1915: Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic and Misko Jovanovic, Archduke Ferdinand’s assassins

“Executions as a consequence of the Sarajevo assassination”. From the Visual Archive of Southeastern Europe.

On this date in 1915, three of the Black Hand conspirators who had assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo the previous June were hanged for treason and murder as the World War that assassination ignited engulfed Europe.

You could say it was too little, too late.

Ironically, the gunman who actually got the Archduke, Gavrilo Princip, was too young to receive the death penalty under Austro-Hungarian law — barely short of his 20th birthday,* a more liberal standard for capital responsibility than even present-day human rights standards require.

In fact, that was true of five of the eight student nationalists convicted; the Slavs’ barbarous oppressor accordingly punished them for murdering the heir to its throne and involving it in a ruinous war with prison sentences of no more than 20 years. Three of the underaged five (Princip included) contracted fatal tuberculosis cases in custody during World War I; the other two, Cvijetko Popovic and Vaso Cubrilovic, outlived the Habsburg Empire by decades.

Three remained, old enough to swing for turning Europe into a charnel house: Vaso’s older brother Veljko (a schoolteacher), Danilo Ilic (a newspaper editor) and Misko Jovanovic (a businessman).

But if their names aren’t familiar, and their comedy assassination plot succeeded almost in spite of themselves, these forgotten radicals still rank among the midwives of modernity for the global cataclysm unleashed by their deed, for its calamitous aftershocks of nationalism and ideology, and for the second war that succeeded the horrors of the first.

According to John S. Craig’s Peculiar Liaisons, Gavrilo Princip left his poetry scrawled on the wall of his cell.

Our ghosts will walk through Vienna
And roam through the palace
Frightening the lords

All things considered, he sold himself short.

* There seems to be some uncertainty as to Princip’s actual date of birth, so he might in fact have been 20 years old. The court, at any rate, took him for 19.

On this day..

12 thoughts on “1915: Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic and Misko Jovanovic, Archduke Ferdinand’s assassins

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  8. i must disagree with ms. anderson’s highly speculative (and frankly, unsubstantiated by facts on the ground) assertions that, absent the assassination of archduke ferdinand, neither wwI, wwII, nor the russian revolution(s) would likely have happened.

    while the assassination led to the immediate spark to that fuse, there was sufficient tension among the various players, that eventually some piece of tinder would have been lit, setting the whole thing off eventually. the archduke’s assassination simply accelerated what was already going to happen.

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