Franz Ferdinand still divides Bosnians 100 years after assassination

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie setting out in their motorcade in Sarajevo, on the morning of the assassination. Date: 28th June1914. (AAP)

One fatal shot was all it took for The Great War to begin, or so some historians believe. As the 100th anniversary of Franz Ferdinand's assassination approaches the event continues to stoke controversy in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Austria and Bosnia are preparing to mark one hundred years since a young Serb nationalist shot an Austrian prince in Sarajevo.

In 1914, Gavrilo Princip not only fired the starting gun for the Great War, but triggered the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Princip assassinated the successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie.

Austrian historian Manfred Rauchensteiner said, one hundred years on, the consequences are all around.

"The borders were completely redrawn, Central Europe collapsed into many small states - there were other transfers of territory. The map of Europe is now completely different," he said.

To mark the centenary of the assassination, Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina are promoting peace. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra will play in what's billed as a concert for peace in the newly restored Sarajevo Town Hall.

Conferences and art exhibitions are scheduled and many of Europe's political leaders will attend. Diplomat and historian Chris Bennet is on the Mayor of Sarajevo's commemoration committee and talks about their plans.

"Basically to try and portray Sarajevo in a very positive light and in addition to look forward to a century of peace, as opposed to the century of conflict that followed the 1914 assassination," he said.

The Sarajevo commemoration is not without controversy, with Bosnian Serbs threatening to boycott it. They claim it will promote a view that Serbs were responsible for starting the war.

Kurt Bassuener is from the Democratisation Policy Council, a policy analysis group. He said the organisers are not setting out to upset Serbs.

"No I don't think so. I mean the ceremonies are being planned by the French and the Austrians, who were on opposite sides of the war, so no I think that would have come out in the wash a long time ago. Where they agree is that this was the trigger for a snowball effect that ultimately led to a much wider war. I don't think there is anybody in Bosnia who ultimately denies that. What you end up with though is a starting point for how you view the initiation of that conflict," said Kurt Bassuener.

Historian Manfred Rauchensteiner said if the assassin had gone for the emperor instead of his successor, the war might not have happened.  

"He was someone who didn't shy away from war, as different from the successor to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, who did not want war. So there's a certain tragedy here that Franz Ferdinand was murdered and not Emperor Franz Josef."

While historians hammer out their differences during this centenary, in Sarajevo's old town the metal workers are doing what they've done for centuries - hammering copper into pots and pans.

Eddy is a craftsman who hopes the tourists and officials coming to Sarajevo for the centenary will be good for business. But he's philosophical about the fuss being made. 

"Let history be history. The future will show what is what. Ours is to live here, work here, and we are not politics, we are craftsmen," said Eddy.

But even the music can't escape politics and history. Haydn's Kaiser Quartet, is on the Vienna Philharmonic's program. Critics say that's a bit insensitive because a variation of it became the Imperial Anthem.

But on June the 28th it will be played and broadcast world-wide. Sarajevo will be back in the spotlight and, for a change, in a time of peace. 

Source World News Australia

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch