Plotters Decide to Kill the Archduke

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

beThe First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 110th installment in the series. 

March 26 - 27, 1914: Plotters Decide to Kill the Archduke

In March 1914, the Balkan cauldron was simmering away, as Austria-Hungary faced fresh difficulties in Albania and Serbia and Montenegro threatened to merge, promising further instability. But it was a plot unfolding behind the scenes that lit the fuse for the greatest conflict in history. 

At first glance March 7, 1914 marked a diplomatic success for Austria-Hungary, as a German aristocrat, Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Heinrich of Wied, arrived in the Albanian city of Durazzo to take the throne of the new nation. This was supposed to be the culmination of several years of diplomacy and saber rattling by Austria-Hungary’s foreign minister Count Berchtold, who persuaded the other Great Powers to create a new, independent Albania to deny Serbia access to the sea after the First Balkan War (the Austrians feared Russia might use a Serbian port as a naval base). The only problem with the scheme was that it completely ignored reality: The Prince of Wied commanded neither troops nor loyalty in Albania, and his “authority” was confined to Durazzo, propped up by a small Dutch-Austrian force. It wasn’t long before a powerful tribal leader, Esad Pasha Toptani, began plotting rebellion in the hopes of grabbing the crown.

Meanwhile, Montenegro and Serbia were in talks to create a customs union as a precursor to a full political union. This was another nightmare scenario for Austria-Hungary, as it would give Serbia its long-coveted access to the sea and set the stage for the final struggle to liberate the Dual Monarchy’s Southern Slavic peoples. Montenegro’s King Nikola wasn’t necessarily thrilled about the idea of Serbia absorbing his tiny kingdom but the great Slavic patron, Russia, supported the merger. So on March 15, Nikola tried to put the best face on things by inviting Serbia’s King Peter to negotiations for an eventual union that would, the Montenegrin king wrote, “give joy not only to the peoples of Serbia and Montenegro but also to the brother Serbs not yet liberated [and] all Southern Slavism…” On April 2, Serbia’s King Peter responded with a letter expressing “tremendous joy” over the idea, as “such fraternal agreement would form the best foundation for the future of Serbia…”

Although negotiations were put on hold by the outbreak of hostilities a few months later, contemporaries recognized that the Serbian-Montenegrin union was itself a possible flashpoint for a continent-wide war. Following a visit to Vienna, on April 5 Kaiser Wilhelm II reported an alarming rumor to the German foreign office: “King Nikita is secretly to sell his land to Serbia, Russia would in the event advance the sum and thereby acquire a claim to compensation on the coast… If it later comes to light and Austria wants to put up an opposition and call the Serbs to account, Russia would at once go to their help and world war would be upon us.”

The Conspirators Target Franz Ferdinand 

In March 1914, a ragtag group of part-time high school students, pamphleteers, and coffeehouse intellectuals began plotting a murder that would shake the world to its foundations—although at the time none of them had any idea what its real impact would be. While many details remain murky due to conflicting accounts, historians have pieced together the rough outline and timing of the plot, including the role played by members of Unity or Death, an ultranationalist cabal directed by Serbian military officers in Belgrade also known as the Black Hand, and Young Bosnia, an underground organization in Austrian Bosnia.

For several years, a Bosnian Serb teenager and member of Young Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip (above, top row, left), had been drifting back and forth between Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Austrian-controlled Bosnia, and the Serbian capital Belgrade, where he was supposedly attending high school but actually spent most of his time talking politics with other radical Serbian nationalists in grimy cafés. On March 13, 1914, after a visit home to Bosnia Princip returned to Belgrade, where he was soon to be found in his usual haunts.

In late March, one of Princip’s café colleagues, Nedjelko Čabrinović (above, top row, right), supposedly received an envelope with no return address, containing a clipping from a Bosnian or Croatian newspaper about Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s planned visit to Sarajevo on June 28—known to Serbs as Vidovdan, the anniversary of the Serbian defeat by the Turks at the Field of Blackbirds in 1389. In this version of events, Čabrinović showed the clipping to Princip, who shared his indignation at the apparent insult in the visit’s timing, and on March 27 the friends swore a secret oath to assassinate the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones.

Meanwhile Princip’s best friend in Sarajevo, a nationalist newspaper editor named Danilo Ilić (who had recently joined Unity or Death, also known as the Black Hand—above, top row, center) also received word about the Archduke’s planned visit around this time—again, supposedly from a newspaper clipping sent to him anonymously. However he learned about it, Ilić was thinking along the same lines as Princip by late March, when he met his friend Muhamed Mehmedbašić (not pictured), a Bosnian Muslim and fellow member of Young Bosnia, who was still hoping to carry out an earlier plot to assassinate Oskar Potiorek, the Austrian governor of Bosnia.

On March 26, 1914, Ilić told Mehmedbašić that the plan to kill Potiorek had been canceled by the Black Hand’s shadowy leadership—but added that a new plot was being organized against the life of the Archduke. Princip later claimed that he wrote to Ilić around Easter (April 12, 1914) to recruit him into the conspiracy, only to find that Ilić was already considering a similar plan. In the following weeks the conspiracy grew as Princip and Čabrinović recruited their friend Trifun Grabež in Belgrade (above, bottom row, left), while Ilić enlisted Vaso Čubrilović (bottom row, center) and Cvjetko Popović (bottom row, right), both living in Sarajevo.

Some of the conspirators later denied that they had any outside help organizing the “outrage” (as terrorist attacks were termed): At their trial, Čabrinović claimed, “In the company we frequented the conversations always turned on outrages… Nobody told us straight out: ‘kill him,’ but in those circles we came round to the idea by ourselves,” and Princip insisted, “The idea of it originated with us and it is we who carried it out.” But they were almost certainly inspired and directed by members of the Black Hand, led by the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, codename Apis (below, left).

Wikimedia Commons

For one thing, the plotters needed weapons; thus Princip got in touch with a middle-aged nationalist radical named Milan Ciganović (below, right), an employee of the Serbian national railway who’d fought in the Balkan Wars and belonged to the Black Hand. Ciganović sometimes worked for Major Vojislav Tankosić (below, center), who was in turn the right-hand man to Dimitrijević. Ciganović obtained four pistols and several small bombs from a Serbian military armory, which Princip claimed he sent to Ilić sometime in April, and it seems impossible that Ciganović would have done this without the knowledge and approval of Dimitrijević.

Furthermore, the whole story of anonymous newspaper clippings seems rather suspicious, as does the coincidence of Princip and Ilić spontaneously arriving at the same idea; while the clippings may have played some role in advancing the conspiracy (perhaps as a previously agreed signal) it seems more likely the entire plan was coordinated from an earlier date, following the failure of the plot against Potiorek. Through his spy network Dimitrijević likely heard of Franz Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo shortly after the Archduke agreed to the trip in mid-February, and well before it was publicized in the newspapers. According to several other accounts, Princip was in contact with Tankosić and Ilić as early as January, and Tankosić told him that the Black Hand had decided to kill the Archduke soon after.

Serbia’s civilian government smelled a rat: On March 18, Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić ordered an investigation of the Black Hand, which he rightly suspected of plotting a military coup against him because of his moderate stance towards Austria-Hungary. Eventually Pasic got wind of the plot against the Archduke from Ciganović, who was apparently an informer for the government inside the Black Hand. But it was all too little, too late.

Meanwhile on March 16, 1914, the bellicose Austrian chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, once again called for war in a conversation with the German ambassador to Vienna, Baron Heinrich von Tschirschky. But Tschirschky politely reminded Conrad that a key figure stood in the way—Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who opposed any suggestion of preemptive war.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Can You Guess J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beast From Its Magical Power?

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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