Serbia Erects Statue To Honor Assassin Who Triggered World War I

There is a fascinating story out this week that reminds us of how people can view history and violence in vastly different ways, including attacks of terrorism or assassination. Take Gavrilo Princip. Most of the world view him as a fanatic who triggered World War I with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, Serbia just honored him with a statue — commemorated by President Tomislav Nikolic, who heralded Princip as a freedom fighter and hero.

The statue was unveiled at a ceremony in central Belgrade on the Serbian national holiday of St. Vitus Day (or Vidovdan). Nikolic declared “Today, we are not afraid of the truth. Gavrilo Princip was a hero, a symbol of the idea of freedom, the assassin of tyrants and the carrier of the European idea of liberation from slavery,” adding that “others can think whatever they want.”

1318720819116132422That is not how he was viewed of course at his arrest and the bloody aftermath. He was a member of Young Bosnia with ties to the Serbian extremist group Black Hand. He lived to see the aftermath of his murder in the slaughterhouse of the trenches of World War I. He died in prison of tuberculosis in 1918. However, his action did succeed in ultimately destroying the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Yet from 1914 to 1918, Serbia would lose between 300,000-450,000 military deaths and between 450,000-800,000 civilian deaths. That constituted as much as 28% of its total population.

For Serbs, Gavrilo Princip resisted an occupation and authoritarian government by killing a dictator. For the world, he was an assassin. Few would have anticipated however that his actions would lead to the bloodbath of the Great War, including Princip. It would have been interesting to know if he felt the loss of up to 28 percent of the Serbian population and millions of killed and wounded worldwide was worth the cost to overthrow the Austro-Hungarian. He was only 19 years old.

Gavrilo_Princip's_parentsPrincip’s life is a tragic reflection of the time. His parents were serfs or “kmets” under abusive Muslim landlords. He was one of nine children, six of whom died in infancy. Before becoming an assassin, he fought in the Herzegovina Uprising against the Ottoman Empire and later worked a small plot of land as a farmer and had to give up one-third of his income away to his landlord. He later joined Young Bosnia to fight to separate Bosnia from Austria-Hungary and unite it with the neighbouring Kingdom of Serbia. In the end, he saw the killing of the Archduke as a necessary moral and political act. Many appear to agree today with that judgment.

It is interesting however to see a head of state honor an assassin since many in Serbia could view his death as a morally correct act. Indeed, ISIS and others maintain precisely that type of moral reasoning.


45 thoughts on “Serbia Erects Statue To Honor Assassin Who Triggered World War I”

  1. I am reading a very good book by John R. Alden entitled : A History of the American Revolution.
    In the early chapters he outlines how the various castes in both England and here in the 13 colonies were arranged and goes into detail about the nobility vs. commoners. And the in betweens. One thing sort of stands out to me. Prior to 1700 or so the English put greater importance on the island colonies than the 13 up here on the North American continent. So the colonialists got some freedom from autocracy.
    My take on the whole Revolution is that had we not done the Revolution and fought well we would be a bunch of dumb schmucks and still believe in nobility.
    Our recent advances in such things as same sex marriage have been a bit remarkable. If we could just go the next yard and recognize human and dog marriages we would be in the golden age. We have no word from HumpinDog or his fiance and do not even know if they ever landed in Cuba. All isquiet and we dont like it. Betty Lou Thelma Liz has a cell phone. And a computer.

  2. Ninian Peckitt

    Canada was a different place without the history of contiguous development as was the case in New England and the other colonies. Canada was French and English even after Wolfe defeated Montcalm and occupied with that balancing act. The French Canadians were happy with the arrangement and were wary of the Protestant Americans. They had also been installed in their lands for two hundred years +. Some reasons why the revolution didn’t take hold up North is that Washington had all he could handle until the French got involved. The French were over extended and couldn’t have taken their military into Canada. Canadians were more closely tied to Great Britain in more ways than their cousins to the South. Those North Americans that wanted to stay aligned with Great Britain were reinforced by the tens of thousands of Loyalists that either left voluntarily or were forced to flee the colonies to the south. The main reason over half of all Colonialists initially wished to stay out of the rebellion but were later forced to choose was never put to risk in Canada.

    The military attempts at taking Canada were easily repulsed and Great Britain enjoyed a stronger position there as the Colonial Army would have been reaching too far. There were armed insurrections between the time of the American Revolution and 1867 when Canada did become independent but the road to independence was well established and the process developed ahead of the climate that presented those opportunities that afforded a violent revolution. Free Blacks moved North. The wealthy, the well educated, and the well trained, found a sometimes difficult future in Canada but one where they were supported by the government and where there were endless opportunities.

    Just as in the original 13 colonies there was no rampant repression in Canada. Also, Great Britain wised up somewhat after their whooping.

  3. Paul

    My point is that what something is about and what is written for validation and posterity are not always the same thing. The colonialists were doing quite well at the time and perhaps the same organizational skills of a few that got the Civil War going were present earlier on in 1776. The butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker were probably just fine. But when the issues of freedoms, liberties, and other ephemeral and quixotic subjects are manifested armies can be raised. What is interesting is that the revolution was not all that popular until the British Army had to fight the Continental Army and it came to choosing sides. Once the fighting started the end was defined and the new country had its beginning.

    Throughout history the very few and enlightened have organized the masses whether they wanted to or not, were aware of it or not, or had anything to say about it or not. ‘1776’ byDavid McCullough is an interesting insight into just how popular the idea of revolution was among the local folk and just how close Washington came to getting snuffed out early.

    It would have happened eventually, the history of the British Empire morphing into a Commonwealth illustrates that clearly. However, the pedestrian aspects of mankind’s struggles to govern itself is sometimes varnished under many coats of high gloss shellac. Otherwise it wouldn’t make for great remembering.

    It is as looking through a glass darkly.

    1. Paul: has hit the nail on the head….

      This is exactly how armed insurrection is planned and executed. It is planned by those with ulterior motives and the support of the masses is engineered. In America 1770s the actions of the British Army did sway many patriots into supporting the rebellion but ithere was by no means a uniform opposition to the Crown. There were also those that just wanted to live their lives and didn’t care which side won. So in the end the 50:50 split became 33% x3 ways….

      It is always the young who are sacrificed by the Engineers of Conflict, who become the New Ruling Elite. The people remail oppressed obe wat or another… and their taxes just end up in another coffer…. John Hancock was hugely wealthy and this didn’t happen by accident.

      The American Revolution like all Revolutions was about a small group of powerful men seizing power and becoming the New Elite. A Coup d’ Etat achieved through political manipulation of the masses and French Funding and military assistance, which was given for ulterior motives and which eventually bankrupted France and probably made a contribution to the French Revolution and ultimately the rise of Napoleon.

      The Cry for Freedom was a very effective rallying call for the Patriots but it wasn’t really about that. Although this is how it is sold to the American Public. It was about a bid for Power.

      The story is now romanticised and has become the Soul of the American Nation. And there is nothing wrong in that. It is what has created your National Identity and National Pride. But the freedom it advocated was very selective and qualified. For example the economy was still built on slavery. The point I am making is that it was an important start and that democracy is an evolving process.

      In Europe 1914: Yes, Princip was underage and escaped execution to die of TB later. That is the whole point of his sacrifice. The young are easier to manipulate or radicalise, and we now see the same techniques used by ISIS.

      You dont get people like the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, firing the first shots.

      That is left to the Fall Guy.

  4. Note that he wasn’t executed, nor was he given a life sentence for his crimes. He got 20 years in prison.

    1. FoonTheElder – he was dead of TB before the end of WWI. He wasn’t executed because he was underage.

  5. Ninianpeckitt

    One has to wonder how much the ‘no taxation without representation’ jingo really figured in the underlying causes of the revolution. Americans are educated to believe that the founding fathers represented a persecuted people that wished to drive out the oppressor. Then certain realities filter in and it becomes about taxation and representation.

    It could very well be that this was simply about money. John Hancock supplied the British with ships and supplies to remove the Acadians from the Maritimes. This was as dastardly an act as there ever was. Families were uprooted and hundreds of years of ownership eradicated in a few months. Hancock and Uncle made out like bandits. The Eastern Seaboard or Colonies had become quite prosperous trading with the Caribbean and countries in Europe. Trade and the accompanying conflicts had been developing for over a hundred years and entrepreneurial spirit like that of Alexander Hamilton and Hancock would have certainly seen the advantages of having no mother country involved.

    In other words the cell splits. Taxation without representation might have been a rallying cry for some but under all the whooping and hollering it came down to money and the natural desire of independence. Perhaps the greatest ingredient was to be in on the adventure of the creation of a new nation. Whether King George recognizing this and dealing accordingly with the colonies by granting them representation or lowering taxes would have cemented relationships or not is highly doubtful. The more than likely scenario would have been a later war and/or a Canadian style path to independence through increments.

    The one thing that is sure is that the colonies would have continued to grow and would not have remained colonies for long.

    1. To Isaac

      Yes: It was certainly about money. That was the engine of American Success and always has been. But times may be about to change?

      My understanding was that the British Army in 1776 was instructed not to provoke Colonists and were instructed at all costs not to open fire. There was no desire for conflict on the British side at the highest level.

      But it was not to be…..

      There was a mood for rebellion but this was fostered by those powerful and wealrhy citizens with most to gain. John Adams etc. As in any conflict really.

      You may be right that the bid for independence would have happened in the end. But it didn’t happen in Canada, which is interesting, and there was about a 50% split between the Patriots and Royalists in the Colonies. So it wasn’t clear cut. There was considerable opposition. It was really a sort of Civil War and American Royalist supporters were banished to Canada in the end.

      The saga will always be about Oppression, Freedom and lots of other things. But the main thing was that leading American Politicians wanted Power. And they were prepared to fight for it.

      It’s really as simple as that.

      It is to be noted that Canada didn’t have to go through this process to be a democracy and to rule themselves and didn’t have to fight a Civil War 90yrs later which decimated the American population.

      In Europe 1914, the great powers were similarly flexing their muscles for a confrontation. The conflict was also driven by powerful politicians.

      What is interesting here is that Prince Albert and Queen Victoria tried to unify Europe through alliances in marriage. They believed that was the way to prevent War and married their children into the Royal Houses of Europe and Russia and at the same time spread haemophilia into the Romanoff family on particular. (Queen Victoria was a carrier). Her son, King Edward VII was lucky, he inherited the normal X chromosome from his mother.

      But how wrong they were – and this is probably the greatest weakness of Monarchy – their arrogance and delusion that they could make a difference and hold the politicians in check.

    2. issac – John Hancock was America’s No. 1 smuggler. If he didn’t hang as a smuggler he was going to hang as a revolutionary.
      If you want to see what the Revolution is about get a copy of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

  6. When death is the end all then assassins are the be all. All of those people would be dead by now. Time will tell. William Tell told it. Woodrow Wilson re-segregated Washington DC and the armed forces. If there ever is a bigger bigot only time will tell. It was a bad period of time when the Arch Duke got killed. Perhaps America had no business in that war. The Military Ind hieyustrial Complex loved it. Now every generation of America has its set of sailors and soldiers ready to sign up when they hit age 17 and go off to war. No more draft. No more resistance in America to warfare. Amen.

  7. The moral of the story is that there is no hope for freedom. Nature abhors a vacuum – despots of every color and form are eager to fill the void. The dictators may change chairs periodically, but there is no hope for freedom. Dictatorship and enslavement to the state will prevail forever.

    “Resistance is futile.”

    The dictatorship within a dictatorship of the SCOTUS over majority rule last week –

    the insurrectionist “judicial overreach” –

    a case in point.

    1. Nothing stays the same.

      Shakespeare was right with the play and players and this process will evolve…..

      Naural Selection will prevail and systems will continue to evolve – you only have to examine the history of the last 100 years to see what progress has been made.

      The situation of today is not the end point – in anything.

      What is required is continued engagement for the common good, to master your own collective destiny.

  8. Well, for all those people who think they can do anything, and loose anything on our country, and life will go on—remember 100 years ago the British Empire was the top dog! There are still over 50,000 living Americans who were alive then, sooo it wasn’t all that remote in time from us. Where will the U.S. be in 100 years, and who will we be building statues to? Anyway, speaking of Franz Ferdinand,

    and, this one, which is really easy to play:

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  9. While I think that individual terrorism is not a good way to change things, I do have to have some sympathy for his motives and actions since I am an American. We were founded upon hatred for monarchy, and Engish history is rife with killing kings and nobility. So I shed no tears for killing off a king or prince and I approve of the statue commemorating Princip, since he was indeed a freedom fighter. My ancestors chopped the head off of Charles I, and had to flee to the American colonies when the monarchy was restored. So I am all in favor of this commemoration, and it is too bad there are no statues of Cromwell in the UK.

    1. “Founded on a hatred of monarchy” is a contentious point.

      Whilst this is the foundation stone of the concept of American Revolution by red blooded Americans, it wasn’t really like that. It was about “no taxation without representation”. In other words it was really about the freedom to make money without taxation to the recognised (British) government of the time because Americans had no vote in the election of that parliament.

      And that was a reasonable thing.

      George III was Head of State. But he didn’t run parliament in the way suggested and didn’t make the Laws. He was mentally ill for some of his reign and probably suffered from acute intermittent porphyria.

      And the taxation in question was to pay for a war against the French, a war to protect the Colonists, in which George Washington fought with distinction in the King’s Army.

      There is no doubt about it the British got their comeuppance.

      They should have listened to the American representation in the parliament in London and they should have promoted George Washington in the Army – but they didn’t because he was colonial. And he never forgot that…..

      But the American War of Independence bankrupted France which helped to secure victory and this helped Britain in the creation of the World’s biggest Empire, on which the sun never set. This would not have happened without the American Revolution weakening France to the extent it did.

      Since King Charles I, in most European monarchies, there were changes with the evolution of constitutional monarchies, in which the monarch was the Head of State, a Figurehead, but with no political power. There were exceptions notably the Romanoffs and the Kaiser and look what happened to them. Also in Japan after 1945 the Emperor’s absolute power ceased to exist after his power based was extinguished.

      It is argued that a Constitutional Apolitical Monarchy has the ability to unite the people in ways a political president cannot, and this is why it is popular both at home and abroad.

      America has made its choice and if you don’t want a monarchy that’s fine.

      But you need to understand what a constitutional monarchy really is before you make an informed judgment.

      Every country had its own form of aristocracy. As for the American Aristocracy, that is built on financial success, political dynasties and Hollywood Celebreties: e.g Carnegies, Vandebilts, Kennedies, Mafia etc just to name a few.

      The annoying thing about the British is the ceremonial pomposity of it all and how good they are at it.

      In the USA, you award citizens with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the UK they are given a knighthood and if British they use the title “Sir”. There’s no real difference in concept the person is still honoured.

      In 1995, Henry Kissinger was honoured by an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. A Knighthood. So he is a “Sir” and there is nothing wrong with that.

      He is the only knight and holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, who is also the first honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

  10. Scott

    It’ true that the war was over well before the US entered. The British and the French had more men and materials and the British Navy had successfully sealed off Germany by sea. Germany’s failure to take Paris in 1914 designed the war as a non tactical confrontation of might against might and Germany had less. The second battle of the Marne when Germany shot its bolt, designed the end for Germany. From then it was a case of positioning for the best deal in surrender. The US entry shortened this exercise by perhaps six months. This may be what you are referring to regarding the harsh terms and such, however, another six months of slaughter might have made it even worse.

    After the war it was US, British, and French economic investment in Hitler’s controlled economy that assisted him in what he did to bring on WW2. It is a case of worlds within worlds. The little cowboy’s grand dad had to be told in 1942 to stop laundering money for the Nazis. The gold teeth from the ovens made their way through Switzerland to the US banking system to fund the Nazi war machine well after US troops were dying.

    Regarding the Middle East this is largely true however, the disintegration of the areas into unnatural countries is confronted with the amalgamation of tribes coming out of the chaos of the break up of the Ottoman Empire. The entire area has been forced into the confines of one colonial power or another for thousands of years. The real crime is to be found in Africa where countries were made that hundreds of years later resulted in the genocide of millions. Perhaps the worst and most despicable perpetrators here were the Belgians who slaughtered millions and left the chaos that was Rwanda and the Congo. Ya don’t see them in there fixing stuff though. Even when the UN Belgians were in Rwanda their leaders told them to stand and watch and then leave as hundreds of thousands of innocents were chopped up with machetes.


    I don’t ‘declare’ humans as a whole as capable to rise above their nature. It is obvious if you study history that they can in part and as these parts join together perhaps some day, as a whole will be how humans rise above their nature. I consider as many facets of the issue as I can, sometimes negative, sometimes positive. Lately things have been on the positive side.

  11. “The more things change the more they stay the same.”

    I certainly hope you consider that the next time you declare humans (as a whole) can rise above their nature.

  12. In Serbia they have been heroes since the assassination. This is nothing new.

  13. They need to post a Confederate Flag under his symbol. You see, its all about States Rights. In America we say STATESRIGHTS! We shout it. Bosnia, all those little states have rights. To hell with the people’s rights. Yugoslavia stomped on StatesRights. The next war will stomp on StatesRights! But to kill some dork who had a crown on his head of some sort is always right. No more monarchs. No more Lords and Nobility. Look at that dork in the photo. He thinks his itShay dont stink. Yeah, civility on the blog here with Pig Latin. I learned that here on this blog.

  14. Interesting post. Thanks for it. I don’t find the statue surprising, however, nor Nikolic characterizing Princip as a freedom fighter as atypical. A President of the United States, who now has an aircraft carrier named after him, called terrorists freedom fighters with regularity, and even funded them with profits from the sale of arms to Iran in violation of federal law.

    But, by golly, let’s suspend for two years the lawyer who re-labels the price on a good bottle of wine.

    The Executive branch of our government is out of control.

  15. Princip was the “fall guy”.

    Serbian military conspirators included the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, his right-hand man Major Vojislav Tankosić, and the spy Rade Malobabić.

    Major Tankosić armed the assassins with bombs and pistols and trained them. The assassins were given access to the same clandestine network of safe-houses and agents that Rade Malobabić used for operatives into Austria-Hungary.

    And recent evidence confirms that the assassination was funded by Tsarist Russia.

    So although Princip was the assassin its success by was pure chance following an earlier failed attempt that day and the Arch Duke’s decision to proceed with his journey.

    It didn’t help that the car went up the wrong street either, where Princip couldn’t believe his luck…

    The world in 1914 was Primed for War and if it hadn’t been Sarajevo it would have been something else.

    Princip was used….. by forces beyond his comprehension.

    So he wasn’t a hero; he was a fool. A victim of radicalisation,
    of which we are now all so familiar – a century later.

    As for the Balkans? Well nothing was solved….

  16. In 1917 treaties were in the works, but Woodrow Wilson wanted to get in on the action, so his taking the U.S into World War I extended hostilities and caused a much worse situation for Germany. Some people argue that the rise of Hitler and World War II would not have occurred were it not for Wilson’s actions.

    Further, the elites and bureaucrat expansionists of World War I immorally carved up the Middle East to suit their own self-interests, at the expense of those who inhabited those lands. Much of the civil strife, crises and violence since then have mainly been a result of that.

  17. If it wasn’t the assassination it would have been something else. Germany was rising, having recently beaten France in two wars. Austria Hungary was a loose amalgamation of states that were not related ethnically but administratively. Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, etc all had alliances with different Balkan states, each of which had been trying to go independent for a long time. The guy was merely an excuse. He did, however, represent the Serbian people who saw the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the looseness of the Austria-Hungary Empire as an opportunity.

    Today we have the impossibility of smacking Syria because Russia has a naval base there and wouldn’t like it. The more things change the more they stay the same. The guy was a hero. Nationalistic expansion was the culprit. It took almost a century for Germany to ‘express’ itself. If anything, from a glass half full perspective, WW1 and WW2 stopped the military expansion of European countries. Now it’s all about economic expansion. War has been redesigned as an economic chess game.

  18. “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
    George Orwell

    Many people are clueless about the sanitized and PC version of history taught our children. People, particularly young people, crave the truth. Much of history is ugly.

  19. Some people and countries just love to poke people in the eye and then they wonder why people have a problem with them. Talk about tone deaf!

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