Only king buried in U.S. to be sent home
By MICHAEL TARM
LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. - After an eventful but often tragic life,
Yugoslavia's last monarch ended up in an unlikely spot: entombed in
an ornately decorated suburban Chicago church that was intended to be
his final resting place.
But it turns out that resting place might not be so final after all.
The son of exiled King Peter II, a boy king who fought the Nazis only
to see his kingdom fall to communism, plans to bring his father's
remains back to the land of his birth. Some Serbian Americans,
though, want to keep their claim to reputedly the only king buried in
the United States.
Crown Prince Alexander has not set a date for exhuming his father's
body from St. Sava, one of the leading Serbian Orthodox monasteries
in the United States, and reburying him in Serbia _ the Balkan nation
that once formed the core of Peter II's kingdom. But he said it will be soon.
"The plan is _ and that is a solid plan _ that he'll be brought
here," the prince said in a recent phone interview from his palace in
Belgrade, the Serbian capital.
The king died in Denver in 1970. Communist rule made burial in his
former realm impossible, so his will requested interment in St. Sava.
For many Serbian Americans in the Midwest, the king's grave is a
source of pride. Several thousand visit the church annually to see
the grave and pay their respects.
"It was his own request to be buried (where he is now)," said Alex
Colakovic, sales manager at the Serbian Social Center near Chicago.
"I'd rather have him stay here."
The handsome, diminutive king spent the years preceding his death
visiting exile communities in the United States, England and other
countries _ often helping to raise money for charities. He had
apartments in England and France and died after falling ill during
one of his frequent visits to the U.S. He was just 47.
He asked to be buried at St. Sava because of the hundreds of
thousands of Serbians living in the Chicago area; he also cited
admiration for Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois native, newspaper
accounts at the time said.
"I want to rest near my freedom-loving people," those reports quoted
his will as saying. "I must always share their destiny." He was
buried in a Yugoslav Air Force uniform, and more than 10,000 people
attended his funeral.
His status among Serbian Americans is immediately evident inside the church.
By the door is a drawing of the king on a church wall. And his
body-length grave marker is just feet from where priests say
liturgical services amid brightly colored frescoes that blanket
virtually every inch of the sanctuary's curvy walls.
Peter II is widely seen as both a heroic and deeply tragic figure.
In his 1954 memoir, he described how his life began to spin out of
control at age 11 when a government minister broke the news that his
father, King Alexander I, had been assassinated and that Peter now was king.
"The minister's wife held me in her arms and I cried on her
shoulder," he wrote. "'What has happened?' I kept asking. 'What has
happened to Papa? What will happen now?'" He added that "the
assassin's bullet ... wrenched me from a happy childhood."
During World War II, the young king refused to ally Yugoslavia with
the Nazis, prompting Hitler to invade and drive him into exile.
Later, communists confiscated his wealth, forcing him to live the
rest of his life abroad in comparative scarcity.
The head of Serbian Orthodox in the Midwest, whose home overlooks St.
Sava's church, spoke lovingly of the king. But when asked about the
possibility of a reburial, he would say only that previous talk of
that prospect prompted concerned calls from area Serbians.
"The monarch," Metropolitan Christopher explained, "is a symbolic
representation of the life and values of Serbians."
But if the king is a symbol to Serbians in the United States, that's
doubly true for those in Serbia, said Prince Alexander. He likened
deceased monarchs of Yugoslavia to America's war dead at its national
cemetery in Washington, D.C.
"If you visit Arlington Cemetery, you have heroes there, and they
belong there," he said. "In Europe, you have heads of state, and
kings and queens who are buried in their own country. Isn't that normal?"
The London-born prince, who advocates a restoration of the monarchy
in a British-style parliamentary system, returned to Serbia for good
himself in 2001 _ after Yugoslavia had split into several independent
nations following a deadly civil war.
He bristled when asked if he believed U.S. Serbians might try to
oppose his father's exhumation and reburial.
"They have no option," he said. "He is the head of state of a foreign
country ... he belongs here; this is his home. So no one can object."
Not all Serbian Americans are upset by the prospect of relinquishing the king.
"I think moving his body would be all right with Serbian Americans,"
said Father Uros Ocokoljich, a longtime Orthodox priest in the
Chicago area. "In the end, everybody knows he belongs more there than
here. And they have a place for him there."
That place is the stately Mausoleum of St. George, a forested hilltop
site built 100 years ago near Belgrade specifically to inter royals.
Among those buried there is Peter II's father, the assassinated king.
It is a place of reverence for Serbs, as well as a top tourist attraction.
Most importantly, Prince Alexander said, reburial in Serbia will
correct a historical quirk of fate that led to his father's burial
5,000 miles from his beloved home.
"We are now going in a complete circle," he said, "and making things
wrong into right."
On the Net:
Crown Prince Alexander: http://www.royalfamily.org
The Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States: http://www.serborth.org
A service of the Associated Press(AP)
Published on: Saturday, March 3, 2007