On Saturday 28th of June it will be 100 years since the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated with his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. As everyone knows or will know after this summer, that assassination led to the start of the First World War.
The young man who fired the shot, Gavrilo Princip, was part of the Young Bosnia movement, nationalists set on a united Yugoslavia away from Austro-Hungarian control. He and his co-conspirators could have had no idea that a hundred years later their plan would still be discussed as one of the turning points of history.
How did the killing of one man (most people don’t remember his wife as well) have resulted in a global conflict? Much has been discussed and debated about the inevitability of the First World War or the counter factualist angles the ‘what if’s history’ in the last few months and eminent historians will continue to come up with new perspectives or revisit old ones. One of the fascinating facts of studying history is looking at the evidence and exploring how the different steps unfolded to reach the known conclusion. With this conflict it’s also the magnitude that is explored, the sheer scale of the conflict and the numbers involved and sacrificed.
However, with the centenary finally upon us, perhaps we have an opportunity to re-examine the stages and evidence of the conflict gradually in real time and, just as importantly, the individual stories, not just the broad sweep. We can explore how the war proceeded and how it was understood by different people at the time. We can visit the sites and put some understanding into why something happened where, why and to whom? We can explore the impact the war had on our local communities and we can do it all slowly with the poignancy of the anniversary lasting for the full four and a half years of the conflict.
I’m sure Princip had no idea his actions that day would lead to millions of deaths and a transformed Europe – his age at the time of the assassination meant that he was sentenced to imprisonment, not death, and he was able to watch some of the impact of his actions as they occurred. The centenary should give us an opportunity to explore the past slowly, to re-examine the evidence and to piece together the millions of stories that the actions of one man affected by his actions in June 100 years ago.