Gavrilo Princip on Trial: The 1914 Sarajevo Trial

Gavrilo Princip was tried for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg in a trial that began on October 12, 1914 in Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Hercegovina, in a military prison. He was tried along with Nedeljko Cabrinovic, Trifko Grabez, Danilo Ilic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvetko Popovic, Nedjo Kerovic, Mihajlo Jovanovic, Veljko Cubrilovic, and Jakov Milovic. One of the conspirators, Bosnian Muslim Muhamed Mehmedbasic, was able to escape to Montenegro. Sixteen other defendants were charged with aiding the conspirators in concealing or smuggling weapons. Some were charged with not reporting the conspirators to the police after they had knowledge about the assassination plan. At least four of the defendants were Bosnian Croats while one of the conspirators was a Bosnian Muslim.

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Gavrilo Princip is third from the right, seated, front row, in the Sarajevo courtroom. Left to right: Trifko Grabez, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, Gavrilo Princip, Danilo Ilic, and Misko Jovanovic.

The chief prosecutor was Franjo Svara who was assisted by Rudolph Sark.

This was not a jury trial. The decision was rendered by a panel of three judges: The President of the Court Luigi von Curinaldi who was assisted by Bogdan Naumowicz and Dr. Mayer Hoffmann.

The chief defense lawyers were Dr. Rudolf Zistler, Franz Strupl, Dr. Max Feldbauer, Wenzel Malek, Dr. Srecko Perisic, and Dr. Konstantin Premuzic.

The defendants were charged with high treason and being accomplices to high treason.

The trial began in the afternoon of October 12, 1914. The prosecutor called Gavrilo Princip to the stand.

Prosecutor: Call Gavrilo Princip. Do you consider yourself guilty?

Gavrilo Princip:  I am not a criminal, because I destroyed that which was evil. I think that I am good.

Pr.: And what about her?

Acc.: I did not wish to kill her, I killed her accidentally.

Pr.: So you don’t consider yourself guilty?

Acc.: No.

Pr.: What kind of ideas did you have?

Acc.: I am a Yugoslav nationalist and I believe in the unification of all South Slavs in whatever form of state and that it be free of Austria.

Pr.: That was your aspiration. How did you think to realize it?

Acc.: By means of terror.

Pr.: What does that signify?

Acc.: That means in general to destroy from above, to do away with those who obstruct and do evil, who stand in the way of the idea of unification.

Pr.: How did you think that you might realize your objectives?

Acc.: Still another principal motive was revenge for all torments which Austria imposed upon the people.

Pr.: Then in March you were again in Belgrade. Did you study for the eighth class then? Which cafe did you frequent?

Acc.: The “Pozorisna Kafana” (Theater Cafe), “Zirovni Venac,” and (the cafe) “Amerika.”

Pr.: Were there other students there?

Acc.: There were Bosnians.

Pr.: What was their thinking?

Acc.: For the most part they were nationalists.

Pr.: Then, they were all of the same opinions as yourself?

Acc.: Not all exactly like myself. It was not necessary for all to be of the same opinions in the carrying out of his own ideas, nor was it necessary that everyone employ the same means.

Pr.: What was the feeling about Austria in your circles?

Acc.: It was the opinion that Austria behaved badly to our people, which is true, and certainly that she (Austria) is not necessary.

Pr.: What was the opinion about Serbia, that it would be to the advantage of Bosnia to be annexed to Serbia?

Acc.: The plan was to unite all South Slavs. It was understood that Serbia as the free part of the South Slavs had the moral duty to help with the unification, to be to the South Slavs as the Piedmont was to Italy.

Trial For Murder of Archduke Ferdinand

Gavrilo Princip is third from the right, seated, front row, in the Sarajevo courtroom. Left to right: Trifko Grabez, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, Gavrilo Princip, Danilo Ilic, and Misko Jovanovic

Pr.: Did you then come up with the idea of carrying out an assassination?

Acc.: Yes.

Pr.: Was that before you spoke with Cabrinovic?

Acc.: Yes, before.

Pr.: How long before?

Acc.: A few days before. Then I talked with him later because I knew that we were of the same opinions. I said, “How about arranging an assassination?”

Acc.: From Sarajevo I went to Hadzici. I was at my brother’s one day and then I went back to Sarajevo to attend a festival of the “Omladina” (Youth). I took a room at Ilic’s and I talked with him about the assassination.

Pr.: Did he tell you that he was looking for others?

Acc.: Yes. Because I said to him to find reliable people, he said, “Good.” Because I believed that he was reliable, I believed that he would also find trustworthy companions.

Pr.: What kind of political opinions did llic have?

Acc.: He was a nationalist like me. A Yugoslav.

Pr.: So he was of the same opinions as yourself?

Acc.: He was. That all the Yugoslavs had to be unified.

Pr.: Under Austria?

Acc.: God forbid. I was not for the dynasty. We didn’t think that far, but we thought: unification, by whatever means.

Pr.: Did you know that there was a Moslem?

Acc. I knew, but he didn’t tell me. I saw him one evening. On the day of the assassination I wanted to find someone who would not be conspicuous, and I found the son of the prosecutor, Svara, and one Spiric. First I walked with Spiric. Then we invited Svara and we walked and talked about ordinary things. At first we were in the park and I wanted to stay there, but they wanted to go to the Korso (a promenade). I didn’t want to stay there because I had to go to my place. So I returned there and I walked on the quay and I was at my assigned place. The automobile arrived and I heard the blast of a bomb. I knew that that was one of ours, but I didn’t know which one. The mob started to run, and I ran a little too and the automobile stopped. I thought that it was over and I saw that they had Cabrinovic. I thought that I would kill him so that no one would know anything further, and then kill myself, too. I abandoned that idea, because I saw that the automobiles passed by. Up to then I had not seen the Archduke. I went to the Latin Bridge and then I heard that the assassination had not succeeded. Then I took thought as to where to stand, because I knew where he would pass from having read it in the Bosanska Posta (Bosnian Post) and the Tagblatt. Then I saw that a lady was sitting with him, but because they passed so fast I did not know whether she was sitting. Then I stood and one Pusar came up to me and talked with me and said, “Do you see how dumb they are?” I was silent. He called me aside and because I thought he was a spy I thought that he wanted to get something out of me. A relative of his is a spy, so I thought that he was too. I don’t know whether or not he was near me, but then the automobile came and I took out the revolver and I shot at Ferdinand twice from the distance of four or five paces.

Pr.: The second time you did not aim at the lady?

Acc.: No. I saw that someone else sat there; I wanted to kill Potiorek.

Pr.: Did you know that you had struck a mortal blow?

Acc.: I did not know whether I had struck home. At that time I didn’t even know how many shots I had fired. Because I wanted to kill myself I raised my arm but the policemen and some officers grabbed me and beat me. Then, bloody as I was, they took me to the police station. Then they beat me again in order not to be unrevenged.

Pr.: So you intentionally shot to kill him and Potiorek?

Acc.: Yes. Because he was with them, I thought also of him and I am not sorry about that, because I believe that I did away with one evil and I thought that was good. In general he did evil to all things. He is the initiator of the “exceptional measures” and of the high treason trial.

Pr.: The high treason trial is no kind of evil whatever.

Acc.: Those are all consequences from which the people suffer.

Pr.: Of what do the sufferings of the people consist?

Acc.: That they are completely impoverished; that they are treated like cattle. The peasant is impoverished. They destroy him completely. I am a villager’s son and I know how it is in the villages. Therefore I wanted to take revenge, and I am not sorry.

Pr.: How about the “exceptional measures”?

Acc.: They especially affected the Serbs. Thus all that influenced me. I knew that he is an enemy of the Slavs. As the prosecutor said, I did not think that he is a genius, but I thought that he would interfere with and harm the Slavs.

Pr.: Interfere with what?

Acc.: As the future ruler, with our unification. He would introduce certain reforms, which, you understand, would be harmful to us.

Pr.: We will postpone this question until tomorrow.

The trial concluded on October 28 when the verdicts and sentences were announced. Gavrilo Princip was found guilty of committing high treason. Fifteen of the other defendants were also found guilty. Nine of the defendants were aquitted.

They were sentenced the same day. Gavrilo Princip was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. This was the same sentence handed down for Cabrinovic and Grabez. Under Austrian law they could not receive the death penalty because they were under 20 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime.

The sentence was death by hanging for those defendants who were over the age of 20. The death sentence was handed down for Danilo Ilic, Veljko Cubrilovic, Nedjo Kerovic, Mihajlo Jovanovic, and Jakov Milovic. On appeal, Kerovic’s sentence was commuted to 20 years. Milovic’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. Veljko Cubrilovic, Misko Jovanovic, and Danilo Ilic were hanged on February 3, 1915.

Vaso Cubrilovic received a sentence of 16 years of hard labor. Popovic received 13 years. A futher punishment was that they were all to be put in solitary confinement in a dark cell on the date of June 28 every year. The other six defendants received sentences ranging from three years to life imprisonment.

A key objective of the trial was to show the involvement or complicity of the Serbian government in the assassination. There were police investigations and interrogations of Princip and Cabrinovic before the trial. Austrian Foreign Minister Count Leopold von Berchtold received a secret cable from Sarajevo on July 13 which evaluated the evidence gathered by Austro-Hungarian officials. The Austro-Hungarian authorities found no evidence of Serbian government complicity in the assassination:

“…Hardly any room for doubt that Princip, Grabez, Cabrinovic smuggled across border with help from Serb customs… However, no evidence of complicity of Serb government ministers in directly ordering assassination or in supplying weapons…”

The prosecution, moreover, confused the two organizations, the Narodna Odbrana, The People’s Defense, founded as a reaction to the 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Austria-Hungary, and the Black Hand, a secret organization formed in 1901 by members of the Serbian Army and based in Serbia.

Defense attorney Rudolf Zistler challenged the validity of the charge of high treason. He argued that Bosnia-Hercegovina was not legally incorporated into Austria-Hungary because the 1908 Act of Annexation required the approval of Hungary. The Hungarian Parliament, however, had not ratified the annexation. Thus, legally, Bosnia-Hercegovina was not a part of Austria-Hungary. Moreover, Zistler argued that Bosnia-Hercegovina was under Ottoman Turkish sovereignty because under the terms of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary only had the legal authority to administer Bosnia. Thus, sovereignty remained with Ottoman Turkey. A treason trial could not be maintained, he argued, because Austria-Hungary lacked the required sovereignty over Bosnia. The court, however, rejected this argument.

The trial took 11 days to complete. Spectators were allowed in the courtroom only by invitation. Six journalists were permitted: Two from Budapest, two from Sarajevo, and one from Vienna. The trial was rushed and did not allow for adequate investigation and defense. Moreover, there was an issue of adequate or effective assistance from counsel. Other than Zistler, the other defense attorneys merely offered a nominal or token representation or defense. One of the Croatian defense attorneys declared that he could not represent one of the Serbian defendants: “Illustrious tribunal, after all we have heard, it is peculiarly painful for me, as a Croat, to conduct the defense of a Serb.”

After the war, Gavrilo Princip emerged as a martyr and a national hero in the newly created nation of Yugoslavia. The Latin Bridge over the Miljacka River in Sarajevo was named after him, Principov Most, from 1918 to 1992, a museum was set up to honor his life and legacy, and his grave at St. Mark’s Cemetery in Sarajevo became a pilgrimage site. His footprints were set in cement. An accompanying plaque was inscribed with the following description: “Here in this historical place, Gavrilo Princip was the instigator of liberty, on the day of St. Vitus, the 28th of June, 1914.”

After the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war, the Bosnian Muslim and Croatian factions rejected this view of Gavrilo Princip, although the Bosnian Serbs retained it. Princip’s Bridge, Principov Most, was renamed the Latin Bridge, Latinska cuprija, again and the plaque was changed to read only that Gavrilo Princip had committed the assassination on that site. These changes were made by the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat factions in the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina which had jurisdiction over Sarajevo after the 1995 Dayton Accords. Princip’s legacy was assessed and evaluated based on ethnic and national lines. Outside of Bosnia-Hercegovina, there has been no unanimous or consistent evaluation of Gavrilo Princip’s legacy. Gavrilo Princip is perceived on a spectrum from “criminal terrorist” to “national hero”.

Bibliography

Dedijer, Vladimir. The Road to Sarajevo. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966.

Knappman, Edward W., ed. “Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s Assassins Trial: 1914.” Great World Trials: The 100 Most Significant Courtroom Battles of All Time. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.

Owings, W. A. Dolph. The Sarajevo Trial. Vols. 1 and 2. Translated and edited by W. A. Dolph Owings, Elizabeth Pribic, and Nikola Pribic. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Documentary Publications, 1984.