Saturday, 28 June 2014

Centenary of the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Today marks 100 years since Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, in the streets of Sarajevo. The assassination sparked a chain of events leading to the start of the First World War a month later. Austria-Hungary was set on a war with Serbia (both in response to the assassination and to shore up its security position in the Balkans), while Russia backed Serbia out of a mix of pan-Slavism and the aim of excluding Austria-Hungary from the Balkans as a sphere of influence -and through their respective alliances it became a World War.

The historical legacy of the assassination in Sarajevo itself is mixed (the BBC will broadcast a discussion of its impact on the region and nationalism later), with the different identities in Bosnia-Herzegovina divided over how history should be taught. In many ways Bosnia-Herzegovina today shows the challenges of divisive nationalism - both in the destructive effects nationalism can have in tearing apart previously peaceful communities, and in the challenging work of building a common future where people can feel comfortable in their own identities while being part of a shared space with other nationalities.

Two years ago I was in Vienna and saw the car Franz Ferdinand and his wife were in when they were shot. It was strange being so close to such a piece of history (the museum was deserted too, so it was eerily quiet), and nearby there was a poster of the declaration of war that was distributed to announce and explain the war. Both the personal tragedy of the victims of the shooting and the global tragedy of the terror of war sat close together.

The break up of Yugoslavia and the current Ukrainian crisis demonstrate that we still have a lot to learn and work on when it comes to peace, and that there are still dangers when it comes to clashing spheres of influence and nationalisms stoked in times of fear and uncertainty. A century on from the assassinations and the outbreak of war, the events are still striking in their relevance and need to be remembered.

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