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King's body in U.S. may head to homeland

LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. --Yugoslavia's last monarch, exiled from his homeland during World War II, ended up in a tomb inside an ornately decorated church outside Chicago, a place that still attracts his loyal followers.

But while King Peter II personally chose St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Monastery as his final resting place, his son, Crown Prince Alexander, is upsetting some Serbian-Americans by planning to take his father's remains back to the land of his birth.

"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.

He has not yet set a date for returning his father to Serbia, the Balkan nation that once formed the core of Peter II's kingdom, but he said it will be soon.

Peter II was just 11 when he became king after the assassination of his father, King Alexander I. During World War II, the young king refused to ally Yugoslavia with the Nazis, prompting Hitler to invade and drive him into exile. After the war, communists seized control and confiscated his wealth.

He later devoted himself to visiting exile communities in the United States and elsewhere, often helping to raise money for charities. He died in Denver in 1970, at the age of just 47.

Peter had 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 Illinois as the home of Abraham Lincoln, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

"I want to rest near my freedom-loving people," the reports quoted his will as saying. "I must always share their destiny."

More than 10,000 people attended his funeral and several thousand still visit the brilliantly frescoed church annually to see his tomb.

Some Serbian-Americans think he should stay there.

"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 head of the Serbian Orthodox church in the Midwest spoke lovingly of the king. But when asked about the possibility of a reburial, he would say only that the issue has prompted concern among Serbians.

"The monarch is a symbolic representation of the life and values of Serbians," said Metropolitan Christopher.

Prince Alexander said that principle also applies to people in Serbia.

"If you visit Arlington (National) 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 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.

"In the end, everybody knows he belongs more there than here. And they have a place for him there," said Father Uros Ocokoljich, a longtime Orthodox priest in the Chicago area.

That place is the royal family's century-old Mausoleum of St. George, near Belgrade.

Prince Alexander said reburial in Serbia will correct a historical mistake.

"We are now going in a complete circle and making things wrong into right," he said.


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