Sarajevo recalls the gunshot that sent the world to war

Sat Jun 28, 2014 3:29pm EDT
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By Matt Robinson and Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Sarajevo marked 100 years on Saturday since the murder of an Austrian prince lit the fuse for World War One, with a concert by Vienna's premier orchestra trying to send a message of unity to a divided country and a continent facing new faultlines.

The concert, carried live by dozens of European broadcasters but attended by only a select elite, recalled the days of the Habsburg Empire, in the city that hastened its demise with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by 19-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip.

The murder set the Great Powers marching to war; more than 10 million soldiers died and empires crumbled, sowing the seeds for World War Two and much of the strife now wracking the Middle East.

Sarajevo closed the century under siege by Bosnian Serb forces during Yugoslavia's disintegration. Still dealing with the aftermath, Bosnia's former warring communities greeted the centennial deeply at odds over Princip's motives and his legacy.

Leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs, who consider the assassin a hero, boycotted the Sarajevo events, angered by what they say is an attempt to link the wars that opened and closed the 20th century, and to pin the blame on them.

They planned to re-enact the murder in the eastern Drina river town of Visegrad, seared into the memory of Muslim Bosniaks for a wave of ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serbs early in the 1992-95 war.

In Sarajevo, Austrian President Heinz Fischer was guest of honour at the concert in the capital's restored City Hall, known as Vijecnica, where Ferdinand attended a reception on June 28, 1914. The archduke and his wife left in an open car, but the driver took a wrong turn and Princip shot them from a Browning pistol on the banks of the river.

The Austrians attacked Serbia a month later and the Great Powers, already spoiling for a fight, piled in. The neo-Moorish Vijecnica, which later became the National Library, went up in flames in 1992 under fire from Bosnian Serb forces in the hills, almost 2 million books perishing in the inferno.   Continued...

People cross the Latin Bridge and street corner in front of the historical landmark, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated, in Sarajevo June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic