Serbia unveils monument to man who ignited world war
Serbia on Sunday unveiled a monument to Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo helped ignite World War I and still provokes controversy in the ethnically divided Balkans.
Hundreds of citizens attended the ceremony in central Belgrade held on the anniversary of the 1914 assassination which is also the Serbian national holiday of St. Vitus Day.
President Tomislav Nikolic described Princip — who is viewed as a terrorist by many outside Serbia — as a freedom fighter and hero.
“Today, we are not afraid of the truth,” Nikolic said. “Gavrilo Princip was a hero, a symbol of the idea of freedom, the assassin of tyrants and the carrier of the European idea of liberation from slavery.”
He added that “others can think whatever they want.”
Austria accused Serbia of masterminding the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Backed by Germany, Austria attacked Serbia, whose allies, Russia and France, were quickly drawn into the con- flict. The United Kingdom, with its sprawling empire, and the United States also joined the fighting.
Princip’s legacy is also viewed differently by different nations in the Balkans, which remains a smoldering patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries two decades after the end of the conflict in the 1990s that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
In Bosnia, Serbs regard Princip as a hero, while the country’s Muslims and Croats widely regard him as a killer and a Serbian nationalist whose goal was Bosnia’s occupation by Serbia. A century ago, Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats preferred to stay in the big Austrian empire that had brought progress, law and order.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said during the Belgrade ceremony that the unveiling of the Princip monument amounted to “fighting for freedom today.”
World War I claimed some 14 million lives — 5 million civilians and 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen — and left another 7 million troops permanently disabled. Princip, who was only 19, was immediately arrested and died in captivity months before the war ended.
Serbian army honor guard stands behind the two-meter (6.6-foot) high bronze statue of Gavrilo Princip after an unveiling ceremony at a park in downtown Belgrade on Sunday, June 28.