Cape Town-based author and adventurer Tim Butcher retraces
Princip's steps in his just-published book "The Trigger: Hunting
the Assassin Who Brought the World to War."
Starting from Princip's remote home village in present-day
Bosnia, Butcher hiked through rugged wolf and bear country and
even managed to pursue some trout in his quest to unlock the
Along the way, he enjoyed central European peasant hospitality
and found previously unknown school reports for Princip in
obscure archives where historians had failed to peer.
Butcher argues that Princip was not the Serbian nationalist he
has been portrayed as, but a patriot striving for a greater
His journey ended in Sarajevo, where Princip fired the shots
that changed the course of 20th century history.
Butcher, who covered the Balkan conflicts as a reporter in the
1990s for the Daily Telegraph and has previously written two
adventure travel books set in Africa, spoke to Reuters by phone
about his new work and his historical quarry.
Q: What motivated you to write the book?
A: The primary motivation is still not understanding
where the First World War comes from, how we came to lose so
many millions of people around the world. That's really the
genesis of this book. I wanted to go back to the founding
sequence of the First World War narrative.
Q: As a South Africa-based writer, what lessons do you
think this country's transition offers to places such as the
A: I think it's a lesson of hope. In the Balkans, we
haven't had many Mandelas. Having worked as a journalist in both
environments, the Balkans and in South Africa, I know which
place has divisions that are more charged. And that's the
Balkans. Which place thinks more about tomorrow than yesterday,
that's South Africa.
[to top of second column]
Q: How do you think Princip would have reacted to the events
he unleashed if, say, he had lived to see Tito's Yugoslavia after
World War Two?
A: A complicated question because, of course, he unleashed
events that led to world war ... I think he would have been shocked,
and let's be absolutely honest: Princip is not the cause of the
First World War, he is but the trigger. The cause is about the
strategic rivalries between the great powers, the willingness to go
to war. I mean, they wilfully accepted an assassination on a street
corner in the Balkans as a reason to go to war in Belgium, for
crying out loud. How insane is that?
I argue very strongly in this, and I think he has been misunderstood
by history, (that) he was a Yugoslav nationalist. And people have
missed that, partly because they're ignorant, partly because they
haven't done the research, and partly because Yugoslavia is out of
fashion. It became pretty unfashionable in the 1990s. But if you
take those goggles off from the 1990s and put on goggles from 100
years ago, Yugoslavia was a very romantic, positive, utopian idea.
So he had a lot of romance about him, to be brutally honest. I don't
think he would have been totally into Tito. But he would have
appreciated what Tito did, which was to bring everyone together.
Q: What is your next book project?
A: I can't really say at the moment. I'm trying to work out
the right balance of history and travel.
(Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Mark Trevelyan)
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