Sarajevo and the resonances of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination

The conspirators who spread out along Sarajevo’s Appel Quay on the morning of 28th June 1914 – trying not to fiddle with the pistol and the bomb under their jackets, wondering about the cyanide dose that they had been given – have become tokens of world politics. One token, in fact, as we only remember the one who fired the successful shots, and not the other angry young men like Cabrinovic and Cuprilovic. (Does it help that it was the one with the short name who got lucky? Would our memory of twentieth century history be different if the Archduke’s car had happened to stop instead in front of Mehmedbasic – who was also, incidentally, the Muslim among the conspirators?)

Gavrilo PrincipGavrilo Princip’s father was a peasant rebel whose neighbours laughed at him because he refused to drink and swear, and who didn’t want Gavrilo (pictured) to go to primary school. Photos of him in traditional peasant dress seem more than a generation away from the cheap urban sophistication of Gavrilo in his suit.

Young Princip almost went to Austro-Hungarian military school, but took a different path, perhaps prompted by the epic poetry he’d been given as a school prize. He was 18 when he was expelled from school for threatening other students who didn’t want to go on a protest with him. He was still a teenager as he stood by the Miljacka river, waiting for destiny to come chugging round the corner, and watching for the police agents he’d so far avoided during his weeks in Bosnia.

Nedeljko Cabrinovic was doubted by his fellow-conspirators; his bomb was taken away from him the day before the assassination attempt. Walking to his assigned position during the morning of the 28th he met a friend, had his photo taken, flirted with some girls. But he’d also given away his possessions to his family; money to his grandmother and to his sister. Teenagers; idealists – recruited and fired up by older, wiser men who stayed in the shadows and were not risking their lives that morning.

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John Wilkes Booth – a summary

Even before he became famous as the first man to assassinate a United States president, John Wilkes Booth was a well-known name. Born into one of the most famous acting families in America, Booth was the ninth of ten children of Junius Brutus Booth. Booth was born in Bel Air, Maryland. His mother was Mary Ann Holmes, his father’s mistress until 10 May 1851 when they were married.

John Wilkes BoothBooth and his brother Edwin were athletic young men who loved fencing and horses. Booth attended Bel Air Academy for a time, but was described as an ‘indifferent’ student. He later attended Saint Timothy Academy, an Episcopal military academy, where he studied the classical arts.

Booth’s father died when Booth was fourteen. At sixteen, he began to take an interest in the stage and in politics, on 14 August 1855, aged seventeen, he made his stage debut in Baltimore, Maryland.

Leading Man

John Wilkes Booth was often described as handsome and athletic. By the time the American Civil War broke out, he was earning as much as $20,000 a year, a sum equal to about half a million dollars today. During the war, he performed primarily in the Union and in the border states. When Booth T. Ford reopened his theatre in Washington, DC, in 1863, Booth was one of the first leading men to appear there in a play entitled The Marble Heart. Sitting in a box seat just above the stage was President Abraham Lincoln. Booth’s final appearance at Ford’s would be 18 March 1865 in a play entitled The Apostle.

While his acting career and fame grew, Booth’s political views did as well. He was so strongly opposed to abolition that he joined the Richmond Grays, a 1,500-man volunteer militia group that traveled to Charlestown, Virginia, (now West Virginia) in order to guard the hanging of John Brown on 2 December 1859 and prevent any rescue attempts.

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Pyotr Stolypin – a summary

Born in the German town of Dresden on 14 April 1862, brought up in Lithuania, and studied in St Petersburg, Pyotr Stolypin was to be Russia’s great reformer until an assassin’s bullet did its work.

Pyotr StolypinStolypin’s parents well certainly well-to-do – his father was a successful Russian landowner while his mother was the daughter of a Russian general.

Pyotr Stolypin began his political career with various provincial appointments, including a spell between 1903 – 06 as the governor of the Saratov province. Saratov, a city that sits on the River Volga, was brimming with radicalism. Stolypin dealt harshly with dissenters and potential revolutionaries, often by castration – seen as a means of diminishing testosterone-fuelled revolutionary fervour.

Stolypin’s success in Saratov brought him to the attention of the tsar, Nicholas II. In April 1906, Nicholas appointed Stolypin minister of the interior.

Great and profound sorrow

Following the outbreak of violence in Russia during 1905, and in particular the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in St Petersburg, then Russia’s capital, the tsar (pictured) responded by introducing much needed reform to his empire’s political make-up. On 30 October 1905, he announced his ‘October Manifesto’:

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HF Verwoerd – a brief summary

Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd is remembered as the architect of the racist laws and segregation practice known as ‘grand apartheid’.

HF VerwoerdHF Verwoerd was born 8 September 1901 in Amsterdam, Holland. His father was a shopkeeper and a deeply religious man. The family moved to South Africa in 1903 and settled for ten years before moving to Rhodesia where Verwoerd senior became an assistant evangelist in the Dutch Reformed Church. After four years they returned to South Africa.

Pampering, levelling and living together

Verwoerd excelled at school and went on to obtain a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch. He continued his studies in psychology in Germany after which he returned home in 1927 to lecture at his old university. He was appointed Professor of Sociology and Social Work. In 1937 he became editor of ‘Die Transvaler’, an Afrikaans newspaper supporting the National Party (NP). He was strongly in favour of racial segregation and attacked the ruling United Party’s policy of ‘pampering, levelling and living together’. In 1938 he published a poster condemning mixed marriages. During World War Two ‘Die Transvaler’ adopted a pro-Nazi position.

Hewers of wood

In 1948 when the National Party led by D.F. Malan came into power, Verwoerd left his position as editor to represent the NP in the Senate. In 1950 he was appointed Minister of Native Affairs and was responsible for the displacement of some 80,000 black Africans. As part of his portfolio, he was in charge of African education where his policy limited any form of higher education for those he regarded as ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’.

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Alexander II of Russia – a summary

Born 29 April 1818, Alexander II came to the Russian throne, aged 36, following the death of his father, Tsar Nicholas I, in February 1855. Although a believer in autocracy, the reign of Alexander saw a number of fundamental reforms. Russia’s disastrous performance during the Crimean War of 1853-56, in which Russia’s military inferiority, weak infrastructure and a backward economy based on serfdom, was exposed, confirmed for the new tsar the need to modernize his empire.

Alexander IIAlexander instigated a vast improvement in communication, namely expanding Russia’s rail network from just 660 miles of track (linking Moscow and St Petersburg) in the 1850s to over 14,000 miles within thirty years, which, in turn, aided Russia’s industrial and economic expansion.

Alexander’s reformist zeal restructured the judicial system which included the introduction of trial by jury. Military reform saw the introduction of conscription, the reduction of military service from 25 years to six, and the establishment of military schools. He expanded Russia’s territory in Central Asia, up to the borders of Afghanistan, much to the worry of the British government.

Emancipation of the Serfs

But reform only opened the eyes of what could be, thus came the demand for more, which brought about a number of active groups demanding greater reform and revolution. Thus, on 3 March 1861, Alexander II issued what seemed on the face of it the most revolutionary reform in Russia’s history – his Manifesto on the Emancipation of the Serfs. The edict freed 23 million serfs from their bondage to landowners, and the ownership of 85 per cent of Russia’s land was wrestled from private landowners and given to the peasants. The landlords, understandably, opposed such a sweeping change but were told by the tsar, ‘It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below’.

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Ngo Dinh Diem – a summary

The architect of the South Vietnamese state, and the United State’s principal ally in South East Asia, Ngo Dinh Diem ended his political career in ignominies fashion; shot in the back of an army van after being deposed by his own forces acting with the connivance of the country which had sustained him throughout his premiership since 1954.

Ngo Dinh DiemBorn 3 January 1901, Ngo Dinh Diem grew up in a rich, aristocratic Vietnamese family, and spent time working under Emperor Bao Dai. He went on to become a hardline regional governor, gaining a reputation for taking a tough anti-communist line, and for demonstrating an independent position between French colonialism and the VietMinh nationalists.

Diem and the US

During the First Indochina War he was captured and almost killed by the VietMinh. After escaping, he visited the United States, where he met politicians such as the (Roman Catholic) senator John F. Kennedy. After the French defeat, he returned to Vietnam and was put forward, in the face of French opposition, by the US delegation as a possible ruler of South Vietnam.

The key moment in his rise to the top of South Vietnamese politics was the 1955 referendum over who should rule the country: Bao Dai or himself. Relying heavily on CIA subversion, vote-rigging, and physical intimidation of potential Bao Dai voters, Diem achieved an overwhelming victory; claiming to have won 98.2% of the vote.

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Grigori Rasputin – a summary

When Prince Felix Yusupov offered his guest, Grigori Rasputin, refreshments at his palace in St Petersburg on the evening of 29 December 1916, the glass of red wine and his favourite cakes were laced with enough poison to kill five men. Rasputin, however, seemed totally unaffected as he gulped back the wine and wolfed down the cakes.

RasputinDespairing, Yusupov shot Rasputin in the back and then, satisfied, left to join his fellow conspirators. Returning a little later to check on the body, Rasputin sat up and lunged at the prince. The prince’s friends came to his rescue, shooting the ‘mad monk’ a further three times, once in the forehead. But still refusing to die, Rasputin’s attackers resorted to clubbing him senseless then wrapping his body in a blue rug and throwing him in the icy waters of the River Neva.

The subsequent autopsy found that Rasputin had died by drowning, implying he had survived the huge dose of poison, four bullets, and the severe clubbing. Prince Yusupov and his pro-monarchist friends believed they were acting in the best interests of the monarchy.

At least, this is the story that has filtered down through the decades.

The Russian people will be cursed

Rasputin had a sense of his coming demise, warning the tsar, Nicholas II, weeks before his death:

‘I shall depart this life before January first. If one of your relatives causes my death, then none of your children will remain alive for more than two years. And if they do, they will beg for death as they will see the defeat of Russia, see the Antichrist coming, plague, poverty, destroyed churches, and desecrated sanctuaries where everyone is dead. The Russian tsar, you will be killed by the Russian people and the people will be cursed and will serve as the devil’s weapon killing each other everywhere.’

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The Assassination of John F Kennedy – a summary

It’s become a cliche but people who remember John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, can usually say exactly what they were doing when they first heard the shocking news. It was a defining moment of the second half of the twentieth century.

On 21 November 1963, President Kennedy, accompanied by the First Lady, travelled to Texas, where he was scheduled to make a number of appearances in a bid to drum up support for the Democratic Party prior to the 1964 general election.

Not everyone, however, was convinced of the wisdom of such a journey. Some White House officials, worried that the President would receive a hostile reception from voters in what was a staunchly Republican State, advised against it.  But characteristically, Kennedy rebuffed their concerns, insisting that a trip to ‘nut country’ was necessary. He reportedly said to Jackie: ‘if somebody wants to shoot me, […] nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?’

22 November 1963

The following day, 22 November 1963, at 12.30pm, President Kennedy was travelling in an open top car through the streets of Dallas when three loud rifle shots rang through the air, apparently shot from the sixth floor of the nearby Book Depository building. According to official reports, the first of these bullets missed its mark, while the second penetrated the back of the President’s neck. Kennedy’s steel-boned back brace which he wore to alleviate his constant pain held Kennedy in a upright position, despite his wound – allowing the final, fatal shot to strike the back of his head. (Pictured, President Kennedy with the First Lady, shortly before his assassination, 22 November 1963. Click on image to enlarge).

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Elijah Lovejoy – a summary

Elijah Lovejoy, the son of a Congregational minister, was born November 9, 1802. Lovejoy was not the only one abolitionist who died for what he believed in, but he is one of the better known martyrs of the abolitionist movement.  Lovejoy was murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois, because he continued to publish abolitionist materials, even after his having press destroyed three times.

In 1826, Elijah Lovejoy moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he established a school and eight years later became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church there. Tensions ran high in Saint Louis, Missouri in the 1830s. The city stood on the banks of the Mississippi River, dividing it from the free state of Illinois.

St Louis

Within this atmosphere, Lovejoy established the St Louis Observer, a religious newspaper, in which he advocated the abolition of slavery. In 1835, pro-slavery supporters warned him to halt his abolitionist preaching but Lovejoy, made of stern stuff, refused. In 1836 Lovejoy wrote an account of how an African American was dragged from jail, where he was being held on the charge of the murder of two white men, and lynched. Lovejoy criticized the local judge because of his failure to indict anyone for the crime. The report angered many St Louis inhabitants and in July 1836, a pro-slavery mob destroyed his press.


Lovejoy moved his family and his press to Alton, Illinois and there established the Alton Observer.  Even though Alton was in the free state of Illinois, it was still a focal point for slave catchers and slavery supporters because of its proximity to the slave state of Missouri. Again, his printing press became the focal point of violence and on three occasions, white mobs seized it and threw it into the Mississippi River. Lovejoy remained defiant, writing, “We distinctly avow it to be our settled purpose, never, while life lasts, to yield to this new system of attempting to destroy, by means of mob violence, the right of conscience, the freedom of opinion, and of the press.”

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Michael Collins – a summary

Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary leader, was born in County Cork on 16 October 1890, and worked as a young man for several years in London, where he joined the secret society, the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After returning to Ireland in 1915 he fought in the General Post Office during the Easter Rising. Arrested, he was sent to the internment camp at Frongoch (Wales), where he made many contacts among the other imprisoned Irish republicans there and quickly became acknowledged as one of the movement’s natural leaders.

Sinn Féin

Collins rose swiftly through the ranks of Sinn Féin, and was elected as one of the MPs for Cork in the 1918 general election. In the abstentionist Dáil formed by Sinn Féin after those elections, Collins filled first the function of Minister for Home Affairs and then Minister for Finance. At the same time he was in charge of the IRA intelligence network and leader of ‘the Squad’, which targeted and assassinated members of the British intelligence services. In all of these tasks ‘the Big Fellow’ displayed his talent for organization and for inspiring loyalty in those who served him. It is a sign of Collins’ importance that during the War of Independence the British offered a £10,000 reward for his capture.

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