SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina My guide, Zijad Jusufovic, stands
on the spot where Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his
pregnant wife, Archduchess Sophie Chotek, were assassinated in
He shrugs and spreads his gaunt arms in disbelief, as if the
site emanates a mysterious power.
“Maybe here is the center of it all,” he says from the middle of
There is more significance to Ferdinand’s assassination than
simply the irony that he was killed on Franz Joseph Street, named
after the Austro-Hungarian em-peror. Or the fact that 14 years
earlier to the day he was forced to abdicate the royal rights of
his unborn children because he married Chotek.
Ferdinand’s assassination, a plot by Serbian nationalists to end
Habsburg rule in Bosnia, sparked World War II.
It also might explain some of the reasons behind the most recent
war in Bosnia that left 250,000 people dead and 2 million displaced
as if the damage spread by that one act would return decades
Zijad shows me a photograph of Ferdinand’s killer, a
solemn-looking man named Gavrilo Princip. There used to be a black
tablet and footprints embedded in the sidewalk representing the
assassin’s position when he fired twice into Ferdinand’s open
The tablet read:
Here, in this historical place, Gavrilo Princip was the
initiator of liberty, on the day of St. Vitus, the 28th of June
There is added significance that the assassination took place on
St. Vitus Day, or Vidovda, which commemorates the 1389 defeat of
the Serbs in Kosovo by the Ottoman Turks. Vidovda has been at the
center of Serbian nationalist identity for centuries.
In the power grab following the collapse of communist
Yugoslavia, President Slobodan Milosevic exploited that
By invoking the memory of what happened in Kosovo, he
radicalized Serb nationalism in a conquest to build a Greater
Serbia, provoking wars in Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia and, finally,
Identity has had a profound impact on the history of Bosnia,
which has passed between Christian, Islamic and Orthodox powers.
Nowhere else in the Balkans is the weave of ethnic influence so
Zijad’s “Mission Impossible Tour” takes visitors to the heart of
Bosnia’s conflict-laden past, with the assassination site just one
of the places highlighted in Sarajevo.
A destroyed children’s hospital and mine-pocked hills in the
distance are viewed above the empty stadium that hosted the 1984
It’s an eerie contrast of time: In the early 1980s, Sarajevo
claimed world spotlight for the games. Ten years later it was the
A tunnel that runs under the Sarajevo airport was once the only
way to enter and exit the city during the siege of war. It is now a
The city’s parliament building, now a towering wreck caked with
black burn marks and a symbol of the ultimate breakdown of order
and civility, is unavoidable.
Zijad’s tour is a modest business built on explaining what
happened in Sarajevo and how quickly the country disintegrated
after the collapse of communism. It grapples with the burden of
history and with the new ghosts that crowd a country where old ones
have never faded.
During 1,395-day siege of the city by Serb forces, Princip’s
footsteps were destroyed by Muslim citizens who thought the
memorial a provocative symbol of Serb nationalism.
Zijad moves from the center of the road and points to a
stark-white plaque at the street corner, almost unrecognizable on
the side of a building, just inches from the ground. It reads:
From this site on June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot at and
killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.
“For years after the war there was nothing,” Zijad says. “It was
forgotten. Like nobody cared. Nobody cared for history. There is no
time for history when you are trying to survive. Then three weeks
ago, this appeared.”
But history can be as divisive as anything else in post-war
Bosnia. Though the nationalist edge has been removed from the new
plaque, its appearance along with plans for a larger museum near
the site, have been protested.
“It is officially a museum of the assassination, but there is
problem,” Zijad said. “Sarajevo politicians cannot decide about
what it will be inside of the museum. Some of them like to present
Gavrilo Princip as a hero, and some of them like a criminal. The
museum will never be a museum of the assassination. Instead it will
be a gallery or museum of homemade products.”
Franz Joseph Street has also been renamed. Since the
assassination it has been changed several times, each time to
reflect the ruling power.
After 1918 it was the Street of Kings Army. After World War II
it was named after the Yugoslav National Army. Now it is Green
Berets Street, named after the first organized army unit for an
But the changes cannot erase history. And Bosnian society has
been so completely ripped apart it seems irreparable, even eight
years after the war’s end. Though efforts are made to mend the
damage, in some respects they are superficial.
Construction continues on the city’s old town hall. The last
photographs taken of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek alive show
them leaving the hall, also known as the Vijecnica.
The hall later became the National Library of Bosnia and
Herzegovina and housed 1.5 million volumes, including rare books
and manuscripts of the regions’ cultural and ethnic history.
Ninety percent of books were destroyed when the library was
The physical and psychological damage from the war also remain
elsewhere in Bosnia.
In Mostar, fragments of the 427-year-old Stari Most Bridge are
being retrieved from the bottom of the Neretva River and pieced
back together. Croat forces shelled the ancient bridge in 1993 to
cement the ethnic divisions in the city. Two wars raged between the
Croats in the west of Mostar and the Muslims to the east.
The bridge will reopen at the end of the year.
Traces of a battleground remain on the road heading north from
Mostar. Across a long plateau a water tower pierced by a tank round
folds like a giant tin can. Dozens of gutted farmhouses shimmer on
the flat horizon.
The road continues through the Dinaric Alps, winding through the
Neretva River gorge, a moody landscape of mist and limestone
It passes small villages with the ruins of burnt-out homes. One
or two sit among a group of 10. Other places, they fill a
These shells trace what the world defined as “ethnic cleansing”
the systematic removal of an ethnic group, either by forced
expulsion or mass execution. They are the chilling evidence of the
And though the international community has made great efforts to
help war refugees return to their homes, some 367,000 remain
Minority groups who do return face harassment. Violence toward
minority returnees rose in 2002, according to a report by the
Commission of European Com-munities. Just last year, three
Bosnian-Croats were murdered after returning to Konjic in what the
commission said was the gravest single return-related crime since
Mistrust and the stark realization that there will be few
opportunities when they return keep many refugees’ houses
In Sarajevo, however, many neighborhoods have returned to the
way they were before the war, with Croats, Muslims and Serbs living
side by side.
“People can live next to one another,” Zijad says. “They can
tolerate each other. But they are not ready to forgive and
While there is a degree of optimism in Sarajevo simply because
the war is in the past, the slow transformation of political, legal
and economic structures leaves a sober view of the future.
Unemployment hovers around 41 percent. Twenty percent of the
population lives in poverty. Foreign aid, which has fueled the
economy in the past, has fallen off. The country’s gross domestic
product is half of its pre-war levels. Public spending is
excessively high and deficits are running larger. Corruption is
Zijad takes life with a healthy dose of cynicism, pausing for a
long drag of his cigarette.
“We have 3.5 million people and 86,000 bureaucrats,” he says.
“There is no economy here. If the foreign organizations leave there
will be war one month later. They ask me, ‘What are we doing here?
There is no problem here. We don't need a gun.’ I say, ‘It's
because all radical elements are afraid of you.’
“No one won the last time. They are waiting to be a winner,
because with a winner, a winner makes history.”
Cell : 387-61-191-880 or 387-61-899-161