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EDITIONS
Saturday, 8 February, 2003, 12:00 GMT
Sarajevo to reinstall assassin memorial
The Archduke and his wife minutes before his death
The archduke and his wife minutes before his death

The street is narrow, about 100 yards long before bending sharply to the left and drifting into the Old Turkish quarter of the town.

There is a baker's on the corner - I once bought a cheese sandwich there - nothing special.

Across the road, a rundown clockmaker's with dirty windows. I've never seen anyone go in - or come out. And unless someone had actually brought me here and told me this is it, this is where it all happened, I would never have known.

Princip died in Theresienstadt prison from tuberculosis
Gavrilo Princip was a Serb nationalist and member of the Black Hand partisan academy
For here at the top of the street, near the baker's, with the dodgy sandwiches, this is where history changed.

He was one of nine children. A peasant from the hills of western Bosnia. He was just 19, slightly built and, when you look at old photos of him, a passing resemblance to Charlie Chaplin.

But when Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger on his automatic pistol at around 11 o'clock in the morning on the 28 June, 1914, his actions reverberated around the world. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his pregnant wife, lay dead. Both slumped in the back of their open-top car.

Hero or criminal?

A month later, Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia and France. Britain declared war on Germany. The First World War had begun. And it all started here.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to mark the spot.

World War I - U.S. troops of Zero Hour Company go over the top
The death of Franz Ferdinand sparked the Great War
There used to be a little museum, a plaque and footsteps in the pavement where Princip stood when he fired those fateful shots. But all were destroyed at the start of the last Bosnian War in the 1990s.

There has been nothing to replace them, partly through lack of money, partly because of one very tricky issue - how to remember Gavrilo Princip. Was he a hero or was he just a simple criminal?

Princip himself escaped execution at the time because the law said he was too young. He died in an Austrian prison four years later in 1918 after contracting tuberculosis.

But the arguments as to who he was and what he represented have continued long after his death.

Avoiding interpretation

During the communist years under Tito, Princip, was officially recognised as a hero. The old plaque honoured him for 'fighting tyranny' (which meant the Austrians) and praised him for trying to free the people from foreign occupation. And the little museum was, in effect, a shrine to Princip and his fellow conspirators.

This is our history. This is what Sarajevo is famous for. We have to mark the spot

Ramiz Kadic, Sarajevo city authority
But Princip was a Bosnian Serb nationalist, and it was Bosnian Serb nationalists who, during the 1990s, kept Sarajevo under siege for three and a half years.

Having a memorial to Princip was not popular in the city. Bit by bit, the old museum was destroyed. Ironically, some of it was destroyed by shells from the Bosnian Serbs. Some of it destroyed by the people in Sarajevo.

Today, probably half of Bosnia thinks he was a hero, the other half thinks he was a simple criminal.

"But that doesn't matter," says Ramiz Kadic from the Sarajevo city authority. "This is our history. This is what Sarajevo is famous for. We have to mark the spot."

Mr Kadic is heading a new project to restore the museum and put up a new plaque. And the issue of whether Princip was a hero or not will be carefully sidestepped.

The new plaque will merely acknowledge the fact that this was the spot where it all happened. The museum will just give the facts - and avoid interpretation. Anything else would invite vandalism from one side or the other. The aim is to have it all open by the start of April.

Divided country

Svetlana gives me a free orange juice from the bar she runs in a back street in Sarajevo. She sits down next to me and opens a little paper bag. Black and white photos of her family fall out. She shows me them. She's proud.

Svetlana is the closest relative to Gavrilo Princip still living in Bosnia. She is in a good mood and keen to try out her broken English.

"I'm very happy," she tells me. "It's right that the place of the assassination should be marked again. I hope many people will come and visit it."

But can a common history ever be agreed in such a divided country? Can Serb, Croat and Muslim ever agree on what went before - and so look to the future together? Or must history always be the rock on which this country, every now and then, shipwrecks itself?

The organisers of the new museum are trying to find some common denominator. Something that all sides can accept. And good luck to them. It's just a shame it's taken so long to do.

They say that truth is the first victim of war. But perhaps, sometimes, it is history itself.

See also:

15 Jan 03 | Country profiles
03 Apr 02 | Crossing Continents
12 Nov 98 | World War I
Links to more From Our Own Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


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