The Serb National Federation: Champion of Serbdom in America- Part Eight – DIPLOMACY AND ORGANIZATIONS

By Dr. Krinka Vidakovic Petrov

Ed Note: The 120th year of the Serb National Federation takes place in 2021. As we plan the future of the SNF through financial and membership growth, we take a moment to reflect on our origin, our commitments and our accomplishments. In her highly researched account written for the centennial book “Serb National Federation First 100 Years 1901-2001,” Dr, Krinka Vidakovic Petrov produced a work as interesting and valuable today as the day it was written. It is being presented it in installments. Earlier installments are available on the American Srbobran research site, www.snfpaper.org.

The first Serbian diplomatic representative (Ljuba Mihailovic) arrived in New York in 1916. The liberation of South Slav lands from Austria-Hungary and the establishment of a South Slav state was a key element in Serbia’s war effort – and – in order to reinforce this goal, a Yugoslav Council was established in London. A branch office of this organization was opened in Washington (by Milan Marjanovic).

Although the American Srbobran reported on the activities of all these representatives, one person received special attention. This was Milan Pribicevic. His presence among Serb immigrants in 1916-1917 was given exceptional coverage in the American Srbobran because he came from a politically outstanding Serbian family in Austria. Svetozar Pribicevic had been a member of the Sabor (Parliament) and was featured in the American Srbobran. In 1908 Adam and Valerijan Pribicevic had been sentenced at the famous anti-Serb trial as subversive Serbian political leaders. Milan Pribicevic fled to Serbia, where he joined the Serbian army and became a colonel.

Pribicevic was sent to America to help organize the recruitment of volunteers. The leaders of the SOF Srbobran, Dr. Paja Radosavlevic and Fr. Jovan Krajnovic, as well as the editor of the American Srbobran, Budimir Grahovac, welcomed his as “a national apostle.”

The moment is approaching to pursue the policy Serbia has been unable to carry out until now, a policy we too have not been able to carry out despite the willingness of some individuals and federations to do so. We now have among us a delegate, a man sent by our Serbia. Milan Pribicevic is here and he has been sent by Serbia…Serbia now has a new government, a government of all Serbs wherever they may be…[which concerns us] especially because we, Serbs in America, come from regions harassed by Austria. It is our duty here to establish not a small Serbia but rather a healthy part of a great Serbia, because therein lies our only hope of liberation.

The Serbian government provided financial support for the cost of recruitment and transportation – a loan of 200,000 francs secured in Paris – and these funds were placed at the discretion of Pribicevic. Unfortunately, Pribicevic felt that he should have greater control of the Serb National Defense in America, which had been founded and ably ed by Pupin. In his attempt to take over the organization Pribicevic relined on the support of leaders associated with the SOF Srbobran (who had not been on good terms with Pupin since his attempt in 1901 to unite Serb federations in America) and certain “Yugoslavists.” However, the controversial activities of Milan Pribicevic complicated this situation, weaking the unity of action.

Pribicevic called for a reorganization of the Serb National Defense, an initiative supported by the American Srbobran. Pupin was deeply disappointed, but – having in mind the priorities and long-term Serbian interests – he decided to withdraw rather than contribute to growing disunity. In February of 1917 a meeting was convened in New York, which was attended by representative of the SOF Srbobran from Pittsburgh (represented by Simeon Mamula, president of the Board of Trustees, and Nikola Knezevic, secretary), the Serbian-Montenegrin Literary Society from San Francisco, the Sloga Federation, and the Serb National Defense (both based in New York and headed by Pupin). They all agreed to coordinate their activities through the new joint council of the Serb National Defense.

However, the SOF Srbobran was also criticized. A number of lodges left the latter in 1917 in order to establish a new federation called Sloboda, also based in Pittsburgh and headed by Branko Pekic. The polemic between the American Srbobran of Pittsbrugh and the Srpski Dnevnik of New York continued. The controversy peaked in 1918 when the American Srbobran published articles praising Pribicevic and criticizing Pupin. The controversy seemed to have wider implications, such as those expressed in the following position advocated by the American Srbobran:

In Serbia the leaders were the Karageorgevics and Obrenovics, in Montenegro the Petrovic family, while the Serbs in Austria achieved the most under the leadership of the martyred Pribicevic brothers. [Puric: 134]

However, behind the issues stood the personal ambitions of leaders rather than the authentic feelings and thoughts of ordinary people, who continued supporting all Serb organizations representing common Serb interests.

Another issue that was controversial in 1918, both in Serbia and among Serb immigrants in America, involved issues highlighted by the Yugoslav movement. Pupin’s article “Yugoslavia or Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes” (in Srpski Dnevnik) prompted critical responses from Milan Marjanovic (in Jugoslovenski Svijet), as well as Fr. Jovan Krajnovic and Milan Pribicevic (in the American Srbobran).

When the U.S. entered the ware in December of 1917, Pupin appealed to Serb immigrants to collect funds for American war agencies. The American Srbobran also supported American Liberty Bonds (Zajam slobode) and encouraged its readers to do so as well. Although the mobilization of American reduced the number of volunteers for the Serbian army, many Serb immigrants continued signing up as volunteers both for the Serbian and American armies. But as the U.S. got involved in the war, Austrian propaganda in America was stemmed. When it was becoming more and more apparent that Austria-Hungary could not win the war, many supporters of Austria in America moved toward a pro-Yugoslav position. Although the great majority of war volunteers were Serbs, they embraced their South Slav brothers who. Joined the political movement for establishing a common Balkan state.

In January 1918, the official Serbian Military Mission arrived in New York. On their arrival in New York, the members of the Mission were greeted by high American officials and by Mihailo Pupin. The reception of the Mission y U.S. authorities signaled the rising status of Serbia among the Allies. In April of the same year Pribicevic was withdrawn and he returned to Serbia. Nikola Pasic, wartime prime minister of Serbia, invited Pupin to attend the Peace Conference held in Paris following the conclusion of the war. As a personal friend of President Woodrow Wilson, an expert on the Balkan situation, and a man who had been extremely active among Serb immigrants in America during the war effort, Pupin was asked to communicate his views to the American delegation His last contribution to Serbia’s war effort was presented through his participation in political negotiations, which decided the future of the Balkan states. Mihajlo Pupin is credited for securing support for Yugoslavia’s territorial claims, including Istria, parts of Dalmatia and Banat. Finally his native land – Banat – became part of Serbia.

Pupin’s mission had been completed as far as the war effort was concerned. The new mission he assumed was that of developing economic and cultural ties between America and Yugoslavia. When the major Serb fraternal federations finally united in 1929 into the Serb National Federation, Pupin received the recognition he merited – he became the honorary president.

Next Installment:   Serbia Above All

Dr. Krinka Vidakovic Petrov

About the author: Award winning Dr. Krinka Vidakovic Petrov was a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Literature and Arts in Belgrade, has been affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh, is a renowned scholar and diplomat, and has authored several books and numerous articles in literature and history. She is a Belgrade native and holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Zagreb. In addition to her books Serbian Americans: History. Culture. Press, From the Balkans to the Pacific: Serbian American Culture and Literature, The Great War 1914-1918: The Kingdom of Serbia, the United States of America and the Serbian American Diaspora, and Essays in Comparative Folklore, she has co-authored several language textbooks, and published in professional journals in at least six countries including the United States and the former Yugoslavia. She is a past editor of the English section of the American Srbobran. Dr. Petrov researched, compiled and served as managing editor of the Serb National Federation centennial book Serb National Federation First 100 Years 1901-2001, in which this article "The Serb National Federation: Champion of Serbdom in America" was originally published in its entirety.

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