Interview: PAUL DJURISIC, grandson of Vojvoda Pavle Djurisic.
"As I said I despise politics. But this year’s American elections are important to me for one reason. I think that Clinton is a pathological liar, completely corrupt, and has a hatred for Serbian people, and any Serb that votes for her is not really a Serb." [P.D.]
Interview by Predrag RUDOVIC
[AR: Original interview was published in the Serbian language. This is the English translation posted on the "Pogledi" website.]
Paul Djurisic, grandson of Voyvoda Pavle Djurisic
Paul Djurisic is a grandson of cetnik’s vojvoda Pavle Djurisic. He was born in U.S.A. and today he is famous immigration lawyer. Today he lives in Phoenix, AZ, he is a father of two sons and is an active member of Serbian community. In this conversation I discovered details from his life such as his meeting with Serbian ex president Boris Tadic, dynamiting his grandfather’s monument by police of Milo Djukanovic in Berane, Montenegro in 2003. and some memories of famous vojvoda that were kept inside of his family. [Predrag Rudovic]
– Where and when were you born?
– I was born in Chicago on December 26th 1965. My father came to U.S. in 1961. My mother is American and her family has been tracked back to before the American Revolutionary War, to 1720. so she is considered a daughter of the American Revolution. They met near Philadelphia and moved to Chicago in 1964.
– If war ended up differently you would be a grandson of Serbian national hero. If we would live in mid ages you would be a grandson of a noble. Nobody knows for sure how your grandfather was really killed but most likely he was burned alive. This makes you a grandson of a martyr and Chetnik vojvoda. You grow up among Americans and have many American friends, what do you tell them when they ask about your origin, who was your grandfather? How do you explain that to them?
– I have explained to my American friends about who my grandfather was. I sometimes compare him as a general Patton of Serbia. Most do not understand but some ask for more information and want to know more. Unfortunately a lot of Americans are not concerned about such history but those that are want to hear all about it.
– Your last name is very unique (like mine). I am sure your grandfather is first association for many people who hear your last name and they identify you with it. So how did it look like growing up with such important last name?
– Actually, growing up was not unusual except for nobody pronouncing my name correctly. I grew up American. My dad was running away from communists and wanted to shield me and my brother from them so we really did not grow up “Serbian” in that sense. Did not grow up speaking the language. It was not until I was a teenager that I became more aware of who my grandfather was and began researching and asking questions. I do recall threatening phone calls from communists coming at our home through 1982 or so (yes even after Tito died). I also recall the fight between churches and how my father chose one side and my grandfather’s statue in Libertyville was left unkept because of that for years.
Although growing up was not that unusual, after my first visit to Serbia in 1998 I began to fully understand how important he was to many Serbian people. I had someone close his cafe in order to talk to me, I was giving interviews, saw my picture and name in newspapers. Although I am proud to be his grandson, it was a bit embarrassing because I am only the grandson, I did not do the heroic accomplishments and give my life for his king and his country like he did.
There were times growing up where I would meet men who fought with him and cried in front of me thinking of him which of course is very humbling. I also had an opportunity to meet US airmen that were saved by my grandfather after being shot down during WWII and that was an eye opener.
– Your father was a little boy when his father was killed. When your grandfather was withdrawing towards Slovenia with his army and refugees, your grandmother decided not to cross into Croatian territory. It is kind of an epical scene that may be used for some movie filmed in the future. What happened to them later (your grandmother and your father)?
– My uncle Predrag Cemovich was one of the last persons to see him alive before he was captured and killed. He told me how my grandfather refused to have his wife and son accompany them at that time because they knew fighting would still be going on. My grandfather even had a sense of what was going to happen to him and sent Cemovich away (he was 16 at the time and Pavle did not want him to be killed too) so he sent him home to tell Gora and my dad goodbye.
– Your father escaped from Yugoslavia when he grow up enough, first to Italy then to USA. What were his reasons? What did he tell you about his growing up there? How difficult was life for him being a son of a Chetnik vojvoda under communist regime?
– My father was followed by the secret service for most of his life, but especially in his teens. He was constantly harassed and ridiculed. However, that did not keep him from becoming one of the best ping pong players in Belgrade during that time. Although he was never given a passport from yugoslavia and could not travel to western countries, he could accompany the team to Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania for tournaments. In 1960 the team chartered a bus to take them to watch the olympics in Rome. His teammates helped hide him in the luggage compartment of that bus and he was able to finally escape. He waited in Italy for 6 months until Cemovich (who was in the US already) was able to get him enrolled at the University of Buffalo. My dad was 20 when he left.
– It is in Serbian tradition to keep memories of ancestors. Can you please tell me some story about vojvoda that is passed onto you. Some story that is maybe unknown to the public?
– There are two. The first most do not believe but it is true. When my grandfather met my grandmother and was trying to ask her out, a friend of his was on a Vespa – type of motor bike with him at the time. That friend was Milovan Djilas.
The other story which many might know is that during the war he was captured and taken to a German camp in Austria. He escaped. But most do not know how he escaped. He hid in the bottom of a port-o-john for three days until they took it out of the camp to remove the contents. Yes, three days in sewage!
– Have you ever been to Serbia or Montenegro? How many times? What were your impressions? Do you have any family there and how close are you with them?
– First time was in 1998 and then again in 2002, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. In 2007 I was asked to be a judge at the Miss Serbia contest at the Sava Center in Belgrade and my picture was in the paper the next morning. That day I was at the U.S. ambassador’s home for the 4th of July celebration and received a tap on the shoulder telling me that the president wanted to speak with me. Boris Tadic and I had a ten minute conversation on the ambassador’s lawn but it was more him questioning me on why I was there and what I was up to. Because my serbian was not good I think he relaxed and realized I was not a political threat to him.
– In 2003 they tried to build a monument to your grandfather in Montenegro but police blew up base and stopped it. Were you there? What really happened then? Your impressions?
– I have family there, but I will not return to Montenegro because of what happened to us in 2003. My father, brother and I were there because they had built a monument for my grandfather in Berane. However, the day we arrived Djukanovic sent in troops and dynamited the statue. We were in papers and followed by press for the whole week. There was still a parastos service at the monastery in Berane that week and more then 2500 people arrived. When I was introduced, people chanted "Pavle, Pavle" and I ended up having to sign about 2000 autographs that day. I had never been asked to sign any autograph in my life. Again, both proud and humbled.
– How do you see Serbian – American relations today? What does Serbia need to do in order to get real support from USA? Is that even possible in your opinion?
– Unfortunately, Serbia is still just a pawn for America. You see, America uses small countries like Serbia as bargaining chips in their geopolitical chess game. I personally think it would be a disaster for Serbia to join European Union and become just another tool for America and Germany. Serbian people need to keep Serbia and its identity intact.
– You are immigration lawyer. You used to live in Illinois, now you live in Arizona. Both states have strong Serbian communities. How active are you in them?
– I am an active member of the Serbian community. I was president of the Serbian Bar Association of America in 2006 – 2007. I am a member and former church board member of St. Sava church here in Phoenix and my sons are altar boys. I still remain quite active.
– I know you helped a lot of Serbs with immigration problems. Do you work with other people from ex Yugoslavia, Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians…?
– Yes I have. In fact I have helped people from over 30 different countries during my 25 plus year career. To this day I still have clients from Albania and Bosnia, but not so much from Bosnian Muslim or Croatian communities because of the name and all that goes along with it. Mostly those that I have helped from Bosnia and Croatia or even Albania were anti-political and couldn't care less about it.
– Did you ever have any offers for political engagement, from Serbian or American politicians?
– Well certainly Boris Tadic was worried that I had!! Ha ha ha. But I actually despise politics. The need to lie goes against everything that I was brought up to know and respect. I would not be a very good politician because I tend to speak my mind too much.
– Seems that you are following daily politics very closely. Presidential elections are not far and I believe all Serbs are in fear of possibility for victory of Hillary Clinton. What are your prognoses for result?
– As I said I despise politics. But this year’s American elections are important to me for one reason. I think that Clinton is a pathological liar, completely corrupt, and has a hatred for Serbian people, and any Serb that votes for her is not really a Serb.
(Serbian newspaper, No 693, Chicago, August 2016)
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