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Assassins Prepare Amid Rumors of Serbian Coup

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 116th installment in the series.

May 7 - 8, 1914: Assassins Prepare Amid Rumors of Serbian Coup

The Serbian army’s show of defiance against its supposed civilian masters in April 1914 was the catalyst for a coup attempt organized by the head of military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević (codename Apis, also the head of Crna Ruka, “Unity or Death,” otherwise known as the Black Hand—top row, left) against the government of Nikola Pašić. In May, the conspiracy gathered momentum, as the mutinous mood spread and the Black Hand newspaper Pijemont warned “bloody clashes between the army and police can be expected any minute.”

The growing tensions didn’t escape the notice of foreign observers. On May 7, 1914, the French ambassador to Serbia, Léon Descos, reported signs of dissent as well as the government’s attempts to purge Dimitrijević’s supporters through forced retirement, which only made the officers angrier: “The officers are in a ferment and hold meetings; the police keep them under observation and this irritates them. There are announcements of several resignations and placings on the retired list among the highest commands in the army. The army paper Pijemont… forecasts fresh turmoil.”

Austria-Hungary was understandably alarmed by the prospect of ultranationalist army officers seizing power in Serbia; while no great fans of Pašić, Foreign Minister Berchtold and chief of the general staff Conrad at least recognized that he was moderate compared to certain elements in the Serbian military. On May 8, 1914, the Austrian ambassador to Belgrade, Baron von Giesl, reported: 

The conflict between the government and the conspirator party (Crna Ruka)… has become so aggravated in the last few weeks that a violent clash between the two rivals for power seems not impossible… The King, who owes his throne to the conspirators, does not quite venture to side openly with them, but his sympathies belong to the Crna Ruka, as do those of the Crown Prince… I regard the possibility of violent eruptions, even of an overthrow of the Government or a coup d’etat, as not entirely inconceivable developments… unless the Government at the last moment capitulates to the military party, as it has done up to now.

In fact, that is more or less what happened: Ultimately, Dimitrijević’s coup attempt failed because King Peter moved to conciliate the officers by forcing Pašić and his cabinet to resign in early June 1914. This triggered new elections, leaving Serbia without an official government in the fateful month of July 1914.

Of course, even before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the fall of the Serbian government was nothing for Vienna to celebrate, as Giesl warned that no matter what happened, “the determining factor in Serbia, the army, is filled with Yugoslav chauvinism and hate for Austria-Hungary and will force a nationalist-chauvinistic and anti-Austrian bias upon the policy of whatever Government there may be.” In short, Serbia would remain a thorn in the side of the Dual Monarchy no matter who was in charge.

Plotters Train in Belgrade

In May 1914, three conspirators recruited by the Black Hand—Gavrilo Princip (bottom row, left), Nedeljko Čabrinović (bottom row, center), and Trifun Grabež (bottom row, right)—started preparing for the assassination of the Archduke, who was scheduled to visit Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia, after observing Austria-Hungary’s annual military maneuvers in late June.

The aspiring assassins, all then residing in the Serbian capital Belgrade, were provided with weapons and training by Milan Ciganović (top row, right), an employee of the Serbian state railways, and associate of Major Vojislav Tankosić (top row, center), who in turn was Dimitrijević’s right-hand man in the Black Hand. At Tankosić’s order Ciganović, a veteran of the Balkan Wars, took the plotters to Topčider Park, a quiet, wooded area in Belgrade, for target practice, where Princip soon distinguished himself as the best shot.

Eventually Tankosić and Ciganović supplied the assassins with six grenades, four pistols, a map of Bosnia, cyanide pills (to commit suicide if they were about to be caught), and some money. They also arranged for them to be smuggled across the border into Bosnia by Black Hand members who were serving as officers of the frontier guard; the assassins would begin the journey to Sarajevo in late May.

Meanwhile, the Archduke was apparently having second thoughts about the visit to Bosnia: Around this time, his personal secretary recalled that Franz Ferdinand grumbled that he “would have much preferred it if the Emperor had entrusted the mission to someone else.” In fact the Archduke repeatedly tried to get his uncle, the Emperor Franz Josef to cancel the visit, but to no avail—and then he began having premonitions.

In early May, he told his nephew Karl (who would become the last emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1916): “I know I shall soon be murdered. In this desk are papers that concern you. When that happens, take them, they are for you.” Not long after, his beloved wife Sophie, also worried about the visit to Bosnia, told her friend and fellow outcast from royal society, the Countess Larisch: “It is a dangerous undertaking, and I will not leave the Archduke to face it alone.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time
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istock (blank book) / Taeeun Yoo (cover art)

Madeleine L’Engle’s acclaimed science fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time has been delighting readers since its 1962 release. Whether you’ve never had the chance to read this timeless tale or haven’t picked it up in a while, here are some facts that are sure to get you in the mood for a literary journey through the universe—not to mention its upcoming big-screen adaptation.

1. THE AUTHOR’S PERSISTENCE PAID OFF.

She’s a revered writer today, but Madeleine L’Engle’s early literary career was rocky. She nearly gave up on writing on her 40th birthday. L’Engle stuck with it, though, and on a 10-week cross-country camping trip she found herself inspired to begin writing A Wrinkle in Time.

2. EINSTEIN SPARKED L'ENGLE'S INTEREST IN QUANTUM PHYSICS AND TESSERACTS.

L’Engle was never a strong math student, but as an adult she found herself drawn to concepts of cosmology and non-linear time after picking up a book about Albert Einstein. L’Engle adamantly believed that any theory of writing is also a theory of cosmology because “one cannot discuss structure in writing without discussing structure in all life." The idea that religion, science, and magic are different aspects of a single reality and should not be thought of as conflicting is a recurring theme in her work. 

3. L’ENGLE BASED THE PROTAGONIST ON HERSELF.

L’Engle often compared her young heroine, Meg Murry, to her childhood self—gangly, awkward, and a poor student. Like many young girls, both Meg and L’Engle were dissatisfied with their looks and felt their appearances were homely, unkempt, and in a constant state of disarray.

4. IT WAS REJECTED BY MORE THAN TWO DOZEN PUBLISHERS.

L’Engle weathered 26 rejections before Farrar, Straus & Giroux finally took a chance on A Wrinkle in Time. Many publishers were nervous about acquiring the novel because it was too difficult to categorize. Was it written for children or adults? Was the genre science fiction or fantasy? 

5. L’ENGLE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO CATEGORIZE THE BOOK, EITHER.

To compound publishers’ worries, L’Engle famously rejected these arbitrary categories and insisted that her writing was for anyone, regardless of age. She believed that children could often understand concepts that would baffle adults, due to their childlike ability to use their imaginations with the unknown. 

6. MEG MURRY WAS ONE OF SCIENCE FICTION'S FIRST GREAT FEMALE PROTAGONISTS ...

… and that scared publishers even more. L’Engle believed that the relatively uncommon choice of a young heroine contributed to her struggles getting the book in stores since men and boys dominated science fiction. 

Nevertheless, the author stood by her heroine and consistently promoted acceptance of one’s unique traits and personality. When A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbury Award, L’Engle used her acceptance speech to decry forces working for the standardization of mankind, or, as she so eloquently put it, “making muffins of us, muffins like every other muffin in the muffin tin.” L’Engle’s commitment to individualism contributed to the very future of science fiction. Without her we may never have met The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen or Divergent’s Tris Prior. 

7. THE MURKY GENRE HELPED MAKE THE BOOK A SUCCESS.

Once A Wrinkle in Time hit bookstores, its slippery categorization stopped being a drawback. The book was smart enough for adults without losing sight of the storytelling elements kids love. A glowing 1963 review in The Milwaukee Sentinel captured this sentiment: “A sort of space age Alice in Wonderland, Miss L’Engle’s book combines a warm story of family life with science fiction and a most convincing case for nonconformity. Adults who still enjoy Alice will find it delightful reading along with their youngsters.” 

8. THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY THE FIRST OF A SERIES.

Although the other four novels are not as well known as A Wrinkle in Time, the “Time Quintet” is a favorite of science fiction fans. The series, written over a period of nearly 30 years, follows the Murry family’s continuing battle over evil forces.

9. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

Oddly enough, A Wrinkle in Time has been accused of being both too religious and anti-Christian. L’Engle’s particular brand of liberal Christianity was deeply rooted in universal salvation, a view that some critics have claimed, “[D]enigrates organized Christianity and promotes an occultic world view.” There have also been objections to the use of Jesus Christ’s name alongside figures like Buddha, Shakespeare, and Gandhi.  Detractors feel that grouping these names together trivializes Christ’s divine nature. 

10. L’ENGLE LEARNED TO SEE THE UPSIDE OF THIS CONTROVERSY.

The author revealed how she felt about all this sniping in a 2001 interview with The New York Times. She brushed it aside, saying, “It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, 'Ah, the hell with it.' It's great publicity, really.'' 

11. THE SCIENCE FICTION HAS INSPIRED SCIENCE FACTS.

American astronaut Janice Voss once told L’Engle that A Wrinkle in Time inspired her career path. When Voss asked if she could bring a copy of the novel into space, L’Engle jokingly asked why she couldn’t go, too. 

Inspiring astronauts wasn’t L’Engle’s only out-of-this-world achievement. In 2013 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) honored the writer’s memory by naming a crater on Mercury’s south pole “L’Engle.” 

12. A STAR-STUDDED MOVIE ADAPTATIONS WILL HIT THEATERS IN 2018.

Although L’Engle was famously skeptical of film adaptations of the novel, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay (13th; Selma) is bringing a star-filled version of the book to the big screen next year. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis are among the film's stars. It's due in theaters on March 9, 2018.

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Listen to an Exclusive Preview of the New X-Files Audio Drama
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Audible / Chris Sanders

In April, Audible announced that it would be releasing an audio drama based on The X-Files, a sort of prequel to the latest TV revival in audio form. Now The X-Files: Cold Cases is finally here, and you can listen to two exclusive clips from it below.

Complete with voicing by members of the original cast, the plot takes place between 2008's (terrible) The X-Files: I Want to Believe and last year's revival series. In “An Old Acquaintance,” you’ll hear Agent Mulder and get a sneak peek into the appearance of a mysterious figure with a prosthetic arm. (Alex Krycek, perhaps?)

Obviously, the best part of the original X-Files is the banter and simmering tension between Agents Mulder and Scully, so here’s another tidbit featuring Scully trying to prod Mulder into their scheduled FBI Reinstatement Training. You know you've been craving those snarky Mulder comebacks.

The four-plus hour audio drama is no replacement for the TV show, however. You just can’t substitute David Duchovny’s smirking face. From the previews, it seems like the script is a little cheesy, and the actors won’t be getting any awards for their performances. But then again, The X-Files never shied away from camp.

David Duchovny speaks into a recording studio mic.
Audible / Chris Sanders

The audio is out there, and you can get it for $25 on Audible or free with a 30-day trial membership.

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