A book review by Barrie Sargeant, published in Aargh #4
2014 was the centenary of the outbreak of World
War 1. In New Zealand “World War I” means Gallipoli and the Western Front.
That’s where most of the ANZACs spent their time so that has become the area of
interest in this part of the world. It’s understandable that this has happened
but it means other aspects of the war are less known or understood. For
example, how did it start?
According to Baldrick in Blackadder “I heard that it
started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich ‘cause he was hungry”. Nice
try, but a bit wrong. The truth is, the assassin was a man called Gavrilo
Princip, part of a group of Bosnian nationalists who shot Arch-Duke Franz
Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary when visiting his empire’s outpost in Sarajevo.
With millions of people across whole continents having died or been wounded,
very little attention has been paid to Princip as an individual. Who was he and
what motivated him?
Journalist Tim Butcher sets out to answer
these questions. Butcher tries to literally follow in the footsteps of Princip
from his home in the back of beyond (apparently the equivalent expression in
the local language translates colourfully as ‘where the wolves fuck’) to the
street corner in Sarajevo where he did the deed. This in itself could be quite
interesting, but what gives the experience extra depth and resonance is that
Butcher covered the war in Bosnia during the 90s and therefore in the course of
his journey revisits places with multiple layers of personal and historical
A lot of professional historians have been
glib in their understanding of Princip, seeing him as a cypher for bigger
forces and they have often merely repeated what their predecessors, colleagues
or the Austro-Hungarian prosecutors at Princip’s trial have said. The author’s
on-the-ground research managed to turn up stuff that had previously been
ignored or overlooked. For example, there is a famous photo of police dragging
away a man moments after the assassination. In nearly all accounts (ironically
including some reviews of Butcher’s book!) the photo is said to be of Princip.
However, the writer establishes that it is actually Ferdinand Behr, an innocent
bystander later released by the cops.
Butcher also manages to find Princip’s
school reports and reliable accounts of what the teenager got up to. The view
that emerges is one of a quiet, intelligent and somewhat idealistic youth from
an impoverished background. He had a strong sense of justice at an early age
and grew to be a wilful but academically accomplished (for his time and place)
teenager. Princip read works by the utopian socialist William Morris and the
Russian anarchist Kropotkin as well as soaking in ideas of national liberation.
As regards the latter, the author makes it clear that his subject’s nationalism
was of an ecumenical, inclusive sort that desired freedom for all south Slavs.
He worked with Croats and Bosnian Muslims in order to achieve his goal of
ending what Princip saw as the foreign occupation by Austria. It had little to
do with the kind of fanatically sectional, extremist and genocidal form that
took hold of the country in the 1990’s. Butcher suggests this is perhaps part
of the reason Princip is little known even in his own country.
Despite his reading interests, Princip was
not an anarchist and Butcher does not write from a radical perspective. The
book is well worth reading however. Firstly because it’s intrinsically worth
knowing who lay behind the immediate trigger that lead to the war that killed
so many workers in uniform. Secondly, the writer makes a good case for
demarcating and separating Princip’s form of inclusive nationalism in 1914 from
Tito’s maverick Yugoslav ‘Communism’ of the 40s-80s and Milosevic’s
exterminationist version of the 90’s, but misses the fundamental ideological
continuities that have persisted on a substrate level. If the example of Bosnia
teaches us anything, it is that nationalism in the modern age is a universal
dead end when it comes to real progress for humanity.
Nationalism sets up a mythos built on lies
of exclusivity. It divides people along often artificial divisions of
geography, religion and the slippery concept of ‘culture’ and allows elites to
emerge. These rulers encourage the population to see others as different and
potentially a threat to those on ‘our side’ of the mountain range, region or
hemisphere. At its rare best it gives people a sense of identity while causing
discrimination and tension. If anyone isn’t sure how to answer the age old
question of ‘who benefits?’ from such a way of operating, consider the fact
that when Butcher was able to trace Princip’s descendants he found they are
almost as poor today as the family was 100 years ago! At the other end of the
scale, you find fratricidal civil wars with lingering effects. When the
journalist returned to the area, he joined in an Annual Peace March marking the
massacre of Srebrenica and learned there are still hundreds of bodies being
discovered. Worse still, well-meaning young assassins looking for national
liberation can spark a conflagration that can lead to numerous countries
sending millions of other young people to die for ‘the nation’.
The Freedom Shop will be showing some
short films and having a discussion about how activist groups deal with
cops this Thursday (20 April), 6.30pm, at 17 Tory Street.
Even within activist and protest groups there are differing opinions about how we deal with police & recently some activist groups in Wellington have complained that they've been harassed by the police.
So let's get together to talk about how as activist groups we could
work together and protect ourselves more against police.
On Tuesday evening, April 4th, Jake Conroy spoke at Tory St in Wellington. Jake describes himself as 'a scrawny white American vegan who got sentenced to time in a US prison'. About 40 people attended his talk 'From Activist to Terrorist'. He left us with three key messages:
Think about prisons and prisoners, the lives people are forced to live there - the spaces they are forced to inhabit. One simple thing to do is write letters to people inside.
Don't be scared of the threat of state repression.
Do fight-back. Figure out what you can do and find like-minded people and strategise how to bring about liberation.
At the Freedom Shop we have a range of books written by people inside or those involved in prison abolition and penal politics, including:
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women by Victoria Law
If you would like to write to a person in prison, No Pride In Prison have contacts of people wanting letters. There are also numerous websites with lists of people imprisoned because of their political beliefs and actions - check out ABC websites (Anarchist Black Cross), write to asylum seekers detained by Australia.
Come along on Tuesday 4 April at 7pm at 17 Tory St and have a chance to talk with Jake Conroy, one of the SHAC 7 (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA).
Jake will talk about his experience of state repression and the US prison system.
Jake was one of the members of SHAC imprisoned for several years after campaigning to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences. Their campaign didn’t involve bombs or arson, rather they campaigned to break the financial ties that Huntingdon had with other corporations. They also ran a website on which they posted news about the campaign — legal actions like protests and illegal actions like stealing animals from labs.
They were imprisoned for 'reporting on and encouraging others to engage in legal demonstrations and supporting the ideology of direct action'.
aarghissue 7is now online and can be downloaded here
When we picked the theme What is anarchism and how do we get there
we thought this would be a positive, uplifting collection of articles. We
should have known better. A look at the world around us should have been
enough: millions fleeing from war and terror, and more terror being inflicted
on those who thought that they had escaped, children being tortured in the hell
hole of Nauru as part of a policy of deterrence, homelessness and poverty
becoming rampant even in a relatively rich country like NZ.
So what are we supposed to think of a world
where you get into trouble for eating food instead of throwing it away? What do
you do if the act of dreaming seems to be too concrete, but you don’t want to
give up hope? How do you escape the daily urge to waste your energy fighting
against yet another neo-liberal austerity measure?
A common thread of angst, frustration and
anger runs through this edition of
aargh!, but there is also a thread of determination and willingness.