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Bosnia’s Historical Princip-les

June 30, 2014
Franz ferdinand

Photo originally found on

With June 28th around the corner, Bosnia is struggling to grapple with a hundred-year-old past. The country seems to be unsure whether its collective memory should selectively block out the recollection of Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914, or whether it should celebrate it with fanfare in Sarajevo’s streets. For a country whose history has long been one of conflict and violence, it is no wonder that the issue of remembering an event that has long been pinpointed as the trigger to WWI is a particularly weighty one. Bosnians cannot seem to agree on which Gavrilo Princip needs to be immortalized in the history books—should it be Gavrilo Princip, the hero, whose assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was part of a plot to gain Bosnia’ independence from Austria-Hungary, or should it be Gavrilo Princip, the terrorist, whose actions kicked off a horrendously bloody world war, leading to the death of millions, including a fifth of Serbia’s population?

Gavrilo Princip 1

Photo originally found on

Gavrilo Princip

Photo originally found on

A hundred years and several tragic conflicts later, Bosnia—and Serbs in general—cannot come to a consensus on one of their most controversial historical figures. History teachers in Bosnia and Serbia feel uneasy about their lesson plans on this topic and struggle with representations of the young assassin. Some feel bound to hail him as a hero, while others have been making an effort to present him in a more objective light, leaving room for their students to form their own opinions of Princip’s legacy. Bosnian politicians, however, seem less apprehensive about Princip’s heroism, and have been arriving in Sarajevo in droves to commemorate the shots fired there a hundred years ago. This could be interpreted as an attempt at forging a cohesive collective memory around which Bosnians could rally and come together—but would this encourage a re-writing of history and a creation of fanatic ultra-nationalism? Or would it be a benign way to bring together a conflict-ridden population? History has taught us that the balance could easily tip in either direction. Perhaps June 28th will provide an answer.

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