12 September 2011
What is the price of the Serbian Crown
It is described in details what was taken from King Alexander’s descendants Peter, Tomislav and Andrej in Kardelj’s decree of 1947, and for them the Crown has a symbolic value, because it was molten from a piece of a cannon that the Dynasty founder Supreme leader Karadjordje seized in a battle with Turks.
By: Vladimir Djuricic, Kozmas Mirkovic
“The crucial question is related to nationalization and confiscation, and people who look for the origin of properties raise these questions. How did they get it, from what funds did they buy it? It was a very popular theme between 1945 and 1947, but in that period properties were not confiscated to examine origin, but rather to change the political system”, said Dusan Babac.
Stories about restitution again brought into public focus question of returning properties to members of the Karageorgevitch Royal Family, the heirs of King Peter II and Princes Tomislav and Andrej. Also the question is what the Karageorgevitch's expect to be returned, beside the Royal Compound in Dedinje.
Dusan Babac, a member of the Privy Council, says it is rather difficult to say what the Karageorgevitch's expect to be given back. All people that expect compensation are in one category at this moment, except the Karageorgevitch Family, who find themselves in a specific situation. It is clearly stated that the Royal Compound in Dedinje could not be returned as it is, but compensated in financial terms. They also will not get back the Crown made from the cannon seized by Karadjordje in the battle with the Turks.
What the heirs of the Serbian rulers, descendants of Karadjordje, have been asking for, is listed in detail in Kardelj’s decree from 1947. “That document features a comprehensive list of properties that was confiscated from Karageorgevitch's. It is precisely documented, with addresses, what was confiscated from the heirs of King Alexander, Peter, Tomislav and Andrej. In the decree signed by Edvard Kardelj, it is also registered what was taken from Prince Paul, whose heirs have an additional problem. Prince Paul was sentenced as a traitor, and his heirs will not have any reimbursement until this sentence is declared void and he is officially rehabilitated”, Babac says, adding that Princess Elizabeth (Jelisaveta) started the process for his rehabilitation a few years ago.
PRICELESS VALUE OF MOVABLE PROPERTY
Beside the real estate scattered all around the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Karageorgevitch's were ripped off very valuable movable property. There were art collections of priceless value that remained in the Royal Compound in Dedinje and in villas all around the country. In the inventory list compiled after the Royal Family moved into the Royal Compound, there are items that were not part of the collection confiscated in 1947. Several pieces of furniture and several paintings from the socialist era were brought in, while some items disappeared.
Ten years ago I was in contact with the Dutch expert on Rembrandt, Dr. Langert. He was very interested in the famous painting “Quint Fabius Maximus”. That painting was part of the Royal collection before the war. Black and white photos of it are displayed in art history textbooks. But it is missing. It is anyone’s guess whether we could demand it to be returned from Pepica Kardelj or somebody else”, we learn from Babac.
“There are documents stating that 35,000 titles from the Royal Library were moved to the National Library of Serbia. The original manuscript of Njegos’ “Gorski vijenac”, one of the gems of the Royal collection that King Alexander was especially proud of, was one of them.
There is a famous story from the eighties about “Little Rembrandt” and Kardelj’s obsession with this artist. Babac expressed his concerns that we will never find out what happened to this painting.
“There were some items, not many, that were missing from the collection. Let alone portraits of the rulers from the Royal Family. Only one portrait of King Alexander was found, in the attic of the White Palace”, Babac explains.
The Member of the Privy Council thinks that a serious evaluation of Royal art collections should take place, but there can be a problem.
That brings us to, according to Babac, the problem of assessment of the properties values. If the proposed government’s solution holds, than it is enough to reimburse a seventeenth of one painting’s value, and you reach the proposed legal limit of 500.000 EUR, so you do not have to worry about the rest”.
“The question is who is entitled to evaluate the value of the Njegos’ manuscript? When was the last time such manuscript was auctioned? Who is qualified to make such an evaluation? I am afraid there is no such an expert in this country. Who will estimate the market value of the Jacopo Palma il Vecchio’s painting, and when was the last time some of his pieces were auctioned in Belgrade? There is a similar situation regarding insignia, where we have the Serbian Crown made of bronze of cannon instead of gold, and that is matter of symbolic importance – what is the value of the Serbian crown”, says Babac.
That question brings another question within with great symbolic value – what is the price of the Serbian Crown?
To get the right answer to this question, we must know the history of the Karageorgevitch Crown.
The grandfather of the “Old King”, Supreme Leader Karadjordje initiated the First Serbian Uprising together with other prominent Serbs in 1804. Not only they started the rebellion against the Turks, but they financed it as well.
“The dukes and prominent Serbs, led by Karadjordje, the first among equals, invested their honor, their lives and their personal wealth in the uprising. Serbia had no industry and rich industrialists at that time, but rather wealthy merchants only. The founder of the Karageorgevitch Dynasty and his comrades in arms were practically investors in Serbian revolution and fight for freedom”, reminds Babac.
The Supreme leader seized Turkish cannon in a battle. One century later, his grandson Peter, made a symbolic gesture during his enthronement in Belgrade in 1904, when he put part of that cannon in his Crown. The Crown was made in Paris, fitted with a handle of above mentioned Karadjorjde’s cannon, and decorated with semi-precious gemstones.
“Therefore the Crown has a huge symbolic value for Karageorgevitch Family. It was kept in the Karageorgevitch home from 1904 until 1941. The Royal Palace Fund has a beautiful photo of the Supreme Leader’s great grandson and the Crown. King Peter II, after taking an oath at the Royal Palace on 27 March 1941, in the presence of the Serbian Patriarch and members of the Government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, it was kept in a picture together with Insignia and the Crown besides him, placed on the table covered with ermine gown”, says Babac. What happened to the Crown, gown and Royal insignia during German occupation is not known. Today they are property of the History Museum, and have been kept in the underground vault of National Bank of Serbia. How well it is taken care of, or how bad, best could be seen from something we learnt from Babac, that the cross on the top of the Crown was broken and fixed with some kind of silicon.
“So much about the story and the impeccable museum preservation of those items, because it is nonsense. The workshop Arthur Bertrand in Paris, that made the Serbian Crown of King Peter and Serbian medals, still exists today, and could for sure take care of that. All these little details say a lot about us” emphasized Babac.
SERBIAN VERSAILLES OR …
The Serbian bronze Royal Crown made out of cannon pieces, the original Njegos’ manuscript of “Gorski vijenac”, the Royal Compound in Dedinje, should they all be kept in a museum? Could it become the Serbian Versailles? Can Serbia do the same with its’ rulers property as French did with their King’s properties in Versailles?
Babac says that the Royal Compound has been turned into a “Serbian Versailles” during previous years. It is open to the public, and all items in the Royal collection are displayed for the Serbian public and foreign visitors. Even some items of applied arts can be seen in the exhibitions. “That is already functioning quite well”, says Babac. “But, when we are speaking about royal insignia, about the Serbian Crown, I have to remind you about the Crown Prince’s initiative from few years ago. Crown Prince Alexander proposed that Insignia, instead of being kept in the underground vault, should be exhibited for 10 years in the History Museum or Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art, for example within the exhibition “Serbia’s official uniforms”, or in the National Parliament building. The life of the “Old King” is connected with the parliamentary history of Serbia. King Peter I started to build this building, and his son completed it. No matter what we think, regardless of our family history, being republican or monarchist, one thing is for sure – the King who ordered the Serbian Crown in Paris and is founder of parliamentarism in Serbia, and that Crown should look best in some well protected showcase in the central hall. To remind us of our tradition, of our history and to connect us to our past and help us find the road to the future”, emphasizes Babac, representative of the Crown Prince’s Privy Council.
The secret of the crate 501 has also reviled, and a saber with diamonds found in it, a gift from the people of Herzegovina to the King Unifier.
While we are waiting for matters connected to restitution to be sorted out, there is another niche of Serbian Crown value worth examining. The sealed bags of Karageorgevitch's have been kept in the underground vaults of the National Bank, and nobody knows what they hide. Although talks started during Radovan Jelasic’s mandate as a governor, still there is no solution in sight. The members of the Royal Family would like to know what is kept there, for curiosity reasons, if nothing else. When King Alexander was assassinated, his wealth was estimated at 130 M Yugoslav dinars, and he was one of the wealthiest Monarchs in Europe at that time.
Babac emphasizes yet another problem.
“The basic question here is related to nationalization and confiscation, and we have people who question the origin of their wealth. How did they get it, with what money they have bought it? It is a very popular topic for discussions, despite the fact that properties were not confiscated between 1945 and 1947 for examining their origins, but to change the social system, i.e. to go from private property and capitalism to communism, to state property and socialism. That was the basic motive”, remarks Babac.
Our interlocutor reminds that we now hear from the Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic that the value of confiscated properties will exceed money collected in privatization.
“If that is the fact, why doesn't the State return the properties to the original owners before selling it, and avoid such problems? Everything should have been returned as it was, and then it would be the problem of real owners whether their factories function or not. But they haven’t been confiscated for bad business results, but for the sake of changing the social system. The problem is obviously connected to returning to initial state of the matter, and this law is actually about the re-confiscation”, says Babac.
That brings us to the question should Alexander II Karageorgevitch be “re-confiscated” with half a million EUR?
“For sure there will be people who would try to defend their rights in front of the Supreme Court or other courts in Serbia, some of them might go to Strasbourg. I do not want to suggest anything prematurely, but in this case when Karageorgevitch Family and their properties have been explicitly exempted, than it might be an eventual other form of restitution or reimbursement applicable to their case”, Babac concludes.
PRESIDENT’S BUILDING – KING’S GIFT TO THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
The new law on restitution exempts all buildings used by the President of Serbia for official purposes, including the President’s office building, formerly the New Palace.
“King Alexander built that building with his own money together with his father, and donated it to the National Museum. Prince Paul, with his excellent sense for marketing, named the museum after himself. That was the King’s gift, and was exempted from legacies hearings from 1938”, reminds Babac, adding that Rulers from Karageorgevitch Dynasty were great benefactors in Serbia.
DISCRIMINATED RICH IN KINGDOM OF YUGOSLAVIA
“We have the opportunity to learn from the deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic that Government the adopted final version of the Law on Restitution, which should be submitted to the Parliament. But the limit of 500.000 EUR has been imposed for individual restitution, which discriminating all people with big restitution claims”, says Babac.