by Stephen E. Sachs
History Day 1994
The city of Sarajevo has been the site of three seemingly unrelated major events: World War I began there; the city was the host of the XXIII Winter Olympic Games; and today, it is a shattered center of ethnic conflict as Yugoslavia divides into separate states.
Why have these events taken place in Sarajevo? Located at a cultural crossroads between West and East, Sarajevo’s history has been determined by its ethnic geography, by the presence of its three major ethnic groups and the relationships among them.
World War I
On June 28, 1914, a young Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, heir to the Hapsburg throne, who was visiting Sarajevo. During Princip’s interrogation, the police found that he was not acting entirely on his own, but was a member of a group of conspirators, aided by a Serb nationalist secret society called “the Black Hand.” The assassination eventually led to World War I. This event brings up a number of questions. Why did societies like “the Black Hand” exist? What caused their hatred for Austria? Why did the assassination take place in Sarajevo? To answer these questions accurately, the history of nationalist sentiment among the three major ethnic groups in Sarajevo must be examined.
By 1900, the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina were home to 530,000 Muslims, 320,000 ethnic Croats and 650,000 ethnic Serbs. Sarajevo was the only major city in these ethnically mixed regions. By virtue of its geographical location, the culture of the area was as mixed as the population, as noted by Phyllis Auty in her book Yugoslavia:
Like other South Slav provinces, [Bosnia-Herzegovina’s] history was greatly influenced by geographical position... Lying between Serbia to the east and south, Croatia to the north and west... it was subject to many conflicting influences. Wars and migrations resulted in a mixture of Serbs and Croats populating the region.
Islam was introduced into the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fifteenth century when Turkey invaded. The Turks were welcomed by the members of the Bosnian Church, a sect of South Slav Christians whose members had been persecuted by both the Catholic Croats and the Orthodox Serbs. Many members of the Bosnian Church converted to Islam at that time, and by the late 1800s about 39% of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population was Muslim. However warm Bosnia’s feeling had been toward Turkey in the fifteenth century, by the nineteenth it had changed dramatically. Turkey had neglected Bosnia economically and allowed it to remain undeveloped. Because of this, animosity grew toward Turkey, and a Bosnian Muslim nationalism was beginning to take shape by 1900.
The Croats had once had an independent state but merged with Hungary in 1102. Croatia had also been allowed to decline economically, and the resulting Croatian nationalism was a growing problem for the Hungarian government. When Hungary entered the Ausgleich agreement with Austria in 1867, Croatia became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the late 1800s, approximately 18% of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was of Croatian descent.
Serbia was controlled by Turkey after the Serbs’ defeat at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, a defeat which was branded into Serbia’s national culture. The Serbs resented the Turkish rule, and Serbia eventually wrestled free and obtained its independence in 1830. The foreign policy of the young Serbian nation was one of expansion: it wished to add to its territory that in which other ethnic Serbs were living, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, where some 43% of the population was ethnically Serb.
In 1878, after a war between Russia and Turkey, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was given a mandate to oversee the lands of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most residents of the two regions were hopeful that the new government would be less indifferent to their problems than Turkey had been. However, the Austrian government of Bosnia and Herzegovina mainly concerned itself with building roads and communication lines for its army rather than, as Auty states, “solving the agrarian problems [including the feudal land tenure system left by Turkey] which had been the major source of discontent.” Cassels notes that to many Bosnians, it seemed that “the Emperor in Vienna was as remote as the Sultan in Constantinople, and as indifferent to their plight.” The nationalism in Bosnia that had been focused against Turkey was now focused against Austria-Hungary.
Serbia was extremely resentful that it had not received the mandate given to Austria, since almost half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was of Serbian descent. Because of this, it did all it could to spread anti-Austrian propaganda asking for all of the South Slav peoples, Serbs, Croats, and Muslims alike, to join into one nation. Serb propaganda, picturing evil Austrian oppressors and downtrodden Serbs in Bosnia, flowed into that region. According to the propaganda, the Austrians cruelly prevented the Bosnians from becoming compatriots with their “brethren” in Serbia.
The propaganda was not without effect. The economic neglect and Serb propaganda caused anti-Austrian feelings to flare up in Bosnia, persuading the Austrian government to send a troop of soldiers to parade around the new possessions and quell unrest. However, the forested hills of Bosnia were perfect for snipers who fired on the Austrian troops. It took over 150,000 soldiers and cost 85 million gulden to stamp out the guerrillas, who killed 5,000 Austrian soldiers.
In the last few years before Ferdinand’s assassination, conflicts between Austria-Hungary and the South Slav peoples became more and more common, and tension between the two sides increased. Muslims, Croats, and Serbs alike felt oppressed by foreign rulers; nationalism was increasing. By 1908, 57 of the 88 seats in Croatia’s parliament were held by members of a Serbo-Croatian unity party.
Gavrilo Princip was born into a Serb peasant family in Krajina, a rural area in northwest Bosnia. In 1907, Princip, at the age of 13, attended a commercial school in Sarajevo. Due to the large Serbian population and great quantity of Serbian propaganda in the city, secret anti-Austrian societies were thriving among Sarajevo’s discontented. At the commercial school, many of the students were members of these societies, and Gavrilo went to their meetings with his friends. In 1912, when a number of Balkan nations including Serbia defeated Turkey in an effort to drive the Turks off the Balkan peninsula, pro-Serbian feeling surged through the city. That fall, after discussions with his nationalist friends, Princip considered assassination of Austrian officials as a way to free Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Monarchy’s control. He then went illegally (without a passport from the Austrians) to Belgrade, where he and other Bosnian Serb university students eventually plotted the Archduke’s death. The Serb influence in Sarajevo contributed greatly to Gavrilo’s development as a Serb nationalist and assassin.
The assassination took place when Ferdinand, in his role as Inspector-General of the Army, visited Sarajevo to watch a military drill by the Austrian soldiers there. Oskar Potiorek, the Austrian Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, felt that a visit by the Archduke would cause the Croats and other non-Serb ethnic groups to put more trust in Austria and less in Serbia. Something of this kind had occurred when the Emperor Franz Joseph visited Sarajevo in 1910.
On June 28th, seven assassins waited for Ferdinand’s car to pass along the road known as the Appel Quay. The arms had been given to them in Serbia by “the Black Hand.” The first few conspirators did not succeed or did not act, but Princip managed to fire two shots into the Imperial car, killing Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. A month later, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, which considered itself the “protector” of the Balkans, mobilized its forces, and Germany did the same to protect itself against Russia. World War I had begun.
Serbian ambitions for South Slav unity and nationalist feeling joining the three major ethnic groups in Sarajevo were major factors in the assassination of the Archduke. All three groups were aligned against Austria and in favor of a united South Slav nation. Most of Princip’s fellow assassins were Serb, another Muslim, and Croat classmates of two of the assassins volunteered to assist them in smuggling weapons. The Archduke’s visit had been intended to increase his government’s popularity among the non-Serb communities in Sarajevo. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, Sarajevo’s mood as an ethnic crossroads was vehemently nationalistic and anti-Austro-Hungarian.
The Winter Olympic Games
In 1984, the city of Sarajevo hosted the XXIII Olympic Games. Hidden in the forested mountains of Bosnia, Sarajevo was thrust onto the world stage. The beautiful city made an impact on the many journalists covering the Games. According to one:
I remember Sarajevo as a relaxed, sooty old town full of languid cigarette smokers, fiery slivovitz and pallid women in black clothes... It is hard to believe now, but in 1984 I wrote of this town that has been so savaged: “The scene in Sarajevo was a kind of Balkan Oz - sweet and surreal and dreamlike... the mood that settled over Sarajevo was serene good cheer.”
The city had undergone major change since the days of Gavrilo Princip. Before World War I, the three ethnic groups of Sarajevo were bound together by a feeling of nationalism. By 1984, the nationalist dream had been realized and tolerance and goodwill had spread among the groups. The Olympics could be held in Sarajevo because the ethnic surface was “smooth enough to skate on.”
In 1918, South Slav unity was achieved in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, a union including Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, amid other regions. The nation was not very strong, and had nearly split apart along ethnic lines when Hitler invaded in 1941. Two resistance groups formed, and after fierce factional fighting, the communist Partisans emerged as the dominant group. The Partisans forced the Germans out of Yugoslavia and installed a communist government, with their leader Josip Broz Tito as dictator. Tito refused to turn his country into a Soviet satellite, and Yugoslavia maintained “a leading role amongst the non-aligned nations of the world” during the Cold War. The country experienced a period of relative prosperity that lasted through the early 1980s. Tito, himself of mixed parentage (Croatian and Slovenian), managed to keep tensions among ethnic groups low. Peace was kept by the decentralization of industry and politics and the use of repression and violence. The Serbs, usually dominant in a multi-ethnic setting, were kept equal to the other groups. Even intermarriage among the groups, though certainly uncommon, was not unheard of.
Sarajevo had always been a beautiful city. Its ethnic diversity was a cause of this, as was witnessed by one visitor in the days when it was controlled by Austria:
Perfectly charming: the general view of the town as beautiful as anything of the kind in Europe... Everywhere one sees the new Sarajevo, with its European buildings and modern streets pushing through the bright confusion of the old Oriental city... Mosques with their minarets rising up on all sides give the characteristic decorative note.
The citizens of Sarajevo took great pride in their city, especially during the Olympics. One resident called the Olympics “the most beautiful fortnight of my life.” When the Olympics came, the benefits (new apartments constructed for the athletes, 11,000 temporary jobs, and millions of dollars in tourism) gave the ethnic groups in Yugoslavia a banner to rally behind - that of the Olympic flag.
The happiness and festivity in Sarajevo were possible because of the ethnic peace in Yugoslavia at that time, enforced by the iron hand of Tito’s regime. In the words of a member of Bosnia’s Olympic Committee, the 1984 Games were “a shining moment when Serbs, Muslims and Croats worked together in harmony.” The ethnic diversity added to the city’s beauty and allowed this small city in the mountains to impress the world. It was because the ethnic groups in Yugoslavia were at peace that Sarajevo, an ethnic crossroads, was able to host the Winter Games.
Gunfire in the City
“Violence was, indeed, all I knew of the Balkans: all I knew of the South Slavs.”
-Dame Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
The current conflict in Sarajevo springs from the legacy of World War II and memories of ancient territorial claims and ethnic and religious hatreds which had lain dormant during the years of communist control. South Slav nationalism lasted only as long as the Austrians were the common enemy, and after the last of Tito’s regime fell in 1992, the ethnic tensions re-surfaced. The Serbs recalled the brutality of inter-ethnic fighting during World War II, and some resolved to “never be surprised again.”
In 1992, when the Republic of Yugoslavia broke up, Croatia and Serbia proceeded to take as much land as they could grab, dismembering Bosnia and killing both Muslims and each other’s people along the way. To date, Sarajevo has been besieged for months by Bosnian Serbs who, armed by the Serb-dominated former Yugoslav army, have declared their own republic and are waging war on the Bosnian government. Forced expulsion and “ethnic cleansing” have taken place in captured territories; Muslims and Croats have been removed from areas under Serb control, and recently all of Sarajevo’s Jews were exiled by decrees from Croatia and Serbia.
Artillery shells and snipers’ bullets are the major weapons used in this ethnic war, killing 200,000 Bosnians since the fighting began. Currently, NATO has sent the Bosnian Serb forces an ultimatum: they must move all heavy guns at least 12 miles from Sarajevo or risk NATO air strikes. This demand was only possible after Russian President Boris Yeltsin reluctantly acquiesced.
The Bosnians are desperate for military aid, including the lifting of the arms embargo against them. According to the President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, those in Sarajevo are “condemned to death, denied the right to defend ourselves... Those who deprive us of the right of self-defense will be accomplices in this crime.” A survivor of a devastating shell attack stated, “it was not [the Serbs] that did this, it was the world... This is the world’s responsibility.” The residents of Sarajevo feel abandoned, left to die in “...a war between idiots, not between Serbs and Croats and Muslims.”
Sarajevo’s geographic location places it at the center of Yugoslavia, of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of “an intensification... of the Serb-Croat dispute.” The city is in the middle, geographically, ethnically, and politically, of a deadly game of tug-of-war; it is a crossroads upon which march the boots of soldiers in an ethnic conflict.
Serbs, Croats and Muslims live at this cultural crossroads between West and East, each considering it their own; their presence and the relationships among them, the ethnic geography of Sarajevo, have determined the city’s turbulent history.
Filipovic, Zlata. Zlata’s Diary. Trans. Christina Pribichevich-Zoric. New York: Viking, 1993.
This diary of a 13-year-old girl who lived in Sarajevo before she and her family were evacuated to France showed me an inside view of the siege and its effect on the children in Sarajevo.
Kifner, John. “61 Die as Shell Wrecks Sarajevo Market.” The New York Times 6 February 1994, sec. 1: 1 and 6.
This article provided me with an eye-witness account of the terrible shell attack on a Sarajevo market on February 6, which killed 61 people. The attack was one of the greatest disasters to occur since the war began.
Sudetic, Chuck. “Bosnian Serbs Call a Truce but Then Resume Shelling of Sarajevo.” The New York Times 9 January 1994, sec. 1: 4.
This article written on the scene told of the immense number of shells falling on the city and their effect on civilian facilities such as hospitals.
“All Things Considered.” NPR, 1 February 1994.
This radio program reported the emotions of those living in the besieged Sarajevo, including the fact that many residents have given up hope.
Auty, Phyllis. Yugoslavia. New York: Walker and Company, 1965.
This intricate historical study of the Balkan state gave me a detailed history of the ethnic conflicts of that region in the past, helping me to understand the conflict there today.
Cassels, Lavender. The Archduke and the Assassin. New York: Stein & Day Publishers, 1984.
The book is an exceptionally detailed guide to the events of the South Slav nationalist movement leading up to Ferdinand’s assassination and gave me information on the plans and movements of Princip and the other conspirators.
Dizdarevic, Zlatko. “Deaths from Natural Causes.” The New York Times 2 February 1994, sec. 1: 11.
This editorial presented the mood of many in Sarajevo: pessimism concerning the city’s future and cynicism at empty promises from NATO and the UN.
Doder, Dusko. “Yugoslavia: New War, Old Hatreds.” Foreign Policy Summer 1993: 3-33.
This description of the ethnic hatred in the area that was Yugoslavia gave me a great deal of background information on the current conflict there.
“Geography.” Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography. Washington, D.C.: the National Geographic Society, 1989.
This provided me with a broad definition of geography which included forms other than physical.
Glenny, Misha. The Fall of Yugoslavia. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
This book on the current civil war in Yugoslavia added background information and explanations of present-day events.
Heinrich, Mark. “’84 Olympics a Lifetime Ago for Sarajevo,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3 February 1994, sec. 2: 5.
This article showed me the pride the residents of Sarajevo took in their city during the Olympics. It also tells how the ethnic peace made the Games possible in 1984, and how the ethnic rivalry is destroying the city today.
Johnson, William. “The Best and Worst of Times.” Sports Illustrated 11 May 1992: 96.
A recounting of the author’s days as a journalist in Sarajevo during the 1984 Olympics contrasted with the scene in Sarajevo today, this article pointed out to me the irony that both hosts of the 1984 Games (Los Angeles and Sarajevo) were in a state of war or riot when the article was written.
Kaplan, Robert D. Balkan Ghosts. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
This account of the author’s journey through the Balkans offered a political history of the area and an analysis and explanation of the present-day conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Powell, Stuart. “Winter Olympics’ Real Winner is Sarajevo.” U.S. News & World Report 13 February 1984: 35
This article was a valuable source of statistics and Yugoslav opinions on the 1984 Winter Games.
Riding, Alan. “From Sarajevo, a Girl and a Diary on Fear.” The New York Times 6 January 1994, sec. 1: 1.
This was an interview with Zlata Filipovic and recounted details from her diary.
Sudetic, Chuck. “In Death, Sarajevo Woman Becomes a Symbol.” The New York Times 13 January 1994, sec. 1: 1.
This story is one that gives a human face to the destruction in Sarajevo, telling me how 66-year-old Ljeposava Pajic, an ethnic Serb from a mixed Sarajevo family, died while attempting to give the message “Thank God that you are all alive and well” to her granddaughter across the Serb lines.
West, Dame Rebecca. Black Lamb and Gray Falcon. New York: Viking Press, 1941.
A diary of the author’s journey through Yugoslavia in the 1930s, this book became a classic of Yugoslav history. It provided rare perspectives based on conversations with the people of Yugoslavia before World War II.
 Or “human geography,” defined as “people and their patterns of settlement and activity.” (“Geography,” Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography (Washington, D.C.: the National Geographic Society, 1989) 243.)
 Lavender Cassels, The Archduke and the Assassin (New York: Stein & Day Publishers, 1984) 72.
 Phyllis Auty, Yugoslavia (New York: Walker and Company, 1965) 49.
 All three percentages for Bosnia and Herzegovina's population were taken from Auty 51-52.
 Hungary’s response was "a policy of suppression and Magyarization." (Auty 43.)
 The famed Battle of Kosovo was the most frequent subject of the songs of the guslas, Serbian traveling minstrels who passed down the oral history of the nation. The heroes who died at Kosovo were the idols of thousands of Serbs: "Serbian nationalist mythology stems from the immortal deeds of Serbian heroes..." (Cassels 76) Among these national heroes was Milos Obilic, a Serb nobleman, who assassinated the conquering Sultan after the Battle of Kosovo.
 Auty 52. The Austrians used a “divide and conquer” technique against the Slavs in which the Muslims were favored. This created hatred of the Muslims among the Serbs and Croats. “[The Muslims] were the favorites of the Austrians, far above the Christians, far above the Serbs or the Croats... The Muslims were given the finest schools and colleges, the best posts in the administration were reserved for them, they were invited to all official functions and treated as honored guests, the railway trains were held up at their hours of prayer. The Turkish land system, which grossly favored the Muslims at the extense [sic.] of the Christians, was carefully preserved intact by his Catholic Majesty the Emperor Franz Joseph.” (Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (New York: Viking Press, 1941) 312-3.)
 Cassels 76.
 Cassels 73.
 Under the agreement with Hungary signed in 1102, Croatia could keep its representative body, the Sabor. The party in control in 1908 was called the Croat Peasant Party. (Cassels 87 and Auty 44.) The Croats and Muslims were willing to join with the Serbs in order to rid themselves of Austrian control, as was illustrated by a Croat saying of the time: “With the Serbs we can do a great deal, without them little, in opposition to them nothing.” (Cassels 66.)
 At that time, “...the whole of Bosnia was seething with revolt... almost every schoolboy and student was a member of some revolutionary society.” (West 345.)
 Potiorek believed that “...if, in addition to attending the manoeuvres [sic.], His Imperial Highness [Franz Ferdinand] appeared in Sarajevo and made some expeditions into the surrounding countryside, thereby giving the civilian population a chance to set eyes on him, this would encourage the Muslims to support the dynasty and, hopefully, strengthen the wavering loyalty of some of the Croats.” (Cassels 144.)
 William Johnson, "The Best and Worst of Times," Sports Illustrated 11 May 1992: 96.
 The word “Yugoslavia” means “Land of the South Slavs.”
 Auty 208.
 The fact that the Serbs were kept from dominance by Tito would eventually be “the core of [the Serbs’] grievances” after the breakup of Yugoslavia. (Dusko Doder, “Yugoslavia: New War, Old Hatreds,” Foreign Policy Summer 1993: 3-33.)
 Cassels 74.
 Senada Kresvo, as quoted by Mark Heinrich in "'84 Olympics a Lifetime Ago for Sarajevo," St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3 February 1994, sec. 2: 5.
 Statistics are from Stuart Powell, “Winter Olympics’ Real Winner is Sarajevo,” U.S. News & World Report 13 February 1984: 35
 Izudin Filipovic, Secretary General of the Olympic Committee of Bosnia-Herzegovina, quoted in Heinrich as above.
 The pattern of conflict over land claims in the Balkans was referred to by Robert D. Kaplan as “...the same old Balkan revanchist syndrome: each nation claiming as its natural territory all the lands that it held at the time of its great historical expansion.” (Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992) 247.)
 “Were it not originally for religion, there would be little basis for Serb-Croat enmity.” (Kaplan 25.) According to a Bosnian contemporary of Gavrilo Princip, the religious conflicts could divide the South Slavs at any time of day - or night.
“Anyone who spends one night in Sarajevo sleepless on his bed, can hear the strange voices of the Sarajevo night. Heavy but steady strikes the clock on the Catholic Cathedral: it is 2 a.m. More than one minute will pass (exactly seventy-five seconds, I counted) and only then will the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church announce itself. It strikes its 2 a.m. A while after, with hoarse faraway voice the Sahat Tower near Beg’s mosque, declares itself. It strikes eleven times, the eleven ghostly Turkish hours, according to some strange alien part of the world. And thus even during the night, the difference which divides these sleeping beings has been emphasized.. And this difference, sometimes openly and visibly, sometimes invisibly and basely, approaches hatred, often identifying with it.” (Cassels 93.)
 Doder 3-33. The inter-ethnic fighting during World War II left scars of hatred that have persisted until the present. “So absorbed were its [Yugoslavia’s] people in their own divisions, of Catholic Croat versus Orthodox Serb, that they had become phantoms even before the Nazis arrived. The Nazi occupation detonated these tensions. In primitive ferocity—if not in sheer numbers—the massacre in Catholic Croatia and neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina of Orthodox Serbs was as bad as anything in German-occupied Europe. Forty-five years of systemized poverty under Tito’s Communists kept the wounds fresh.” (Kaplan 5.)
 On January 5, 1994, approximately 1,353 shells hit non-Serbian areas in Sarajevo, according to Chuck Sudetic (“Bosnian Serbs Call a Truce but Then Resume Shelling of Sarajevo,” The New York Times 9 January 1994, sec. 1: 4). The killing is so bad that 50% of Sarajevo's children do not expect to live through the conflict (All Things Considered. NPR, 1 February 1994).
 A significant minority of the Russian population is taking the same Russia-is-Serbia's-protector view that led to World War I. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an extreme nationalist in Russia's Parliament, has stated that he would view any air strike on Serb positions (even in Bosnia) as an act of war on Russia. This pro-Serbian view in Russia is increasing the difficulty of solving the Bosnian situation.
 John Kifner, "61 Die as Shell Wrecks Sarajevo Market," The New York Times, 6 February 1994, sec. 1: 1 and 6.
 Zlata Filipovic, quoted in an interview by Alan Riding in “From Sarajevo, a Girl and a Diary on Fear,” The New York Times 6 January 1994, sec. 1: 1.
 Kaplan 22. “Bosnia represents an intensification and a complication of the Serb-Croat dispute. Just as Croats felt their western Catholicism more intensely than did the Austrians or the Italians, precisely because of their uneasy proximity to the Eastern Orthodox and Muslim worlds, so the Croats of Bosnia—because they shared the same mountains with both Orthodox Serbs and Muslims—felt their Croatianism much more intensely than the Croats in Croatia proper... The same, of course, was true of the Serbs in Bosnia.” (Ibid.)