Aida Cerkez

SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Artists and diplomats declared a new century of peace and unity in Europe on Saturday in the city where the first two shots of World War I were fired 100 years ago.

On June 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, where he had come to inspect his occupying troops in the empire’s eastern province.

The shots fired by Serb teenager Gavrilo Princip sparked the Great War, which was followed by a second world conflict. The two wars cost some 80 million European their lives and ended four empires — including the Austro-Hungarian.

Visiting the assassination site Saturday, Sarajevan Davud Bajramovic, 67, said that in order to hold a second of silence for every person killed just during WWI in Europe, “we would have to stand silently for two years.”

Sarajevans crowded the same street along the river where Princip fired his shots. And the Austrians were also back, but this time with music instead of military: The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was scheduled to perform works of European composers reflecting the century’s catastrophic events and conclude with a symbol of unity in Europe — the joint European hymn, Beethoven’s Ode To Joy.

The orchestra wanted to pay tribute to the history of Sarajevo, a place where religions meet, said the first violinist, Clemens Hellberg.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said Europeans “have learned that no problem can be solved by war.”

The Serbs marked the centennial by themselves in the part of Bosnia they control, where a performance re-enacted the assassination.

As Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Moest (also music director of the Cleveland Orchestra) raised his baton in Sarajevo, an actor playing Gavrilo Princip descending from heaven on angel’s wings raised his pistol in the eastern town of Visegrad, at the border to Serbia, to kill Franz Ferdinand in a spectacular performance designed for the occasion.

For the Serbs, Princip was a hero who saw Bosnia as part of Serb national territory when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His shots were a chance for them to include Bosnia into the neighboring Serbian kingdom — the same idea that inspired Serbs in 1992 to fight the decision by Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats to declare the former republic of Bosnia independent when Serb-dominated Yugoslavia fell apart. They want to include part of Bosnia they control into neighboring Serbia. The European Union opposed both Serbia’s unification with the Bosnian Serbs and its EU membership candidacy.