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Reuters, January 13, 2003
Sarajevo to restore memorial of 1914 assassination

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO, (Reuters) - Sarajevo is preparing to put history ahead of ethnic divisions and reinstate a memorial recalling the shots that carried the city's name around the world, long before its ordeal in the Bosnian war of the 1990s.

Carved footprints at the spot where student radical Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking World War One, will go on display 10 years after the pavement that once bore them was destroyed by Bosnian Serb shelling.

The 1914 assassination made Sarajevo known across the globe long before the 1984 Winter Olympic Games and its 1992-5 siege, said city official Ramiz Kadic. "We owe this memorial to the world," he added.

But not all Sarajevans agree. To some, Princip was a Serbian patriot. But to others, he was a terrorist who does not deserve to be remembered -- and certainly not when the West has declared a "war on terror" against individuals who kill for their ideals.

Recalling the 1992-95 Bosnian war and the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, critics said Sarajevo did not need a monument to a "Serb terrorist".

"If we regard September 11 a terrorist act, how do we regard the act of Princip who killed not only the enemy but also his pregnant wife?" said Edo Arnautovic, president of the Green Berets association of Bosnian war veterans.

But Kadic and others argue the footprints are not to commemorate a person but a global historic event.

"Sarajevo is known throughout the world for this event...and we think it's a high time that this hallmark, for which tourists were coming here, be put back the way it was before," he said, adding the local authority should approve the project soon.

The footprints, carved in concrete, will be reinstated at the site where Princip fired the fateful shots, next to a museum dedicated to the assassination. A memorial plaque has already been placed on the museum's outside wall.


Bajro Gec, the city museum's long-time curator, said a new exhibition would offer a neutral presentation of the assassination and not repeat communist-era attempts to portray it as a patriotic act and cast Princip as a Serb national hero.

"It lacked a valid historical verification," Gec said of that interpretation.

"In the new exhibition, we shall only present the facts and not qualify them. Visitors can make their own conclusions."

Princip was only 19 when he and two other Serb members of "Young Bosnia", a movement which advocated the creation of an independent state for the Slavs of southern Europe, decided to kill the heir to the Austrian throne on June 28, 1914.

The radicals were influenced by ideas advocating assassination as a tool to liberate a country from occupiers. Many Bosnians resented the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which occupied Bosnia in 1878 and annexed the territory in 1908.

The monarchy accused Serbia of being behind the murder and declared war against the Balkan state a month later, triggering a wider conflict -- World War One.

Princip and his fellow assassins were arrested after failing to poison themselves. He died four years later in a prison in what is now the Czech Republic.


Seven mainly Muslim associations of war veterans protested against bringing back Princip's footprints and have asked that a memorial to Franz Ferdinand and his wife, which was removed from a nearby bridge in 1918, also be reinstated.

"Gavrilo Princip was a hero to some but to us, Muslims, he was not a hero. We don't want our children and grandchildren to learn fake history that glorifies someone who committed a terrorist act," Nedzad Numic of the Green Berets told Reuters.

"We don't want new Gavrilo Princips, new assassins to get recruited. We want the real truth," Numic said.

History textbooks in Bosnia's two autonomous regions, a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb Republic, do not interpret the event and say only that it led to a global conflict.

But Gec acknowledged perceptions of the event and its participants varied widely depending on ethnic background.

"There is a clear clash between these two views -- the Sarajevo assassination as a patriotic act and the Sarajevo assassination as a terrorist act; Gavrilo Princip as a terrorist and Gavrilo Princip as a Serb national hero."

Goran Kapor of the Democratic Initiative of Sarajevo Serbs, a non-government organisation, said everyone had the right to an opinion but no right to change historic facts.

"My opinion is that Gavrilo Princip was a native Bosnian and Franz Ferdinand was a foreigner who had come to finalise an illegal annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the day of the greatest Orthodox holiday on June 28, 1914," Kapor said.

"It's natural that a young man like him was prompted to act in a patriotic way," he added.

Kapor said that all memorials from that period should be displayed so that new generations know what really had happened.

He drew a parallel involving Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president despised by Muslims as one of the chief culprits for the Bosnian war, to suggest it was hard for many people to take an objective view of actions like Princip's.

"If Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mira had arrived in Sarajevo in 1992 and been killed by a Muslim, would Green Berets regard him as a terrorist? Or would he be a hero to them?" he asked.

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