Gavrilo Princip and Serbian nationalism

If any of you subscribe to Google’s Alerts for “Ungarn,” you will encounter absolutely hundreds of articles in the German and Austrian press on World War I. Austria-Hungary’s role in the events that followed the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Dual Monarchy, naturally looms large in these writings.

One hundred years after the event there are still deep divisions about how to interpret the assassination itself, especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.  A few days ago The New York Times reported that scholars from the United States and 25 other countries gathered in Sarajevo to mark the centennial of World War I. The conference “set off an ethnic firestorm in the Balkans that reached the highest political circles.” There were several points of serious disagreement and, in the end, no research papers were submitted from Serbia proper or from the so-called Republik Srpska, the Serb-dominated area of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Serb politicians accused the conference of bias against their country, and the president of Republik Srpska called the conference “a new propaganda attack against the Serbs.”  In general, the Serbian view is that no revision of history that would put any blame on Serbia is acceptable. To them Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, is a hero and German, Austrian, and Hungarian historians, “the losers of the war,” refuse to afford Princip the honor he deserves.

The book that really inflamed Serbian historians and politicians was Christopher M. Clark’s The Sleepwalkers, which became an international success of late. In it Clark argues that Princip was an arm of Serbia’s intelligence services, not just some Bosnian teenager acting on his own. Clark puts a greater emphasis on the responsibility of Serbia than most historians had done previously. According to other, non-Serbian historians, the Serbs misunderstood Clark’s conclusion, which places the blame on all the great powers, including Great Britain and France. In any case, the effort to organize a civilized international conference on World War I failed due to nationalistic passions.

The population of Bosnia-Herzegovina is deeply divided over the very person of Gavrilo Princip. In the Serb-controlled East-Sarajevo the Serbs erected up a full-size statue of Princip, who is considered to be a hero of Serbia. The Muslims and the Croats, on the other hand, do not consider Princip a hero at all. On the contrary, they view him as a terrorist who killed a politician and his pregnant wife. More than that, they look upon him as the man who put an end to a prosperous period in the life of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The Bosniaks, the Muslim Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina, fought on the side of Austria-Hungary throughout the war and apparently suffered huge losses fighting against the Serbs. Eighty years later Serbs and Muslims were again on opposite sides.

Emir Kusturica, Serbian filmmaker, and Gavrilo Princip's statue at Tovarisevo Source: balkaneu.com

Emir Kusturica, a Serbian filmmaker, and Gavrilo Princip’s new statue at Tovarisevo
Source: balkaneu.com

As for Gavrilo Princip, Serb politicians and historians can argue that they were not responsible for the outbreak of World War I. Indeed, when Princip aimed his revolver at the Archduke and his wife he didn’t think in terms of such far-reaching consequences. But Serbian nationalism had reached such heights that it was bound to end in some kind of conflict. In fact, two serious wars had already broken out in the Balkans. It was clear that the goal of Serbian nationalists after 1878, when Austria-Hungary was allowed to occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the gathering of all Southern Slavs into one country, naturally under Serbian leadership. Originally the Serb nationalists envisaged a “Yugoslavia” that even included Bulgaria. It was natural that Slovenia, under Austria and Croatia under the Hungarian Crown, would have been part of this new state. But there was another area that was an integral part of Greater Hungary, not like Croatia that had limited home rule, that was in danger as far as the Hungarians were concerned. That was the Bánát-Bácska (Vojvodina) area, just south of  Szeged and Makó all the way to the Danube in the south. In this area lived about 500,000 people who declared themselves to be Serbs in the 1910 census.

How did these people end up north of the Danube river? Most of them came as a result of what is described in historical literature as the Great Serb Migrations. The first occurred in 1690 during the Great Turkish War when Leopold I allowed Serbian refugees to settle in Hungarian territories. The second migration took place after 1739. How many people are we talking about? There are different estimates, but the most often cited is 37,000 families. The majority of these people stayed in the Vojvodia region, but some of them went as far as Szentendre, just north of Budapest, and even Komarno in Slovakia.

In closing, let’s look briefly at the attitude of Prime Minister István Tisza toward the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war in 1914. According to the structure of the Dual Monarchy as it was set up in 1867, the assent of both the Austrian and the Hungarian prime ministers was necessary for a declaration of war. The Austrians enthusiastically supported the punishment of Serbia, but Tisza was reluctant. His reluctance can easily be explained by the large presence of Serbs in Bánát-Bácska (Vojvodina) and also in Croatia. If the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary were to escalate into a larger war and Austria-Hungary were to go down in defeat, these territories would be lost to a victorious Serbia. In the end, however, he changed his mind, mainly because Austria-Hungary received a so-called “blank check” from the German Emperor that promised military support in case of a larger war. He believed that the presence of a strong German army behind Austria-Hungary was a guarantee that Hungarian territories would be safe. But what seemed impossible for Tisza and fellow politicians in Germany and Austria-Hungary became a reality four years later: they lost the war and the territories.

Finally, an interesting bit of news I picked up the other day: some relatives of Princip have over the years become Hungarians. A strange part of the world.

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EsteZene
Guest

Serbia of 1914 was different from Serbia of 1944, or of 1994, or 2014.
Serbs like Hungarians set delusional goals, and executed them with the same mistakes.
Serbs could borrow our schmidt marias.

Forget the Slav or Turul memes.
Try this time the Europe of Kant, Schiller, Goethe, Balzac, Dickens,Hardy…

Minusio
Guest

What an interesting, insightful piece! Thank you, Éva. Until now I have never understood the Serb stubbornness and their nationalistic noises. Now I begin to understand them a little better. For me, your key sentences were:

“In general, the Serbian view is that no revision of history that would put any blame on Serbia is acceptable.” And:

“Serbian nationalism had reached such heights that it was bound to end in some kind of conflict.” Both statements seem to be still valid.

It’s a pity that pan-slavism and gross overestimation of their own influence made the Serbs lose touch with reality. If they had left the Kosovarians in peace with their autonomy they wouldn’t have lost it. If they had treated Croation refugees the same as Croatia treated Serbian refugees after the war in the 90s, they would have much better neighbours.

The Princip monument is so backward-oriented. They will have a very, very long way into the EU.

What makes people so myopic?

jj
Guest
“If they had left the Kosovarians in peace” Uh, there is no such thing as “Kosovarians” – what you mean are ethnic Albanians. Also, it was they who started the violence and war. They formed the KLA – the Kosovo Liberation Army – (the acronym is UCK in German language), and started kidnapping and killing Serbs – both police and civilians. They also killed ethnic Albanians who worked for the (Serbian) government in any capacity, and those which didn’t support it (the KLA) or they suspected as collaborators. The Kosovo Albanian KLA had torture camps all over Kosovo and stong-holds which the west prevented Serbia from attacking. The Serbian police was after the KLA. Only just prior to NATO bombing (and due to build up of the U.S. army and other forces on the border with Macedonia) did Serbia send in its army (because there were expecting and invasion). The entire 1990’s Balkan wars were set up and it is no coincidence they started after the re-unification of Germany. Austria and Germany were working with Slovenia for secession for over a decade before the wars started. Slovenian companies were taking loans as part of Yugoslavia, squirreling away the money in… Read more »
jj
Guest
“It was natural that Slovenia, under Austria and Croatia under the Hungarian Crown, would have been part of this new state.” You leave out that it was a Croat who first came up with the idea of a “Yugoslavia”. Croats were complaining about the Empire too and there were some Croat assassinations or attempts at assassinations of Austrian-Hungarian diplomats. Furthermore, Croatia gained so much extra land (which had never been part of Croatia before) by joining up with Serbia. Croats got Dalmatia – which was independent of Croatia proper as well as controlled by Italians. It was the Serbian soldiers who drove the Italians out at the end of WWI. Croatia got Slavonia, which was not part of Croatia in those times, and Slavonia had a large Serbian population. The fact that so many Serbs got drawn into “Croatia” instead of it being an independent province or divided between Croatia and Serbia led to their genocide. The ethnic Serbian population of Slavonia/Dalmatia/Croatia is down multi-fold over what it was before WWI. Also, Istria and other land was gained by Croatia and Slovenia by being part of the Kingdom. So those countries which were poor and smaller beforehand became larger and… Read more »
Minusio
Guest

@jj

Go home “jj”. You are drunk and oozing disconnected, anti-German, ahistorical nonsense. Huge picture you are painting. Worthy of the Tea Party.

Paul
Guest
Interesting to read a Hungarian (or American?) view of the origins of WW1. In the UK it is usually explained as the inevitable consequence of the ‘balance of powers, and in particular the weakness of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the aggressiveness/expansionism of the Germans. The Serbian role is almost neglected as a minor sideshow – the theory being that something else would have started the war, even if this hadn’t. The blame is usually put on Austria and Germany. Austria for using the assination as an excuse to declare war on Serbia and thereby achieve their expansionist aims, and Germany for being so eager for a war that they would take any excuse to start one. Serbia is seen as an innocent victim – the students were acting on their own, not on behalf of the Serbian authorities, and Serbia immediately did everything it could to stop the Austrians declaring war, agreeing to every one of their demands. Britain (of course!) was also an innocent victim, doing its best to maintain the balance of power, ‘allowing’ Germany to have colonies in Africa, to assuage its desire for an empire, and finally, and only reluctantly, going to the aid of ‘poor… Read more »
Paul
Guest

I needn’t have bothered – whilst I was writing that ‘jj’ proved my point comprehensively!

jj
Guest

Also, Serbs were settled north of the Danube before the Great Migrations. For instance the town of Backa Topola in north Serbia near the border with Hungary was mentioned as having a Serb population in Ottoman documents in the 1500’s.
In the beginning of the 18th century it was destroyed by fighting between Turks and Kurac rebels. 150 years later it was settled by Hungarians and Slovaks.

There also used to be a much larger populations of Serbs in Hungary. The Serbian population in Pest was larger than the ethnic Hungarians at one time.

jj
Guest

“I needn’t have bothered – whilst I was writing that ‘jj’ proved my point comprehensively!”

Not exactly if you were referring to Serbs. See, I am not the least ethnic Serb at all. I am very, very pro-Serb I admit, but I am completely non-Slav, non-Serb ethnic mix.
I saw through the lies during the NATO bombing and have studied the situation since. It is horrible – so many lies. I am good seeing through the manipulations and “false advertising”.

For example, the west had the Bosnian Muslim wartime President Alija Izetbegovic as a moderate, yet he has an Islamic-fascist background.
He was a pro-Nazi youth during WWII.
He wrote “Islamic Declarations” in which is said that the Muslim religion couldn’t co-exist with other religions within a state.
He was arrested, tried and jailed with several other Bosnian Muslims, back in the early 1980’s for seeking help from Islamic states and even terrorist/radical groups for an independent Bosnian state under Muslim rule.
This was BEFORE Milosevic and several years before the war.
He was let out several years early and he and the other formed the party, SDA, which took Bosnia and Hercegovina to war.

Member

Begrüß den Balkan

The Pannonian patriots need look no further afield for their glorious roots than their local habitat…

gdfxx
Guest

Paul: “One last point re the British view that this war was the fault of the Germans – anti-German feelings ran far higher in 14-18 than they ever did in 39-45, despite the fact that Germany shared the same royal family as us ”

My impression is (and I am far from being a historian) that most European royal families are related to each other through various marriages. On a recent trip to Germany I found out that the territory of Schleswig-Holstein used to belong to Denmark for about a hundred years, because the prince of Schleswig Holstein was also the King of Denmark. Also, the king of Romania was imported from the Hohenzollern family, from Germany, and the Russian Tsar and the Greek king was also related to the same. With so much inbreeding it is surprising that these monarchs did not have more cases of genetic disorders.

Minusio
Guest

@jj

Re-read what “EsteZene” wrote (1st comment). It is beyond all fanatism and points to what Europe should be all about: learned humanism.

You claim not to be ethnically involved in the Serbian question. However, by way of example, we now have lots of converts to fundamentalist Islam from Europe who are hoping to blow up our train stations – and did. What type of convert are you? You also mention Muslims. The Kosovars (they do exist!) are also Muslims, and I happen to know several of them. Their Islamic practice is mostly like the one of most Christians: Big feasts, weddings, burials, and that’s it. So far, I have never met a fundamentalist Kosovar Muslim.

So what is your point of departure and what are you aiming at? What are the Serbs for you?

And, regarding your many factoids: What is your book of books?

Guest
The Balkan never ceases to amaze me … Starting in 1970 my family and I spent many summers in Yugoslavia (it was much cheaper than Spain or Italy and the same Mediterranean Sea), the late eighties and the nineties (before I bought my “summer house” in Hungary) we had a caravan near Porec (Istria) and we got to know the locals which had become an ethnic mix because of tourism: The proprietor of one restaurant was a Kosovar Muslim married to a blond girl from Slovenia, the other a Serb with a Croat wife etc … But in 1989 hell broke loose, really sad. I never understood that hate that broke out – had it been hidden somehow? And re the English and the Germans: I read somewhere that they even changed the name of the German shepherd dogs to “Alsatians” some time … In a way WW1 was a kind of civil war/family war between the members of the ruling European family – many or even most of them descendants of Queen Victoria – and everybody knows that civil wars are worse than others – like the wars between the Balkan Slavs. And I’m still hoping that the EU… Read more »
googly
Guest

Wolfi,

German Shepards and Alsatians are distinct breeds, though they resemble each other and are closely related.

You wrote: “Please ignore those trolls!”

Is it okay if I refute their claims obliquely? It would bother me to think that some impressionable reader might see those posts and the lack of response and think that the troll is correct.

Minusio
Guest

@googly

Wikipedia – by no means an omniscient bible – doesn’t agree with you. According to their entry, Alsatians and German Shepherd dogs are the same breed, dating from 1899.

Ceterum censeo: Don’t feed the trolls!

googly
Guest
Just a general comment, not directed at anyone: Kosovars (or Kosovans) are either ethnic Albanians from Kosovo (or Kosova) or any person from Kosovo, which is an independent country recognized by the majority of the nations in the United Nations, the vast majority of the EU nations, and all of its neighbors except Serbia (Bosnia and Hercegovina being the only other part of the former Yugoslavia that does not recognize it). There are also ethnic Albanians still living in Serbia, and they constitute a majority in parts of the Pčinja district, next to Kosovo. Anyone who claims that there are no Kosovars is intentionally ignoring the reality of the situation, for nationalistic propaganda reasons, and would gladly dispossess those people of their nationality, their homes, and probably their lives, if they could. Therefore, they could be considered genocidaires. Kosovars were among the many victims of the genocidal Serbian-started wars that aimed to create a “Greater Serbia”, instigated in large part by the nationalist war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. He was the one who revoked the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo for decades, and he was responsible for the crackdown that led to the large numbers of ethnic Albanian refugees who left Kosovo… Read more »
googly
Guest

Alsatians and German Shepards even look different, though I guess I must be wrong about them being different breeds.

googly
Guest

I just checked, and I mixed up the Alsatian with the Malinois. I guess it was the French/Belgian similarities that threw me off. There was a recent article about how the Malinois is replacing the illness-prone German Shepherd in many police and military roles, so I thought this was an extension of that topic.

googly
Guest
Eva, You wrote: “Mind you, there was Edvard Benes who laid claim to the Sudetenland on historic grounds and to Upper Hungary (Felvidék) on ethnic grounds and he managed to get both territories. There are people who are luckier than others.” I like to think that the international community has changed greatly in the intervening years, though Iraq is a prime example of how wrong I might (again) be. Before World War II, the ethnic question did not have as much bearing on which lands were ruled by which state, but the problems that arose afterwards showed how ethnicity has become very important. If Trianon, Sykes-Picot and other post-World War I travesties had taken ethnicity and self-determination into greater account, perhaps there would have been a lot less bloodshed since then. Maybe Hungary wouldn’t have been so willing to do whatever Germany wanted if there were no Magyar-majority lands to take back. Certainly there wouldn’t be Sunni versus Shiite civil wars happening in Syria and Iraq right now. The fact that Kosovo is independent and Scotland might soon be, too, gives me hope that wars like those that the Yugoslav breakup created might no longer happen. Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and… Read more »
Guest

OT re shepherd dogs on a lighter note:

Yes, Malinois aka Belgian shepherd dogs are beautiful, nice and intelligent – I must know, because I own a (Hungarian born!) cross breed between Malinois and Alsatian. The mother in the village near Hévíz is a German shepherd – so the father probably was a Belgian tourist, I usually tell people …

And the dog is very intelligent, because when I first met my “new Hungarian wife” she didn’t know that I had this dog, nobody had told her. So when I opened the passenger door of my car for her the first time she immediately got a wet kiss from the dog and everything was alright …

Now you can imagine how differently the first encounter might have been:

The dog might have barked or growled or she might have exclaimed: What a dirty animal, trying to kiss me, take it away from me!

But they became friends in that first moment – sometimes I even got a bit jealous …

Guest

Re “kantig”:

Various translations might be applied: Rough, chiseled, edgy, coarse, raw, unpolished …

Istvan
Guest
If not for WWI much of my family would have not immigrated to the USA. In my dinning room on the wall I have a fully functional Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 rifle built in Budapest. According to the records it was built by FGGY. I also have photos of both my grandfather and great uncle in their uniforms just prior to WWI, they were effectively teenagers. Hungary’s ruling classes opposed greater outlays for the Hungarian units which resulted in a force perennially short of money required for recruits, training and equipment going into WWI. The Empire’s occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Congress of Berlin up to WWI was a disaster for the military, professional Hungarian soldiers carried out what we would call today counter insurgency operations. It is good to reflect on this history so it is never repeated nor glorified for future generations. I thought about the irony of this when I found myself in Vietnam in 1971-72 in the US Army, what we call today post tramatric stress disorder was called then battle fatigue in WWI. There was no understanding that it can last a life time and in the cases of both my grandfather and great uncle… Read more »
Guest

kantig
quaint

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