Saturday, January 26, 2013

The King's Body

In 1970, a king was buried in American soil. It worth pointing out that he wasn't an American, nor part of a suppressed lineage of disenfranchised American royalty. The closest the United States ever came to possessing its own royal house occurred when George Washington politely declined an offer of a bonified American crown.

With the sort of inevitably one can only perceive in retrospect, the bodily remains of the only king to ever have been buried on American soil was repatriated a short time ago, as the Associated Press, via FOX News, has reported. It's a curious story. The personal circumstances that brought a king to take refuge on American soil reveal something of the dramatic political upheavals in the 20th century. As do the circumstances that have taken him home.

So much of that, however, is left unsaid to meet today's rigorous standards of journalistic impartiality.

The king in question was Peter II Karadjordjevic, last king of Yugoslavia. German Nazism drove him from his homeland at a very young age; Soviet Communism kept him from returning.

Almost as interesting are the protests of Serbian royalists in the United States against the repatriation of the bodily remains from its resting place in the grounds of a Serbian Orthodox Church in Libertyville, Illinois. It seems as if two grand ideologies clash over his person: a modern conception of personal liberties, honouring the king's request to be buried on American soil alleged by Serbian royalists in America, and a much older idea that held kings possessed not one, but two bodies. There was the king's personal body, and the other was the body politic, the land and its people. It only seems fitting and good, as royalists in Serbia, including the dead king's son, allege, that the one body should take the other to its bosom.

And, I suppose, one must keep in mind that Yugoslavia is only formerly of that name. National politics is written somewhere through this story, in which ecclesiastical concerns get a certain amount of play.

Why else would American Serbians not want to see their king be finally laid to rest in the same ground that was his by royal right, even if not by recent political convention? What matters what king himself wanted? The king is dead; long live the king!

This story reported by the Associated Press is flat. Journalistic objectivity deprives it of temporal depth. Oh certainly, the very general contours of a story are introduced: Nazism, Communism, etc. These are, however, essentially non-entities. They are too big, and much too abstract, to provide answers to question of more immediate relevance. They explain how he got here. They may even explain, in a round-about way, why he is going back. But they do not explain, why some of the actors involved, don't want his body moved.

I wish there was an explanation. Because, if you note carefully, that it's this conflict which makes this story more than just simple reporting of facts.

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