Princip will, just like the past 100 years, remain a hero for some and a terrorist to others," said the head of the Sarajevo History Institute, Husnija Kamberovic. "It is a matter of feelings toward what he did, and not a matter of serious historical arguments."

The split follows Bosnia's ethnic divisions.

Christian Orthodox Serbs celebrate Princip as someone who saw Bosnia as part of the Serb national territory. The same idea inspired the Serbs in 1992 to fight the decision by Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats to declare the former republic of Bosnia independent when Serb-dominated Yugoslavia fell apart.

In Serb history books, the "great liberation act" of Princip and his comrades is described for over 20 pages.

"They were heroes who were ready to sacrifice their own lives for freedom and liberation," said Jovan Medosevic, a primary school history teacher in the Bosnian Serb town of Pale, near Sarajevo.

That's exactly what makes Princip unpopular among Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats. In their official textbooks, Princip is mentioned in just one sentence as a member of a secret terrorist organization who "did not assassinate Franz Ferdinand to liberate Bosnia from the occupier, but wanted Bosnia to become a part of Kingdom of Serbia," high school student Ermin Lazovic said.

A century ago, Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats preferred to stay in the big Austrian empire that had brought progress, law and order. Serbia was already in the process of destroying all mosques on its territory after it had liberated itself from the Ottoman Empire.

Accordingly, authorities in the Serb part of Bosnia plan to erect a monument to Princip and refuse to take part in the planned commemorations in Muslim Bosnian-dominated Sarajevo.

For the Serbs, it is beyond doubt that Austria and Germany were the instigators of World War I, not Princip or the Serbs.

The Sarajevo commemoration includes a performance of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and an international historical conference at which no Serb academics will attend.

"We have no new facts and we can only reinterpret old documents," Bosnian Serb historian Draga Mastilovic said. "So are we now supposed to accept the Austro-Hungarian position that Serbia caused that war?"

He said he understood why Germans and Austrians want to promote their version of events. "It is not easy to carry the burden of having caused two world-wide bloodbaths in the 20th century," he said.

For Kamberovic, the professor organizing the conference in Sarajevo, everything is open for academic review.

"People who accuse us of trying to revise history before the conference has even started are aware that we do intend to open discussions they do not really like," he said.

"We will talk about how much the expansionist policy of the German monarchy has contributed - but also how much the expansionist policy of Serbia toward Bosnia has contributed to the outbreak of that war," he said.

A Bosnian rock group has even written a song about the sunny morning in 1914 when, according to their lyrics, Princip became a "hero to some, a criminal to others, while probably his own soul is still wandering, somewhere in between."

Fixing the flower arrangement he laid in front of the little chapel in Sarajevo, Nikola Princip admitted he had a personal stake in the debate.

"Gavrilo Princip was my uncle," he said.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
cmason72 June 24 2014 at 6:53 AM

A muslim calling someone a terrorist, lol??? Now that's a good one, lol.

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3 replies
lancesammy June 24 2014 at 10:30 AM

looks like some people are confused. princip was not a moslem but serbian orthodox under the influence of the black hand - an underground movement to create a greater serbia and throw off the yoke of the austro-hungarian empire. the serbs hated both moslems & catholics. they were allied to greek orthodox church same as russia. princip's shot started ww 1 period. the sad part was the duke was young and progressive and knew the empire had to come into the 20th century with proper reforms. he never had the chance. all you people comenting need to know the history of the region better.

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3 replies
cvanac8550 June 24 2014 at 11:20 AM

And once again we get drawn ito conflicts we have no business being involved with..Wilson tried and failed to stay out because of the pressure put to him from the banksters. So we give up a quarter of a million in a very short period of time...the banksters get their money ..torture Germany and indirectly set up the whole thing to start up all over again in WW2. We the serfs to the 1% have been buying their BS forever. We give up our lives so the few can sit at home and profit from the dead and mangled bodies of youth.Princip should have been outside the gates of the Rothchilds that would have been the shot heard round the world...

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2 replies
innovator14 cvanac8550 June 24 2014 at 2:38 PM

1000 thumbs up.

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Ken cvanac8550 June 24 2014 at 6:54 PM

someone is paying attention!!! there is hope for humanity after all.!

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David June 24 2014 at 6:55 AM

The author of this piece should learn more about history. The British Commonwealth did not exist at the time of WW I; the British Empire was still in place.

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2 replies
Tom David June 24 2014 at 8:45 AM

Oh come on now. You know that these so called writers for AOL/HP are still in grade school. Don't be so harsh.

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1 reply
inlingbos Tom June 24 2014 at 10:00 AM

It is irrelevant who they write for. Uninformed people still read this incorrect junk and think it's history. There are many, many more contradictions and wrong statements in this article...

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beemerboxer David June 24 2014 at 12:16 PM

The author should also define the fact that American troops did not fully enter the combat stage of the war until May 1918 when they were used on the Marne. The presence of American troops in support of worn out allied armies no doubt contributed greatly to Germany's defeat in November, 1918. American casualties stood at 117,000 dead and 204,000 wounded over 7 months.

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ashumate3 June 24 2014 at 8:56 AM

It's interesting that it is this same region where the World Conquest by Muslims got bogged down and afterwards as they tried for Europe through Iberia that Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar ended the dream for Muslim's World Conquest. It is also interesting to note that this same region has been a cauldron on unrest and during the German Conquest during World War II that the Muslims joined the Nazi's in the extermination of not only Jews but Christians to. Of course the Muslims weren't too bright because had the Nazi's been successful the Muslims would have been disposed of to. After World War II Uncle Joe Stalin made the biggest blunder when he installed Tito to head up Yugoslavia. Tito told Stalin to take a hike and he ran Yugoslavia as he saw fit and he kept a lid on both the Christians and Muslim conflict. It was after he died and Yugoslavia fell that the animosities resurfaced. This is the history in a nut shell. It was the Muslim attempt at World Domination that brought about the Crusades.

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5 replies
rudniski136 June 24 2014 at 10:40 AM

History is lies agreed upon. All history is colored by which side you are standing on and whether your side wins or looses.

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2 replies
tscsandite rudniski136 June 24 2014 at 11:35 AM


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Ken rudniski136 June 24 2014 at 6:52 PM

yeah but the real powers control both sides and just fund the winner a bit more. the real powers in world wars are always the bankers. look it up. for starters watch the film "the money masters"

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magus47 June 24 2014 at 10:09 AM

he was a misguided terroist muc like those that blown themselves up for allah today. The assassination bears a close look. It was a comedy of errors that resulted to the archdukes killing almost by accident. Truly a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

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1 reply
traceymarie624 magus47 June 24 2014 at 7:39 PM

or mcveigh blowing himself up and children as well...we have our terrorists as well. Hell bush is the biggest terrorist of all

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1 reply
camlis1 traceymarie624 June 24 2014 at 7:55 PM

how stupid

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keithj77441 June 24 2014 at 10:17 AM

and the muslims continue their killing ways

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3 replies
tangier June 24 2014 at 3:57 PM

Killing so called soft targets (innocent people) is the mark of the terrorist however people killed by accident in war is another matter unless proven otherwise. The line & difference does get very thin indeed................

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3 replies
Al Horvath June 24 2014 at 10:36 AM

Princip was an agent of Serbia. WWI was started by a terrorist assassination and the US, Britain and France were on the side of the terrorists. What goes around comes around?

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