Sarajevo marks centenary of Archduke's Ferdinand's death
'The eyes of the world are watching Sarajevo'
Caroline and Newman Rimmel, and their friend Tim Jones, are history enthusiasts who visit the Somme almost every year to see the battlefields and monuments of the First World War.
But this year there was only one place to be. The friends, from Gloucestershire, south-west England, are in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, to commemorate the centenary of the moment when the war began — the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, in the city on June 28, 1914.
“What happens here today is a commemoration of the millions who died because of the butterfly effect from what happened on this spot,” says Jones, standing at the street corner by the Latin Bridge over the Miljacka River where the archduke was shot by Gavrilo Princip.
History didn’t stop there for Sarajevo, of course. Buildings nearby are still studded with bullet holes from a more recent war. Between 1992 and 1995 Bosnia was torn apart by conflict between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats — 100,000 people died, and Sarajevo was subjected to a 1,425-day siege by Serb troops. The city has been marking the assassination of the archduke in the hope it will “close the circle” of a century of conflict.
Just before midnight, performances took place on the Latin Bridge. At 11am, the approximate time of the assassination, tourists and journalists crowded streets around the bridge.
Above looms the mountain ridge from which Serb artillery shelled the city during the war.
“Sarajevo is the focus: the eyes of the world are on us,” says the city’s mayor, Ivo Komsic. “We want to send a message for new hope and a better future.”
The war has left not only physical and psychological scars. Bosnia is administratively split into the Federation, largely Muslim and Catholic Croat, and the autonomous Serb Republic, the leader of which, Milorad Dodik, agitates for independence. On Friday, in the Serb-run district of East Sarajevo, Dodik opened a park named after Gavrilo Princip and graced by a statue of the assassin.
For many Serbs, Princip is a hero of Southern Slav independence. And Thursday was a significant day even before 1914, as the date of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo in which, according to popular understanding, a Serb defeat led to centuries of Ottoman oppression. It is this sort of complex history that those organising exhibitions and events must navigate: Bosnia has a general election in the autumn, and nationalist rhetoric is expected to rise.
A special exhibition at the National Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina opened on Thursday, recording the visit of Ferdinand, the assassination and the war. It starts with descriptions of Sarajevo in 1914, depicting a teeming bazaar of Muslim and Jewish craftsmen alongside a new city full of Viennese-style cafes and parks.
“The idea is not to concentrate on one or the other side, but to have Sarajevo as the main protagonist,” said museum director Elma Hasimbegovic. “Franz Ferdinand isn’t the main character, and we’re not concentrating on the national history. Bosnians fought on both sides, and we want to see how ordinary people were affected.”
The museum is a victim of post-war ethnic politics, as it receives no regular funding from the country, the federation government, the canton administration or city. Nineteen years after the conflict ended, it and seven other national institutions are left in a legal and financial limbo, as culture is such a contested issue between ethnic politicians. Those politicians are the focus of anger on all sides, in a country in which unemployment is reported to be more than 40pc, and progress towards the EU has been stalled by ethnic infighting. Many yearn for the certainties and peace of a united Yugoslavia.
“The politicians should all be sent to Goli Otok! Everything gets worse daily,” says Milan Bosanac, 79, a Bosnian Serb, referring to a Communist-era gulag on a parched Adriatic island.
He remembers communist times with affection. “When Tito was alive, everything was great, everybody had a job. Now there are hundreds of thousands out of work, and there is nothing for the old.”
The slogan for last week’s events was “a century of peace after a century of war”. There are few countries for which this is more apt, and even for some set on preserving the past, the anniversary is painful. “The Latin Bridge is a symbol of war, and I am so sorry the city is seen as a symbol of war,” says Mirzah Foco, a Muslim official at Bosnia’s commission to preserve national heritage. “I was in the army and I want to forget everything. Believe me — it was a nightmare.”