Excerpts for Sleepwalkers : How Europe Went to War in 1914

The Sleepwalkers

By Christopher Clark

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Christopher Clark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-114665-7

Serbian Ghosts
Murder in Belgrade
Shortly after two o'clock on the morning of 11 June 1903, twenty-eight
officers of the Serbian army approached the main entrance of the royal
palace in Belgrade.* After an exchange of fire, the sentries standing
guard before the building were arrested and disarmed. With keys taken
from the duty captain, the conspirators broke into the reception hall
and made for the royal bedchamber, hurrying up stairways and along
corridors. Finding the king's apartments barred by a pair of heavy oaken
doors, the conspirators blew them open with a carton of dynamite. The
charge was so strong that the doors were torn from their hinges and
thrown across the antechamber inside, killing the royal adjutant behind
them. The blast also fused the palace electrics, so that the building was
plunged into darkness. Unperturbed, the intruders discovered some can-
dles in a nearby room and entered the royal apartment. By the time they
reached the bedroom, King Alexandar and Queen Draga were no longer
to be found. But the queen's French novel was splayed face-down on the
bedside table. Someone touched the sheets and felt that the bed was still
warm - it seemed they had only recently left. Having searched the bed-
chamber in vain, the intruders combed through the palace with candles
and drawn revolvers.
While the officers strode from room to room, firing at cabinets, tap-
estries, sofas and other potential hiding places, King Alexandar and
Queen Draga huddled upstairs in a tiny annexe adjoining the bedcham-
ber where the queen's maids usually ironed and darned her clothes. For
* Today the former palace houses the Belgrade City Assembly on Dragoslava Jovanovica.

Roads to Sarajevo
nearly two hours, the search continued. The king took advantage of this
interlude to dress as quietly as he could in a pair of trousers and a red
silk shirt; he had no wish to be found naked by his enemies. The queen
managed to cover herself in a petticoat, white silk stays and a single
yellow stocking.
Across Belgrade, other victims were found and killed: the queen's
two brothers, widely suspected of harbouring designs on the Serbian
throne, were induced to leave their sister's home in Belgrade and 'taken
to a guard-house close to the Palace, where they were insulted and bar-
barously stabbed'.1 Assassins also broke into the apartments of the
prime minister, Dimitrije Cincar-Markovic, and the minister of war,
Milovan Pavlovic. Both were slain; twenty-five rounds were fired into
Pavlovic, who had concealed himself in a wooden chest. Interior Minis-
ter Belimir Theodorovic was shot and mistakenly left for dead but later
recovered from his wounds; other ministers were placed under arrest.
Back at the palace, the king's loyal first adjutant, Lazar Petrovic, who
had been disarmed and seized after an exchange of fire, was led through
the darkened halls by the assassins and forced to call out to the king
from every door. Returning to the royal chamber for a second search,
the conspirators at last found a concealed entry behind the drapery.
When one of the assailants proposed to cut the wall open with an axe,
Petrovic saw that the game was up and agreed to ask the king to come
out. From behind the panelling, the king enquired who was calling, to
which his adjutant responded: 'I am, your Laza, open the door to your
officers!' The king replied: 'Can I trust the oath of my officers?' The con-
spirators replied in the affirmative. According to one account, the king,
flabby, bespectacled and incongruously dressed in his red silk shirt,
emerged with his arms around the queen. The couple were cut down in
a hail of shots at point-blank range. Petrovic, who drew a concealed
revolver in a final hopeless bid to protect his master (or so it was later
claimed), was also killed. An orgy of gratuitous violence followed. The
corpses were stabbed with swords, torn with a bayonet, partially disem-
bowelled and hacked with an axe until they were mutilated beyond
recognition, according to the later testimony of the king's traumatized
Italian barber, who was ordered to collect the bodies and dress them for
burial. The body of the queen was hoisted to the railing of the bedroom
window and tossed, virtually naked and slimy with gore, into the gar-
dens. It was reported that as the assassins attempted to do the same

Serbian Ghosts
with Alexandar, one of his hands closed momentarily around the rail-
ing. An officer hacked through the fist with a sabre and the body fell,
with a sprinkle of severed digits, to the earth. By the time the assassins
had gathered in the gardens to have a smoke and inspect the results of
their handiwork, it had begun to rain.2
The events of 11 June 1903 marked a new departure in Serbian political
history. The Obrenovic dynasty that had ruled Serbia throughout most
of the country's brief life as a modern independent state was no more.
Within hours of the assassination, the conspirators announced the ter-
mination of the Obrenovic line and the succession to the throne of Petar
Karadjordjevic, currently living in Swiss exile.
Why was there such a brutal reckoning with the Obrenovic dynasty?
Monarchy had never established a stable institutional existence in
Serbia. The root of the problem lay partly in the coexistence of rival
dynastic families. Two great clans, the Obrenovic and the Karadjordjevic,
Petar I Karadjordjevic

Roads to Sarajevo
had distinguished themselves in the struggle to liberate Serbia from
Ottoman control. The swarthy former cattleherd 'Black George' (Ser-
bian: 'Kara Djordje') Petrovic, founder of the Karadjordjevic line, led an
uprising in 1804 that succeeded for some years in driving the Ottomans
out of Serbia, but fled into Austrian exile in 1813 when the Ottomans
mounted a counter-offensive. Two years later, a second uprising unfolded
under the leadership of Miloš Obrenovic, a supple political operator
who succeeded in negotiating the recognition of a Serbian Principality


Excerpted from The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. Copyright © 2013 Christopher Clark. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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