Serbia’s government is commissioning a statue to honor Gavrilo Princip, the boy-assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Novosti, Serbia’s largest newspaper, revealed this week. To avoid any speculation about its intended symbolism, the statue will be erected atop the Belgrade Fortress on June 28, the 100th anniversary of Princip’s fateful gunshots, which, conventional wisdom holds, ushered in World War I. “Serbia and the Serbian people are thus righting a wrong committed against Princip, who has never before had a monument dedicated to him,” writes the pro-government paper.
Historians, of course, have long disagreed over how consequential Princip’s actions really were. But scholarly accuracy is hardly the issue here: Popular sentiment is. The centenary of the war’s outbreak has generated lively debate the world over, and Serbia has resented the portrayal of its national hero and supposed freedom fighter as a malicious terrorist or, worse, a misguided teen (Princip was 19). Recent scholarship has even made the comparison between the revolutionary organization Princip belonged to, Mlada Bosna, and al-Qaeda, and has forcefully alleged that members of Serbia’s government organized the assassination.
Last we checked, Germans were more than happy to lay the blame for World War I on others. Even so, it is notable that a country that only very recently joined formal talks to join the European Union is celebrating a figure who is so closely associated with the continent’s utter destruction.