On June 28 1914, a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the presumptive heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, and inadvertently trigger World War 1.

The Serbs were one of the many ethnicities that had sought to assert their independence from the Austro-Hungarians’ foreign dominance. The actual bullet fired by Gavrilo Princip, known as “the bullet that started World War 1” is in Konopiste Castle in Czech Republic (erstwhile Czechoslovakia, which birthed yet another breakaway nation i.e., Slovakia in 1992).

Modern-day Slovakia, which was part of that historical Austro-Hungarian Empire, is in bloody news, yet again. After 110 years to that date of the killing in 1914, another attempted assassination has sent shock waves through the region, and beyond. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot at Banikov Square in the sleepy Slovakian township of Handlova.

The suspected gunman behind this recent shocker is an unlikely 72-year-old poet, who pursued his own political fight for imagined ‘independence’ from the clutches of a foreign power. In this instance, supposedly revolting against the increasingly conservative politics and pro-Russian tilt of the Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico.

If the Russia-Ukraine war personified the curse and advent of intolerance, illiberalism, and violent instincts in the supposedly ‘First World’ of Europe – this assassination attempt further reconfirms the toxic culture of violence and bloodshed, even in the so-called ‘First World’ democracies of the proverbial West.

It is believed that the shooter had got radicalised by the bitterly contested Presidential elections, just a few months ago. And as seems to be the political-cultural wont of the times that be, individuals opting to settle differences of opinion by way of a gun, as opposed to the democratic way of free and fair elections, reiterated itself. The Slovakian President, Zuzana Caputova, described the incident as an “attack on democracy”.

Polarised times lend themselves to violence more naturally and generously, than saner times do. Sadly, many in the positions of power know this fact well. They deliberately nurture such angst and vengeful emotions in society, as the resultant reaction from a few misguided people.

This then enables the larger powers-that-be to selectively posit an incident and justify their own egregious preferences and reactions. Worse, it also allows the most cunning form of extrapolation to defame the entirety of a ‘type’ of people by attributing the blame of violence onto them. Thus ‘sanctifying’ a far more vicious, deadly, and disproportionate revenge.

It happened in Israel where the ‘world’s largest open prison’ i.e., Gaza Strip was suffocated to such an extent that the likes of Hamas perpetuated the most heinous and deplorable reaction (violence can never be justified, whatever be the underlying reasons).

But what followed from the Israeli State was a systematic carnage that spared none. It did not differentiate between Hamas or an average Palestinian civilian amongst the Gaza populace. It resulted in butchering of over 35,000 Palestinians, smugly justifying to none, but to the unhinged State of Israel itself.

The State of Israel knowingly created a tinderbox situation, and then displayed selective outrage. It is as complicit as the likes of Hamas, if not worse.

In recent times, Slovakia also mirrored that mad rush amongst democracies to turn hard-right and adopt extreme positions. From a left-of-centre politician to one who chose illiberal, unprogressive, and conservative positions, is yet another story of a national narrative gone populist-regressive under Robert Fico.

He is now openly cozying up to Putin/Russia, becoming anti-European Union, against LGBTQ rights, and even against the beleaguered Ukrainians. In many ways, Slovakia is looking increasingly like neighbouring Hungary under Viktor Orban, as it drifts away from political liberalism. Now, Slovakia too seems to follow the instinct of patent tinderbox creators with Robert Fico’s party now blaming “the liberal media” and suggesting that they had “built a gallows” for the Prime Minister.

As it usually happens, the interior minister was quick to pounce on the situation and insist that, “we are on the verge of civil war”. This was to presumably crack down even more repressively and coerce the media discourse into complete submission.

The liberals will now get blamed for creating a counterintuitive and ironic environment of intolerance, hatred, and violence! Conveniently, the eccentric views and actions of the individual shooter will now be superimposed on the entirety of liberals.

Liberals will be blamed for such violence, even if the majority of them would not agree with violent means to settle political disagreements. That the larger symptoms of the dangerously polarised environment were already existing, and deliberately and regularly fanned, will not be considered.

In a cruel twist of logic that only makes sense to dictatorial leaders like Viktor Orban, he claimed incredulously, “Slovakia started on the path of peace, and this was a big help for Hungary” and that, “We have now lost this support. We know that the perpetrator was a pro-war person”.

All this of course was said without a shred of evidence. Even the initial description of the shooter from that of a ‘Lone Wolf’ has made way tellingly to an ostensible ‘Pack of Wolves’ to insinuate a larger conspiracy. That such times beg for restraint and moderation is lost to many within and outside who want to make the most political capital out of such a tragedy.

The pretext for a major crackdown of civilian societies, media, liberals, and opposition parties is already set and instead of healing and restoration, the stage for reprisals, revenges, and political assertions by those who created such a toxic environment in the first place, is inevitable.

While quick enquiry and delivering justice onto the perpetrator of the shootout is of top priority, so is the urgency to cool down tempers, address polarisation and disallow politics on tragedies.

Lt. Gen. Bhopinder Singh is the former Lieutenant Governor of The Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry and an Indian Army officer who was awarded the PVSM. Views are the writer’s own.