Tyrannicide has nothing to do with Tyrannosaurs, but it has been around almost as long. The original tyrannicides were Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who murdered the Greek leader Hipparchus in 514 BC, a leader who was referred to as a ‘tyrant’ despite being a patron of the arts and retaining the popular support of the people. These politicians just can’t get a break.
Tyrannicide and revolution come hand in hand, but the sad fact is that more often than not the act of murdering an unjust ruler has failed to bring about any major change in society, at least not one that the assassins wanted. Tyrannicide often ends in total failure too, and ‘total failure’ could be one way of describing the actions of young Bogdan Žerajić in June 1910.
Žerajic was just 24 years old when that summer came around. One of nine children, Bogdan was born into a poor family in the town of Nevesinje, some 40km east of the glorious city of Mostar. Žerajić went on to study law at the University of Zagreb, but abject poverty meant he had to finish his studies early in order to feed himself. Bogdan found work as a primary school teacher in Serbia, and it was here that the unjust political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina began to eat away at his conscience.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was de facto handed to Austria-Hungary by the Ottomans in 1878, and despite the Habsburgs attempts to turn it into a model colony Bosnia had well and truly stagnated. It was the poorest part of the empire by some margin, a forgotten backwater on the edge of the empire. Austria made it all a bit worse by completely annexing Bosnia in 1908. All of a sudden the Muslims of Bosnia were ruled by a Christian Emperor, and the Christian population saw its dreams of autonomy washed down the hole in the floor.
Žerajić was one such disappointed young Christian, and he educated himself on the rumblings of Europe by immersing himself in Russian socialist and anarchist literature. Žerajić befriended a young revolutionary by the name of Vladimir Gaćinović, the ideologue behind the group known as Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia). Žerajić was growing ever antsy however, and all that was needed was something to light his idealistic torch paper.
That something came in the form of a newspaper article. The article claimed that the people of Bosnia were as good as beaten, and that there was no national event or major tragedy that had happened or will happened that could pull them together into a revolutionary movement. Žerajić decided to initiate such a happening.
On June 3, 1910, Emperor Franz Jozef made a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina to check out his new colony. Žerajić decided that he was going to assassinate the Emperor on this trip, and as such he followed him from Sarajevo down to Mostar and back again. For reasons that have never been made entirely clear, Žerajić decided not to off ol’ Franz. Bogdan was within touching distance of the Emperor at Mostar train station, but for whatever reason his pistol stayed cold in his pocket.
Maybe it was the shame of his lack of action, or maybe even a desire to off someone at the heart of the occupation, but one week later Žerajić was at it again. The figure in his crosshairs this time was the newly-appointed governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Croat Marijan Varešanin. Žerajić took up his spot next to the Miljacka River in Sarajevo, and waited for the governor’s car to pass.
The car trundled by, and Žerajić fired five shots in its direction. It isn’t clear whether Žerajić knew he had failed or whether he thought the job had been done, but the 24-year-old Bogdan decided he wasn’t going to miss with the sixth bullet. The main problem for Žerajić was that he decided to aim this one at his temple, ending his life on June 10 in Sarajevo.
Žerajić wasn’t only dead, he was dead and unsuccessful. All five of his shots had failed to off the governor. Varešanin’s car stopped and allowed the still-alive governor to inspect the not-alive body of his would-be-murderer. Varešanin strode up to Žerajić’s body, blood pouring from the now obsolete mouth of the boy from Nevesinje, before kicking and spitting on the corpse.
Initially, the Bosnian and Serbian press portrayed Bogdan Žerajić as a lone madman who acted on his own accord. This is half true, as Žerajić had made it clear to Gaćinović in the days prior that his actions were of his own initiative, that what he was to do was an act of personal revolt. Over time the opinion changed, and Žerajić became an inspiration to young revolutionaries all over Bosnia and Serbia.
Gaćinović made sure that his legend grew, printing poems and literature that presented young Bogdan as a martyr for the south slavic cause. A young revolutionary by the name of Gavrilo Princip came across these as a member of an underground movement, and became inspired by the actions of Žerajić. Four years and 18 days after Žerajić had failed in his attempted tyrannicide, Princip succeeded where five boys before him on the same day had failed. But that is another story for another time.