28 JUNE 1914
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, are gunned down in the Bosnian town of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princep. The archduke, presumptive heir to the twin thrones of Austria-Hungary, was on an inspection tour of the army when, through a series of events that would have been comical
if they had not led to such an enormous tragedy, he and his wife fell to the assassin's bullets.
There has been much speculation about what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand had survived
. Some argue that he would have liberalized Austria-Hungary, making into a constitutional, federative state. In fact, Franz Ferdinand was interested in reforming the empire along "trialist" lines - i.e. he wanted to raise the northern (Czech, Slovak, Polish) and southern (Croatian, Slovene) Slavs to the same level as the Austrians and Hungarians. That was not, however, out of any love for the Slavs, but out of an intense dislike for the Hungarians. Franz Ferdinand, who spent much of his time in his home in Bohemia, evidently believed that the Germans and Slavs of the empire were natural allies and would unite to put the Hungarians "in their place."
The Habsburg heir's fear and distrust of the Hungarians may have been well-founded. The Austro-Hungarian military had three principle war plans at the turn of the twentieth century: Plan B, for a war with Serbia alone; Plan R, for a war with Serbia and Russia; and Plan U, for a war with Hungary. It may seem absurd that a nation's military spent time planning for war against a part of its own nation, but it was just one of the many absurdities of the empire that Robert Musil, in his Man Without Qualities
, described so memorably as "Kakania."
Whether Franz Ferdinand would have ultimately reformed the empire or destroyed it we will never know. Any plans for a federative solution to the dual monarchy's problems died with him, and the only steps made at reform were attempted at the very end of the war, when it was already too late to save the crumbling Habsburg edifice.