ON THE AVENUES: My Franz Ferdinand heritage trail, 30 years ago in Sarajevo.


ON THE AVENUES: My Franz Ferdinand heritage trail, 30 years ago in Sarajevo.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Today’s column is one in a series documenting my 1987 summer in Europe. Previously, Slobodan Praljak’s suicide prompted a digression about war crimes during the 1990s-era Yugoslav civil war. Coming next, Sarajevo yielded to Mostar as I traveled toward the coast.

So young … so thin.

50 pounds and 30 years later, during the summer of 2017, I had the brilliant idea of using newly digitalized slides from my 1987 European travels to guide a daily narrative about the trip.

This being Roger and not a trained librarian, hiccups were many, and the project wasn’t undertaken with the Colin Powell doctrine in mind. Both planning and execution left much to be desired, although I managed to finish the narrative — or so I thought.

As it turns out, I’d posted photos on social media but not the blog, omitting most of the Yugoslavian portion of the trip. With 2017 drawing to a close, I’m determined to make sense of this so I can move forward to the 1989 slides — which I’ll digitalize first, then start telling the tale at the beginning.

Seriously, I can get organized; I just can’t remain organized.

Picking up the story on Monday, 18 May 18 1987, I’d arrived in Sarajevo from Zagreb and found cheap, legal lodgings ($5.50 per night) in the spare room within the apartment of a man named Mickey (real name: Milenko Ćurčić). At the time, the street address was Ulica J.N.A. 37, or the Yugoslav People’s Army Street. Now it’s Ulica Branilaca Sarajeva 37 (the Defenders of Sarajevo Street).

Dinner was taken at a down and dirty workers’ cafeteria, and local draft Sarajevsko Pivo (beer) then gratefully consumed for roughly 25 cents per mug.

On Tuesday morning, my Franz Ferdinand obsession took root, and I embarked on a self-guided walking tour of those parts of Sarajevo’s core that prominently figured into the fateful day in 1914 when the Habsburg heir and his wife were killed. The following, originally written as part of my 1985 beer blog travelogue about Vienna, hasn’t been published at NAC previously.

The Habsburg dynasty reigned in various European configurations and locales from the 1400s through its war-ravaged finale in 1918, famously stockpiling its geographical components through strategic marriage ceremonies far more often than armed conflict — which the Habsburgs often lost.

There’s something to admire in wedding banquets as opposed to bloodletting, although unfortunately, hard-learned lessons were forgotten at the very end.

By the dawn of the 20th century, the Habsburg Empire had been rebranded as Austria-Hungary, and occupied a large chunk of Central Europe – from the Alps to what is now Belarus and the Ukraine, and from Poland to the Adriatic.

The empire was populated by numerous ethnic groups speaking just as many languages, representing most major religions and a few minor ones, and held together largely by a steadily eroding inertia, otherwise known as “divine right” in the person of the venerable emperor, Franz Joseph, who was 84 years old in 1914 and had ruled since the age of 18 in 1848.

His own son having committed suicide, Franz Joseph’s successor was his nephew, Franz Ferdinand – and Franz Ferdinand was a famously complicated individual.

The history of the Habsburgs was a major reason for my visit to Vienna in 1985, with the single most important objective being the city’s military history museum, appropriately located in a complex of 19th-century buildings called the Arsenal. I wanted to learn more about Franz Ferdinand’s life, and chose to begin with his death.

Upon arrival in Vienna, and after the cursory stowing of gear at the Hostel Ruthensteiner and a quick coffee, the Arsenal was my opening afternoon attraction. Happily for an inexperienced tourist often too disorganized to eat, the museum boasted a small, efficient canteen operated by its citizen support arm.

The counter was manned by an elderly mustachioed gentleman who served fat local sausages with a roll and mustard, accompanied by a blue collar Schwecator lager, and all of it available at a very reasonable price. Restored to metabolic equilibrium, it was off to the exhibits.

First came the obligatory suits of armor and medieval skull-busters, followed by racks of muskets, Napoleonic-era uniforms and affiliated ephemera. Modern times drew steadily closer, and then I spotted the relics that occasioned my visit: Franz Ferdinand’s blood-stained tunic, the restored Gräf & Stift automobile in which he rode to his murder in Sarajevo, and numerous facsimiles of photographs taken before and after the assassination.

This was one of the images, and it triggered a lasting personal obsession.

Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are shown exiting the town hall in Sarajevo. In little more than ten minutes, they’ll be dead, dispatched by two improbably well-placed gunshots fired by a youthful Serb terrorist, Gavrilo Princip.

When the photo was taken, the Archduke’s visit to Sarajevo already had careened far off the rails. It was about to get even worse, with misfortune ranging far beyond the shortened lives of the royal couple, to victims all over the world about to be claimed in an unprecedented conflagration.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand comes to us as a blunt, obnoxious, violent and generally unlikable human being, who in his spare time enjoyed slaughtering wildlife under the flimsy guise of hunting.

But had Sigmund Freud been asked, the Viennese doctor surely would have pointed to deeper currents. While not exactly enlightened, Franz Ferdinand’s views on the future of the empire were not at all uniformly in sync with those of his uncle’s conservative coterie. He had his own ideas and advisers, and chafed at waiting his turn, at least in part because of an under-appreciated aspect of his character.

Improbably, Franz Ferdinand was a closeted romantic, and he did something decidedly uncommon among his royal brethren: He fell madly in love, and remained just as madly in love, with a woman of minor nobility who was decreed by the hidebound royal court as inadequately marriageable for the esteemed likes of Franz Ferdinand — and so of course, he married her anyway.

Doing this triggered severe sanctions from Franz Ferdinand’s own family. He was humiliatingly compelled to endure a morganatic marriage, renouncing the path of succession for his two young children, and explicitly acknowledging that Sophie could not ever participate in the intensively choreographed trappings of royal life.

To the otherwise boorish Franz Ferdinand, who perversely was the perfect family man at home, the sheer idiocy of dynastic protocol became a daily slight. It was an unceasing and mocking insinuation that his beloved wife did not even exist, and it isn’t surprising he nursed a collection of smoldering grudges.

In 1914, Franz Ferdinand had the chance to attend military maneuvers in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a disputed region of mixed ethnicity once occupied by the Ottoman Turks, and recently annexed by Austria-Hungary to the growing dissatisfaction of the neighboring Kingdom of Serbia, where there existed a body of opinion that all Serbs should be united under direct Serbian rule.

In such a highly charged atmosphere, the war games seemed a provocation to many people in the region. It was not necessary for Franz Ferdinand to make the trip, but naturally he did.

Among the reasons for Franz Ferdinand’s decision was this: As defined geographically by the same royal court protocol the heir detested so intensely, Bosnia-Herzegovina was outside the reach of official mandated etiquette. It was a veritable loophole, allowing what amounted to a pleasure trip on company expense, and a chance for him to treat his wife to the perks otherwise denied her. No doubt he chortled at the clever turnabout, and her servants began filling crates.

Meanwhile, this background meant nothing to a young group of nationalistic Bosnian revolutionary conspirators, who were being trained and financed by the Black Hand, a covert group of Serbian army officers. As the days passed prior to Franz Ferdinand’s arrival in Sarajevo, a motley crew of inflamed and malnourished terrorists plotted a tragicomic ambush of the Archduke.

As Franz Ferdinand’s motorcade rolled through Sarajevo, one of the inexperienced terrorists managed to keep his wits and inexpertly toss a bomb. It bounced off the hood of the Archduke’s car and ignited atop the vehicle behind it, injuring a subaltern.

The bomb thrower sought first to drown himself, jumping from an adjacent bridge into the knee-deep river; thwarted, he then tried to ingest poison that wasn’t poisonous enough. He was quickly arrested and the group dissolved in panic, with Princip – a true believer if ever there was one – adjourning to the curb outside a coffee house to morosely consider the failures of the botched performance.

But ominously, he kept his gun safely in his pocket.

Meanwhile, in spite of the bomb attempt and further warnings that security could not be guaranteed, the supremely annoyed Archduke elected to finish his official visit at Sarajevo’s town hall, where his epic tirade ended only after soothing words from the always helpful, calming Sophie.

Sarajevo City Hall (Vijećnica).

Hence the photo: A bedecked Austrian royal, veins still visibly bursting, descending the stairs while local minor officials in vests and fezes offer tepid and embarrassed salutes. The fear in their eyes is palpable even in ancient black and white. A bad moon is about to rise, and they all seem to know it.

Confusingly, the motorcade resumed. Although Franz Ferdinand’s staff had altered the return route to make it safer, the changes were not communicated to the drivers. The Archduke’s Gräf & Stift made a wrong turn, and its driver was told to halt.

The car stopped on the street directly outside the coffee shop where Princip now emerged to find his original target, seated stock still only 20 feet away, as though serenely posing in the cross hairs. He managed just two shots, each inexplicably perfect, and within moments both heir and wife were gone.

Princip’s supposed foot steps,
and the commemorative plaque.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination provided the pretext for European hawks to settle accounts. Six weeks after his death, Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia as a heavy favorite, but was mauled repeatedly by the outnumbered Serbs until German forces came to the rescue. Meanwhile, general conflict had erupted throughout Europe, the nasty unforeseen consequences of which endure a century later.

In retrospect, irony abounds. Franz Ferdinand may have been an unsympathetic, disagreeable figure, and yet his unquestioned love for his wife was in part responsible for their passing.

Moreover, he understood perfectly what so many of his royal compatriots did not: Austria-Hungary was not at all equipped to fight a modern, industrial war. Counter-intuitively, the first casualty of war was his country’s prime voice for peace.

Soon millions of others would perish, although initially, only two funerals were required. In death as in life, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary went his own cantankerous way, with a little “help” from his hidebound royal family.

That’s because as noted previously, Franz Ferdinand’s final resting place is not among the Habsburg bloodlines deep within Vienna’s Kaisergruft. The same infuriating protocol forbade the presence of Sophie in the crypt, so Franz Ferdinand’s testament called for the couple’s burial together at his family’s castle in Artstetten, a half-day’s bicycle ride up the Danube from Vienna.

In 1985, I was just getting to know Franz Ferdinand’s story. By 2003, almost two decades later, I’d visited several other places connected to Franz Ferdinand: His chateau in Benesov, Czech Republic; the official residence at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna; and of course Sarajevo, where I followed the motorcade route and saw the scene of the crime.

In 2003 a friend and I bicycled to Artstetten. As we were leaving, I mentioned to the gift shop attendant that in 1985, I’d gone to Vienna looking for Franz Ferdinand’s grave, only to find he wasn’t there, which was the reason I’d finally made it to Artstetten.

There was no public access to the final resting place of the Habsburg and his wife, and I didn’t ask for favors.

She handed me the key, anyway … and I had my moments with them, alone.

Following are a few other 1987 photos from Sarajevo. It can be safely assumed that much of what you see in these views was damaged during the fighting during the siege of the city in the early 1990s. I haven’t been back. Maybe some day.

Recent columns:

December 7: ON THE AVENUES: Say goodbye to all that, and expect the bayonet.

November 30: ON THE AVENUES: The 29 most influential books in my life.

November 23: ON THE AVENUES: A few thanks to give before we return to our regular resistance programming.

November 16: ON THE AVENUES: Harvest Homecoming chairman of the board David White replies to Cisa Kubley’s column of November 2.