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History's New Imprint
William Oscar Johnson
March 22, 1982
At last, Sarajevo, site of the next Winter Olympics, will be known for something besides a 1914 murder
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March 22, 1982

History's New Imprint

At last, Sarajevo, site of the next Winter Olympics, will be known for something besides a 1914 murder

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Our plane lands at night—a disconcertingly mild February night—and there's hardly any snow to be seen. And no sign of mountains. And the city, ancient Sarajevo, capital of the Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, seems about as exotic as Fort Wayne. All around are high-rise apartments and lots of auto traffic. The murk of pollution, which contains more than a hint of garlic, obliterates the stars. This place will be the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Outside the airport a smiling man separates himself from the unsmiling throng. He's wearing a black blazer and a fur cap. He is short, round as a rubber ball and almost as bouncy. He offers us hail-fellow handshakes that are as meaty as those of any Indiana Rotarian. This is Pavle Lukać, 52, press chief of the Sarajevo Olympics and a longtime political journalist who has covered the U.N. for Yugoslav papers and lived for years in Canada. He's the epitome of Balkan boosterism, as he speaks in an exuberant shout: "Hallo! Oho! You are here! Welcome! How do you like my blazer? I have bought it in Los Angeles used for $12. It doesn't look that inexpensive, does it? I think not." Certainly not. Pavle wears the $12 blazer every day that we are in Sarajevo. It's a nice fit. Perhaps it was once owned by Peter Lorre.

Lukać is relentless in his optimism. "All is on schedule, all is O.K.," he says. "There's plenty of snow in the mountains, beautiful cold snow. All of our facilities are well under way. They will be finished before 1982 is over. I guarantee it. You will see by daylight."

An Olympics in Sarajevo? Some feel there's reason for doubt. Just before we left for Yugoslavia, a Viennese journalist told us with an imperious curl of the lip, "They are Balkan. They will never put it together. They can organize nothing. Their greatest moment in history came about only through the acts of fops and fools."

Well, the history of Sarajevo runs back some 40 centuries, and its hustling old town is alive with vestiges of the diverse civilizations—from the ancient Illyrians to medieval Turks to the 19th century grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the jackbooted brutalities of Nazi Germany to the socialism of Josip Broz Tito. Yet, despite the comings and goings of all the above, Sarajevo's single most notable moment occurred on June 28, 1914—St. Vitus Day—when an assassin killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife and ignited World War I.

Sarajevo is quite happy to take credit where credit is due, mainly because the locals consider the assassinations to have been a patriotic act. On the street corner from which the gunman fired, one can place his feet in shoe prints embedded in the sidewalk concrete precisely where the killer stood—just as one might stand in the footprints of Tyrone Power or Myrna Loy at Mann's [formerly Grauman's] Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The bridge across the street from the spot where the gunman fired is named after the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, and there's a plaque nearby that describes the killer as an "initiator of liberty."

Initiator of liberty? Well, what about the fops and fools mentioned by the scornful Viennese? How one describes Princip and his comrades, it seems, depends on one's point of view. But one thing is sure: It's impossible to fully appreciate Sarajevo—then or now—without knowing at least the bare outline of that bizarre act.

Princip, a frail, neurotic, 19-year-old student, was one of seven conspirators, Serbian nationalists who were opposed to the Austro-Hungarian rule, scattered along the route to be followed by the archduke's 1910 Gräf und Stift, a huge, open touring car. They were muzzy youngsters, armed with bombs, revolvers and vials of cyanide with which to commit suicide if captured. The car rolled past the first and the second would-be assassin. Not a shot was fired, not a bomb thrown. The third heaved his bomb. It flew high and wide, missing the archduke by a large margin before it exploded, wounding a passenger in the car behind the archduke's. The sound of the bomb blast led Princip and three other conspirators farther down the street to believe that the archduke had had it. They relaxed and then gaped in disbelief as the Gräf und Stift sped past them with Franz Ferdinand sitting in back, alive and well and angry as hell about the bomb.

The motorcade proceeded to the town hall where the archduke made a speech and debated with the military governor of the province whether it was safe to continue his drive through the streets. Incredibly, Franz Ferdinand and his wife got back in the car, although the military governor decreed that, as a precaution, the motorcade would deviate from the announced route by going straight along the Miljacka river instead of making a turn opposite a certain bridge.

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