The Murder at Sarajevo
R. W. SETON-WATSON, Masaryk Professor of Central European History in the University of London, founder and Editor of The New Europe, 1916-1920, author of "Racial Problems in Hungary," "The Southern Slav Question," and other works.See more by this author
THE murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his morganatic consort at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, was merely the spark that fired the powder magazine of Europe. The Southern Slav Question, of which it was a symptom, was one of the most burning of pre-war problems, and must take rank with Franco-German, Anglo-German and Austro-Russian rivalry as a fundamental cause of the war. Though overlooked till very recently by Western opinion, it was by no means a new problem: for its origin and explanation are to be sought in the Turkish conquest of Serbia and Hungary, followed by the long struggle of Hapsburg Imperialism to eject the invader from its dominions and in turn to establish its hegemony over the Balkan Peninsula. It must not be forgotten that for over a century before Serbia first rose against the Turks in 1804, the main centers of Serbian culture had been in Hapsburg territory, that the Serbs and Croats of the "Military Frontiers" were the spearhead of the Austrian fighting machine, and that it was not till Vienna had rejected the overtures and appeals of Kara George that the nation began to turn more and more to Russia for help. In the nineteenth century Serbia became a pawn in the diplomatic contest of Austria and Russia for influence in the Balkans.
But while the powers were watching the sickbed of the Turk in hope of dividing his inheritance, the problem was still further complicated by the growth of national feeling. Serbs from Hapsburg territory played a notable part in the first organization of the young principality: Serbs from Serbia flocked to the aid of their kinsmen in the racial war of 1848 against Hungary. The Illyrian idea, kindled by Napoleon's brief experiment in state-building on the Eastern Adriatic, was formulated afresh by Jelatchitch and Strossmayer, as a conscious effort for the union of all branches of the Southern Slav race: while the reforms of Vuk and Gaj prepared that linguistic unity which had to precede the political.