Statue of assassin who sparked WWI unveiled

The statue of Gavrilo Princip stands in a park in Belgrade. The Bosnian Serb nationalist shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand 101 years ago.
The statue of Gavrilo Princip stands in a park in Belgrade. The Bosnian Serb nationalist shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand 101 years ago.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BELGRADE - A statue of a Bosnian Serb nationalist whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 101 years ago sparked World War I, and who is seen as an icon of Serb patriotism, was inaugurated on Sunday.

The 2m-high bronze statue of Gavrilo Princip was unveiled in a park in downtown Belgrade and attended by several hundred people.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, who attended the event, said: "Princip was a hero, a symbol of ideas of liberty... Others may think what they want."

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, whose entity gave the statue to Belgrade as a gift, was also present.

Princip, who was just 19 when he shot the archduke in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, remains a controversial figure in the Balkans, where the scars of ethnic wars in the 1990s are still fresh.

While some see him as a Serb nationalist who sought to liberate Slavs from their Austro-Hungarian occupiers, others regard him as a terrorist who unleashed horrific bloodshed on the world.

He shot dead the archduke and his wife, setting off a chain of events that sucked European powers into four years of violence that redrew the world map.

The war lasted about 52 months and left about 10 million dead and 20 million injured.

Last year, Sarajevo marked 100 years since the assassination, but Princip's divisive legacy meant that Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders shunned the event.

Until Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, Princip was Sarajevo's favourite son.

Two years after he died in prison in 1920, his bones were dug up and brought to be buried in the city, where a bridge was named after him.

During the 1992-95 war, he was worshipped as an icon of Serb nationalism by Bosnian Serb forces as they besieged Sarajevo.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Statue of assassin who sparked WWI unveiled'. Print Edition | Subscribe