Sarajevo: June 28th 1914

I believe we have a duty to replay every First World War anniversary in our minds, day by day for the next five years at least. This article in the Telegraph is an extremely good account of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek in Sarajevo a hundred years ago today.

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It’s a terrible and very poignant business. So many moments of pure chance – if the Archduke had cancelled the motorcade after the first bomb, if the car had had a reverse gear – and at the middle of a it a couple who seem perfectly decent and well-intentioned. Even likeable, as the Archduke, dismissed in the old histories I used to read as ‘brusque and unpopular’, was a loving family man whose last words to his wife were, ‘Sophie don’t die, you must live for the children,’ and who had sent a telegram to his son that morning to congratulate him on his exam results.

Franz Ferdinand was also a political reformer. Had he succeeded when his uncle the Emperor died two years later, it is likely that he would have given the Slavic peoples autonomy within the Austrian Empire. This made him the enemy of the extremists, who wanted to carve an independent Greater Serbia out of the Empire. The Archduke knew what he was driving into. As he predicted when his car overheated on the ride down: ‘Our journey starts with an extremely promising omen. Here our car burns, and down there they will throw bombs at us.’

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