Year
1914

European powers maintain focus despite killings in Sarajevo

In an editorial published on the final day of June 1914, two days after the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife by a Serbian nationalist during an official appearance in Sarajevo, Bosnia, the London Times urges a continued focus on domestic affairs.

Although what happened in Sarajevo obviously filled “the first place in the public mind,” acknowledged the Times, and the outcome of the investigation into the killing would no doubt “occupy the attention of all students of European politics,” it was imperative that Britons keep their priorities straight, because “our own affairs must be addressed.” At the time, the United Kingdom was threatened by the possible outbreak of civil war over the future status of Ireland; this presumably was the principal “affair” to which the Times was referring.

In Britain, as in many of the European capitals, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was at first viewed in a less alarmist light than might be assumed given the enormity of the war that the event would later precipitate. The archduke had not been widely liked, within his own country or without, and as the British ambassador to Italy reported to his government in London: “It is obvious that people have generally regarded the elimination of the Archduke as almost providential.” In Paris on June 30, at the first cabinet meeting since the events in Sarajevo, President Raymond Poincare’s biographer reported later that the killings were “hardly mentioned.” The attention of the French public, meanwhile, was riveted on the scandalous case of Madame Caillaux, a politician’s wife who had murdered the editor of a right-wing newspaper after he threatened to publish damaging material about her husband.

Even in Vienna, the archduke’s own capital city, Franz Ferdinand’s death seemed to arouse little strong feeling from the public. As the Austrian government and military leadership hurried to obtain assurances of German support if the Austrian pressure on Serbia over the assassinations led to war with Serbia and its powerful ally, Russia, the reaction among the Austrian population was mild, almost indifferent. As historian Z.A.B. Zeman later wrote, “the event almost failed to make any impression whatsoever. On Sunday and Monday [June 28 and 29], the crowds in Vienna listened to music and drank wine?as if nothing had happened.”

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