Belgrade, Serbia (TFC) – In an event surprising to most of the West, Serb nationalists have erected a statue of Gavrilo Princip. Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand over 100 years ago, setting off a chain of events that left 10 million dead.
The assassination of the Archduke sparked World War I. The war redrew the map of Europe, and the peace treaty from the war was eventually the catalyst for World War II. There is no doubt that Princip’s actions left their mark on history, but in most of the world he isn’t seen as a positive figure.
In Serbia, it’s a different story. He is a symbol of Serb patriotism. The statue is just over six and half feet tall. Its unveiling wasn’t just attended by fringe elements of Serbian society. The country’s President was there. President Nikolic told reporters that “others may think what they want.”
The statue was previously in a Sarajevo suburb. When it was unveiled there last year, a man dressed as Princip rushed the stage and fired two shots from a fake pistol into the air. Those in attendance at that time were heavily opposed to NATO and the EU. Many in the crowd told the actor he should be shooting at the those organizations. The event underscores the fierce nationalism that lurks just below the surface in the region. This nationalism and ethnic pride was the source of the Balkans War in the 1990s.
The real Princip was in his mid-twenties when he died in prison six years after firing the fatal barrage at the Archduke. He died in 1920, and his bones were dug up and taken to Sarajevo to be reburied with honor.
June 28th, 1914 is a date that most of Europe looks upon with horror. In Serbia, it’s a day of pride. It’s often glossed over in Western textbooks for obvious reasons, but the assassination was carried out by “The Black Hand,” a group of Bosnian Serbs that were unhappy about being added to the Habsburg Empire in 1908. Prior to that, the Bosnian Serbs were under the control of the Turks. This assassination was yet another example of an ethnic minority simply wanting a homeland. So while the European powers may demonize the actions of the Black Hand, they are no different than the actions of the Irish Republican Army, The Basque Separatists, The Indian National Army, or The French Resistance. History, like many things, is relative to the flag flying outside of the building it is taught in.