On Thursday June 12, 2014 the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congress of North American Bosniaks and Emerging Democracies Institute organized a lecture at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled “100 Year Anniversary of World War I: The Balkan Perspective.” Distinguished historian, Dr. Marko Attila Hoare – an Associate Professor at Kingston University London who specializes in the history of South East Europe, in particular of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) offered his expertise on the significance that the date June 28th has had on Balkan history.
The year 2014 marks exactly a century since the start of World War I. On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb fired the “shot heard around the world” when he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo, BiH. This event sparked the beginning of World War I which resulted in over 37 million casualties, the collapse of four empires, and, ultimately, the divisive legacy of nationalism within the Balkans. June 28th – celebrated as St. Vitus’ Day, represents an important religious holiday that the Serbian Orthodox Church dedicated to Saint Prince Lazar and those Serbs who gave their lives in defending their faith during the Battle of Kosovo against the Ottoman Empire on June 28, 1389. Exactly five hundred and twenty-five years later, Gavrilo Princip’s assassination on that very same day triggered the Great War, profoundly affecting the politics of the region for a century to come. On June 28, 1989 – the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo – Slobodan Milosevic, then President of Serbia, made what is known as the “Gazimestan speech” in Kosovo. The nationalism invoked and celebrated that day would accelerate the demise of Yugoslavia and ultimately result in the Bosnian genocide.
According to Dr. Hoare, the act by Princip is a very controversial subject in the Balkans as some refer to Princip as a terrorist, while others view him as someone who was reacting against an imperialist occupier. Dr. Hoare emphasized that the assassination by Princip was only one act in the long history of Serbian attempts to expand westward into BiH and it became known as one of the triggering acts that would soon lead to World War I. Dr. Hoare maintained that the Serbian ultra-nationalist Chetnik movement gained prominence during this time with the intentions of establishing a Greater Serbia. Dr. Hoare explained how June 28th throughout history has shaped and reshaped the complex situations that have arisen in the Balkans, from the historic battle in 1389 to the breakup of Yugoslavia. In conclusion of the lecture, Dr. Hoare emphasized that the Bosnian question, and the Serb and Croat questions within BiH are very much alive today, and we do not know how they will be resolved. But we cannot understand the form these questions take today unless we understand their historical background, and that includes what happened in 1914.