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Mares: Sarajevo Centennial

Judge Patricia Whalen
The city of Sarajevo has developed a small museum about the assassinations of the Arch-duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife which sparked World War One.

On June 29, 1914 - one hundred years ago this Sunday - a three-column story in the Burlington Free Press reported "Austro-Hungarian Royal Heir and wife shot dead" in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a conquered province of Austria-Hungary. The account was remarkably accurate about the events of that world-changing day. It told of the first failed bombing attempt and then the successful attack on the royal pair by a 19-year old Serbian student, Gavrilo Princip, who was arrested soon afterwards. It went on to list many other tragedies that had befallen the Austro-Hungarian royal family.
Equally remarkable was the lack of any references to the wider implications, which in five weeks would plunge the world into war, and become, in my opinion, the most important event of the 20th Century.
In ghastly fashion, it would demonstrate the congruence of industrialization, radical nationalism and the forces of imperialism. The War also gave rise to Nazism, Communism and World War Two. Moreover, it also led to a number of continuing conflicts we’re still fighting about today, not least of which are some of the border disputes in the Middle East.
World War One was one of my favorite topics to teach in high school because the combination of cause, effect and unintended consequences gave it the quality of a three-dimensional chess match. The shots fired in the so-called Balkan Powder Keg were the immediate cause, but long before that, colonial rivalries, the vast military build-up of more destructive weapons, a secret alliance system, and the personality of a neurotic, bombastic German Kaiser prepared the way. Moreover, military plans called for preemptive mobilizations which were really slow-motion declarations of war.

A friend of mine has a friend in Sarajevo, and through them – with a little help from Facebook, I got two first hand impressions two generations removed from that fateful day:

One: My grandfather (Adem Tahmiš?ija) had a clock-shop near the Latin Bridge. While the Arch-duke Ferdinand was passing through the town people and workers from the nearby shops went out on the street to greet him. Suddenly, they heard shots, and an assassin ran away from the crime scene and went down to the of Miljacka riverbed and ran away through the sewer pipe. My father always said the Serbian robber and terrorist killed the Prince and his pregnant wife. From my father's story I concluded that he did not support this murder. Anyway, people had different opinions about this event.

The second account went this way: My grandmother told me that she and her sister were standing next to the riverbed of Miljacka. When the assassin shot the Prince he jumped in Miljacka and went through the big sewer pipe to Bistrik Street. People gathered around but police moved them away including my relatives. I know that people were afraid at the time. Some of them were glad it happened and approved it, other did not.

Today, a museum banner near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo proclaims "The Street Corner that Started the 20th Century."

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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