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The echoes of an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 heard in Ukraine today (revised)

Updated: May 23, 2022


On the 28th June 1914 Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife, Sophie Chotek were shot to death by Gavrilo Princip, a teenage Serbian nationalist (1: Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia-Herzogvina some years before much to the chagrin of the Serbs).

This infamous event lit the fuse for the conflagration that became the First World War; a war that changed the world and Europe for ever, and indeed continues to do so. In fact this essay will argue that we can see the echoes, indeed the shock waves of this murder, in the Russian invasion of Ukraine today; an invasion which threatens to turn into another grinding war of attrition (or worse) in the heart of Europe.

This blog is designed to illustrate to the reader how the seismic changes in Europe following the Great War of 1914-1918 not only continued to be felt in the Second World War and Cold War, but also in the Yugoslavian civil war of 1991-1989, which this blog will argue reveals a disturbing continuity between the assasination of Franz Ferdinand and the bombing of Belgrade by NATO war planes in 1999 (2), and the events in Ukraine today which threaten to become apocalyptic.

However, the most important consequence of the assassination for today's events in Ukraine is the way Europe's borders were redrawn after the First World War in 1918: the Treaty of Versailles and Woodrow Wilson's 14 Point Plan introduced the concept of national self-determination along cultural and ethnic lines. Europe's old imperial borders were redrawn in such a way as to create, the notion at least, of racially homogeneous countries into the previously heterogeneous Eurasian landscape.

Just one aspect of the connection between 1914 and Ukraine today is the relationship between Russia and Serbia, which could be crucial to understanding Mr Putin's fury with NATO's action in 1999; and more recently, in the former Warsaw Pact countries (see previous blog:

Firstly, however, it is important to revisit 1914 and look at the geopolitical dynamic then, or more simply, the state of international relations then. It is argued that one reason for the outbreak of the First World War was the failure of international relations, that is the dangerous alliance system which saw in 1914 Britain, France and Russia (the Triple Entente) lined up against Germany and Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers): simply put the alliances meant that each would come to the other's aid in the event of war.

Militarism, aggression, imperialism and nationalism

Thus, when Franz Ferdinand and his wife visited Bosnia-Herzogovina that fateful day to watch military exercises the old European empires were lined up against each other. A series of aggressive and ill-judged German ventures by the Kaiser into France's North African colonies, the naval race with Britain (German aggression and expansion is argued by many to be the cause of the war - see the Fischer thesis below, 3) and a waning Ottoman Empire in the tinder box that was the Balkans all converged that day in June 1914:

Militarism, aggression, imperialism and nationalism were the order of the day. What is of most import with regard to this blog's central argument is the relationship between the Russian's and the Serbs; a relationship between Slavic peoples which can be traced back centuries (5) (the Serbs now are torn between the EU and Russia and condemn the action in Ukraine). (7).

A wrong turn in history: an accident waiting to happen or an accident of history?

Quite simply, the assassination led to Austria-Hungary with Germany's support issuing an ultimatum to Serbia. The mobilzation various of the armies of Europe is well-documented: the Russian mobilization of its army in support of the Serbs arguably turned a localised European War into a major European war (4).

However, what is so interesting if not disturbing about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, is that his death was almost an accident, it might not have happened if his driver, after a first unsuccessful attempt on the Arch-Duke's life, had not turned down a side street in Sarajevo by mistake and come upon Gavrilo Princip, who separated from his co-conspirators, took his chance, and armed with a pistol shot to death the very unlucky couple.

How different history and, indeed the world might have been today, if only Ferdiand's driver had not made that wrong turn. Would, for example, the October Revolution of 1917 which led to the creation of a communist Soviet Union have taken place, let alone have succeeded, if Russia had not gone to war in 1914?

Post -First World War - A radical reorganisation of Europe: laying the foundations for a Third World War.

Post the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, Germany's borders were redrawn and importantly, the new state of Yugoslavia was created. After Tito fought and beat Hitler's Nazi's during the Second World War, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Kosova would come to form the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia.

After 1945 and the dividing of Europe along military and ideological lines, that is a new a new and supercharged imperialism, the West and the Soviet Union faced off against each other in what would become the Cold-War. NATO was formed in 1949 as a defence against the Soviet Union.

However, this was hardly a Cold-War, as the near catastrophic clash between the US and China in the early 1950s demonstrates; moreover the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; Vietnam in the 60s and 70s; the US's involvement in ousting the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1989 and the Syrian conflict to name but a few, testify to how the superpowers have chased each other around the globe for the last 70 years.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying humiliation of that, Russia under Mr Putin has risen phoenix like from the ashes, as a deadly political and military foe if not an economic one (in fact the energy crisis precipitated by Putin's invasion of Ukraine has made Russia a deadly economic foe). The actions of Russia in the assassination of its dissidents by poisoning, interference in the Trump-Clinton presidential election, and their involvement in the Syrian conflict are all outlined in the previous blog:

Conclusion: Sarajevo to Belgrade to Ukraine: the echoes of an assasination ring out

The collapse of the Soviet Union and ostensible end of the Cold-War coincided with the Yugoslavian civil war and its subsequent break-up (9). Towards the end of that conflict NATO war planes bombed Belgrade because of war crime like Serbian military activity in Kosovo. It is argued that Mr Putin has never forgotten, let alone forgiven NATO and the West for this (6; 6a). The encroachment of NATO in former Warsaw Pact countries and that as a factor for the Russian invasion of Ukraine is discussed in the previous blog.

However, when we hear Mr Putin talk of fascists and Nazis in Ukraine we need to think of the Treaty of Versailles and the way in which the borders of Europe were redrawn along the 'poisonous' idea of one people one state, when Europe has always been culturally diverse and the central Eurasian slavic area is so diverse in population(z1). So Mr Putin isn't simply reacting to NATO now, but rather the symbolism of what NATO's expansion means: the remembrance of how the victors in 1918 carved up Europe along racial and ethnic lines; a decision steeped in irony given the ideology of Hitler's National Socialism, and, how now the West demands sovereignty for Ukraine.

Thus, what this blog asks is this: is it possible that a simple misreading of the road signs in Sarajevo in 1914 by Franz Ferdinand's driver, which led to murder, was the starting pistol for all these events? And is it mere coincidence that an event in Serbia in 1999 should feature in what may turn out to be a Third World War?: a war that may go nuclear, and which would not just echo the sound of Gavrilo Princip's murderous shots, but reverberate acround the world like a thousand Krakatoas. The events in Serbia in 1999 can be said to be the oscillating echoes of an earlier explosion which was always going to materialise in another clap of thunder: Ukraine.












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