Another Historic Wrong Turn: June 28, 1914

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Yesterday, a frenzied crowd surrounded Pope Francis’ car in Rio de Janeiro. The scene made security experts around the world cringe and was a huge embarrassment for Brazilian police. Apparently, the pontiff’s own driver took a wrong turn. (“With Modesty, Pope Francis Begins a Week in Brazil“)  While the Pope survived yesterday’s mistake, the incident recalls a more horrific outcome in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. On that fateful day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, were not so lucky when their driver took a wrong turn.

The Archduke and his wife were in Sarajevo on their wedding anniversary as a political statement reinforcing Austria-Hungary’s authority in the turbulent Balkan region. Serbian nationalists were especially angry at the Archduke’s visit and its connection to the Austria-Hungary annexation of the region in 1909. The day started badly for the Archduke. Serbian nationalist conspirator Nedjelko Čabrinović threw a bomb at the regent’s motorcade, but the bomb missed its target and instead injured a police officer and several bystanders. Čabrinović tried to commit suicide by taking a cyanide pill and diving in the river. The pill failed to do its job and an angry crowd dragged Čabrinović from the river, providing a severe beating before he was taken into custody. Shaken, the Archduke and his wife went ahead the day’s plans stopping at the Town Hall for speeches and a presentation. After the ceremonies, there was some confusion about the motorcade’s next route and the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn at the junction of Appel Quay and Franzjosefstrasse.

One of Čabrinović’s co-cospirators, 19-year-old Gavrillo Princip happened to be around the corner and saw his chance. He fired a pistol into the Archduke’s car, fatally wounding Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. They both died within an hour.

Historians point to the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie as the spark that fueled the start of World War I. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and declared war on July 28, 1914. A series of secret treaties among the major European powers soon unleashed a game of falling dominos that ignited the start of World War I. Over 37 million people lost their lives in The Great War and the unsatisfactory peace that followed is named as the major cause of the Second World War.

Luckily, yesterday’s wrong turn in Rio de Janeiro did not have a parallel outcome.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie

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