SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Artists and diplomats declared a new century of peace and unity in Europe on Saturday in the city where the first two shots of World War I were fired exactly 100 years ago.
On June 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, where he had come to inspect his occupying troops in the empire's eastern province.
The shots fired by Serb teenager Gavrilo Princip sparked the Great War, which was followed decades later by a second world conflict. Together the two wars cost some 80 million European lives and ended four empires, including the Austro-Hungarian, and changed the world forever.
A century later, Sarajevans again crowded the same street along the river where Princip fired his shots. And the Austrians were also back, but this time with music instead of military: The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was scheduled to perform works of European composers reflecting the century's catastrophic events and conclude with a symbol of unity in Europe — the joint European hymn, Beethoven's "Ode of Joy."
Visiting the assassination site Saturday, Sarajevan Davud Bajramovic, 67, said that in order to hold a second of silence for every person killed just during WWI in Europe, "we would have to stand silently for two years."
The continent's violent century started in Sarajevo and ended in Sarajevo with the 1992-95 war that took 100,000 Bosnian lives.
The splurge of centennial concerts, speeches, lectures and exhibition in on Saturday were mostly focused on creating lasting peace and promoting unity in a country that is still struggling with similar divisions as it did 100 years ago. The rift was manifested by the Serbs marking the centennial by themselves in the part of Bosnia they control, where performances would be held re-enacting the assassination.
For them, Princip was a hero who saw Bosnia as part of the Serb national territory at a time when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His shots were a chance for them to include Bosnia into the neighboring Serbian kingdom — the same idea that inspired the Serbs in 1992 to fight the decision by Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats to declare the former republic of Bosnia independent when Serb-dominated Yugoslavia fell apart. Their desire is still to include the part of Bosnia they control into neighboring Serbia.
French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henry Levy said Europe owes Bosnia because Europeans "stood idly by" as Serb nationalists bombed besieged multiethnic Sarajevo for 3.5 years. Levy started a petition Saturday among European intellectuals requesting the European Union to "pay Bosnia back" by promptly giving it full membership in the 28-nation bloc because it defended European values by itself 20 years ago.
"What Europe will gain from Bosnia is part of its spirit, part of its soul," he said, referring to efforts of some Bosnians to preserve the multiethnic character of the country and resist national division.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former hard-line nationalist-turned pro-EU reformer, said he considered going to Sarajevo but gave up after realizing he would have to stand beside a plaque depicting Serbs as criminals.
Indeed, a plaque at the entrance of the recently reconstructed Sarajevo National Library building where the concert was taking place states "Serb criminals" had set the library ablaze in 1992 along with its two million books, magazines and manuscripts.
Karl von Habsburg, the grandson of the last Austrian emperor Charles I, was also attending the ceremonies.
"We need united Europe and one thing is for sure: Europe will never be complete without Bosnia," he stated.
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