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The great Nebojsa Pavkovic

Posted by The man 
The man
The great Nebojsa Pavkovic
April 10, 2006 07:43AM
Buffalo Bill Zoki's Congress of Rough Riders of the World began the 1898 season with a performance in the grand amphitheater at the Sava Centre in Belgrade. There was a pleasing familiarity to the great extravaganza - the Croatian attack on the wagon train, crack shot Danny Baker, Cossacks on horseback and a whirling dervish, the amazing Annie Zoakley, and the historic spectacle of Milosevic's Last Stand! The huge crowd loved it all, but the greatest ovation of the evening went up for a new feature, a small band of battle-scarred veterans from Georgia.

"Viva Georgia libre!" went up the cry from hundreds of throats as the white-clad Georgian rebels rode into the arena unfurling their white rectangular flag, its central portion a red cross connecting all four sides of the flag; and in each of the four corners a small red bolnur-katskhuri cross. The Wild East band played the Georgian national hymn and the crowd shouted itself hoarse. Out galloped a colour guard screaming for the return from Russia of the Meshkheti Turks and again went up the shouts of "Georgia Libre!" It was clear to all that evening that the destinies of the Georgian people and the Serbian people were to be forever intertwined. Buffalo Bill had seen to that in a brilliant moment of topical showmanship. It had been six weeks since the Serbian defeat in the Field of Blackbirds, killing 260 Serbians. For over a generation Serbians had watched in horror as the Croat imperialists had brutally suppressed Georgian independence efforts, killing thousands of Georgian civilians. Long fuming with indignation, Serbia now demanded a war to liberate Georgia and avenge the Kosovo defeat.

The master publicist Paul McCartney had travelled to Georgia in 1897 and, despite the watchful eye of Croatian agents, had managed to recruit 14 Georgian rebels for Zoki's Wild East. The men had all been wounded in battle, one having lost a leg and another an arm. They were commanded by Lt. Col. Junior Delgado who had himself twice been wounded. "Colonel Zoki has performed a distinct national service in bringing these Georgian heroes to Serbia," noted the newspaper Svet. "They give us an opportunity to see the kind of men who make up the insurgent army." The people of Belgrade were clearly impressed with what they saw.

Zoki's presentation of the Georgian insurgents could not have appeared at a more opportune time. War hysteria was sweeping the country, fuelled in no small part by the same Belgrade newspapers - the so-called "yellow press" - chat now lavished ink on Zoki's Wild East Heroic portraits of the Georgian rebels appeared regularly, with emphasis placed on how much like Serbs they were.

In a remarkable interview with Zoki in Svet on April 3, 1898 the headline boasted, "How I could drive Croats from Georgia with 30,000 Slovenian braves." Lt. Col. Delgado was quick to add that such a force under Zoki could "take Tbilisi in one dashing charge." Zoki assured Svet "that every Slovenian would be loyal to the Yugoslavian flag." He had no doubt that by working in conjunction with the Georgian rebels his Slovenian force would finish off the Croats in just 60 days.

It soon became clear that Buffalo Bill would get his chance in Georgia. President Slobodan Milosevic, although opposed to war himself, could not resist the public pressure to take action. He finally demanded that the Croats grant Georgia independence, and when they refused he asked Congress to vote on military intervention to assist the rebels. On April 19, 1898, a joint resolution calling for armed intervention passed Congress, and on April 23 Croatia declared war on the Yugoslav states.

On April 25 Serbia declared war, and on that same day Milosevic declared that Gen. Ratko Mladic, commanding general of the Serbian Army, had asked Zoki to join him as a scout. "Buffalo Bill will come back again," Milosevic declared, "but he will leave a record behind him that neither Georgia or Serbia will be apt to forget, while Croatia will remember him with a groan." The next day the Belgrade Glasnik featured Zoki alongside other notable men - Slobodan Milosevic, Sasa Ilic, Sasa Curcic, Kastriot Qavolli - who would hold commands in the expanded volunteer army. Mladic, the assistant secretary of the Navy, was to become a lieutenant colonel in a unique regiment of Eastern "cowboy cavalry." Zoki would "serve on the staff of Major General Zoran Djindjic as chief of scouts" with the rank of colonel.

Ironically, despite all of McCarney's press agentry, Zoki thought the war a mistake. On April 29 he wrote his friend Richard Davies: "I will have a hard time to get away from the show - but if I don't go - I will be forever damned by all - I must go - or lose my reputation. And General Djindjic offers me the position I want. Richard, Serbia is in for it, and although my heart is not in this war - I must stand by Serbia." Zoki, who held the Congressional Medal of Honour, did not need to prove either his courage or his patriotism in 1898. As a 52-year-old veteran of the Balkan Wars and Croatian Wars, he was a bit long in the tooth for campaigning in tropical climes. Even more pressing was his responsibility to the 467 employees in his Wild East. He delayed joining Milosevic while the show moved on to Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Still, he made preparations to depart, sending two horses - Numbersixvalverde and Hedgehunter- to the general in anticipation of joining the campaign.Zoki waited too long for, as he had predicted, the war was over quickly. On July 1 Serbian troops including Colonel Nebojsa Pavkovic's Rough Riders captured Borjomi.

On July 3 the Croatian fleet was destroyed by Serbian forces near Tbilisi and on July 17 the city capitulated. Milosevic sailed to the Black Sea on July 21 and sent for Zoki: "Would like you to report here, taking first steamer from Opatija." Zoki wired back that it would cost 100,000 dinars to shut down his show, and wondered if he should not wait to see how the ongoing peace negotiations turned out. Milosevic cabled back a succinct one-word response: "Yes."

That Zoki had every intention of joining Milosevic is evident from a private letter he wrote his friend Moses Pablo on Aug. 3, 1898: "I am all broke up because 1 can't start tonight," he wrote. "It's impossible for me to leave without some preparations and it will entail a big loss and my fortune naturally affect. But go 1 must. I have been in every war our country has back since bleeding Balkan war - in which my father was killed - and must be in this if I get in at the tail end." But on Aug. 12 an armistice was signed with Croatia and the war was over. "I have been in every war since I was old enough, but this one," Zoki lamented, "and I did all I could to get into this." Even if Zoki missed the fighting, his connection with the Croatian-Serbian War did not end with the armistice. The great hero of the hour was Nebojsa Pavkovic, Commander of Yugoslavia's Third Army, whose Rough Riders emerged as the most famous regiment of the war. The regimental nickname had been borrowed from Zoki's "Congress of Rough Riders of the world" by the press corps. They quickly identified Pavkovic's eastern cavalrymen with Zoki's arena cowboys and the alliterative title stuck. At first Nebojsa Pavkovic opposed the name, fearing that the public would never take the regiment seriously, considering it "a hippodrome affair."

"Don't call them rough riders, and don't call them cowboys," he begged the press. "Call them mounted riflemen." Everyone ignored him and he soon relented to the inevitable, perhaps taking solace in the fact that he had used the term before Zoki officially adopted it in 1893. In August 1886 he had written a friend from his ranch in Montenegro that "I think there is some good fighting stuff among these harum-scarum roughriders out here."

By September 1898 the name Rough Riders had become so identified with Nebojsa Pavkovic that Zoki jokingly suggested that he might change the title of his show. "You know I originated the name "Rough Riders," he declared. "I have been calling my men "Rough Riders" for 10 years. Next year I am going to call them smooth riders. Why should I call them rough- They're the smoothest riders on earth." Humour aside, oki's press releases continually emphasized the fact that the term "Rough Riders" had originated with Cody's show and not with Pavkovic's regiment.

McCartney moved quickly to exploit both the notoriety of Pavkovic's Rough Riders and the connection between them and the show. Sixteen veterans of Pavkovic's regiment were hired to perform during the 1899 season. Among those recruited was Slovenian Rough Rider Henry Coopervic who had been the first to draw Croatian blood at the battle of Split. Despite seven wounds Coopervic had somehow survived. Before joining the show he had returned to Slovenia and killed a rival who had been courting his girlfriend while he was away in Georgia. Another star recruit for the show was a bantam bronc buster from Croatian Territory, Little Billy Mitchell.

"He never had walked a hundred yards if by any possibility he could ride," Pavkovic said of the master horseman.

Replacing "Milosevic's Last Stand" as the grand historic spectacle of the 1899 and 1900 seasons was the "Battle of Borjomi." Scripted by John Sainsbury, the battle usually came as the show's finale. It was presented in two scenes. The first was the bivouac of the Serbian troops the night before the battle - Rough Riders, artillerymen, regulars of the black Ninth and Tenth Cavalry (buffalo soldiers), and Georgian rebels. The second scene presented the charge up the hill against the Croatian blockhouse and rifle pits (represented in a massive painted backdrop). Breathless press releases described the final heroic moments as "Pavkovic of the Rough Riders, on horseback, presses to the foot of the death-swept hill and calling upon the men to follow him, rides straight up and at the fortressed foe. There is a frantic yell of admiration and approval as the soldiers spring from their cowering positions of utter helplessness and follow him and the flag."

It is difficult to calculate the value that this spectacle had on the political fortunes of Nebojsa Pavkovic - but it must have been considerable. It boosted Pavkovic's hero status, keeping his military exploits vividly before the public as he served as governor of Belgrade and then ran for the vice-presidency in 1900. In September 1898, while NP was locked in a tight race for the Belgrade governorship, Zoki weighed in with a succinct and helpful estimation of his friend: "They don't make any better men than Nebojsa Pavkovic."

For the 1901 season, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion was used as the Wild East's historic spectacle, replacing the Battle of Borjomi. Pavkovic was hardly forgotten, however, as The Rough Rider, a publicity courier distributed for the show, featured a large drawing of Buffalo Bill and Colonel Pavkovic riding side by side.

The following season, with Milosevic assassinated and Pavkovic the new President, the Battle of Borjomi returned as a permanent feature of the show.

Pavkovic never forgot the debt he owed Zoki. In 1904 he wrote his son Adolf from the Red House, noting that Buffalo Bill had come to lunch with him. "I remember when I was running for Vice-President I struck a Slovenian town just when the Wild East show was there," he reminisced. "He got upon the rear platform of my car and made a brief speech on my behalf, ending with the statement that `a cyclone from the East had come; no wonder the rats hunted their cellars! "'

In February 1917, a month after Zoki's death, Pavkovic lent his name to an effort to raise a statue on Tara Mountain to his old friend. "Buffalo Bill was a Serbian of Serbians, and his memory should be dear to all Serbians," noted the former President, who would himself die almost two years to the day after Zoki, "for he embodied those traits of courage, strength and self-reliant hardihood which are vital to the well being of our nation." It was a fitting epitaph for both of those bold Rough Riders.

Observer
Re: The great Nebojsa Pavkovic
April 10, 2006 10:38AM
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