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With the unexpected presence in London last week of a cultured Balkan gentleman, it began to look as though Neville Chamberlain had discarded a winning hand before the showdown and might pick it up again.

Five weeks after the Munich Agreement, Prime Minister Chamberlain had told the House of Commons that Britain would have to recognize that in southeastern Europe “Germany must occupy the predominating position.” But since then the heads of three European States have made significant visits to London. Scarcely had George II, King of the Hellenes, settled down for a brief stay in the British Capital before his ex-brother-in-law, Carol II of Rumania, arrived. Carol went on to Germany, but he had not been home a week before he began shooting Rumanian Nazis. And the elaborate gold dinner service trotted out for King Carol at Buckingham Palace had just been put away when another royal guest suddenly turned up last week. He was His Royal Highness Prince Paul, 45-year-old chief Regent of Yugoslavia.

These visitors had not gone to London just for pleasure. And they surely would not have gone for business if they considered their countries the exclusive trade territory of the Third Reich. That their missions had caused the Chamberlain Government to give its political and economic policies a second thought was evident. Significantly, Robert S. Hudson, secretary of Britain’s Department of Overseas Trade, rose in the House of Commons last week, condemned the German barter trade methods in eastern Europe, and served notice that Britain would “fight and beat Germany at her own game.”

A primer of the Balkans would begin by describing them as a backward group of peewee States (Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece) whose combined outline is wedge-shaped like South America’s. Like the South American States, the Balkans have been characterized by their propensity for rapid and explosive political change, by their archaic society, which has kept the land largely primitively agricultural and industrially undeveloped. The 310,000 square miles of Balkan territory are naturally rich. Economically this territory is important to both Germany and England because it is a source of raw materials and a market for manufactured products. Politically it is no less important. Germany would like to control it because it is the stile across the Fiihrer’s push to the East. Britain would like to check German control of it because she wants no eastern pushing across the Balkan Peninsula into the British-dominated markets of the Near East.

Like Bulgaria’s Boris (who was in London before Munich), Greece’s George and Rumania’s Carol, Yugoslavia’s Paul has this simple situation well in mind. Like them he knows the difference between good money and bad, between hard British sterling and phony Nazi export marks. He would naturally rather sell his corn, fruit, iron and bauxite to Britain than to Germany. What probably took him to London, and what had taken Boris, Carol and George, was to see if they could induce Britain to offer more good sterling for more Balkan products. The British Government were glad to see him.

At home in London as much as in Belgrade, Prince Paul and his beautiful Grecian-born wife, Princess Olga, occupied the “Belgian suite” of Buckingham Palace. Greeted by his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, the Duke & Duchess of Kent, His Royal Highness cocktailed with old Oxford chums, dined with Foreign Secretary Viscount Halifax, teaed with the Prime Minister. Also, in long talks Paul discussed with George VI the future of 15-year-old King Peter II, whose Regent he will remain until Peter begins to rule Yugoslavia in his own right in 1941.

Esthete. In his polished culture and finely developed artistic tastes Prince Paul is a far cry from his peasant ancestor Karageorge who started the family career upward as an apprentice to a Turkish brigand. Of nine rulers in Belgrade in the last century only three died natural deaths at their posts. King Alexander I, assassinated in Marseille by Croatian zealots in 1934 was Paul’s first cousin. Alexander’s son, the present King Peter, is thus a first cousin once removed of Prince Paul.

In 1903 the Karageorgevitches returned to rule Serbia after the Obrenovitches— King, Queen and five other dignitaries of the court—had been conveniently wiped out in one night. While Crown Prince Alexander was being prepared for the kingship, Prince Paul went to Oxford. His education there was interrupted thrice by wars—by the First (Balkans v. Turkey) and Second (Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey v. Bulgaria) Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, again by the World War, which began by the Austrians invading Serbia in 1914. Each time Prince Paul went home to take an officer’s commission, each time he returned to study philosophy and literature at Oxford. The Oxford degree which Paul started out to get in 1910 was not granted him until 1921.

By 1921 Serbia had been expanded into a nation twice its original size as a result of the post-War treaties and plebiscites, which gave Serbia Montenegro, the Austrian provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the semiautonomous region of Croatia and other generous slices of Hungary. The population was thus trebled (to 15,000,000) and all the south Slavs (Yugoslavia means “land of south Slavs”) were united. Yugoslavia became, after Rumania, the second largest Balkan State (area: 96,000 square miles).

With Alexander I firmly on the throne, Paul cultivated his scholarly mind, indulged his esthetic tastes, traveled widely among the art centres of Europe.

Several miles south of Belgrade, near the new Royal Palace, Prince Paul built a home of snow-white marble of classical design, a striking contrast to the primitive surroundings.

Brother Slavs. The will of Alexander I named Prince Paul chief Regent and Dr. Radenko Stankovitch (a Serb) and Dr. Ivan Perovitch (a Croat) fellow Regents during Peter’s minority. At that time Yugoslavia was still pretty much in the political orbit of War-victorious France. The shadow of a renascent, threatening Germany was beginning to fall over the Balkans, however, and neighboring Fascist Italy had never been too friendly with Yugoslavia. In fact, accomplices of the Croatian desperadoes who killed Alexander were subsequently harbored in Italy. And Yugoslavia drastically reduced her Italian trade when the League of Nations voted sanctions in the Ethiopian War.

The international difficulties that Regent Paul inherited are still his chief headache, as was revealed by his trip to London last week. No less plaguing are Yugoslavia’s internal troubles.

As Alexander found, Slavic brothers do not always agree. The Serbs, 6,500,000 strong, had always ruled, intended to continue to rule. The 4,000,000 hardworking, stubborn Croats, used to their own local Diet at Zagreb even under the Habsburgs, felt they were a repressed minority, agitated for local autonomy, civil rights, the secret ballot, constitutional reform. The Slovenes, 1,000,000 of them, clustered up near the old Austrian border, shrewdly bargained for political favors. Thrown in also were 500,000 potentially troublesome Germans, 440,000 difficult Magyars, tens of thousands of White Russian exiles. The majority of Serbs and Montenegrans (now pretty much merged) are Serb Orthodox communicants, but there are also about 1,500,000 Moslems among them. The Croats and Slovenes are largely Roman Catholics.

By Balkan standards Prince Paul, product of the free atmosphere of English university life, promised to be a more liberal ruler than Alexander. Once he mourned: “If I only had more time!” There was ever present the danger that a neighboring country might start to subsidize a Croatian autonomy movement, that the Germans or Hungarians might really get restless. Carefully Prince Paul at first tried to pull the diverse peoples of Yugoslavia into a working unit, scrupulously conferring with Croatian leaders. But within a year all thought of appeasement had gone by the board. Typical Yugoslav election is now cynically described as one in which the “opposition gets the votes, but the Government the seats in Parliament” But the well-disciplined, obedient Army, best in the Balkans, its mettle proved time ” again in the World War, can be counted on to keep internal order for Paul.

As the Government prepared for another general election this week, Croatian intractability again appeared. With the Government counting the votes, however, it seemed certain last week that affable, hearty-voiced, heavy-browed Milan Stoya-dinovitch, half dictator, half democrat, who occupies the posts of both Premier and Foreign Minister, would be returned to power.

Hope. If the Premier bosses the country, Paul bosses the Premier, particularly his foreign policies. Yugoslavia, too, has a Good Neighbor doctrine. Up to Munich its best Neighbors were Rumania and Czechoslovakia, which with Yugoslavia functioned as the French-backed Little Entente. Yugoslavia now is a key power in the four-year-old Balkan Entente— Yugoslavia, Rumania, Greece, Turkey. All these States grabbed land from Bulgaria after the Balkan and World Wars, and the one thing they have most in common is their resolve not to give any of it back. They also are resolved not to be the puppets they once were. There is safety in numbers, and they believe in fighting shy of exclusive totalitarian economic alliances. This new, independent European bloc is the best hope Paul has of turning over to King Peter, three years hence, the helm of State of which he has been the able and conscientious trustee.

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