Share story

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Artists and diplomats declared a new century of peace and unity in Europe on Saturday in the city where the first two shots of World War I were fired 100 years ago.

On June 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian crown prince, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, where he had come to inspect his occupying troops in the empire’s eastern province.

The shots fired by Gavrilo Princip, 19, a Serb, sparked the Great War, which was followed decades later by a second world conflict. Together the two wars cost some 80 million Europeans their lives, ended four empires — including the Austro-Hungarian — and changed the world.

Visiting the assassination site Saturday, Sarajevan Davud Bajramovic, 67, said that to hold a second of silence for every person killed just during WWI in Europe, “We would have to stand silently for two years.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

A century later, Sarajevans crowded the same street along the river where Princip fired his shots. The Austrians were also back, but this time with music instead of the military: The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performed works of European composers reflecting the century’s catastrophic events and concluded with a symbol of unity in Europe: the joint European hymn, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said Europeans “have learnt that no problem can be solved by war.”

The continent’s violent century started in Sarajevo and also ended in Sarajevo with the 1992-95 war that took 100,000 Bosnian lives.

“If anything good can be found in this repeating evil, it’s more wisdom and readiness to build peace and achieve peace after a century of wars,” said Bosnia’s president, Bakir Izetbegovic.

The splurge of centennial concerts, speeches, lectures and exhibitions Saturday were mostly focused on creating lasting peace and promoting unity in a country that is still struggling with divisions similar to those of 100 years ago. The rift was manifested by the Serbs marking the centennial by themselves in the part of Bosnia they control, where a performance re-enacted the assassination.

As Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Moest raised his baton in Sarajevo, an actor playing Princip descending from heaven on angel’s wings, raised his pistol in the eastern town of Visegrad, at the border with Serbia, to kill Franz Ferdinand again in a performance designed for the occasion.

For the Serbs, Princip was a hero who saw Bosnia as part of the Serb national territory at a time the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His shots were a chance for them to include Bosnia in the neighboring Serbian kingdom, the same idea that inspired the Serbs in 1992 to fight the decision by Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats to declare the former republic of Bosnia independent when Serb-dominated Yugoslavia fell apart. Their desire is still to add the part of Bosnia they control to neighboring Serbia.

Serbian crown prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, President Tomislav Nikolic and the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, attended the ceremony in Visegrad, where Serbian flags flew and the Serbian anthem was played, although the town is in Bosnia.

Vucic said he was proud because in Visegrad, “The Serbs are protecting their good reputation.”

Vucic, a former hard-line nationalist-turned pro-European Union reformer, previously said he considered going to Sarajevo for the centennial but gave up after realizing he would have to stand beside a plaque depicting Serbs as criminals.

A plaque at the entrance of the recently reconstructed Sarajevo National Library building, where the concert took place, states that “Serb criminals” set the library ablaze in 1992 along with its 2 million books, magazines and manuscripts.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.