Paul Miller

  • Posted on: 3 September 2015
  • By: marijke
About the participant: 

(Ph.D., Yale University), is the department’s modern Europeanist, whose courses include "The First World War in History & Memory" and "Fathoming Evil: Genocide in the Modern World." Miller has written on topics ranging from antimilitarism in late 19th-century France to the bombing of Auschwitz controversy, counterfactual history, and the Bosnian genocide. His current research concerns the history/memory of the Sarajevo assassination (see podcast: Miller has been the recipient of research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Scholar Program (University of Sarajevo), the European commission’s Marie Curie Actions (University of Birmingham, UK), and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Title of lecture: 
The “Perfect Political Murder”: Who Instigated the Sarajevo Assassination?

In the recent spate of works on the origins of World War I, a divide has emerged between  historians writing on the origins broadly (or the July Crisis, specifically) and those writers (often journalists) who concentrate on the Sarajevo assassination. For the former (including Christopher Clark, T.G. Otte, and Sean McMeekin), the conspiracy to assassinate the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was the work of “an avowedly terrorist organization with a cult of sacrifice, death and revenge”—the Black Hand.1

Yet for most of the latter authors (like the journalists Gregor Mayer, David James Smith, and Tim Butcher, but also the historian Gordon Martel), the plot was initiated in whole or in part  by Bosnian youths.2 Why are these historiographies so divergent? Fifty years after the historian Vladimir Dedijer wrote what remains the best study of the Sarajevo assassination, his four chapters on the six suspect groupings still boils down to one question: Was the plot initiated from above or below—from the Serbian Black Hand that provided the weapons, or the Bosnian youth that used them?3 The historian Luigi Albertini’s claim that the crime “will never be entirely cleared up” seems as true today as it was in 1937.4

And what Sir Edward Grey allegedly labeled the “perfect political murder” remains unsolved.  My paper explores the question of who instigated the Sarajevo assassination from three perspectives: (1) Why do so many scholars, especially those writing recently, unquestioningly attribute the crime to the Black Hand?; (2) Are there uncovered or classified sources that could further illuminate the outrage?; and (3) Does cracking the “perfect political murder” actually matter, considering that the Austro-Hungarian government chose war despite its  failure to find evidence directly linking the conspiracy to official Serbia? 

1 Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (New York: Harper Collins, 2012), xxv; Otte, July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014), 15–18; McMeekin, The Russian Origins of the First World War (Cambridge: Belknap, 2011), 258. The actual name of the Black Hand was “Unification or Death” (Ujedinjenje ili Smrt), which is more indicative of the society’s goal to bring about the unification of South Slavs at any cost.

2 Mayer, Verschwörung in Sarajevo: Triumph und Tod des Attentäters Gavrilo Princip (Wien: Residenz, 2014); Smith, One Morning in Sarajevo: 28 June 1914 (London: Orion, 2009), 236; Butcher, The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin who Brought the World to War (London: Chatto & Windus, 2014), 252–55; Martel, The Month That Changed the World: July 1914 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014). For Martel, the assassination plot was hatched, “almost simultaneously, both from above and from below” (62).
3 Dedijer, The Road to Sarajevo (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966).
4 Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914, Vol. 2 (New York: Enigma, 2005), 39.