Yesterday marked the 101st anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that precipitated the First World War. To commemorate the event, a statue of the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was unveiled in Serbia—which goes to show that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

Above: The unveiling of the monument to Gavrilo Princip in Belgrade (Besna Andjic/RFE/RL).

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The statue of Princip was unveiled on Sunday, June 28, at a ceremony in central Belgrade, which also coincides with the Serbian national holiday of St. Vitus Day (or Vidovdan), a day in which Serbs celebrate their ethnic and national identity. The event was attended by hundreds of Serbs including President Tomislav Nikolic, who described Princip as a freedom fighter and hero.

“Today, we are not afraid of the truth,” declared Nikolic. “Gavrilo Princip was a hero, a symbol of the idea of freedom, the assassin of tyrants and the carrier of the European idea of liberation from slavery,” adding that “others can think whatever they want.”

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Princip shown shortly after his arrest. His group, Young Bosnia, had ties to the Serbian extremist group Black Hand. He died in prison of tuberculosis in 1918.

By murdering the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the 19-year-old Princip sparked the July Crisis and the First World War, a four-year conflict that claimed some 14 million lives.

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A century later, many see Princip as a Bosnian-Serb nationalist who sought to liberate Slavs from Austro-Hungarian occupation. Others perceive him as a reckless idealist and terrorist who unleashed the worst catastrophe the world had ever seen. At the time, many Muslims and Catholic Croats living in Bosnia were happy to stay in the Austrian empire, which they claimed brought progress, law, and order. Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on the fateful day. (Henry Guttmann/Getty)

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Regardless of one’s opinion on the matter, it’s astounding to think how a single action could set such cataclysmic processes in motion. Remarkably, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand led to everything Princip hoped for—the destruction of Austria-Hungary, the elimination of the Hapsburg monarchs, and the establishment of an independent Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It’s safe to say, however, that nowhere in Princip’s wildest imaginations did he see it unfolding the way it did. Of all the combatants in WWI, Serbia suffered the most badly from a per capita perspective; from 1914 to 1918 Serbia endured ~300,000-450,000 military deaths and ~450,000-800,000 civilian deaths, which is about 17-to-28% of the total population.

[ Associated Press ]

Contact the author at george@io9.com and @dvorsky.

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