The relationship between Serbia and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was extremely unsettled. Though Serbia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1879, it did not recognize the claims that Austria-Hungary had on Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were many Serbians living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serbs made claims on Bosnia and Herzegovina just as the Germans did on Alsace and Lorraine. In 1908, the Congress of Berlin had granted permission for the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, including disputed Serbian areas. Obviously, this act did not meet with Serbian favor and the cords of nationalism increased within Serbia.
On June 28, 1914, the Archduke of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Princess Sophia, left the city hall of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Archduke was in a direct line to the throne and he was seen by many as a figure head of domination over the lives of many ethnic groups within the Balkans. Francis Ferdinand and Sophia had traveled to the capital on the anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, a battle in which the Serbs lost to the Turks. This battle rings harsh even today in the memories of many Serbs, since it ended their independence and subjected them to governance of the Ottoman Empire. Although the Archduke was told that his visit on this historical day was unwise and that there was a potential plot against his life, he chose to ignore it and participate in a full state visit.
Serbia was festering with small terrorist organizations. One of these groups, the Black Hand set out to assassinate the Archduke and his wife. After leaving city hall the archduke’s car moved through the streets of Sarajevo. A bomb was tossed at the car, the chauffeur seeing the device, quickly accelerated to avoid hitting it. The archduke deflected the bomb with his arm, causing it to bounce off the back of the car and explode near the pathway of another car in his entourage. Several aides were injured in the car following the archduke’s. In another few blocks, a Black Hand agent, Gavrilo Princip, stepped up to the car, and fired two shots. Sophia died instantly, the archduke shortly after. It is unclear if the Serbian government was involved with the assassination though it was found out later that the leader of the Black Hand organization, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, was also head of Serbian military intelligence.
Austria waited over three weeks before it officially reacted to the assassination in Sarajevo. The Austrian foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, sent an envoy to Berlin to secure military support from Germany if Serbia did not comply with an ultimatum that would be given to the Serbian government. Germany’s Emperor William II assured Austria-Hungary on July 5 of German support. On July 23, 1914, Austria-Hungary presented Serbia with a list of conditions that required a two-day turnaround. Just minutes before the deadline, Serbia replied asking that the dispute be submitted to the International Tribunal at The Hague. The conciliation was rejected and on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The rest is history as country after country was drawn into the conflict.