Still Having Trouble with Geography / Revisiting Belgrade
Apparently I’m a bit behind in the news.
A few years ago I posted this terribly written piece about Peter II of Yugoslavia that ended up complaining about my own lack of geographical knowledge specifically and American’s lack of knowledge of anything we can’t blow up in general.
It had started because of the mention of the anniversary of Peter II’s death, and his status as the only foreign dignitary to be buried on US soil. It makes sense, why wouldn’t they be reinterred in their native land if they died while in the US? Still, that’s a cool bit of trivia.
Except it isn’t anymore. And it hasn’t been for a while.
Peter II’s history was interesting to read about; his ascension to the throne of a country not much older than he was, having been formed in the aftermath of World War I, his exile from that country due to World War II, marriage to a Greek princess, his removal by the Communist government that seized power following the war, and his death in 1970 in Colorado after a failed liver transplant. He had one son, Crown Prince Alexander, born during World War II, who would very much like to see the monarchy restored to power in Serbia and who was mentioned as intending to return his father’s remains to Serbia.
| Whet Moser offered a more thorough view of Peter’s life for Chicago Magazine |
I would Google-around from time to time to see if it had happened, but beyond a few articles I found mentioning Prince Alexander’s intentions, I never came across any more details about it. The other day I was looking through the stats for Gas Station Burrito and saw that my post had popped up a couple times for people. It reminded me of the whole thing, so I went looking to see what was going on with Peter II’s remains.
It turned out that Prince Alexander did return the king’s remains to Serbia. Back in January 2013. In May that year Peter was buried alongside his wife, and nearby to his cousin and mother, who herself was reinterred from the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore where she was buried in 1961. Like I said, I’m a little behind. Look, I had to watch all of Dexter and a good chunk of Sons of Anarchy this year, not to mention read an obscene amount of Amos Walker books, I don’t always have time to keep up on the Google news alerts I have set for the Serbian royal family, I apologize.
As a fan of quirky trivia/historical facts I liked that there was this one foreign king buried in the United States. I can’t be the only one who liked it either. A few things I’d read implied it was a source of pride and comfort for Serbians living in the US, that this symbol of their country was interred here.
Peter II had chosen his interim burial site at St Sava Monastery Church knowing that he couldn’t return to his homeland. I’m pretty nearly positive that the Wikipedia entry was edited after his re-interment in Serbia to refer to St Sava’s as “interim”. I don’t think he ever expected to return. Death from cirrhosis at 47 would imply he wasn’t entirely optimistic about ever making it back to Yugoslavia, living or dead. It didn’t imply he was optimistic about much of anything.
However, as someone who likes the world to not be a horrible place, I enjoy that Crown Prince Alexander has returned with his family to Serbia and worked towards generating a national Serbian spirit in his country. I enjoy that he was able to bring his father home; that after more than forty years since his death, after his country was torn apart by world war, communism and civil war, a man—not even a king, forget the royal titles for a minute—has finally returned to his homeland.
So today was the anniversary of the death of King Peter II of Yugoslavia, according to my random facts widget. This was November 4, 1970, and he died in Denver, Colorado. To date, he is the only European monarch interred on American soil, a fact which while making perfect sense, is an interesting tidbit to consider. Here, I’ll save you some time and give you a little more about him, based on what little there is at my home away from home, Wikipedia, because despite finding this interesting, I’d never heard of him before.
He was the third and last king of Yugoslavia, and spent half his life living in the United States. He ascended to the throne of Yugoslavia in 1934 after his father, King Alexander I was assassinated in Marseille. This I’d never heard about either, but when it comes to the 1930s all anyone hears is the rise of national socialism (you know, Hitler and the Nazis) in Germany, the Great Depression in the United States, and if you have particularly well rounded European History professor, maybe the monstrous Stalin-made famine in Ukraine as a result of the attempted rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union that killed more people than the Holocaust.
So at eleven years old Peter became the king of Yugoslavia. Of course a regency was established, headed by Alexander I’s cousin, Prince Pavle. In March 1941, wise old Prince Paul sided Yugoslavia with the Axis powers in the Tripartite Pact, prompting Peter two days later to have himself declared of legal age to rule. In this way he participated in a British-supported coup d’état, essentially for the control of his own regime, to break his country away from the Axis powers.
At this point, I found myself thinking that this seventeen year old has some balls on him; he may have had the backing of the great British Empire but his cousin surely had support within the Yugoslavian government. At seventeen I spent most of my time at Denny’s or trying to decide what college I was going to attend or what I’d study. At seventeen, Peter wrestled control of his own country from his cousin amidst the competing pressure of two of the most powerful nations in Europe at the time. Kind of makes you feel like a chump.
Of course, Hitler threw a solid chunk of his war machine against Yugoslavia and Greece, and the Luftwaffe pounded Belgrade for three days and nights in what was cleverly designated Operation Punishment. Sometimes having a set isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be since by the second week of April the Yugoslavian government had surrendered and fled the country.
By June, after having traveled through Greece, Jerusalem, Palestine and Cairo, Peter was in England with the heads of state of numerous other governments in exile as a result of Hitler’s advances. He made the best of it of course by attending Cambridge and joining the Royal Air Force. Oh, and he married a Greek princess.
It wasn’t all princess-banging and fun times in Old Blighty though. Back home, Peter’s country had been divided up to appease the cannibalism of Italian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and German imperialism. In this wartime insanity two forces had emerged in Yugoslavia, both with the goal of liberating their nation from foreign occupation, but of different political minds. The first was the Partisans, a communist-led left-wing movement; the second was a royalist group of mostly Serbians, the Chetniks.
These two groups unfortunately forgot that despite their internal allegiances, their nation as a whole was at war with the Axis powers, and instead began fighting each other. Specifically, the Chetniks began attacking Partisan strongholds and seeking assistance from the Axis powers. And that would be the Axis powers, as in the occupying forces they had originally sought to overthrow, not the death metal band from Sweden. As word spread of the increased collaboration between the Chetniks and Axis, the Allies aligned themselves with the Partisans. In 1944 the Partisan commander was appointed Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of Yugoslavia. In November 1945, Peter was deposed by Yugoslavia’s Constituent Assembly.
When the war ended, Peter moved to the United States, and died at age 47 following a failed liver transplant after years suffering from cirrhosis. He had one son, the Crown Prince Alexander, the legitimate heir to the Yugoslavian throne. Alexander has promised, since 2007, to return his father’s body to the family plot in Serbia. He hopes also to move Peter’s mother, Queen Marie’s body from the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore, near Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom, to Serbia as well to be interred next to her son.
This plan has upset many Serbian-Americans who attest that Peter had specifically chosen St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Monastery at Libertyville, Illinois as his resting place, as a unifying point of pride for Serbians living in America. This burial plot is described as “interim resting place because of the extenuating circumstance that has afflicted his homeland.” Maybe the word interim doesn’t translate so well for the Serbs who are pissed off about the alleged move of Peter’s remains. Rumor has it Alexander is planning this move for the spring of 2011, so we’ll see what, if anything comes of that.
But as interesting as I found all this, that’s not really the point I’m trying to make.
Remember a little while I mentioned Operation Punishment and the Luftwaffe bombing of Belgrade for three days and nights? Now, when I read that I thought, Belgrade? Why would they bomb Belgrade? To which, after a quick Adam West Batman-esque “To Wikipedia!” complete with swirling W scene jump, I responded to myself: Because it was the capital of Yugoslavia, jerkoff.
Apparently, when I saw Belgrade I read Belfast. I had a moment. A senior moment, a blond moment, and whatever you want to call the moment. Why would the Axis powers bomb Ireland in retaliation for Yugoslavia going back on their deal? That’s what was going through my mind.
I actually had to look up Belgrade to solve this little conundrum. Oh! Oh, that Belgrade!
But that’s what a doucher I am. Because it wasn’t just that I realized I was thinking of Belfast instead, and by the way, I even looked up Belfast just to be sure. But I still had to look up Belgrade, since I really had no idea where the fuck that was.
You could put a map of Yugoslavia (Serbia) in front of me, and I probably couldn’t pick out the capital unless there was a little star on there somewhere. Even worse, throw a map of Eastern Europe in front of me, and I probably couldn’t pick out Serbia on the map.
This didn’t really surprise me though. It isn’t one of those things that falls into the useful information category when you think about it. Sure, it’s embarrassing to confuse the capitals of two nations simply because they both start with Bel, but why would I need to know where Serbia is? I have a general idea, more or less. I don’t see myself going there anytime soon, it’s not like I need to know the most direct route at the moment.
Maybe that really isn’t an excuse though.
In a survey done in 2002 by National Geographic, 3000 18-24 year olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States determined that as a whole, we suffer from geographic illiteracy. Sweden scored the highest, but no one really knows where they are either, and Mexico the lowest. But Mexico, really? All they know is, “¡Ándale! ¡Andale! ¡Árriba! ¡Árriba!”
The United States was second last on this list, but the best part was that 11% of those asked couldn’t locate the United States. How many countries do we have to invade to get that number up? Really?
Twenty-nine percent had no idea where the Pacific Ocean was. The locations of Japan, France and the United Kingdom were a mystery to 58, 65, and 69 percent, respectively. Even I can find those, and yes, I mean without the benefit of Wikipedia or Google.
Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty about my own geographic illiteracy, considering nine times out of ten I get lost going to my friend’s house ten minutes away in a city I’ve lived in for 26 years because it involves a traffic circle and a couple one-way streets, since almost 900 of those interviewed couldn’t find the fucking Pacific Ocean, but deep down I kind of do.