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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (BosNewsLife)– Famed Austrian musicians, government leaders and residents have gathered in Sarajevo to commemorate that the first two shots of World War I were fired exactly 100 years ago in what is now the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yet, the events were overshadowed by different interpretations over what sparked one of the deadliest conflicts in history.
Austrians were back in the blood-stained capital Sarajevo, but this time with music instead of military might: The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performed works of European composers to express the wounds of history caused by World War One as well as the hope of a united Europe.
They played in Sarajevo’s restored city hall, just meters away from where the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated on June 28, 1914.
He had come to inspect his occupying troops in the empire’s eastern province. The shots fired by Serb teenager Gavrilo Princip sparked World War One, which was followed decades later by a second global conflict.
Together the two wars cost some 80 million European their lives, ended four empires – including the Austro-Hungarian – and changed the world forever.
Presidents from the region and other dignitaries were among those attending the performance, while outside crowds watched it on a huge television screen.
Among the visitors Joe Eason, a history teacher visiting from the United States. “You know, it’s unlike anything else,” he said.
“To be able to be here a hundred years after this very important event, to be able to see it, see the place firsthand, sort of stand in the very footsteps of [Gavrilo] Princip and these others, the Archduke and Sophie. It’s a tremendous experience and something that I won’t forget,” Eason explained.
And 100 years after the assassination of the archduke, artists as well as diplomats declared a new century of peace and unity in Europe.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer claimed Europeans “have learnt that no problem can be solved by war,” a view shared by other countries such as Hungary, where similar ceremonies were held.
Yet Serb leaders stayed away from the main Sarajevo event. They held their own commemoration honoring Princip, the man they consider a liberator not an assassin.
“One hundred years ago, the shot fired by Gavrilo Princip was not a shot against Europe, or us – it was a shot (fired) for freedom,” said Milorad Dodik, the President of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic. “It meant the beginning of the making of complete emancipation of the Serbs in this region, and the final liberation from the tyranny of occupiers,” he adds.
Despite competing interpretations of the war, these Austrians hope their music will help Europeans to reflect on their painful past and prepare for a more peaceful future.
Musicians of the Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra said they wanted to pay tribute to the history of Sarajevo, a place where different religions still meet despite that other, Balkan war of the 1990s, in which more than 100,000 people died.