A Bosnian Muslim soldier and a civilian walk past the destroyed 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque in Sarajevo during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war.
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 purposely and intentionally. Bosnian Muslim forces targeted for destruction all traces of Serbian culture or history in Sarajevo. The footprints memorial was also removed from the sidewalk in front of the plaque and is presumed destroyed as well. Bosnian Muslims ransacked the museum and destroyed all the contents. There are conflicting reports about whether the footprints were destroyed or not. In one account, the footprints were removed and placed in the museum from where they were stolen. A copy or replica is in the renamed Sarajevo Museum: 1878-1918 dedicated to the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg period according to Fran Markowitz in Sarajevo: A Bosnian Kaleidoscope (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2010, p. 45). In other accounts, the footprints were destroyed outright when the plaque was demolished during the civil war. In some accounts, they were destroyed by Bosnian Muslim forces, in other accounts, due to Bosnian Serb shelling.
The photographic evidence shows that the 1953 plaque was deliberately and meticulously removed from the museum wall by Bosnian Muslim forces. The plaque was shattered into fragments. This occurred at the start of the civil war in 1992 when all symbols of the Yugoslav or Serbian past were chosen for destruction and elimination by the Bosnian Muslim faction. The photographs reveal that the footprints were removed. In one photograph, there is a gap in the sidewalk where the footprints concrete slab once stood. There is no trace of the footprints. Where they once stood there is a gaping hole with overgrown green foliage. Both the plaque and the footprints were eliminated from the historic site. There is no trace of them.
The first version of the 1953 plaque with the words “tiranije” and “naroda” hyphenated on four wall panels, which was replaced circa 1987 with a new, second version.
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, or as The Museum of the Assassination. The footprints were an artistic creation by a Bosnian Serb artist who sought to memorialize the event. 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 the color photograph that the plaque was deliberately and knowingly 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 any 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. They were fighting not for multiculturalism and tolerance, but for a narrow and exclusive Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak state.
The first version of the 1953 plaque which was replaced circa 1987 with a new version with a white background on a single panel.
The destruction of the 1953 monument was largely suppressed and covered up or even falsified in the U.S. and the mainstream Western press and even in historical accounts. A certain portion can be ascribed to lack of knowledge and unavailable facts. There was also a conscious and systematic goal to implicate the Bosnian Serb faction in the destruction of the plaque and of the footprints. Tony Fabijancic in Bosnia: In the Footsteps of Gavrilo Princip (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: University of Alberta Press, 2010, p. 158) claimed that the footprints had been destroyed by Bosnian Serb shelling. He did note, however, that the Mlada Bosna or Young Bosnia bas-relief of figures and the name itself in Serbian Cyrillic letters were removed by the Bosnian Muslim government officials. Greg King and Sue Woolmans in The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013, Epilogue, p. 277) noted that the plaque was “sandblasted” by Bosnian Muslim forces
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 placed the blame for the destruction of the footprints on the Bosnian Muslim forces. The plaque was also undoubtedly and unquestionably 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.
A copy or replica of the footprints in the Sarajevo 1878-1914 Museum in a 2014 photo by Midhat Poturovic. RFE/RL.
The footprints were designed by local artist Vojo Dimitrijevic. Gavrilo Princip’s footprints were removed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. The trail becomes murky at this point. In one account, the original footprints were stolen from the Mlada Bosna Museum after being placed there. A copy was made. The copy was returned to the site in the late 1990s. They were then removed a second time and put inside the Sarajevo museum. There were plans by the Bosnian Muslim Government to return the footprints to the site in 2003. But the replica footprints remain inside the museum. The original 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. Three factors that explain why the Bosnian Muslim government wanted to preserve the footprints memorial: First, they were an artistic work. Second, the work was created by a recognized Bosnian artist. Third, there was no writing in Serbian Cyrillic letters associated with them.
The new 1953 plaque had been erected in 1953 by the Communist Yugoslav government during the Josip Broz Tito regime 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 Josip Broz Tito government’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. But another interpretation was possible. Non-Serbs perceived him as a Serbian nationalist who sought the unification of all territory settled by Serbs.
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, bratstvo i jedinstvo, the Yugoslav idea which Tito espoused and which was embodied in the Partisan Movement of World War II. Communist Partisans saw the Mlada Bosna Movement, made up of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims, as a precursor to their own movement.
The original 1953 plaque was replaced with a new one in the late 1980s, circa 1987. The words “tiranije” are “naroda” hyphenated. The plaque was on four wall panels. This plaque stood for 35 years as a showpiece of Communist Yugoslavia. A new version which replaced it stood for about 5 years until it was destroyed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. This new plaque had a white background and had different letter spacing. The words “tiranije” and “naroda” are single words in the new plaque, unhyphenated. The new plaque was on a single wall panel.
The second version of the 1953 plaque which was erected circa 1987 on a white background with unhyphenated words on a single wall panel.
The plaque, in Serbian Cyrillic with red lettering, read: “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. Gavrilo Princip was portrayed as a proto-Communist or proto-Partisan anti-imperialist revolutionary in the 1953 plaque fighting for national self-determination and the liberation of all the people of the former Yugoslavia. Most conspicuously, the 1953 plaque deleted or omitted any reference to Vidov Dan which was central to the 1930 Karadjordjevic monarchist plaque. Vidov Dan had religious and Serbian nationalist connotations which the Communist regime opposed. 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.