The Serb National Federation: Champion of Serbdom in America – Part Fourteen – Jovan Ducic in America

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 activities of the Serb National Federation and the whole Serbian American community were given a boost by the coming to the U.S. of Jovan Ducic, famous writer and diplomat. He came from the Yugoslav legation in Madrid and Lisbon. Since Yugoslavia was dismembered and occupied (following its capitulation in April 1941), Ducic decided to join his cousin Mihailo Ducic in Gary, Indiana. The American Srbobran welcomed him in August of 1941 with an article titled “The Great Serbian Poet Jovan Ducic Arrives in America.” From that moment until his death on April 7, 1943, Ducic dedicated all his efforts to the clarification and defense of Serbian interests. The American Srbobran became his “second homeland” [Alexander Petrov: 49-62], while the Serb National Defense served as the headquarters of his mission. Nobody at the tie warned of the ongoing genocide – its causes and consequences – as clearly and openly as did Jovan Ducic. He was then the only one who believed that if Yugoslavia survived the war, it would abolish all that Serbia had achieved in the liberation wars waged in the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, his position was at odds with that of the Yugoslav Royal Government in London, especially with Croatian members of the latter. One of the Croat representatives who would play an important role in wartime and post-war event was Ivan Subasic, who would eventually become president of the Yugoslav government in London in exile. Subasic’s visit to Pittsburgh was reported by the American Srbobran in November of 1941, just a few days after the newspaper had published the shocking report on the genocide of Serbs taking place in Croatia. The American Srbobran raised the question as to why Subasic, a member of the Yugoslav government, was visiting only Croatians in Pittsburgh and why he was denying the ongoing genocide of Serbs in Croatia.

The Relief Committee and the Serb National Defense Council

In March of 1942 the American-Serbian Central Relief Committee (founded by the SNF, the SOC Diocese and Jedinstvo) met in Pittsburgh and decided to unite with the Serb National Defense founded in November of 1941 in Chicago at the urging of Jovan Ducic. The new organization emphasized its loyalty to the United States of America, its defense, and the general resistance to the Axis Powers. At the same time, the SNO declared it would provide “moral and material aid to the Serbian people in the Homeland.” the merger of these two humanitarian and patriotic organizations was to encourage a unified effort of Serbian Americans to support America's wartime policies and help the Serbian people in Yugoslavia. The Serb National Federation was sort of “treasurer” of the unified Relief Committee. In addition, the pages of the American Srbobran were opened to the Serb National Defense and its activities, which were both political and humanitarian. The president of the Serb National Defense was Mihailo Ducic, the honorary presidents were Bishop Dionisije (of the American-Canadian Diocese) and Simo Verlinic (president of the Serb National Federaton), while the two vice-presidents were Mile Radakovic and Branko Pekic (also from the Serb National Federation).

While the humanitarian effort was clear and straightforward, the political aspect would soon be complicated by a number of issues: Serbian as opposed to Yugoslav, the importance of the Soviet Union as wartime ally, the status and policies of the Yugoslav government in London, the evolution of US and British assessments of the situation in the Balkans, etc. The basic position of the Serb National Federation, the Relief Committee and the Serb National Defense was defined not only by its pro-American and anti-Nazi efforts, but also by its consistent pro-Serbian policy, which was symbolized by General Draza Mihailovic.

King Peter Visits the U.S.

America entered the war in December and in a speech to the American nation president Roosevelt mentioned only a few courageous nations who were fighting the Germans. Among them were the Serbs:

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the declaration of war to Japan the next day, President Roosevelt, late on December 9 addressed the American people in a speech broadcast on the radio. In this speech he stated that the enemies of America were friends of Germany and Japan and that the enemies of the Axis were friends of America. According to Roosevelt, the majority of nations in the world had adopted the same position as America. Among all those nations, he specifically mentioned only a few: the Serbs and the Norwegians, in addition to the British and the Russians. The main headline on the front page of the American Srbobran on December 10 of 1941 was “Speech of the American President. The Chetnik Resistance of Serbs and that of the Norwegians Aiding Us in Our Fight for Freedom.” According to the New York Times of December 10, 1941, Roosevelt had said: “On the other side of the picture we must learn also to know that guerrilla warfare against Germany in, let us say, Serbia or Norway, will help us.” it is difficult to assume that Roosevelt was not referring to the Chetniks when he spoke of guerrilla fighters in Serbia. [Petrov: 59]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

In the summer of 1942 (June-July) King Peter II of Yugoslavia came from London for an official visit to the United States. The king was invited by the United States government to visit the US. His visit was organized by the diplomatic legation of Yugoslavia in the US headed by Konstantin Fotich. During his stay in the US, King Peter was given the highest level of hospitality. After spending a very brief vacation in Virginia, the young King response was received by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and numerous officials of the government as well as by other representatives of American institutions, organizations, and the media. The visit was a reflection of the Allies’ position on the important role played by the resistance movement in occupied and dismembered Yugoslavia: the Yugoslav Royal Army led by General Draza Mihailovich. The media gave this visit a great deal of publicity. They referred to King Peter as “the youthful monarch, who won the hearts of Washington officialdom and public alike by his gracious, democratic manner and his sincere sorrow for the tribulations of his suffering countrymen…”

In one of the many addresses delivered by King Peter, he frequently spoke about the resistance movement in Yugoslavia and General Mihailovich:

A virtually unknown officer of the Yugoslav Army became the center of national resistance and the Commander-in-chief of all Yugoslav forces fighting the invader. With your permission I should like to pause here and pay tribute to that indomitable soldier who has since become my Minister of War, General Draza Mihailovich…General Mihailovich told us once that the mountains were his friends. He feels the mountains have granted him his greatest wish – to be able to fight for his country.

General Draza Mihailovich

During his stay King Peter met with representatives of the several ethnic communities. A very special occasion was his meeting with the delegation of the Serb National Federation on June 24, 1942. King Peter was greeted by SNF President Simo Vrlinich:

I am very honored as President of the Serb National Federation to welcome you on behalf of this organization, its board and its 20,000 members; and I believe I shall not be mistaken to say, in the name of all the Serbs in America, we greet you as Sovereign of our dear old Fatherland which we love so well, and to wish you a most hearty welcome to this homeland of ours.

The SNF presented King Peter with a gift: a golden pen and a bound collection of American Srbobran wartime editions.

On his visit to Detroit, the King met with members of the Yugoslav colony there. However, the highlight of his visit to the city was the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church, where the King attended a mass celebrated for his deceased father, King Alexander. At the entrance to the church, he was offered the traditional bread and salt, while a choir of 100 voices began to sing: as the choral music rose and fell, tears began to roll down the cheeks of the youthful monarch, doubtlessly recalling the tragic death of his dear father in the dangerous plight of his beloved people.

King Peter with Representatives of the Serb National Federation

On returning to New York, the Yugoslav monarch went to visit Nikola Tesla, the honorary president of SNF, who had observed his 85th birthday that year. Tesla greeted him with the following words:

It is my greatest honor. I am glad you are in your youth, and I am content that you will be a great ruler. I believe I will live until you come back to a free Yugoslavia period from your father you have received his last words: “Guard Yugoslavia.” I am proud to be a Serb and a Yugoslav. Our people cannot perish.

The main subject of talks between the Yugoslav king and President Roosevelt was aid for Draza Mihailovich. In addition, the US was to establish direct contact with the Yugoslav government in London and form a squadron of bombers, which would be flown by pilots of the Yugoslav Royal Army stationed in the Middle East

Next Installment:    Loyal Americans and Loyal Serbs

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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