Slow-burn revolutionary: Princip in prison. Photo: Getty
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Gavrilo Princip: the assassin who triggered the First World War

Princip was a slow-burn revolutionary, identifying himself with all Bosnians and committing himself to the ideal of winning freedom for all local Bosnians, not just local Serbs.

Gavrilo Princip was not the best-trained of assassins, or the best-equipped, nor was he the most ruthless. But he was, perhaps, the luckiest, shooting dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand through a series of strokes of serendipity and fortune. It was the rest of the world’s bad luck that his actions triggered the first global conflict.

Princip was born in 1894, a serf’s son from the wild west of Bosnia. His father, Petar, earned extra income by delivering letters around the hamlet of Obljaj, where Princips had eked a hardscrabble existence for generations.

Petar was later described as an “entrepreneur” by his infamous son, but in reality his life was a continuation of a centuries-old tradition of feudal peasantry, battling to live off the land, obliged to surrender earnings and produce to overlords.

From the mid-15th century those overlords were installed by the occupying Otto­man empire before its withdrawal was finally confirmed by the 1878 Congress of Berlin. But the removal of one occupier did not mean freedom for the local Slav population, because another, Austria-Hungary, then staked Bosnia as the newest tessera in the polyglot mosaic of the Habsburg empire.

Austria-Hungary presented this coup of colonialism – the Scramble for Africa was taking place at roughly the same time – as a project of enlightened occidentalism that would bring light to a part of Europe long benighted by orientalism. This was largely guff, as the Austro-Hungarians set about plundering the natural resources of Bosnia  – mostly timber from its rich forests – and failed to carry out land reform and left alone the system of feudal exploitation.

For peasants like the Princips, life hardly changed. Petar married a woman called Maria from the hamlet next door and set up home in a single-room hovel with a beaten-earth floor, set into a hillside. They had nine children but only three, all boys, survived. Gavrilo was the middle son, his early life a cycle of domestic chores and learning his three Rs. He shone at school, his ability to read and write marking him out in Bosnia where, after 30 years of supposedly enlightened Habsburg occupation, the illiteracy rate stood at 88 per cent.

The local Slav community shared the same bloodline although they had been cleaved by faith over the ages into three groups: early Christians who followed Eastern Orthodoxy were known as Bosnia’s Serbs, Christians who followed Rome were Croats and those who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule were Muslims. The Princips were part of Bosnia’s Serb community, and Obljaj an entirely Serb settlement of co-religionists who lived, worked, married and died together.

The big change for Gavrilo came in 1907 when, aged 13, he left this insular little world and set off for the capital city, Sarajevo, to pursue his secondary education. Here he shone, excelling in his early years as a hard-working and dutiful student. But he did not just learn his lessons, he also learned to think the unthinkable, discussing with other students how Bosnia might be liberated from the occupier.

Princip was a slow-burn revolutionary, consistently identifying himself with all Bosnians and committing himself to the south Slav or Jugoslav nationalist ideal of winning freedom for all local Bosnians, not just local Serbs. His thinking was woolly and naive but he did not give in to the chauvinism of some Serbs who wanted a single Greater Serbia.

After four years of study he left for the neighbouring country of Serbia, another part of the Balkans peopled by south Slavs. Serbia had won independence from the Ottomans in the late 19th century, and Princip lived there on and off from 1912.

With his fellow Bosnian radicals – from all three faith groups – he settled on a plan to assassinate a senior Austro-Hungarian figure as a symbolic act that they hoped would be a catalyst and would spur others into demanding liberation. When they read in newspaper announcements that Franz Ferdinand was due to visit Sarajevo to oversee military manoeuvres, they settled on him as the perfect target.

Princip struck on the morning of Sunday 28 June during the archduke’s ceremonial visit into Sarajevo city centre. His wife, the duchess Sophie, was killed at his side: an accident, according to Princip, as he had intended to kill only the archduke or members of his officer cadre.

At two weeks short of his 20th birthday, Princip was too young to be executed; under Austro-Hungarian law, the death sentence could be given only to criminals aged 20 or more. Instead, he was jailed, sentenced to 20 years in solitary confinement, with the condition that one day a month he was to receive no food.

Princip died in a prison hospital on 28 April 1918, his body so ravaged by skeletal tuberculosis that his right arm had been amputated. He was buried in an unmarked grave but later disinterred, and his remains were moved in the 1920s to Sarajevo, where they lie to this day. 

Tim Butcher is the author of “The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War” (Chatto & Windus, £18.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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How power shifted dramatically in this week’s Game of Thrones

The best-laid plans of Mothers and men often go awry.

Last week’s Game of Thrones was absolutely full of maps. It had more maps than a Paper Towns/Moonrise Kingdom crossover. More maps than an Ordnance Survey walking tour of a cartographer’s convention. More maps than your average week on CityMetric.

So imagine the cheers of delight when this week’s episode, “Stormborn”, opened with – yes, a map! Enter Daenerys, casting her eyes over her carved table map (Ikea’s Västeross range, I believe), deciding whether to take King’s Landing and the iron throne from Cersei or a different path. After some sassy debates with Varys over loyalty, more members of her court enter to point angrily at different grooves in the table as Dany and Tyrion move their minature armies around the board.

In fact, this whole episode had a sense of model parts slotting pleasingly into place. Melisandre finally moved down the board from Winterfell to Dragonstone to initiate the series’ most inevitable meeting, between The King of the North and the Mother of Dragons. Jon is hot on her heels. Arya crossed paths with old friends Hot Pie and Nymeria, and the right word spoken at the right time saw her readjust her course to at last head home to the North. Tyrion seamlessly anticipated a move from Cersei and changed Dany’s tack accordingly. There was less exposition than last week, but the episode was starting to feel like an elegant opening to a long game of chess.

All this made the episode’s action-filled denouement all the more shocking. As Yara, Theon and Ellaria dutifully took their place in Dany’s carefully mapped out plans, they were ambushed by their mad uncle Euron (a character increasingly resembling Blackbeard-as-played-by-Jared-Leto). We should have known: just minutes before, Yara and Ellaria started to get it on, and as TV law dictates, things can never end well for lesbians. As the Sand Snakes were mown down one by one, Euron captured Yara and dared poor Theon to try to save her. As Theon stared at Yara’s desperate face and tried to build up the courage to save her, we saw the old ghost of Reek quiver across his face, and he threw himself overboard. It’s an interesting decision from a show that has recently so enjoyed showing its most abused characters (particularly women) delight in showy, violent acts of revenge. Theon reminds us that the sad reality of trauma is that it can make people behave in ways that are not brave, or redemptive, or even kind.

So Euron’s surprise attack on the rest of the Greyjoy fleet essentially knocked all the pieces off the board, to remind us that the best-laid plans of Mothers and men often go awry. Even when you’ve laid them on a map.

But now for the real question. Who WAS the baddest bitch of this week’s Game of Thrones?

Bad bitch points are awarded as follows:

  • Varys delivering an extremely sassy speech about serving the people. +19.
  • Missandei correcting Dany’s High Valerian was Extremely Bold, and I, for one, applaud her. +7.
  • The prophecy that hinges on a gender-based misinterpretation of the word “man” or “prince” has been old since Macbeth, but we will give Dany, like, two points for her “I am not a prince” chat purely out of feminist obligation. +2.
  • Cersei having to resort to racist rhetoric to try and persuade her own soldiers to fight for her. This is a weak look, Cersei. -13.
  • Samwell just casually chatting back to his Maester on ancient medicine even though he’s been there for like, a week, and has read a total of one (1) book on greyscale. +5. He seems pretty wrong, but we’re giving points for sheer audacity.
  • Cersei thinking she can destroy Dany’s dragon army with one (1) big crossbow. -15. Harold, they’re dragons.
  • “I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them.” Olenna is the queen of my LIFE. +71 for this one (1) comment.
  • Grey Worm taking a risk and being (literally) naked around someone he loves. +33. He’s cool with rabid dogs, dizzying heights and tumultuous oceans, but clearly this was really scary for him. It’s important and good to be vulnerable!! All the pats on the back for Grey Worm. He really did that.
  • Sam just fully going for it and chopping off all of Jorah’s skin (even though he literally… just read a book that said dragonglass can cure greyscale??). +14. What is this bold motherfucker doing.
  • Jorah letting him. +11.
  • “You’ve been making pies?” “One or two.” Blatant fan service from psycho killer Arya, but I fully loved it. +25.
  • Jon making Sansa temporary Queen in the North. +7.
  • Sansa – queen of my heart and now Queen in the North!!! +17.
  • Jon choking Littlefinger for perving over Sansa. +19. This would just be weird and patriarchal, but Littlefinger is an unholy cunt and Sansa has been horrifically abused by 60 per cent of the men who have ever touched her.
  • Nymeria staring down the woman who once possessed her in a delicious reversal of fortune. +13. Yes, she’s a wolf but she did not consent to being owned by a strangely aggressive child.
  • Euron had a big win. So, regrettably, +10.

​That means this week’s bad bitch is Olenna Tyrell, because who even comes close? This week’s loser is Cersei. But, as always, with the caveat that when Cersei is really losing – she strikes hard. Plus, Qyburn’s comment about the dragon skeletons under King’s Landing, “Curious that King Robert did not have them destroyed”, coupled with his previous penchant for re-animated dead bodies, makes me nervous, and worry that – in light of Cersei’s lack of heir – we’re moving towards a Cersei-Qyburn-White Walkers alliance. So do watch out.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.