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(EUROPE'S SLIDE to WAR – continued)

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EUROPE'S SLIDE to WAR (3 of 6)

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Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was aware of the hostility of Bosnia's Serbs against Habsburg rule. In 1910, Franz Joseph had visited Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, but a double row of soldiers had been placed between him and Bosnian onlookers, with uniformed and plainclothes police mingling in the crowds. For Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne, no such security was planned. A devoutly religious man, the Archduke responded to the danger of his visit with the remark that all was in the hands of God.

So unpopular was Habsburg rule in Bosnia that dozens of teenage boys in Sarajevo jumped at the opportunity to join a conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke. Their leader was a nineteen year-old: Gavrilo Princip. He had been beaten by authorities and expelled from high school, and he had fled to Serbia to begin a career as a patriot dedicated to Serb liberation. In 1913 the Serbian army had rejected Princip as physically unfit, but he had assassination as another means with which to express his patriotism.

Princip and his accomplices received their weapons from a group in Serbia called the Narodna Oderana (National Defense) or "Black Hand" – without approval of the Serbian government. On their way back to Sarajevo the youths had to sneak past Serbia's border guards.

Princip and his co-conspirators believed that the Archduke was coming to Sarajevo to prepare an invasion against Serbia. They were unaware or believed it insignificant that the Archduke was unpopular among Austria's influential conservatives for favoring the same kind of autonomy for the Serbs that had been granted the Hungarians. Archduke Ferdinand, moreover, was one of those who favored peace.

On 28 June 1914, the Archduke entered Sarajevo in an entourage of automobiles, with the top down on his convertible chauffeur-driven limousine. Alongside the archduke was his wife. One of the conspirators threw a bomb that bounced off the back of the limousine and injured a few people including two officers in the car that followed. Forgetting about all being in the hands of God, the Archduke was furious.

The planned meeting at Sarajevo's city hall was brief, and the still angry Archduke was anxious to punish the town by leaving the city as soon as possible. Driving out of town, the Archduke's entourage of automobiles made a wrong turn and stopped to turn around. The Archduke's car stopped directly in front of Gavrilo Princip. An officer with a sword, standing on the running board, had been added to the Archduke's car, but he was on the side opposite Princip. Princip stepped forward and fired two shots. One hit the Archduke and the other bullet accidentally struck the Archduke's wife. Both bled to death as the Archduke's car drove over bumpy roads to a local hospital. And Princip was beaten and dragged off to prison.

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Copyright © 2004-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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