Sarajevo, where it all started.
In less than tree weeks it will be exactly 100 years since the assassination in Sarajevo that ignited World War One. Gregor Mayer has helped me better understand this event.
The whole thing started with a kid firing two bullets from a Belgian-made Fabrique Nationale model 1910 pistol. It may seem like the simplest of facts, but the age of the Sarajevo assassins of June 28 1914... the age! For some reason it just did not get to me before I had picked up the new book Conspiracy in Sarajevo by Gregor Mayer. The main assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was 19 when he shot the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Take away Princip´s moustache and what remains is a kid, even more apparent when you see not just his face. Some of Princip´s helpers were even younger. Perhaps one shouldn´t focus too much on the age of the assassins - as behind the historic action of the young Bosnian Serbs stood older men, members of the secret military society best known as the Black Hand - officers of the Serbian Army. But I still think the age of the assassins says something, like that one has to attract young men (kids) for extreme deeds.
Was the First World War truly a result of the actions of some students? Formally there is little doubt about this but Gregor Mayer also writes that the Austro-Hungarian Empire viewed the assassination as a "welcome reason" for a long contemplated punitive drive against Serbia. In other words, had there been no Gavrilo Princip there would sooner or later nevertheless have been some other action that would have prompted Austria-Hungary to declare war against Serbia, thus setting off the chain reaction that became World War One.
But there did exist a Gavrilo Princip, and thus the story of his short life and motivations should long since be well known. However, while much has been written about the assassination, the actual killer has until now not been the subject of a modern biography such as Gregor Mayer´s. Doctor Martin Pappenheim studied the imprisoned Princip and his notes were published in 1926 - everyone who has read them, raise your hand... Of course, Doctor Pappenheim´s notes are often quoted in Conspiracy in Sarajevo.
What emerges from Gregor Mayer´s book is that Princip was greatly motivated by other assassins who went before him and also by the fact that he had not been allowed to become a soldier. Mayer provides the reader with a strong picture of Princip´s final years as well as the environment in which he grew up. It is also remarkable to read the words from Princip´s trial in October 1914 and about what it is like today in Princip´s home village of Gornij Obljaj.
Right now Sarajevo is preparing for the WWI anniversary, a large photo of Gavrilo Princip can be seen on the site of the assassination, on a banner somewhat strangely proclaiming "The street corner that started the 20th century".
So far, Conspiracy in Sarajevo is only available in German, as Verschwörung in Sarajevo: Triumph und Tod des Attentäters Gavrilo Princip. But aside from hardcover format it is also available as an e-book.