Sarajevo City Hall, the last place that Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie visited before being assassinated in June 1914. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Two concerts in two Bosnian cities will mark the 100th
anniversary at the weekend of the Sarajevo assassination that
lit the fuse for World War One, in a divided country where
the past still haunts the present.
The separate events speak volumes to Bosnia a century on,
where perceptions of the Bosnian Serb who gunned down
Archduke Franz Ferdinand have been warped by time and
politics, and wounds are still raw from the bloody demise of
In the capital, where the heir to the Habsburg throne was
shot with a Browning gun on a summer's morning in 1914, the
Vienna Philharmonic will play Haydn, Schubert, Brahms and
Ravel in remembrance of the murder that triggered the march
to war and turned out the lights on an age of European peace
To the east, in the Drina river town of Visegrad, Serbia's
premiere orchestra will perform Vivaldi's summer concerto in
tribute to Gavrilo Princip, to Serbs a hero whose act brought
down the curtain on centuries of occupation over the Balkans.
Leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs have refused to join
the Sarajevo events, saying Bosnia's Muslim Bosniaks and
Catholic Croats want to paint Princip as a nationalist
terrorist and the Orthodox Serbs as guilty for the wars that
opened and closed the 20th century.
Instead, they will unveil a mosaic of Princip and his
collaborators in Visegrad, where actors will re-enact
Ferdinand's murder and the trial of his 19-year-old assassin,
who died in jail of tuberculosis months before World War One
The assassination "began the liberation from serfdom and
slavery", filmmaker Emir Kusturica, organiser of the Visegrad
events, told Reuters. "I don't know why everyone would mark
the day in the same place when they look on it so
The row threatens to drown out those hoping to send a message
of unity; Saturday's events in Sarajevo will close with an
open-air musical bringing together 280 performers from across
Europe, including Serbs, under the title "A Century of Peace
after the Century of Wars".
"We would like to symbolically start a new century with an
artistic act about peace and love," said director Haris
"We represent a younger generation," said Serbian drama
student Uros Mladenovic. "These people are carried along by
the same basic idea - the victory of peace and life over all
the bad things that have happened."
Austrian President Heinz Fischer is expected to head a list
of dignitaries mainly from around the region. Much of the
commemoration is sponsored by France.
With the unity and prosperity of Europe tested by economic
and social strife, leaders of the 28-member European Union
meet on Thursday in Ypres, a city synonymous with the death
and suffering of World War One.
STATUE OF ASSASSIN
On Saturday, the Vienna Philharmonic will perform in
Sarajevo's City Hall, where Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie,
attended a reception shortly before their murder.
The Austro-Hungarians attacked Serbia a month later and the
Great Powers - already spoiling for a fight - piled in. More
than 10 million soldiers died as empires crumbled and the map
of Europe was redrawn.
Converted into the National Library in 1949, the neo-Moorish
City Hall, known as Vijecnica, went up in flames in 1992
during a 43-month siege by Bosnian Serbs in the hills. Almost
two million books were destroyed. A plaque denounces the
"Serb criminals" responsible.
Painstakingly restored, the building was reopened in May and
will host its first event on Saturday. But Serbs are
sensitive to any perceived link between the wars of 1914-18
"I thought about going to Sarajevo," Serbian Prime Minister
Aleksandar Vucic told reporters. But, he said, "I was
supposed to stand beside a plaque that speaks of the 'Serbian
fascist aggressors'. Sorry, with all due respect, I cannot do
Many Bosniaks and Croats see the Austro-Hungarian occupation
as a period of progress and Princip as a Serb nationalist
driven by the same territorial ambitions as those behind the
ethnic cleansing of the 1990s. Occupation was replaced after
the Great War by domination from Belgrade under the Kingdom
After World War Two, under socialist Yugoslavia, Princip was
officially revered as a liberation fighter for all the
nations and faiths brought together under Josip Broz Tito.
But Yugoslavia's disintegration in the 1990s, spawning seven
new states, shattered perceptions of the assassin.
Footprints in the pavement marking the spot from which he
fired were dug up, with Sarajevans living under sniper fire
and mortars fired by Bosnian Serbs trying to carve out an
ethnically pure Serb statelet.
The war, fomented by Serbia and Croatia, killed 100,000
people, the large majority of them Bosniaks. Mass graves are
still being unearthed.
Princip's family home in northwest Bosnia was razed, but
rebuilt this year by Serbs who plan to open it as a museum.
Serb-held East Sarajevo will unveil a statue of the assassin.
The peace deal that ended the 1992-95 war split Bosnia into
two highly autonomous regions, divvying up power along ethnic
lines in a system that critics say has only cemented
Political leaders play up differences, despite a greater
apparent readiness among Bosnians to move on.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who frequently threatens
Serb secession, told reporters: "In suffering and in
celebration, we've always been on different sides. It speaks
to Bosnia's past, but also to its present."