Sarajevo has become famous for more recent conflict, but its most significant place in history is as where Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in 1914.
“The assassin was a Serbian called Gavrilo Princip,” says Samra, a local historian. “He was part of a group of nationalists and they had one mission: to rebel against Austro-Hungarian rule.” His actions, which went well beyond mere rebellion, had cataclysmic consequences for the rest of the world. Exactly a month after Princip assassinated Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, an act of aggression that triggered the slaughter of World War I during which nearly ten million soldiers and almost seven million civilians died.
Samra takes me to the spot where Princip fired those fatal shots. The street excites the imagination and lends a certain resonance to the tour. Standing in the road I envisage alternative scenarios; Princip’s gun misfiring, Franz surviving. Would that have prevented WWI? If so there would have been no WWII or Cold War. No baby boom or space race. No Vietnam or Summer of Love. No me. No you.
This, then, is a place where the world changed forever, a crossroads in history where humanity took a different path. The simple, stone plaque marking the event hardly does justice to the magnitude of that day. It reads: “From this place on 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie.” It turns out that fateful day was also their wedding anniversary.