War and Peace

The Powder Keg of World War I

On 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a young Bosnian Serb nationalist. Thirty seven days after the assassination, the whole of Europe and its colonies was at war.

“For me Sarajevo a hundred years on was a fluke event, unpredictable and unlikely, with consequences which were absolutely massive but the explosion that happened had been well primed over the previous thirty or forty years. So my feeling very strongly is that if Sarajevo hadn’t happened, then something like Sarajevo would have happened elsewhere, and there would have probably still been the Great War.

The fact that it happened in the Balkans is indicative because the Balkans has so many tensions within it: both local, regional and Great Power. So it was inevitable that something would go wrong, triggering all those interlaced tensions on the three levels.

So what was the function of the Balkans? The Balkans was the detonator, the primer, the thing that set off the explosion, so it’s not the powder keg. The powder keg is Europe itself. The real explosion was the conflict between the Great Powers. And so that is the powder keg, that is what is going bang, and shakes up the world, in a way that the world has never been shaken before.

But I don’t think anyone anticipated trench warfare, the way that it happened in Western Europe on the Eastern front, on the Italian-Austrian front, on the Macedonian front. I don't think anyone imagined that it would be so bloody and extended.”



Misha Glenny ©  Anemon Productions
Misha Glenny
Misha Glenny is a distinguished journalist and historian. As the Central Europe correspondent initially for The Guardian and subsequently for the BBC, he chronicled the collapse of Communism and the wars in former Yugoslavia. He is the author of three books on Eastern Europe and the Balkans: The Rebirth of History, The Fall of Yugoslavia and The Balkans; his latest book, McMafia, is about international organised crime.