Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Assassination

Dragutin Dimitrijevic

The 'Black Hand' organisation sounds more likely to live in a James Bond novel or a comic strip, but it was sufficiently authentic to trigger the global conflagration, so it would be foolish to mock it, even from the relatively safe distance of 100 years. The development of military and political wings of Serbian nationalism following the murder of the Serbian king and queen in 1903 is described enthrallingly in Christopher Clark's book 'The Sleepwalkers'. The Black Hand organisation was founded in March 1911 as Ujedinjenje ili smrt! - quite a mouthful, which may be why Black Hand was adopted popularly. Accurately it translates to "Union or death". One of the founding 7 members was Dragutin Dimitrijevic, who would also gain a popular nickname of "Apis", and he was a leader of the Serbian military wing that sought to expand Serbia by militant means. The key politician was Nikola Pasic, leader of the Radical party and Prime Minister at the time of the assassination. The Radicals also wanted a greater, expanded Serbia as the land of all Southern Slavs, but preferred the more cautious approach of awaiting the disintegration of the Austro Hungarian empire. While Apis probably directed the assassination of FF covertly, the Serbian Government was keen to portray it as an action by rogue anarchists, although Pasic was almost certainly aware of the plot. 


 Nikola Pasic
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Build up in 1914.

“It is an oddity of history that in the same year Stalin, Trotsky, Tito and Hitler alike lived for some months in Vienna” (Hastings)
In early 1914 affairs seemed much calmer to the great powers. The first and second Balkan wars had been fought in 1912 and 1913, and the fall out from that fed the tensions and factions that surrounded the pan Slavic Serbian question. Despite that:
"Europe was a multi-polar system in which five big powers not only played chess with one another but simultaneously within their own rivalrous cabinets and chancelleries. It expected to witness sporadic flare-ups. These events since 1911 had been controlled explosions." (Buchan)

Diplomatic relations were fairly good. In mid 1914, the French President dined at the German Embassy for the first time since 1870. In June the British Admiralty sent a squadron to Kiel as a goodwill gesture for the German Naval Regatta. Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, was on very good terms with the German Kaiser, not least because the Kaiser was accepting and friendly towards FF's wife Sophie, who was despised by the upper echelons of Austrian society for having gone into a morganatic marriage with FF.
In early mid-June 1914 Franz Ferdinand received Wilhelm at Konopischt, before planning his visit to Sarajevo. The date chosen, June 28th, was the anniversary of a famous Serbian defeat in 1939 in Kosovo – the ‘field of blackbirds battle’. Serbia and Austria both had designs on Bosnia, which was part of Austrian empire, annexed formally from the Ottoman Empire in 1908.

The Assassination

The “Unity or Death” or Black Hand organisation was made up of nationalist Serbian army officers, who had already murdered the King and Queen of Serbia in 1903. They planned the assassination of FF, which occurred on his visit on 28/6, carried out independently by a group of Serbian nationalists, including the eventual killer, Gavrilo Princip. They had travelled to arrive in Sarajevo on 14/6  

There was a good account of the event itself in the Independent's 'History of the First World War in 100 Moments'

                      The Archduke and Duchess a few minutes before the fateful shots

The Kaiser was attending the Kiel Regatta when he received the news of the assassinations, and left immediately, cancelling the Regatta. The British squadron also left immediately for home waters. The 37 days countdown had begun 

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