A Bosnian Muslim soldier and a civilian wall past the destroyed 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque.
In 1992, at the start of the civil war in Bosnia, one of the earliest objects targeted for destruction was the 1953 Communist Yugoslavia era monument to Gavrilo Princip. Bosnian Muslim forces under the Alija Izetbegovic regime demolished the memorial. Based on photographic evidence, the plaque was destroyed purposefully and intentionally. Bosnian Muslims forces targeted for destruction all traces of Serbian culture or history in Sarajevo. The footprints memorial was removed from the sidewalk in front of the plaque but was not destroyed. It has resurfaced and is in the renamed museum.
Although the plaque was constructed by the Yugoslav Communist regime, the writing was in Serbian Cyrillic. The building was known as the Museum of Young Bosnia or Muzej Mlade Bosne. The footprints, an artistic creation by a Bosnian Serb artist, were not destroyed, but were removed and placed in the museum. They still survive. From the Bosnian Muslim perspective: The plaque was a Serbian symbol, regardless of its Communist or Tito regime origins. It was in Serbian Cyrillic. How were Bosnian Muslims and Croats supposed to read it? Their writing was in the Latin script. It is clear and incontrovertible from this color photograph that the plaque was purposely and intentionally destroyed by Bosnian Muslim forces. There is no bomb damage on that side of the wall. Only the plaque was damaged. Bosnian Muslim Government forces maliciously and willfully demolished the plaque. This has not received in coverage in the mainstream media in the U.S. or internationally because it exposes the ultra-nationalist animus and enmity of the Bosnian Muslim faction. They were not always victims but victimized others.
Richard Holbrooke commented on the 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque in To End a War (New York: Modern Library, 1999): “When I reached the war-torn city [Sarajevo], I ran into John Burns, the great war correspondent of the New York Times, and asked if he could take me to Princip’s footprints in the pavement. Impossible, he said with a laugh: they had been destroyed by the Bosnian Muslims. But the spirit behind their inscription had been revived — murderously so.” John Burns was wrong about the destruction of the footprints. They were not destroyed, but removed. The plaque, however, was destroyed by Bosnian Muslim Government forces.
Richard Holbrooke confused the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque with the 1953 Communist one in his book. He also failed to distinguish that one plaque was erected by a monarchist regime while the second was erected by a Communist or Socialist regime. They were two different plaques by two different and completely opposite regimes or governments politically.
The “footprints” were preserved. They are in the Sarajevo 1878-1914 Museum. This is a 2014 photo. Photo by Midhat Poturovic. RFE/RL.
The footprints were designed by local artist Vojo Dimitrijevi?. Gavrilo Princip’s footprints were removed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. They were returned in the late 1990s. They were then removed a second time and put inside the Sarajevo museum. The footprints were set in the sidewalk in 1951, two years before the memorial went up. Needless to say, these are not Gavrilo Princip’s actual footprints nor are they intended to be but are meant to be a memorial to the assassination created during the Communist Yugoslavia or Josip Broz Tito era reflecting the Communist Yugoslavia image of Gavrilo Princip as a “national hero” of Yugoslavia. It is an artistic conception of the event.
Sarajevo-born artist Vojo Dimitrijevic constructed the Gavrilo Princip footprints memorial in 1951/1952. Two factors that explain why the Bosnian Muslim government did not destroy the footprints memorial: First, they were an artistic work. Second, the work was created by a recognized Bosnian artist.
The new 1953 plaque had been erected in 1953 by the Communist government Yugoslav regime of Josip Broz Tito era as a memorial to Gavrilo Princip. It consisted of red lettering on a white side panel of the wall of the then newly constructed Young Bosnia or Mlada Bosna Museum which had formerly been the Moritz Schiller delicatessen at the time of the assassination. It had replaced the 1945 plaque put in the same location as the 1930 plaque. The 1945 plaque had a Communist Partisan red star or crvena zvezda above it which sought to encapsulate and to vindicate the Partisan victory. The memorial represented or symbolized the Communist government of Josip Broz Tito’s consensus on Gavrilo Princip, regarded as a Yugoslav nationalist, proto-Communist revolutionary.
Ambiguity, however, existed because he was born an Orthodox Serb. The Tito regime portrayed him as a “Yugoslav”, someone who worked for the unification of all Slavs. This view of Princip was supported by his statements at his trial and those made in 1916 to Martin Pappenheim.
The Communist consensus was fragile. It represented a precarious balance. But it was a balancing act which the Tito regime pulled off successfully.
The 1953 plaque or memorial reflected the Brotherhood and Unity credo of the Tito regime, the Yugoslav idea which Tito espoused and which was embodied in the Partisan Movement of World War II.
The plaque read in Serbian Cyrillic in red lettering: “From this place on June 28 1914 Gavrilo Princip with his shooting expressed the protest of the people against tyranny and the centuries-long aspirations of our people for freedom.” “Sa ovoga mjesta 28 Juna 1914 godine Gavrilo Princip svojim pucnjem izrazi narodni protest protiv tiranije i vjekovnu težnju naših naroda za slobodom.” This was the Josip Broz Tito or Communist Partisan interpretation of the assassination and Princip’s role in it. Remarkably, it was not much different from the Serbian monarchist Karadjordjevic plaque erected in 1930. The Serbian monarchist plaque extolled Princip as bringing “freedom” by assassinating the Archduke and Duchess. The Tito plaque was couched in more Communistic terminology, but the conclusion was the same. Princip was a Communist “national hero” of Yugoslavia. The Serbian Orthodox Church had also elevated the assassin Princip to hero status. Paradoxically, the atheistic Communist government of Josip Broz Tito and the Serbian monarchist Karadjordjevic government as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church perceived and characterized Gavrilo Princip and the assassination in almost identical terms. All used Gavrilo Princip to legitimize their rule and their history.
The assassination was perceived by the Communists as a “protest” against the occupation of Bosnia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gavrilo Princip’s motives and goals were characterized as those of a patriotic nationalist who sought to free the South Slavs from a foreign oppressor or from an illegal occupation.
History is a picture or conception we agree on. It is a perception, judgment, or assessment that there is a consensus on. Not everyone agrees with it but enough believe or acquiesce in it that it becomes the official, dominant, or the generally accepted paradigm, the accepted or conventional wisdom.
That consensus can change. Not everyone sees an event in history the same way. How we remember or perceive the event is determined or dictated by the uses we make of it.
With the collapse of Yugoslavia and of the Yugoslav idea, the assessment or perception of Gavrilo Princip’s role or place in history changed.
For Serbs, he retained his significance as seeking the end of the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia. For non-Serbs, however, his role was now perceived differently. He was seen in negative terms. His role was now contrary to the national aspirations of non-Serbs who wanted to establish their own nations and states. The Yugoslav idea, which the 1953 memorial represented, was, thus, antithetical to that objective.
Very simply, for Bosnian Muslims and Croats, Gavrilo Princip had no use. He represented the Yugoslav idea, the unification of all South Slavs. In 1992, that idea was dead on arrival. It died with Communism and with Yugoslavia. With that Yugoslavism patina removed, he was exposed as a Serb. As such, any traces of Princip had to disappear. That is why Bosnian Muslim troops demolished the 1953 plaque in 1992. That is why Croatian Army troops burned down Gavrilo Princip’s house in the Grahovo Valley in 1995 during Operation Storm.
Gavrilo Princip’s role has changed from “national hero” of Yugoslavia to “national hero” of Serbia. Statues are erected to him in Republika Srpska and in Serbia. But he is no longer a “national hero” to non-Serbs. The destruction of the 1953 plaque is the physical manifestation of this fact.