Friday, June 27, 2014

AUSTRIA: Centenary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's Assassination

One hundred years ago, on 28 June 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by a Serbian nihilist by the name of Gavrilo Princip. Dying by the Archduke's side was his wife Sophie, who was also fatally shot by the unsteady hand of Princip.

The youngster had been trained and armed by rogue Serbian army officers. They were bent on avenging Austria-Hungary for centuries' old grievances, as well as Emperor Franz Joseph's fateful decision to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina to the multinational realm he had ruled since 1848. By doing so, the old Emperor set in motion the monster that Princip's shots unleashed on that sunny day in the summer of 1914.

No one expected that the Archduke's untimely death was to plunge the continent into a war that would destroy life as Europe and the world knew it. The conflict ignited by the shots fired in Sarajevo eventually claimed the thrones of those who had so willingly beaten war drums, thus encouraging the European monarchies to self destruct.

By November 1918 Austria-Hungary was no more. In Sofia, King Ferdinand had already been forced out and the Bulgarian throne survived by a thread. Germany collapsed and the Kaiser, the bombastic Wilhelm II, left in a hurry for permanent exile in the Netherlands. Once the Prussians lost their hold on power, nothing could stop the other German rulers from losing their own thrones. The republic was proclaimed and a way of life came to an abrupt end. The stupidity of war left behind a continent ravaged, hungry, prostrated when confront by its own hubris.

Tsar Nicholas II, who also failed to keep Russia out of war, did not witness the collapse of his enemies in Vienna and Berlin. He lost the throne in March 1917. In July 1918, he, along with his wife and children, as well as some loyal servants, was gunned down in a cellar in Yekaterinburg. It took nearly eight decades to find the final burial place of the tragic, but spineless, Tsar and the other victims of that ghastly act of atrocity. By the time war came to a screeching halt on 11 November 1918, little remained of the Romanov empire that so gallantly had gone to war in August 1914..

The European Powers learned little from the brutality of the conflict. Once peace arrived, France rushed to inflict in Germany a peace treaty that guaranteed that nation's thirst for revenge. The United Kingdom stood by and allowed their French allies to  plant the seeds of World War II. The United States retreated and pretended the globalization was a germ Americans could vaccinate against. By retreating into isolationism, the United States turned it's back on Europe and allowed Germany's humiliation to proceed.

As for Austria-Hungary, well there was little left recognizable of the once mighty of the multinational empire. Woodrow Wilson promised self determination to a group of people who clearly did not know the difference between ethnicity and national identity. The dismantling of the one structure that held these ethnic groups together only assured the continent that the Balkan powder keg would become even more flammable.

The shots fired in Sarajevo, were not only heard around the world, but they changed the planet forever. I am sure that there will be an abundance of articles and reading material to commemorate the sad events of Sarajevo. I suppose, at the very least, one can say a prayer for the soul of the Archduke and his wife, as well as the three orphaned children they left behind. Yet, one must also remember the millions whose lives were taken during the conflict and after. Had Princip misfired, the world would be an entirely different place...
Archduke Franz Ferdinand arriving in Sarajevo.

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