Peter II in Detroit: The Second Visit

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Peter II first visited Detroit in 1942, at the height of World War II, when the U.S. had entered the war. The U.S. was then gearing up for total war. Peter visited Detroit as part of an official state visit to the U.S. as the exiled leader of German-occupied Yugoslavia. He was an ally who was shown the industrial capability of the country with a stopover in Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy. Wearing a military uniform, he had been accompanied by the Yugoslav ambassador to the U.S., Constantin Fotich. He was upbeat with an expectation of eventual victory of the Allied Powers who would restore him to power.

The second visit occurred in 1959 at the height of another global conflict, the Cold War. The Josip Broz Tito post-war Communist government of Yugoslavia had abolished the monarchy in 1945. Peter was made a king without a country. He was now known as the exiled ex-king of Yugoslavia. Moreover, after the 1948 split between Josip Broz Tito and Joseph Stalin, the U.S. welcomed Yugoslavia as a potential ally against the Soviet Union in the the Cold War. Peter was forced to walk a fine line. In the second visit, the theme was support for the U.S. in the Cold War. The expectation was regime change in Yugoslavia with the return of the monarchy.

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Miodrag Mijatovich, Peter, Bishop Dionisije, and Rudy Kordich.

He arrived in Detroit on Saturday, March 14, 1959 and left on Thursday, March 19, for a tour of Windsor and Toronto, Canada. He arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He was greeted at the airport by V. Rev. Miodrag “Pop Micho” Mijatovich, the pastor of the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church in Detroit, Bishop Dionisije of the Serbian Orthodox Church of America, and Rudolph “Rudy” Kordich, the Ravanica Church President.

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Bishop Dionisije of the Serbian Orthodox Church of America, right, and Peter.

His tour was sponsored by the Serbian Orthodox Church of America. The event was in the context of the Cold War conflict against Communism and the overthrow of the Communist governments of Eastern Europe. At that time, Peter was living in Monaco.

A press conference was held at the Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel after his arrival. He later attended a dinner sponsored by Detroit Edison president Walker L. Cisler on Saturday at the Detroit Athletic Club.

On Friday, March 13, 1959, the day before his arrival, The Detroit News featured an anticle, “Yugoslavia’s Ex-King to Begin Visit in City”, by James K. Anderson, which detailed his itinerary in Detroit. He is to begin a five day visit as “a geust of the city’s Serbian community”. This is his second visit to Detroit. He visited during World War II “before he abdicated in favor of the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito.” The term “adbdicated” is incorrect. Peter did not give up the throne. The Communist government abolished the monarchy in 1945.

On Saturday, after his arrival at 4PM at Detroit Metro Airport and a press conferance at the Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel at 5PM, he will attend a meeting at the Detroit Athletic Club hosted by Walker L. Cisler, the President of the Detroit Edison Company. On Sunday, he will go to the American Serbian Hall for mass at the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church. On Wednesday afternoon he will attend a dinner as the guest of honor at the Detroit Press Club. Then he will leave for Windsor and Toronto.

Peter “is the last of his Karageogevich dynasty to rule Yugoslavia.” The goal of his 1959 tour of America and Canada sponsored by the Serbian Orthodox Church in America “is to create goodwill for him and the anti-Red Yugoslav forces he represents.”

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Peter was photographed dancing the “King’s kolo” in the basement hall at the American-Serbian Memorial Hall in Detroit, Michigan, at Van Dyke and Outer Drive with Mrs. Rudy Kordich, the wife of Rudy Kordich. The photograph appeared in the Detroit Times newspaper in the Monday, March 16, 1959 issue. He was also photographed with Detroit Police Officer Stanley Perich. He was also photographed at the banquet at the Ravanica Hall, at the dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club, in the back seat of a car as he traveled in the city, and on his arrival at Metro Airport.

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Detroit Police Officer Stanley Perich and Peter.

Detroit was a highlight of his North American tour. Of his 1959 Detroit visit, Peter II said: “This is the greatest assembly I ever saw of Serbs in America. … This will live in my memory.” Peter toured the Henry Ford River Rouge plant, Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, the Chrysler Plymouth engine plant on Mound, the Palmer Park Greek Orthodox Church, and the Detroit Press Club.

The banquet in his honor at the American Serbian Hall was attended by members of the Detroit Serbian community and prominent Detroit and Windsor political leaders. The attendees included Bishop Dionisije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America, Rev. Miodrag Mijatovich, the pastor of the Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church in Detroit, Walker L. Cisler, the president of the Detroit Edison Company, the mayor of Windsor, Canada, Michael Patrick, Mitchell S. Jachimski, the Secretary of the Detroit Welfare Commission and the representative of Detroit mayor Louis Miriani, Detroit City Council President Mary V. Beck, Rudy Kordich, and President Bronislaw M. Stachura and Wladislaw Rylko of the Michigan Chapter of the Polish American Congress. The attendance was 1,500.

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Peter’s visit was detailed in The Detroit News in the Monday, March 16, 1959 issue, in the story “Ex-King Peter Calls U.S. Autos Much ‘Too Big'” on page 20, by James K. Anderson. The article provided a biographical sketch as well as his view on American cars. As on his 1942 visit, Peter toured the major automobile plants in Detroit.

Peter said that American cars would be much too big for the roads in Monaco. During his tour of the Ford Motor Company Rouge plant, Anderson reported that he looked so much like “an ordinary American tourist” that workers asked: “Which one is the king?” Peter stated: “Too big, too big” as the cars rolled off the assembly line. The next day he toured the GM Tech Center in Warren and a Chrysler plant.

He had arrived in Detroit on Saturday. The speech at the American Serbian Hall was on Sunday night. He toured the Ford Rouge plant on Monday. On Tuesday he toured the GM Tech Center and a Chrysler plant.

He noted that his 1959 American and Canadian tour was sponsored by Serbian religious, fraternal, and civic organizations to raise money for “Yugoslavian refugees from communism.”

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The highlight of his visit was a speech delivered at the American-Serbian Hall which was quoted in the Detroit newspapers. He thanked the Serbian community of Detroit for their support. He castigated the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito, framing his criticisms within the larger Cold War conflict against the Soviet block and Communist ideology. Paradoxically, the U.S. government was economically and militarily backing the Tito regime as a bulwark against the USSR. By 1959, however, Yugoslav dependence on the U.S. had lessened due to the rapprochement between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union after meetings between Tito and Nikita Khrushchev. Peter’s supporters were now primarily Serbian. The appeal was thus to Serbian religious, cultural, and political customs and traditions. He upheld the legacy of Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas of World War II. Chetnik songs were sung at the ceremony.

 

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At the American Serbian Hall on Van Dyke and Outer Drive, he saw dances and singing “reminiscent of the days when Peter’s great-great-granfather expelled the Turks from old Serbia.” Peter sang and “applauded lustily” after each performance. The “high point was reached” when Milan Tomcic, a “former Belgrade singing star, broke out with the Chetnik song, ‘Mother, I am coming home without my right hand, but my left hand will still bring death to Tito’.” Peter and the audience sang along. There were shouts of “zivio”. Everyone clapped “furiously” when the song was over.

Then Ravanica priest Pop Micho and Momcilo Golubovich, a former member of the Yugoslav Royal Guard living in Detroit, escorted Peter to the stage. Peter opened his speech by praising the Detroit Serbian community: “Thank you for keeping alive our church and religion in this blessed country. … Be good Serbs, but above all be good Americans.”

The Ravanica church choir then sang “an ancient song” that honored dignitaries with the hope of a long life. Then he danced the “King’s kolo” with the wife of Rudy Kordich. Finally, the Polish American Congress representatives presented him with a resolution.

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Speaking in Serbian and wearing glasses, Peter said: “I tried always to be one of you. I love you more, than you love me. … This is the greatest assembly I ever saw of Serbs in America. I saw rich America and her beautiful cities and I saw and felt the hearts of the people. … This will live in my memory. … I saw people united against this enemy [Communism]. … And in a democracy the people have the last word. If your leaders are not united you should elect new leaders.”

A member of the audience shouted: “All they want is money.”

Peter smiled and continued: “Be good Serbs but above all be good Americans.”

Members of the audience shouted “zivio” during his speech.

Peter stated: “I will write in our national paper and maybe the American press of my impressions. … I’m going to tell you then how and what to do in our common fight against communism.”

The program lasted two hours and featured singing and dancing.

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Walker Lee Cisler, the President of the Detroit Edison Company, right, and Peter.

The newspaper accounts focused on Peter’s unpretentious demeanor. When offered a cigarette which fell on the floor, Peter picked it up, saying “That’s all right.” The Detroit Times reporter Bernard Mullins in the story “King Peter has ’53 car. He’s a humble fellow” noted that he was “a humble fellow”. He looked more like a “mild-mannered bookkeeper”. Peter owned a 1953 Jaguar at the time with 135,000 miles on it. After a tour of the Ford Ford Company Rouge plant, Peter insisted that he was not interested in buying a new American car in Detroit: “No sir, I couldn’t afford it. In fact, I couldn’t even afford a trip like this. I’m a guest. Otherwise I couldn’t be here.”

Bernard Mullins wrote in the Detroit Times news article “King Peter Makes a Promise. I’ll tell how to fight Reds” that his speech at the American Serbian Hall was “the most spirited speech of his American tour.”

His financial assets and his family were described. He has savings and trust funds to support his wife Alexandra and his son Alexander. Peter recounted: “They’re both wonderful skiers. I just got a letter from my boy in which he told me he’d won a medal for skiing. I’m very proud of him. But I can’t ski myself. My hobby is skin diving.” He lived in Monte Carlo in Monaco at the time.

The Michigan chapter of the Polish American Congress presented Peter with a resolution welcoming him to Detroit and espoused the “fervent hope that both our nations will attain freedom and full sovereignty.” The snag was that Poland was a Communist “Captive Nation” but Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was a Communist nation that was an ally and a proxy of the U.S. This is missing in the news accounts of the visit.

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Peter’s speech at the Hall was covered in a news article in The Detroit News, “Ex-King Peter Hailed by 1,500 at Serb Rally” by James K. Anderson. Peter was described as the “35 year old former monarch who has become to them a symbol of the hope that Red-ruled Yugoslavia will again be free.”

The activities that night were detailed: “They saw Balkan national dances and heard ancient Serbian songs.” Serbian singer Milan Tomcich sang. There were “jubilant cries” of “Zhivio Kralj”, “Long live the King”. One song sung “dated from ancient times when men like Peter’s ancestor Black George fought for their land.” Another song hailed the Chetniks. “Spremte se spremte, Chetnici”. “Prepare, prepare, Chetniks”, a song that “was revived during World War II when Gen. Drazha Mihailovich’s Chetniks were fighting in Yugoslavia.” Another song sung was “The King’s Guards Are Getting Ready” on the death of a family in the war. Peter sat in front of the stage during the festivities. The Polish American Congress presented him with a reoslution read in Polish by Wladyslav Rylko, a former Polish colonel, and in Serbian by former Draza Mihailovich adjutant Jaksa Djelevich.

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Earlier that day 600 had attended a dinner held in Peter’s honor. Peter had toasted President Dwight D. Eisenhower and “this land of liberty that has been so hospitable to all our people and has given them a chance for a new life.”

Detroit political leaders portrayed Peter as an avatar of the conflict against the Soviet block and the expansion of Communism into Eastern Europe. Mitchell J. Jachimski, secretary of the Detroit Welfare Commission and the representative of Detroit Mayor Louis Miriani, called Peter “a symbol of free nations fighting communism and an important figure for freedom for all oppressed nations.” Detroit City Council President Mary V. Beck said: “I hope the dark cloud of oppression will disappear and liberty will return to the world.”

Rudy Kordich recalled meeting Peter on his first visit to Detroit in 1942. Kordich stated: “America always has a heart that beats for freedom and democracy.”

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Peter and the other speakers espoused the Cold War objectives of rolling back Communism in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans. This meshed well with U.S. Cold War policy overall but was inapplicable to Communist Yugoslavia which was buttressed by the U.S.

Peter remained confident that the Tito regime would collapse and the prewar status quo would be reinstated. This, however, would not happen. Tito and his regime would outlive Peter.