History and European conscience

From the attack to the archduke of Austria in 1914, to the unsolved problems of Bosnia-Herzegovina today

From Sarajevo to Sarajevo, from Gavrilo Princip, young man from the clandestine organization of Young Bosnia, to the Serbian sniper who shot from the surrounding hills of the city. The former aimed against the archduke of Austria Francis Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg of Hohenberg, while they were riding their convertible on the Latin Bridge. It was June 28 1914 and those shots were considered the casus belli of World War I. The latter is perhaps the most vividly tragic and cruel image of the longest siege of modern war history, from April 5 1992, to February 29 1996, when the city’s inhabitants- men, women, children, old people alike – were all assassinated. Yesterday’s torments and new questions. Two tragic events, two symbols of the Old Continent that is about to celebrate the centenary of the first world conflict that triggers a reflection on the idea of Europe. Five bullets changed the course of history and led a number of Bosnians to rename 17-year-old Pincip “narodni heroj”, national hero. He never would have imagined that his gesture would cause the dissolution of the Empire, that Russia would have gone through a revolution and that Europe would have been marked by two world wars and a fratricidal conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s. From Sarajevo to Sarajevo. Here the conscience of Europe still suffers for the blood caused and shed. The economic crisis, followed by floods. Today people walk along the Latin bridge, as they distractingly pass beneath the commemorative stone of Princip’s attack. They stroll. They don’t run as they did during the siege that took place after almost 80 years to avoid the Serbian bullets. Under the three arches of the bridge the low waters of the Mijaka bridge flow at an equally slow pace. Blue flags bearing a yellow triangle – symbolizing the State’s shape – and a row of while five-pointed star representing Europe are scattered across the city. But they parade the national soccer team that took part in a World Cup for the very first time, which was unfortunately eliminated in the first round, and left a bitter trail. People don’t seem to be very excited by the busy agenda of events scheduled to commemorate the centenary of the archduke’s assassination. Indeed, their concerns are focused on the economic crisis and its repercussions on the job market, worsened by the terrible floods in May that put Sarayevo – and the entire Country – on its knees. “Turning the city into a place of peace”. Moreover, for the mayor of Sarajevo Ivo Komšiæ, “this city should become a place of peace, one hundred years since the outbreak of World War I. Sarajevo is once again the center of the world, not for the tragedies of the past, but for the message of peace and solidarity that it intends to launch today”. We got a glimpse of it on May 9, when the historic city library, the Vijeænica, was reopened almost 22 years since the fire caused by Serbian bombs, and 18 years since the reconstruction works began. And here, “in this centre where cultures and races coexist, Vienna’s Philarmonic Orchestra will seal the commemorations for the centenary of the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, on June 28”. Theatre, musical performances and movie screenings, meetings of EU and USA youths, school twinnings, conferences, debates and historical conferences complete the programme. Past, rhetoric, unfulfilled promises… But there are also those, like Zlatko Dizdareviæ, former ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Croatia and the Middle East, who believe that all of these initiatives promoted in the name of the centenary, have a foundation of “cynicism and that everything is done to forget the reality of Bosnia-Herzegovina today, a reality that nobody wants to face. There is a great deal of rhetoric and falseness in these celebrations. People of Sarajevo are not interested. This is not our feast. Citizens are tired of these debates. Sarajevo has had enough of Europe’s promises, that here are regularly disregarded”. In the Sarajevo celebrating 100 years since the world war, unsolved problems linger on. Evidence of it is the fact that as the ambassador says, “in our elementary schools we have history books that present three different versions on the causes underlying the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war”. It is a shared perspective that seems very distant and we risk forgetting about the past. Will the memorial stone on the Latin bridge suffice to keep it thriving?”

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