Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Sarajevo

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

Now it was time for me to find the place where the first World War started on the street by the river. On their wedding anniversary, June 28th 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a member of the Black Guard group called Gavrilo Princip. That’s a stark fact I hope most people know. What is not well known is the absolute tragedy of errors that preceded this shooting. Princip was not a lone gunman. There were five other assassins in Sarajevo that day, but either they froze and were unable to carry out their attack or they were incompetent. In the latter category, so the story goes, was Nedeljko Cabrinovic. At 10:10 am, Franz Ferdinand’s car approached Cabrinovic where he was standing on the riverside road. Cabrinovic threw his bomb at the car. Sadly for Cabrinovic, and many other people, the bomb bounced off the folded-back convertible cover into the street. The bomb’s timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car in the procession leaving a 1-foot-diameter, 6-inch-deep crater in the road and wounding 16–20 people.

Cabrinovic swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. This suicide attempt failed for two reasons. The first was that the cyanide only induced vomiting. The second was that the river was only 6-inches deep due to the dry summer. The police dragged Cabrinovic out of the river and he was promptly beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody. Franz Ferdinand carried on his way to the City Hall where he complained, perhaps not surprisingly, about the welcome he had received. Plans for the return journey were changed although the driver of Franz Ferdinand’s car forgot and followed the original route. When he was reminded of his wrong turning, he reversed the car, and this was when Princip fired two shots. He did not miss. If the driver had not been reminded and continued on his way, Princip would not have killed Franz Ferdinand and events might have been very different. As it was, Princip was prevented from shooting himself by a sharp-witted bystander and stood trial. Princip died of TB in 1918, roughly seven months before the chain of events he started came to an end.

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