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Carl Savich | Columns | serbianna.com Serbia, Pan-Slavic Nationalism, and the Origins of World War I: The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

by Carl Savich

It is very bad. It is very bad. It will mean war.
- Attributed to Nikola Pasic, Serbian Premier, on hearing of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, June 28, 1914

It is the thesis of Count Montgelas that the Great War ended with nobody knowing why he had fought. On that point views will continue to differ so long as history is recorded. It will remain a question of absorbing interest, not only to our generation which fought the war, but also to our children's children.
- Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Three Days in Belgrade, July 1914, 1927


Why did the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie, on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, lead to a declaration of war by Austria-Hungary against Serbia and the outbreak of the Great War, World War I? Was Serbia and the Serbian government responsible or guilty for the assassination as an act of war or casus belli? Was the assassination merely a pretext or excuse used by Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia and to defeat a weak rival and threat in the Balkans? What results did the judicial inquiry and the Sarajevo trial reach in 1914? Why did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand lead to World War I?


Following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand von Osterrreich-Este, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne and the Inspector General of the armed forces, and his wife, Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkowa, the Duchess of Hohenberg, twenty five defendants were tried in the military garrison in Sarajevo in a trial held October 12-23, 1914.(1) Of the six conspirators who were part of the assassination team, only Mehmed Mehmedbasic, a Bosnian Muslim, had escaped to Montenegro and was not in custody. Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb student who had shot the Archduke and the Duchess to death, and Nedeljko Cabrinovic, the Bosnian Serb who had thrown the bomb at the Archdukeâs automobile, were apprehended immediately after the crime and taken into custody. The three other principals in the crime, Trifun Grabez, Vaso Cubrilovic, and Cvejtko Popovic, were apprehended within twenty-four hours of the crime. A total of twenty others were arrested as accomplices in the assassination.Of the twenty five defendants, 16 were Bosnian Serbs, Serbian Orthodox, four were Bosnian Croats,Roman Catholic, the religion of four of the defendants was not determined, while Mehmed Mehmedbasic, a Bosnian Muslim, was not in custody.(2) A major purpose of the trial was to implicate the Serbian Government in the assassination, as being responsible for the crime.(3)W.A. Owings, in The Sarajevo Trial, characterized the trial as ãa show trial of the killers...to prove that the killing was Serbiaâs fault.ä The Austro-Hungarian Government sought to portray the assassination plot as solely of Serbian origin and carried out by Serbs only, not disclosing to the public that there were Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Muslim conspirators in the plot.(4) One of the defendants, Ivo Kranjcevic, was a Bosnian Croat and Roman Catholic, but newspaper accounts before and during the trial changed his name from Ivo, a name associated with Croatian origins, to Milan, a name associated with Serbian origins.(5) On July 8, 1914, the newspaper Hrvatski Dnevnik,published an article wherein it was denied that Krancjevic was Roman Catholic, the article claiming that Serbs had carried out the deception.(6) Vladimir Dedijer, in The Road to Sarajevo, noted that the goal of the investigation was to prove that Serbia was responsible for the assassination:  ãFrom the first hour of the investigation the Austro-Hungarian authorities had tried to prove that the assassination was initiated in Belgrade, and that Princip and his fellows were just young men led astray by pan-Serb propaganda.ä

The prosecution at the trial sought to prove that a crime had been committed, that it had been committed by the defendants, and that the crime committed was high treason against Austria-Hungary, and not solely murder.(7) The defendants were charged with the crime of high treason in part because the Austro-Hungarian Government sought to implicate the Serbian Government in the crime. Murder would imply a personal crime directed against two individuals while high treason meant that the crime was directed against the Austro-Hungarian Government, against Austria-Hungary. The assassination was a crime committed against a state, and if Serbian Government complicity could be established, it could be shown that it was a crime committed by one state against another.Moreover, under Austrian law, defendants convicted of either murder or high treason were not subject to the death penalty if they were under the age of twenty. Of the six principals in the assassination, only Mehmed Mehmedbasic was over twenty, he was 27, and thus subject to the death penalty, but he was not in custody. Of the other five principals, Gavrilo Princip was 19 years and 11 months, Nedeljko Cabrilovic was 19 years and 5 months, Trifun Grabez was 18 years and 10 months, Vaso Cubrilovic was 17 years and 6 months, while Cvejtko Popovic was 18 years and 3 months.None of the principals to the crime were thus subject to the death penalty because all were under the age of 20.Under Austrian criminal law, accessories to the crime of murder were not subject to the death penalty either. (8)None of the other conspirators could be tried as principals. No one would thus hang or be executed for the heinous crime. This fact necessitated a charge of high treason. Accessories to the crime of high treason were subject to the death penalty.

Charging the defendants with high treason posed conceptual problems because in so charging them the Austro-Hungarian Government conceded that they were citizens and nationals of Austria-Hungary, that is, that they were not foreign agents or outside invaders from Serbia, but subjects of Austria-Hungary, its own citizens. This would weaken the Austro-Hungarian charge that the Serbian Government was responsible for the assassination because the assassins were not from Serbia, but Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Muslims, all citizens and subjects of Austria-Hungary.In short, its own citizens had committed the crime. As such, it was an internal, domestic issue.

Charging the defendants with high treason posed a further problem. Under the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was to occupy and administer the former Ottoman Turkish province of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Under the strict terms of the Treaty, the Ottoman Turkish Sultan retained suzerainty over Bosnia-Hercegovina. Bosnians owed their allegiance,thus, to the Sultan, and could not commit high treason against Austria-Hungary, which only militarily occupied the province.Under this argument, Bosnia-Hercegovina is a separate state and not a part of Austria-Hungary itself, its status being that of a military occupation.The 1908 annexation of Bosnia violated the Treaty of Berlin.Under social contract theory the agreement or the consent of the governed is required.But such agreement or consent was never present. Only in 1910 was an Assembly established in Bosnia where the citizens of Bosnia would have an influence in political affairs.(9)Rudolf Zistler, defense counsel for the defendants argued that the defendants could not be tried for high treason because, 1) under the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, the Turkish Sultan retained suzerainty over Bosnia, and, 2) the 1908 annexation of Bosnia required that both parts of the Dual Monarchy, Austria and Hungary, had to agree or consent to the annexation.(10) By the time of the trial, Hungary had not consented to the annexation.Zistler argued that Bosnia-Hercegovina was a separate state and that high treason against the Monarchy was not possible because Bosnians owed their allegiance to the Turkish Sultan. The President of the Court, Senior Councilor Alois Kurinaldi (Luigi von Curinaldi),did not allow Zistler to continue his argument and allowed the high treason charges to stand. Zistler was later reprimanded by Kurinaldi.

The defendants were tried in the military prison of Sarajevo, in a court presided by judge Alois Kurinaldi, and two other judges, the Ukrainian Bogdan Naumovic and the German Mayer Hofmann.

Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year old Bosnian Serb gymnasium or high school student born in the Grahovo Polje in the village of Gonji Obljaj from an impoverished kmet or serf family, was the actual assassin of the Archduke and the Duchess and according to the testimony of the Sarajevo trial, it was Princip who conceived, organized, and led the other members in the assassination plot. Princip had learned from a newspaper account while in Belgrade that the Archduke was planning to visit Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 and resolved to assassinate him.(11)In Belgrade Princip enlisted Nedeljko Cabrinovic, a 19 year old Bosnian Serb working as a typographer and Trifko Grabez, a 19 year old Bosnian Serb who was a classmate with Princip. They then turned to a Serbian nationalist organization, Srpska Narodna Odbrana (Serbian National Defense), to obtain arms and to provide assistance.Princip then told a friend in Sarajevo, Danilo Ilic, about the assassination plot. Ilic in turn organized a three member assassination team in Sarajevo, consisting of Cvjetko Popovic, an 18 year old Bosnian Serb student, Vaso Cubrilovic, a 17 year old Bosnian Serb student, and Mehmed Mehmedbasic, a 27 year old Bosnian Muslim.

During the trial, Princip explained the motives for the assassination were to unite all the South Slavs into a Yugoslav state: ãI am a Yugoslav nationalist and believe in the unification of all South Slavs.The plan was to unite all South Slavsä Grabez stated during the trial: ãI was lead not by Serbia but solely by Bosnia.ä In attempting to implicate the Serbian government in the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian government ignored totally the Bosnian history of nationalist revolt and the nationalist movement within Bosnia itself.The Sarajevo trial was meant to be similar to the Cetinje trial of 1908, which sought to prove that Serbia was responsible in a plot against Montenegrin King Nikola, and the Zagreb trial of 1909, which sought to prove that the Serbian government was instigating and supporting revolutionary action among the South Slavs of Austria-Hungary. The documents which the prosecution offered at the Zagreb trial were later shown to be forgeries.(12)

Gavrilo Princip and the other assassins belonged to groups of secret nationalist societies, which were part of the indigenous Young Bosnia (Mlade Bosne) Movement, which was a ãspontaneous revolutionary movementä within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.(13) The Young Bosnia Movement was modeled upon the Young Italy (Giovane Italia) movement of  Giuseppe Mazzini and the Italian Risorgimento movement of national unification. (14)During the Sarajevo trial, Princip and Cabrinovic stated that Mazzini was a model for them in uniting the South Slavs.  Moreover, Bosnian Serbs Bogdan Zerajic and Vladimir Gacinovic, were influential on Bosnian Serb youth. Zerajic had formed a secret nationalist society called Sloboda (Freedom) and was a model for Princip and the other assassins. Zerajic had attempted to assassinate the Governor of Bosnia in 1910 and then killed himself after the attempt.There had, thus, been a tradition in Bosnia of revolt and a movement of Serbian and Slavic nationalism among the Bosnian Serbs independent from the movements in Serbia, since the 1875 Bosnian Insurrection against the Ottoman Empire.

During the trial,Princip revealed that the Governor of Bosnia, Oskar Potiorek, was a target of the assassination because of the ãexceptional measuresä(Izninme Mjere) he instituted  on May 2, 1913 which suspended civil courts and introduced military courts,disbanded all Serbian societies,confiscated all newspapers coming from Serbia, and allowed Potiorek to directly administer the schools in Bosnia.(15)Unlike Bilinski, who sought ease tensions in Bosnia by reforming agriculture and by supporting a less repressive policy generally, (16)Potiorek stated that the ãSerb agricultural population should also be maintained in the future in their lethargic state of mind.ä According to Bilinski, Potiorekâs ãhatred toward the Serbs was both political and personal.ä (17)The visit of the Archduke on June 28, Serbian Vidov Dan or Kosovo Day, the day most revered by Serbian nationalists, almost surely was meant as a provocation by Potiorek.

On October 28, 1914, the verdicts were handed down in the Sarajevo trial.Princip, Cabrinovic, and Grabez received sentences of 20 years in prison for each.Cubrilovic received 16 years, Popovic received 13 years, and Djukic received 10 years in prison.Ilic, Jovanovic, and Cubrilovic received the death sentence and were executed on February 3, 1915.

The Sarajevo trial failed to establish the complicity or responsibility of the Serbian government in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.


For much of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Serbia was dependent upon Austria-Hungary economically and politically following the signing of  the 1881 secret deal between King Milan Obrenovic of Serbia and the Habsburg Empire. (18) While this pro-Habsburg policy was highly unpopular in Serbia, especially among the public, it remained the policy until 1903. The 1903 assassination of Alexander Obrenovic and his wife Draga and the installation of Peter Karageorgevic on the throne resulted in a drastic shift in Serbian foreign policy. Serbia abandoned the pro-Austro-Hungarian policy of the Obrenovic dynasty, which had rendered Serbia a mere satellite of the Habsburg Empire, and initiated a policy that exerted Serbian initiative and independence from Vienna. Austria-Hungary in turn reacted against this Serbian foreign policy change.

Austro-Hungarian foreign policy relied on a systematic plan to isolate Serbia and to prevent any Serbian territorial expansion. Habsburg foreign policy concentrated on the objectives of preventing Serbia from annexing territory formerly under the Ottoman Empire, preventing Serbian access to the Adriatic Sea, and preventing Serbia from uniting with Montenegro. Austria-Hungary was concerned about a powerful South Slavic state which would not only fill the power vacuum left by the Ottoman Turkish Empire and thus be a threat to Habsburg interests in the Balkans, but which would moreover encourage the Slavic population within Austria-Hungary itself to follow Serbiaâs lead.Austro-Hungarian foreign policy had the following objectives in the goal to keep Serbia dependent upon the Habsburg Empire: 1) to destroy the Serbian economy by waging economic war against Serbia, the so-called Pig War (1906-1911)or tariff war launched in July, 1906, which prevented Serbia from exporting pigs and other livestock to Austria-Hungary, 2) to construct a railroad across the Sandzak region to Novi Pazar to prevent a land link between Serbia and Montenegro, and, 3) in order to prevent Serbian and Turkish plans at expansion into Bosnia-Hercegovina, the annexation of Bosnia on October 6, 1908.With the overthrow of the Obrenovic dynasty in 1903 and the emergence of the Radical Party in Serbia, Vienna sought to use a tariff war to coerce Serbia into a more subservient role. Alex Dragnich noted that ãafter 1903 Vienna was determined to bring Serbia to heel.ä Austria-Hungary set a precondition for negotiating a new trade agreement with Serbia. Serbia first had to obtain a loan from Austria-Hungary which would be used to finance the Serbian military forces, in railroad construction and in purchasing armaments from armaments producers in Austria-Hungary, such as Skoda and Steyr. (19)Such a loan would allow Vienna to control the military potential of Serbia and would put it under Habsburg control. The vital components of military power at that time, armaments  and railroad transport, the ability to move troops to the front rapidly, would be under the control of Vienna. An economic war was made inevitable if Serbia were to preserve its sovereignty. Serbian Premier Nikola Pasic stated that ãthere was no other way out if the independence of  our country is to be protected.ä The Pig War forced Serbia to turn to other trading partners to sell her goods and signed trade agreements with France, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Italy. Serbia was forced to turn to France to purchase armaments and France replaced Austria-Hungary as military supplier, which drew both countries closer together and which allowed Serbia to free her military from Austro-Hungarian control. Moreover, Serbia found a new trading partner in Germany which willingly agreed to replace Austria-Hungary as a supplier of manufactured goods to Serbia. In 1908 a new trade agreement was ratified in the Serbian Skupstina or Assembly following the resignation of Nikola Pasic from the government. A new Radical Party cabinet was formed by Pera Velimirovic and the new agreement was negotiated by the new foreign minister, Milovan Milovanovic. Austria-Hungary did not ratify the agreement until 1911, however, because of the backlash due to the 1908 annexation of Bosnia, which created widespread hostility and a call for war in Serbia. The Pig War had the opposite effect of what was intended: Serbia achieved economic independence from Austria-Hungary and the Serbian military forces were no longer dependent upon and under the control of Vienna. France pumped capital, foreign investment, and military armaments and supplies into Serbia, solidifying the relationship between the two states.

Under the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary controlled the Sandzak region which was contiguous with Bosnia-Hercegovina and which separated Serbia from Montenegro. Vienna sought to construct a railroad which would pass through Novi Pazar in the Sandzak region. The railroad would have tremendous strategic value for Austria-Hungary by not only separating Montenegro from Serbia, but in allowing a link from Austria to Ottoman Turkey, especially to the port of Salonika, which would bypass Serbia and which would allow a link with Bulgaria, which Vienna sought as an ally in its plan to isolate and surround Serbia in a policy of containment.Moreover, If Serbia was separated from Montenegro, Serbia would lack access to the Adriatic Sea through Montenegrin ports. The railroad construction plan in the Sandzak was of immense strategic value in isolating and surrounding Serbia and thereby in containing Serbian territorial expansion.

Under the terms of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary was to occupy and administer Bosnia-Hercegovina which was to remain,however, under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan.  On October 6, 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina without consulting Germany, Russia, or Serbia, thereby presenting the European powers a fait accompli. The 1908 annexation of Bosnia created a shock and major crisis. In Serbia, there was intense pressure for a declaration of war and widespread popular unrest due to the annexation.The largest ethnic group in Bosnia-Herzegovina was made up of Serbian Orthodox who were almost fifty percent of the population. A third of the population was made up of Slavic Muslims, a percentage of which identified with Serbia and Serbian ethnic identity, while some identified with Croatia and the Croatian ethnic identity. (20)The overwhelming majority of the Bosnian Muslim population, however, identified with a separate Muslim identity.(21) The remaining population was made up of Roman Catholic Croats.In annexing Bosnia, the Habsburg Empire sought to prevent Serbia from annexing the province to form either a South Slav state incorporating the various Slavic groups or a Greater Serbia incorporating the areas inhabited by ethnic Serbs.Vienna was also concerned about the effects of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution which sought to institute reforms and to change the constitution of the Empire. Austria-Hungary was concerned that the Young Turk leaders would seek to reintegrate Bosnia into the Ottoman Empire or at the very least alter the status quo.

The 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Habsburg Empire brought Austria-Hungary and Serbia to the brink of war and because of the alliance system threatened a war between the Great Powers. The annexation,moreover, galvanized public opinion in Serbia which prepared the way for war.


The 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Austria-Hungary galvanized the Serbian population in Serbia and Bosnia to renew their efforts to oppose it and resulted in the emergence of militant Serbian nationalist organizations, the Srpska Narodna Odbrana (Serbian National Defense), formed in 1909,  and Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), formed in 1911 and known as the Black Hand, which played a role in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.(22) These nationalist organizations were themselves the byproduct of a conflict between the military and civilian authority in Serbia, which is crucial in understanding the assassination and how it was possible. To understand how the assassination in Sarajevo occurred it is necessary to examine the conflict between the civil and military authority in Serbia, which is rarely discussed in connection with the assassination.

The civil and military conflict emerged as a direct result of and following the assassination of King Alexander Obrenovic and his wife Draga in 1903, which was primarily a military coup led by Serbian military officers.(23) This murder, a regicide, shocked the rest of Europe and turned Britain against the new regime and dynasty, the rival Karageorgevic dynasty. Britain severed diplomatic relations with Serbia and withdrew the British diplomat from Belgrade. There was enormous pressure on the new regime government to punish the conspirators who were mostly military officers, about 60 in all, and who wielded power. The new King, Peter Karageorgevic was dependent upon this powerful military clique because they had brought him to power and he was reluctant to remove them.(24)This created a conflict with the civilian sector or authority of the government, whose leaders, such as Nikola Pasic, the Radical Party prime minister in 1906, sought to resolve.

Pasic planned to remove the major conspirators involved in the assassination of Obrenovic by pensioning them.(25) King Peter Karageogevic,however, opposed the plan because he preferred not to take direct government action upon them but to allow them to voluntarily retire. Britain indicated that diplomatic relations would be restored if the conspirators were removed from military service.The conspirators,however, refused to retire voluntarily. It was only through skillful talks and negotiations that Pasic convinced the older conspirators to retire from the military, allowing them to retain their full pay.Pasic, thus, for the time being avoided an explosive crisis, but conflict between the civil and military authority persisted and became a latent problem that with time grew and led to a wide gulf between the military and civilian sector of the Serbian Government.The climax and denouement to this conflict would come in 1917 at the Salonika Trial when the Serbian Government would try and execute Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known as Apis,who had been a conspirator in the 1903 assassination of Obrenovic, Major Ljubomir Vulovic, an important guerrilla leader, and Radeta Malobabic, who had been the key agent assigned to Bosnia-Hercegovina.(26) The charges against Dimitrijevic and the other defendants were that they had engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow the government and to assassinate Prince Regent Alexander Karageorgivic, who in June, 1914, assumed power with the retirement of his father, who had been unable to resolve the conflict between the civil and military authority.(27)

The rivalry and conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary exacerbated and intensified greatly this split of the military and civilian authority, a split which was not unique to Serbia, but which was present in many of the other powers, such as Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. The 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina created a crisis in Serbia by galvanizing opposition in Serbia to Austria-Hungary. This opposition was channeled into patriotic and extreme nationalist societies and organizations which had ties to the military. A Serbian nationalist organization that emerged in October, 1908, in reaction to the Bosnian annexation, was the Srpska Narodna Odbrana (Serbian National Defense), a cultural association, which had chapters within Serbia,Bosnia-Hercegovina, and even the united States and consisted of hundreds of thousands of members.(28)Initially it sought to resist the annexation of Bosnia by force, by organizing volunteer guerrilla units in Bosnia, similar to those in Macedonia and by supporting revolutionary action.(29) Bosnian Serbs crossed the border into Serbia and joined auxiliary units organized by Narodna Odbrana where they were trained.(30)According to Alex Dragnic, the propaganda activities and agitation of the Narodna Odbrana were perceived by Austria-Hungary as a greater threat to the stability of the Habsburg Empire than was the Serbian Army: ãAustria feared the National Defense organization more than Serbiaâs military potential, because the formerâs cultural activities tended to undermine the loyalty of the South Slavs in the dual monarchy.ä The Narodna Odbrana,s main appeal was its advocacy of  South Slav and Pan Slav self determination and a unification of the Slavs in Slavic states. This was a threat to Austria-Hungary because two-thirds of the population of Austria was Slavic.(31) This Slavic national consciousness was expressed by Czech agrarian leader Frantisek Udrzal, who in a parliamentary speech, emphasized the Slavic majority of Austria: ãWe wish to save the Austrian parliament from utter ruin, but we wish to save it for the Slavs of Austria who form two-thirds of the population.â In the 1910 population census of Austria, out of a total population of 28,324,940, 35.58% were German, 17.77% Polish, 12.58% Ruthenian, 23.02% Czechs or Slovaks, and 2.80% were Serbs or Croats. The Slavs were over 60% of the population of Austria, while Germans were over 35% of the population.Thus it is important to see why the agitation of the Narodna Odbrana were perceived as a threat.Agitation for Slavic self determination struck at a sensitive weakness of the Austrian Empire, that in an age of democracy and popular representation and national self determination, Slavs were a majority of the German Habsburg Empire. This crucial fact is rarely examined and thus results in the misleading perception that Austro-Hungarian fears of Serbia were unfounded and groundless. Through support and agitation for Slav self determination and Slavic nationalism, and later, by military victories over the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars, Serbia posed a threat to the stability of the Habsburg Empire and threatened it where it was weakest, at the demographic level.

By 1909 the annexation crisis over Bosnia had subsided with Serbia diplomatically forced to recognize the annexation.German Chancellor  Otto von Bismarck,following the 1878 Congress of Berlin, had sought to stabilize the Balkans region by signing in 1879 the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary.The Three Emperorâs League of 1881 between Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, pledged the three powers to consult one another on any changes in the status quo so that potential conflict could be avoided and resolved in advance.Austria-Hungary agreed to support the Russian attempt to control the Straits, the Dardenelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus, and Russian influence over Bulgaria, in exchange for Russian support of the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the future. (32) The 1908 annexation,however, presented both Germany and Russia with a fait accompli, although there had been discussions with Russia. And when Russia was prevented from controlling the Straits by objections from Britain, Russian opposition to the annexation grew.(33) The ensuing conflict over the Bosnian annexation caused Russia and Serbia to go to the brink of war. Only a German ultimatum to Russia prevented war.As Dragnich has noted, ãWorld War I was in the making for more than a decadeä. The 1908 Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia is crucial in the making of World War I.

In 1909, the Narodna Odbrana, many of whose organizers and members were Serbian military officers, was dissolved and reformed as a cultural association because Serbia had in that year officially recognized the annexation of Bosnia.(34)Nevertheless, Narodna Odbrana had agents in Bosnia who engaged in espionage and reported on Austro-Hungarian military movements in Bosnia.(35)In 1911, a secret revolutionary organization was formed in Serbia, Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), known as Crna Ruka, the Black Hand, whose organizers and leaders were primarily from the Serbian army, although there civilian leaders as well.(36) The goal of the Black Hand was as follows: ãTo work for the union of all Serbian lands by whatever means necessary.ä The leaders and founders of the secret organization were Serbian military officers, which included Colonel Dragutin T. Dimitrijevic, Colonel Apis, who still were part of the Serbian government The existence of this organization not only violated military law but was also illegal in a constitutional parliamentary democracy as Serbia was.(37)When Milovan Milovanovic of the radical Party was prime minister of Serbia, the cabinet and government knew of the existence of the Black hand and even supported it.(38) Prince Alexander Karageorgevic supported the organization and even donated 20,000 dinars to form the publication Pijemont (Piedmont), which became the organ of the Black Hand organization.(39)When Panic became prime minister with the death of Milovanovic, the cabinet came into open conflict with the Black Hand.(40)

The Crna Ruka, or Black Hand, had its precursors and early models in the nineteenth century nationalist movements which sought unification, liberation from foreign occupation, and independence.(41)The Black Hand was modeled on the Italian Carbonari, Guiseppe Mazziniâs ãYoung Italyä movement, the Burschenschaften movement in Germany, and the radical-terrorist groups, such as the Peopleâs Will, the Freemasons, and the Bulgarian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary organization (IMRO), against which the Black Hand fought.(42) The Serbian national movements in Serbia and in Bosnia-Hercegovina were modeled upon the Risorgimento movement in Italy, the national revival movement centered in northern Italy, the Piedmont.(43)Serbian nationalism thus did not occur in a historical or evolutionary vacuum but was a product of the nationalism and nationalist movements of 19th century Europe. Italian nationalism would have a profound influence on the Serbian nationalist movement. Both the Black hand and the Young Bosnia Movement were derived from Mazziniâs Young Italy Movement. As David MacKenzie noted, ãinspiring idealistic, pro-Yugoslav civilian elements in ãBlack hand,ä such as Ljubomir Jovanovic-Cupa and Vladimir Gacinovic, was Mazziniâs ãYoung Italyä with its sense of national mission, dedication, and self-sacrifice.ä Italian unification was achieved primarily by internal revolutions led by guerrillas.Mazzini advocated revolution and war to achieve Italian unity, but essentially through guerrilla action. Count Camillo di Cavour, the Piedmontese statesmen, advocated the creation of a powerful army and that Italian unification be achieved by Piedmont through state action with the assistance of outside powers.(44) Members of the Black Hand favored both policies, those of Mazzini and Cavour, sponsoring guerrilla action in Macedonia and Old Serbia, while creating a strong army which through alliances would enable Serbia, as the Balkan Piedmont, to act as the state which would unify the South Slavs and achieve independence from foreign rule, as was realized during the Balkan Wars, 1912-13.(45) Thus, Serbian nationalism was not unique, but in fact, many of its ideas and tactics were derived from the earlier 19th century nationalist movements, particularly in Italy and Germany.

The Black Hand was created after the 1909 official formal recognition by Serbia of the annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary and following the 1908 Young Turk Revolution when the Serbian Government halted official support for ethnic Serbs in Macedonia.(46) The Black Hank sought to covertly carry on a struggle of resistance to the annexation of Bosnia and to carry on the guerrilla war in Macedonia.(47) The Black Hand originated with Bogdan Radenkovic, who had been the coordinator of Serbian guerrilla operations in Macedonia. Radenkovic came to Belgrade to request official support for a new campaign in Macedonia.(48) When his request was denied, Radenkovic sought support to form a secret nationalist organization, enlisting the support of Major Vojislav Tankosic, a guerrilla leader in Macedonia, Ljubomir Jovanovic-Cupa, and captain Velimir Vemic.Radenkovic asked then Major Apis and Major Ilija Radivojevic, who had both been active sponsors of Serbian guerrilla operations in Macedonia, to join.(49)The statutes and tactics of the Black Hand were derived from those of the Italian Carbonari and the German Burschenschaften.The Black Hand was created on March 3, 1911 in Belgrade and was led by a ten-member Central Executive Committee (CEC) which consisted mostly of Serbian military officers, while Major Ilija Radenkovic was chosen president and Captain Velimir Vemic was secretary. Colonel Apis was a member of the Central Executive Committee.(50)The civilian members of the Black hand, such as Jovanovic-Cupa, favored a pro-Yugoslav policy, a more idealistic policy to unite all the South Slavic groups into a single Slavic state, Yugoslavia, or the Yugoslav movement or Yugoslavism, which was a minority movement within Black Hand.(51) The majority of the leaders, especially the military officers, favored a unification of only Serbs, into a greater Serbian state, a Greater Serbia Movement with a narrow and more practical policy of uniting only Serbs.(52)

While initially supported by the government and dynasty, during 1913-14, the government began to oppose the activities and the growing power and influence of the Black Hand.In 1914, Serbian Premier Nikola Pasic complained that the Black Hand had become ãa state within a state.ä (53)In 1913, the Austrian Minister in Belgrade reported that ãthe greatest danger for Pasic and the Radicals is the organization of officers which, under the name ãBlack Hand,ä is constantly growing and uniting around itself all dissatisfied elements including those who favor removing the king and replacing him with the Crown Prince.ä The conflict between the military and civilian authorities led to a crisis following the Balkan Wars with relation to how the newly annexed areas of Macedonia and Old Serbia were to be governed, the so-called Priority Question, where civilian or military rule was appropriate.(54) Pasic and his cabinet favored putting these areas under civilian control or administration. The military strongly opposed this action and led to open conflict.According to Mark Cornwall, ãApis by May was discussing with some of the political opposition the idea of a mini-putsch to topple Pasic.ä The Russian foreign minister, Nikola Hartwig, as well as Crown Prince Alexander,supported Pasic in his struggle with the military and he was able to prevail.The Minister of the Interior, Stojan Protic, issued the Priority Decree which gave priority to the civilian sector in the administration of the newly annexed areas. But General Damjan Popovic, the military commander in Macedonia, refused to carry out the order and was relieved of command.(55) Moreover, the Black Hand publication Pijemont attacked Colonel Dusan P. Stefanovic, the Serbian minister of war, for allowing the military to be subordinated to the civil authority.(56) The Serbian Skupstina or Assembly was dissolved in June, 1914, with elections scheduled for August. Pasic then began campaigning for the new election and, according to Dragnich, ãdetermined to put an end to Black Hand supremacy in the army if he won.ä(57) This is where the conflict between the civil and military authority stood in Serbia when news was received in Belgrade that the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo


The assassination of the Archduke and the Duchess in Sarajevo occurred in the morning of June 28, 1914 and they were both dead by 11:30 AM. The news of the assassination reached Belgrade in the afternoon ãwhere the general public...were greatly surprised but rather indifferent to the murders.ä(58) Serbia was celebrating Vidov Dan, Serbiaâs most sacred and holiest days,June 28, a date commemorating the 1389 Battle of Kosovo when Serbian forces allied with forces from Montenegro,Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Hungary were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. Vidov Dan or Kosovo Day had the same nationalist or patriotic resonance for Serbs as the slogans, Remember the Alamo, or Remember the Maine, had in American history for Americans.While the Serbian general public was indifferent, as Cornwall noted, ãmost members of the government...grasped at the time at least the possibly dangerous repercussions of the event.ä  The Serbian Minister of War, Dusan Stefanovic, informed the Minister of the Interior, Stojan Protic, that it was likely that Austria-Hungary would treat the assassination as an internal, domestic affair because the assassins were Bosnians and subjects and citizens of Austria-Hungary.(59) Stefanovic was convinced that the murders could not be used as an ãexcuse for a war with Serbia.ä(60) On the afternoon of June 28, Serbian Premier Pasic was traveling by train to attend the Vidov Dan celebrations in Kosovo. On June 29, in a speech in Skopje, Macedonia, he made a warning that the assassination , a ãregrettable incidentâ, may be used against Serbia.(61) Cornwall described Pasicâs reaction to the assassinations, based on the publication of the official Serbian documents in 1980, as follows: ãPasic was shocked but also embarrassed by the Sarajevo murders.äPasic denied that he had knowledge of a specific plot to murder the Archduke.Ljuba Jovanovic, who had been the Minister of Education,in a 1924 memoir published in Belgrade, Krv Slovenstva (Blood of the Slavs, translated as The Murder of Sarajevo in English, 1935), maintained that Pasic had learned in June that two armed Bosnian students had crossed into Bosnia from Serbia aided by Serbian frontier officials. Pasic and Protic then launched an investigation that would prevent such an occurrence in the future. There is no proof in the published official documents to substantiate this allegation.(62) In the Austrian State Archives, there is an anonymous letter of June 11, 1914 which the Austrians seized during the war from Pasicâs private archive wherein the author states that Austria-Hungary could plan to have ãthat foolish Ferdinandä assassinated during his inspection of Bosnian military maneuvers as an excuse to declare war on Serbia.(63) Dedijer cited a June 15, 1914 letter from Protic to Pasic in which Protic complained that arms smuggling was taking place on the Bosnian-Serbian border without the cabinets approval and warning that the cabinet and government would be held responsible if this arms smuggling became known to the public. Pasic wrote on the letter that the ãcrossingä should not be allowed ãfor they are very dangerous for us.ä(64) According to Dedijer in Sarajevo, 1914(1978), Pasic ordered Dusan Stefanovic, the Minister of War, to begin an investigation into Colonel Apisâs operations in Bosnia.According to Cornwall, ãbefore 28 June Serbia had already begun its own minor inquiry into some of the threads which led to the Sarajevo crime.ä He cited a letter of June 24, 1914 from the Serbian Interior Ministry which warned that the ãrevolutionary agitationä of Colonel Apis in Bosnia ãcould provoke a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, which in the present circumstances would be very dangerous with logical consequences.ä

At the time of the assassination in Sarajevo, Pasic had been ãcultivating good relationsä with Austria-Hungary and sought reconciliation.(64)One result of this rapprochement was the negotiations in Belgrade between Austrian and Serbian officials to transfer control of the railways to Serbia. Moreover, Pasic and Serbian minister in Vienna, Jovan Jovanovic, were convinced that ãSerbia needed a long period of peace---perhaps a generation or more---in order to consolidate its territorial gains before completing the process of Yugoslav unification.(65)äThe Balkan Wars had devastated the economy and the army. An estimated 37,500 Serbs were killed during the wars.(66) The wars cost 370 million dinars, which was three times the entire Serbian economic budget for 1912.(67) Moreover, there was a shortage of ammunition, uniforms, and artillery.(68) Russia had not delivered military supplies to Serbia as agreed to in February, 1914.(69) The minister of war, Stefanovic, estimated that it would take 10 years to rebuild the Serbian army.(70)Thus, in June, 1914, Serbia was not planning for war and indeed was not militarily prepared for a war.

In Vienna, the assassination was immediately blamed on Serbia and Serbia was held responsible.(71) The extent of Serbian involvement and responsibility has been the subject of an extensive historiographic debate primarily because the evidence is incomplete and not conclusive.The actions the Serbian leaders and government took during the July Crisis have been criticized as well. Luigi Albertini, in The Origins of the War of 1914, maintained that Pasic should have launched an immediate investigation of any possible Serbian involvement in the Sarajevo assassination as he was advised to do by the German under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and by the Austrian charge dâAffaires in Belgrade; ãWhat Serbia ought to have done to prove her innocence and render it more difficult for Austria to hold her responsible for the crime was to open a judicial inquiry into the possible complicity of Serbian subjects and take the necessary measures in that event.ä According to Albertini, ãPasic did little or nothing to avert the Austrian demarche.ä

The  reaction and response to the assassination by the Serbian government and by Serbian leaders has been severely criticized.(72) Statements by Serbian diplomats at the time were considered confrontational and hostile by Vienna which in its Ultimatum to the Serbian government demanded that such statements cease.Pasic and the other cabinet ministers and diplomats were criticized for not taking actions that would defuse the crisis. It was apparent from the beginning of the crisis that the Serbian leadership would not compromise on the issue of sovereignty.(73) Pasic informed Vladimir Giesl, the Austrian ambassador in Belgrade, that Serbia would take any measures which were ãcompatible with the dignity and independence of a stateä.Serbian leaders were willing to accept all Austrian conditions so long as Serbian sovereignty was not threatened. Moreover, the position of the Serbian leadership was that the assassination was an internal, domestic affair of Austria-Hungary which should be investigated and prosecuted solely within the Habsburg Empire.To launch an independent inquiry into Serbian involvement would contradict the earlier position.To provide information to Austria on knowledge of Black Hand activities, on the military and civil conflict within the Serbian government,on sensitive Serbian government intelligence information, would play into Austrian hands, already convinced of Serbian complicity and treating the assassination itself as a casus belli, and would also endanger Serbian national security and would touch on the issue of sovereignty.The diplomatic and political style of Pasic was not conducive to a speedy and satisfactory resolution of the crisis. Pasic preferred a style that was indecisive, that dragged on and did not require a decision, dilatory and stalling tactics, and procrastination. (74)Serbian diplomats did not improve matters by making incautious and provocative statements regarding the assassination.There were,however, domestic factors that played in part in the Serbian reaction. Pasic was engaged in an election campaign at the time of the assassination and had to take a strong nationalist line.Luigi Albertini,however, maintained that Serbia was willing to accept all of the Austrian terms and that only after receiving notice of Russian support on June 25 did Serbia argue for no violation of sovereignty. Cornwall argued that Albertini based his view on ãhearsay evidenceä and that ãin fact, the exact opposite seems to be the truth.ä According to Cornwall, Serbia was unwilling to accept the Austrian terms from the start, but that only when finding that Russian and Great Power support was lacking did Serbia assume a more pliant position.

On July 23, Vladimir Giesl, the Austrian minister in Belgrade, presented Lazar Pacu, the acting Premier, due to the absence of Pasic on the election campaign, with the Austrian Ultimatum, which required that it be answered and accepted in 48 hours. The Serbian government refused outright only one condition of the ultimatum, the Austrian demand that their agents participate in the investigation of the assassination on Serbian territory, which was unacceptable to the Serbian government because it would infringe Serbian sovereignty.(75) Nevertheless, the other conditions were accepted, some with conditions, and the Serbian government was willing to submit the entire matter to the International Court and to the Great powers for arbitration. German Kaiser Wilhelm II, on receiving the Serbian reply to the Austrian Ultimatum on July 27, replied as follows:

This is more than we expected! A great moral success for Vienna!
Every reason for war drops away. Giesl might have remained quietly
in Belgrade. On the strength of this I should never have ordered mobilization!

The reply of the Serbian government to the Austrian Ultimatum was regarded as
conciliatory by the other European powers.(76) Nevertheless, on July 28, Austria -Hungary declared war on Serbia. As Cornwall has demonstrated, Serbia was unwilling to compromise on the issue of sovereignty. Austria-Hungary was determined to force Serbia to yield on that issue. The historical evidence clearly shows a disingenuousness and ambivalence with regard to the threat of war. As Cornwall Noted, Serbia ãwas prepared on 25 July to run the risk of a localized war with Austria-Hungary...and had helped to create this warä because Serbia would not relinquish national sovereignty. The Great Powers themselves had a detached view of the crisis and instead of defusing the crisis, in fact, greatly exacerbated it, allowing the Sarajevo assassination  and the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary to ignite a war. By renouncing negotiation and compromise, war was all but ensured.


Immediately following the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian government launched an investigation of the assassination by Judge Leo Pfeffer.(77) But this investigation could find no evidence at all of possible Serbian government complicity in the murders.(78)On July 10, 1914, Friedrich von Wiesner of the Austro-Hungarian foreign ministry was sent to investigate the proceedings.(79)He examined the evidence, noting that Milan Ciganovic, a Bosnian Serb, working as a railroad official in Serbia, had assisted for the entry of the assassins into Bosnia, the role of Vojislav Tankosic in providing arms and training to the assassins was examined, as was the assistance provided by border guards and peasants to the conspirators.(80) His conclusion was as follows: ãThere is nothing to indicate, or even to give rise to the suspicion that the Serbian government knew about the plot, its preparation, or the procurement of arms. On the contrary, there are indications that this is impossible.ä(81) The Sarajevo trial of the conspirators of October, 1914, could not establish Serbian government complicity in the assassination.(82) Indeed, the Austrian government prosecutor confused the Narodna Odbrana with the Black Hand at the trial, although Austro-Hungarian intelligence was aware of the Black Hand involvement in Bosnia since 1912.. In The Sarajevo Trial, W. A. Owings noted that ãit is now nearly certain that  the Narodna Odbrana as such had nothing to do with the assassinationä although members of the organization had provided weapons and assistance to the assassins.Nevertheless, there was overlapping membership in the organizations  and interlocking leadership while some members of both groups were in the Serbian government.But it has never been proven that the initiative for the assassination came from Belgrade and was independent from an initiative within Bosnia itself.As R.W. Seton-Watson noted, in ãThe Murder at Sarajevoä, ãthe real initiative for the crime came from within Bosnia itself; and one of the original survivors from the original group of conspirators...declares that it was Înot the work of an isolated individual in national exaltation, but of the entire youth of Bosnia.âä Seton-Watson noted that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the sixth in a series of assassination attempts in the Balkan region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He listed the assassination attempt of Bosnian Serb Bogdan Zerajic, a hero and model to Princip and the other assassins, in 1910 against the then governor of Bosnia-Hercegovina.There were assassination attempts in June, 1912, and November, 1912 against Slavko Cuvaj, and assassination attempts in August,1913 and May, 1914, committed by Croats and Serbs within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and with no Serbian government involvement.

In A History of Modern Serbia, 1804-1918, Michael Boro Petrovich concluded that the Serbian government ãitself neither planned nor abetted the assassination of the archduke.ä He noted that the Austrian government incorrectly blamed the Narodna Odbrana organization for the assassination when it was actually members of the Black Hand that had armed and trained the assassins. Petrovich sought to exonerate Pasic by noting that once informed by intelligence reports that two Bosnian youths had crossed into Bosnia from Serbia, he took he following measures to prevent the assassination.First, Pasic informed the cabinet of what he had learned. Second, he ordered an investigation while the interior minister issued special orders to customs officials to prevent any flow of arms into Bosnia. Third, he launched an investigation of Colonel Apis and his activities, while the minister of war ordered border guards to prevent armed persons from crossing into Bosnia. Fourth, it refused asylum to agents who had assisted the assassins.According to Petrovich, Pasic also attempted to warn Bosnian political leaders through the Belgrade chief of police, but that such concerns were dismissed because the security was considered adequate to prevent an assassination.Moreover, the Serbian minister in Vienna, Jovan Jovanovic, did visit Count Leon von Bilinski, the Habsburg finance minister and the chief civilian authority for Bosnia-Hercegovina and informed him before the assassination occurred that ãamong the Serb youth there might be one who will put a live cartridge in his rifle and fire it.ä Thus, not only did the Serbian government not plan or initiate the assassination, but on the contrary, it did everything within its power to prevent such an occurrence.

Austria-Hungary and Germany sought to show that Serbia and the Serbian government were responsible for the Sarajevo assassination and thereby to prove that Serbia was guilty for the war. Russia, France, and Britain, by supporting Serbia, were likewise guilty and responsible for the war.(83) As Dedijer has noted, by 1939 there were over 3,000 books on the controversy of who was guilty or responsible for the assassination and thereby for the war.

The Austro-Hungarian government accused the Serbian government of responsibility for the assassination, because the assassins had been armed and trained in Serbia itself and that Serbian authorities, such as Ciganovic, a Serbian railway clerk, and border guards, had allowed the assassins to enter Bosnia. Moreover, Major Vojislav Tankosic, a Serbian officer, and trained and armed the assassins.Adolf Hitler, in ordering the invasion of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, maintained that Serbia had been responsible for the assassination.

A second group of historians, known as the Revisionists place responsibility on Serbia for the assassination,but differ in assessing the degree or extent of Serbian guilt or responsibility.(84) In The Origins of the World War, Sidney B. Fay argued that Serbia bore a heavy responsibility for the assassination because having knowledge of the assassination plot three weeks in advance, it failed to warn the Austro-Hungarian government and failed to prevent the assassins from crossing the border. Fayâs argument assumes that the Serbian government knew about the plot in all its details and that it could prevent the assassins from crossing into Bosnia. But there is no conclusive evidence that the Serbian government knew of a specific plot to assassinate the Archduke, and even if it did, it is questionable whether it knew the details of it.Moreover, there is conflicting evidence on this point. Panic, in one account, became aware of a plot to assassinate the Archduke and immediately sought to prevent it, even ordering an investigation of Colonel Apis and his activities. The Black Hand agent for Bosnia, Malobabic, was arrested by the Serbian police in July, 1914.

R.W. Seton-Watson and Bernadotte Schmitt are part of the group known as the anti-Revisionists, which argued that ultimately Austria-Hungary was itself responsible for the assassination and in causing the ensuing war. Seton-Watson stated that ãwe must assign the main guilt to Austria-Hungary, who had a policy of repression at home and aggression abroad.ä Moreover, the initiative and impetus for the crime, according to Seton-Watson, came from within Bosnia and not Serbia. Seton-Watson criticized the Serbian government for its ãlaxityä and ãindifferenceä following the assassination. What motivated Seton-Watson was the publication following the war of memoirs, particularly those of Ljuba Jovanovic, who had been minister of education in the Serbian government, which exaggerated the role of Serbian officials in the assassination. Jovanovic claimed that Pasic had informed him weeks before the murders that the plot was in progress and that the assassins should be stopped at the border.Pasic denied these allegations. Seton-Watson stated that Jovanovic ãhas misrepresented the true facts.ä Nevertheless, these revelations by former Serbian government officials lead to a change in the assessment of the Serbian government role in the assassination. Historians assigned greater culpability to the Serbian government, arguing that the government was guilty of criminal negligence in not warning the Austro-Hungarian government of the plot and in not investigating the plot and apprehending the guilty parties.(85)

In assessing the Serbian government role in the assassination, greater attention needs to be devoted to the internal political climate of Bosnia and the indigenous factors of Bosnia that motivated the assassins.Moreover, the origins of the Bosnian nationalist movements have not adequately be studied. Bosnian nationalism and Pan-Slavism was influenced by the Italian and German nationalist and unification movements of the 19th century.The conflict between the civil and military authorities in Serbia is crucial in understanding how the assassination occurred. The underlying causes of the rivalry between Austria-Hungary and Serbia need to be examined in any study of the assassination. A major conflict between the two powers was in the making for at least a decade before 1914. Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf had argued for a pre-emptive war against Serbia for years before 1914. Two-thirds of the population of the Austrian Empire was Slavic, leading to instability and the potential for disintegration. Pan-Slavism and Slavic nationalism, as espoused by Serbia, thus posed a real threat to the stability of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.These factors allow a more objective analysis of the assassination and its role in leading to World War I.


The Salonika Trial of the ãBlack Handä in 1917 was an attempt by the Serbian government to resolve the long-standing conflict between the civil and the military authority.(86)Relations between the Serbian government and the Black Hand steadily deteriorated after the assassination. Pasic and the Serbian leaders had instituted an investigation of the covert activities conducted by Colonel Apis and the Black Hand before the assassination and in July,1914, the Belgrade police arrested Rade Malobabic, the top Black Hand agent operating in Austria-Hungary, and particularly, Bosnia-Hercegovina.Following this arrest, according to MacKenzie, ãApisâs intelligence network disintegrated.ä In March, 1915, Apis was transferred from his position as General Staff chief of intelligence to chief of staff of the Uzice army.Prince Alexander and a Serbian army officer, Colonel Petar Zivkovic, mobilized a group of army officers hostile to the Apis group of Officers, called the  Bela Ruka, or White Hand, formed in 1912 to combat the influence of the Black Hand in the Serbian military.A new conflict arose in 1915, following the invasion of Serbia by German and Austro-Hungarian forces which drove the Serbian Army from Serbia to Albania, Corfu, and subsequently to Salonika. The Black Hand group had argued for a pre-emptive military attack on Bulgaria. Prince Alexander and Pasic rejected a pre-emptive attack. This dispute led to open conflict between the government and the military officers who were part of the Black Hand faction.Pasic and Ljubo Jovanovic, the minister of the interior, sought to resolve the dispute dismissing Apis and those officers associated with him from the army.(87) Prince Alexander and General Bozidar Terzic, minister of war, suggested that Apis and his collaborators be tried.

Colonel Apis and other Black Hand officers were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the Serbian government and with attempting the murder of Prince Alexander.In June, 1917, they were tried and convicted.Colonel Apis, Major Ljubomir Vulovic,and Rade Malobabic, were executed on June 26, 1917.Thus in this way was the conflict between the civil and military authority brought to an end.Britain and Russia opposed the trial, while France accepted the decision of the Serbian government to try the defendants.One view is that Apis was executed to appease Austria-Hungary, which in 1916-17 had contacted France through Romania seeking a separate peace. A separate peace was more likely, under this view, if Apis was removed from a position of power. But there is no question that by 1916 the conflict between the military and civilian sectors had reached the point that some action had to be taken. The result was the arrest and trial of the Black Hand at Salonika, which was the resolution of the conflict between the military and civilian authority.


The assassination of Franz Ferdinand lead to World War I because it presented Austria-Hungary with a pretext or excuse to wage war against Serbia, a rival and threat to its national interests in the Balkans.The judicial inquiry and Sarajevo trial in 1914 by the Austro-Hungarian government failed to find Serbian government responsibility for the assassination.Historical research since the assassination has not been able to find Serbian government responsibility or complicity in the murders. In fact, more research has revealed that placing responsibility for the crime is complex and problematic and perhaps not possible.

Carl Savich
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