The Assassin’s Shadow: The Beginning of World War I and the Legacy of Gavrilo Princip

tags: World War I, Gavrilo Princip

Brenna Miller is a graduate student at Ohio State University.

On June 28, 1914, one hundred years ago, one event changed the world. A Bosnian-Serb youth Gavrilo Princip, aged only 19, shot and killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austrian throne, and his wife Sophie as their motorcade passed by on the streets of Sarajevo. Princip was promptly arrested and imprisoned, where he would die of tuberculosis in 1918.

But while the assassin’s fate was settled quickly, the deaths of his prey were the trigger that began the First World War. A cascade of diplomatic alliances among Europe’s great powers quickly drew almost the entire European continent, and ultimately the world, into a conflict that would cost nearly 15 million lives and change the face of the planet for generations to come.

Legend tells that shortly before his death in prison, Princip inscribed a warning on the walls of his cell: “Our shadows will walk through Vienna, wander the court, frighten the lords.” Today, with preparations in Sarajevo underway for the centennial anniversary of the assassination, his warning is proving apt. Event organizers are struggling to navigate not only his personal story and the immediate legacies of his actions, but also the various interpretations and ideological positions that have coopted the meaning of his short life over the last century.

The assassination itself was the realization of a plot by a youth group called Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), populated mostly by Serb students dedicated to ending the Austro-Hungarian occupation in Bosnia-Herzegovina that had begun in 1878. By 1914, several independent states had already emerged in the Balkans, including a free Serbia. It wasPrincip’s and Mlada Bosna’s ultimate ambition not only to liberate Bosnia-Herzegovina, but to realize its inclusion into a larger, independent South Slav state with Serbia and other South Slavic peoples...

Read entire article at Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective

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