Anglo-American Views of Gavrilo Princip

Original article by Slobodan G. Marković, School of Political Science, University of Belgrade


Anglo-American Views of Gavrilo Princip


Abstract: The paper deals with Western (Anglo-American) views on the Sarajevo assassination/attentat and Gavrilo Princip. Articles on the assassination and Princip in two leading quality dailies (The Times and The New York Times) have particularly been analyzed as well as the views of leading historians and journalists who covered the subject including: R. G. D. Laffan, R. W. Seton-Watson, Winston Churchill, Sidney Fay, Bernadotte Schmitt, Rebecca West, A. J. P. Taylor, Vladimir Dedijer, Christopher Clark and Tim Butcher. In the West, the original general condemnation of the assassination and its main culprits was challenged when Rebecca West published her famous travelogue on Yugoslavia in 1941. Another Brit, the remarkable historian A. J. P. Taylor, had a much more positive view on the Sarajevo conspirators and blamed Germany and Austria-Hungary for the outbreak of the Great War. A turning point in Anglo-American perceptions was the publication of Vladimir Dedijer’s monumental book The Road to Sarajevo (1966), which humanized the main conspirators, a process initiated by R. West. Dedijer’s book was translated from English into all major Western languages and had an immediate impact on the understanding of the Sarajevo assassination. The rise of national antagonisms in Bosnia gradually alienated Princip from Bosnian Muslims and Croats, a process that began in the 1980’s and was completed during the wars of the Yugoslav succession. Although all available sources clearly show that Princip, an ethnic Serb, gradually developed a broader Serbo-Croat and Yugoslav identity, he was ethnified and seen exclusively as a Serb by Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks and Western journalists in the 1990s. In the past century imagining Princip in Serbia and the West involved a whole spectrum of views. In interwar Anglo-American perceptions he was a fanatic and lunatic. He became humanized by Rebecca West (1941), A. J. P. Taylor showed understanding for his act (1956), he was fully explained by Dedijer (1966), challenged and then exonerated by Cristopher Clark (2012–13), and cordially embraced by Tim Butcher (2014).


An excerpt from a very interesting research by Marković :

“In the year that followed Winston Churchill (1874–1965), former holder of multiple ministerial offices in British governments, the last of which was Finance (1924-1929), published the fifth volume of his comprehensive work The World Crisis (1923–1931), with subtitle The Unknown War.[i] Contrary to most Western authors, Churchill dedicated many pages to the Eastern Front, including the Serbian Front and the Salonica Front. He even provided detailed maps of the Battles of Jadar and Kolubara, the Serbian counterstroke in December 1914, and the invasion of Serbia in October 1915.[ii] Depictions of the war years in Serbia were given very correctly with sympathies shown for the Serbian Army. Yet Churchill was very reserved regarding two persons: Gavrilo Princip and Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis. The fifth chapter of Churchill’s work is entitled “The Murder of the Archduke” and it makes reference of the Sarajevo Princip memorial plaque. “He [Princip] died in prison, and a monument erected in recent years by his fellow-countrymen records his infamy, and their own.”[iii] For Churchill, Dimitrijević’s secret organization “The Black Hand” was “deadly association”, which “nourished a fierce patriotism with the discipline of the early Jesuits and the methods of the Russian nihilists”, and “there is little doubt that Dimitriyevitch organised the plot to murder the Archduke during his visit to Bosnia”.[iv] Regarding the “mighty cause” of the Great Wat he mentions the mood of the men, the antagonisms of the Powers and “the clash of interests and deep promptings of self-preservation or self-assertion in the hearts of races”. At the same time he singles out three men: the man “who fired the shots that killed the Archduke and his wife”, the man who “deliberately, accepting the risk of a world war, told the Austrian Emperor that Germany would give him a free hand against Serbia and urged him to use it”, and the man who “framed and launched the ultimatum to Serbia”. The three men “took the fatal decisive steps”.[v] Without naming them, Churchill allocated responsibility for the outbreak of the war to Gavrilo Princip, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Berchtold. In an article published on St. Vitus Day in 1937 in the Parisian daily Le Journal, Churchill attributed main responsibility for the organisation of the Sarajevo assassination/attentat to Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis “head of the conspirators”.[vi]


Can it be that Winston Churchill knew something we are not supposed to know?


Full article can be accessed here.


[i] Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. V: The Unknown War (London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931). On the spine of this book another title is given “The Eastern Front”.

[ii] W. S. Churchill, The Unknown War, vol. V of The World Crisis (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 82, 183–18, 238, 240, 243.

[iii] Ibid. 32

[iv] Ibid. 31

[v] Ibid. 45

[vi] “chef des conspirateurs”, Winston Churchill, “La vérité sur l’attentat qui déclencha la guerre”, Le Journal, June 28, 1937, 1, 4


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