On June 28, 1914, Serbian ultra-nationalist Gavril Princip assassinated Austro-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Police quickly arrested Princip and the rest of a ragtag band of Serb terrorists who had come to the Balkan city to provoke hate and create chaos.
Terrorist is an accurate description -- and one with dangerous resonance for June 2014.
Rumors tore through Europe like wildfires, via telegraph. A planet-circling network of undersea cables transmitted the rumors worldwide. The Austrian government was absolutely certain the terrorists had direct links to Serbian government officials in Belgrade.
Hot rumors spurred by cold-blooded murder deserve skepticism. However, in June 1914, the rumors had, literally, a "colonel" of truth. Serbian Army Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic had given the terrorists weapons. Dimitrijevic was also a senior member of the Black Hand, a covert Serb radical nationalist organization with connections to other anarchist and terror movements.
In 2014, Commissar-Czar Vladimir Putin's Kremlin operatives supply ethnic Russian guerrilla bands in eastern Ukraine with money, guns and propaganda. 2014's impassioned rumors move at light speed, though no one needs a telegrapher. Today you can do it yourself via cellphone.
In 1914, Serbian Slavs were the staunch Balkan allies of imperial Slavic Russia -- the Romanov Czar's empire. When the Ottoman Turkish Empire (the sick man of Europe) withdrew from Bosnia in 1908, Austria seized the region and made it Habsburg territory. Angry Serbians demanded that Bosnia's ethnic Serb regions unify with Serbia.
In 2014, European Union peacekeepers in Bosnia try to enforce the 1996 Dayton Accords. That agreement was a late 20th-century attempt to stabilize multi-sectarian Bosnia. Peacekeepers pay particular attention to the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia 2014's two "political entities." The statelet is an ethnic Serb enclave; its more vocal residents advocate unification with Serbia.
In 1914, well aware of ethnic Serb demands and Belgrade's aims, Austro-Hungarians connected the hideous assassination to Serbian ethnic and territorial aspirations.
The stage was set for a Third Balkan War, with this conflict pitting the Habsburg Empire, a European Great Power, against Slavic Serbia. Would Russia, another Great Power, defend its Slavic brother?
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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