SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Artists and diplomats declared a new century of peace and unity in Europe on Saturday in the city where the first two shots of World War I were fired exactly 100 years ago.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, crown prince and heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo, where he had come to inspect his occupying troops in the empire’s eastern province.
The shots fired by Serb teenager Gavrilo Princip sparked the Great War, which was followed decades later by a second world conflict. Together, the two wars cost about 80 million Europeans their lives, ended four empires – including the Austro-Hungarian – and changed the world forever.
Visiting the assassination site Saturday, Sarajevan Davud Bajramovic, 67, said that to hold a second of silence for every person killed just during WWI in Europe, we would have to stand silently for two years.
A century later, Sarajevans again crowded the same street along the river where Princip fired his shots. And the Austrians were also back, but this time with music instead of military:
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was scheduled to perform works of European composers reflecting the century’s catastrophic events and conclude with a symbol of unity in Europe – the joint European hymn, Beethoven’s Ode of Joy.
The continent’s violent century started in Sarajevo and ended in Sarajevo with the 1992-95 war that took 100,000 Bosnian lives.
But the country still struggles with divisions similar to those it faced 100 years ago.
The rift was manifested by the Serbs marking the centennial by themselves in the part of Bosnia they control, where a performance re-enacted the assassination. An actor playing Gavrilo Princip descended from heaven on angel’s wings in the eastern town of Visegrad, at the border to Serbia, and raised his pistol to kill Franz Ferdinand again.
For the Serbs, Princip was a hero who saw Bosnia as part of the Serb national territory at a time when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His shots were a chance for them to add Bosnia to the neighboring Serbian kingdom – the same idea that inspired the Serbs in 1992 to fight the decision by Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats to declare the former republic of Bosnia independent when Serb-dominated Yugoslavia fell apart.
Their desire is still to bring the part of Bosnia they control into neighboring Serbia. Serbia itself flirts with both – the European Union-opposed unification with the Bosnian Serbs as well as its own EU membership candidacy.
Serbian Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, President Tomislav Nikolic and the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, attended the ceremony in Visegrad, where Serbian flags flew and the Serbian anthem played – although the town is in Bosnia.
In Sarajevo, French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henry Levy said Europe owes Bosnia because Europe stood idly by as Serb nationalists bombed besieged multiethnic Sarajevo for 3 1/2 years. Levy started a petition Saturday among European intellectuals requesting the EU to pay Bosnia back by promptly giving it full membership in the European Union.