Who Was Gavrilo Princip?

By | July 11, 2019

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Bosnian landscape in Autumn. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Gavrilo Princip was one of the most significant people of the 20th century. You might not know his name, but you definitely know what he did, or at least felt the impact of it. By assassinating the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, he set in motion a series of events that would bring contemporary superpowers to their knees, end centuries-old monarchies, and spark resentments and revolutions that continue to shape our world. We all know what happened in Sarajevo that fateful June day in 1914, but few of us know the perpetrator, his motives, or his story.

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Map of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1889. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Early Life

Gavrilo Princip was born in July 1894 in the small Bosnian town of Obljaj, near the modern border between Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. His parents were poor ethnic Serb farmers and devout Orthodox Christians. His childhood was spartan, but he began his education at the age of nine and excelled in his studies.

At 13, Gavrilo moved to Sarajevo with his older brother to continue his schooling. It was there, in 1911, that he first engaged with radical politics and became a member of the organization Young Bosnia, a revolutionary anti-occupation movement that aimed to drive the Austrians out and unite the various Slavic peoples of southeastern Europe.

His views grew so extreme that, in 1912, he was expelled from school for threatening his classmates and demanding they join an anti-Austrian demonstration in central Sarajevo. Humiliated and enraged, Gavrilo set out for Belgrade in Serbia with the goal of joining a militant guerilla organization fighting the Ottoman Turks. He subsequently joined the paramilitary Serbian Chetnik Organization, an even more extreme group, where he trained in firearms and bomb-making before moving back to Sarajevo in 1913.