Serbia unveils statue of assassin who started WWI

Controversial monument presented in Belgrade park on 101st anniversary of fateful event that ignited First World War

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Serbia has inaugurated a statue of Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist who assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, igniting a chain of events leading to World War One.

The controversial monument was unveiled on the 101st anniversary of the beginning of WWI and restarted debates about the assassin who is still a divisive figure in the Balkans.

Most Serbs think Princip was a pan-Slavic national hero, while others regard him as a “terrorist and chauvinist fanatic” whose action sparked "the Great War" in which nearly 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians died.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was shot dead by 19 year-old Princip on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo, setting off a diplomatic crisis. The crisis turned into a global conflict, as the major powers at the time soon became involved.

The war also resulted in the creation of the country of Yugoslavia which collapsed in the 1990s into its constituent states.

“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…. Others may think what they want," Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said at the ceremony, AP reported.

"Today, we are not afraid of the truth," he said.

Hundreds of Serbs attended the ceremony to inaugurate the two meter tall bronze statue of Princip, which was a gift from Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic. It is located near a restaurant in the capital, where the Serb assassin and his friends planned the murder.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said the inauguration of the monument was "fighting for freedom today," in his speech during the event.

Bosnian Serbs unveiled a similar monument for Princip last year to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI. Bosniaks and Croats, who have shared power in Bosnia since 1995, protested the decision and boycotted last year's ceremony.

Princip, who died in prison due to tuberculosis months before the war ended, is buried in Belgrade.

WWI contributed the rise of Communism, Nazism and Fascism in Europe and directly led to the end of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

The world order and national borders were redrawn, the League of Nations (which served as the predecessor of today’s United Nations) was formed to prevent new conflicts. But the economic and political turmoil in Europe continued, leading to the deadliest conflict in history - the Second World War - 21 years later.

TRTWorld and agencies