Interview of Their Royal Highnesses for “PORODICA” (Family) magazine,
issue 21, 2003
The Karadjordjevics in Dedinje
WE ARE HERE TO GIVE
When the iron gate opened wide and we were let in the Dedinje Palace park, the “Porodica Team” have started to discuss the protocol: how to address to Karadjordjevics? Whether to shake hands or... Soon it turned out you can feel just like at any other Serbian home, but some minimum of protocol is respected: we were taken into a salon with gilded period furniture, but we were shown which two seats are reserved for our hosts.
After the handshake and “nice to meet you”, we ask if European court protocol is applied in The Palace.
- We try to be correct as much as possible but one must be careful not to be too formal because it puts a wall between people. Of course I have a seat that I always like to sit in, but one must always give full respect to the ladies and make sure that everybody gets properly served, and as the hosts, see that everybody is very well taken care of. The whole concept is to make all visitors feel at home – replies, with a smile Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, and Princess Katherine adds to his words; she gets up and offers us with sweets served on a large porcelain plate.
- I think you’d be very surprised how much the European monarchies are trying to be more relaxed and open, more in contact with the people. Naturally, there are some monarchies in Europe which are more formal than others. But basically the principle is, to be very correct to the people with naturally, respecting tradition. My concept is to be more along the lines of constitutional monarchies such as the Spanish one or the Scandinavian monarchies.
What monarchies do you have the best contact with?
- I’m related to most of the European monarchies so the relationship is extremely cordial and worm. My wife and I are invited to many occasions and of course this is a great friendship but we are not only close to European monarchies, we are also close to the Middle East monarchies, and even far away monarchies. This friendship and family relationship give one a chance to learn a lot from what they do and in addition one gets an insight into their rules and regulations and how they handle their monarchies. The basic principle of all these monarchies is the continuation, but also a certain amount of discipline.
Can we expect to see some of the royalties as our guests here?
- Yes, but there are certain political events that have to happen before they come. It’s very important that our people understand that certain individuals have been requested to be handed over to the Hague tribunal. Of course, this is not a matter to do with me, this is a matter to do with the Government that is in power, and should these demands which are unfortunate because it’s somewhat like ransoming the people, be met, there will be visits from heads of state which include presidents, Kings and Queens.
At this time we have only had one head of state visit us and that was President Chirac of France, and outside the European Union, we have had the President of Russia Mr. Putin, we had recently the President of Croatia and other neighboring personalities. But it’s important that we develop our relationship with the European Union countries, because we must not forget that this is going to be our market, and the European Union is growing. Certainly, my conversations with many personalities, across Europe, including my relatives, Kings and Queens confirm that they will be ready when their Governments are ready.
I DON’T REGRET FOR COMING BACK
For three years since you have been here, some good and some bad thins have happened. Would you give us your personal feelings about your life here? Do you regret sometimes?
- I have never regretted for coming back home, to my roots. The tragedy was that at the age of two, when Kardelj signed this document, I became an enemy of the state when I could hardly talk. This was a violent point against human rights, and this really only came to an end after 5 October 2000 revolution. I was hoping after 1989, following the collapse of communism not only in the former Yugoslavia but also in the satellite countries and the Soviet Union that this was a golden opportunity to come home. But, I need not repeat to your readers what happened. Our former communist leaders used negative nationalism and negative religion to remain in power, and many people paid the ultimate cost with their lives, and the sad thing in coming home is that all this happened in that period. Not forgetting the lack of freedom during the dictatorships that we have had in the past. Before 1989 we had two categories – one under Tito, and the second category after the death of Tito when we had rotating presidents every year. So you take those two, and the crazy years since 1989, up until 5 October 2000, we’ve lost a lot of time. I just hope that now we can get our act together, and that’s where the pain comes, wondering what’s the future for our people. But to conclude your question, I’m very happy to be in the home of my father and grandfather.
When you speak about the Palace, you say ”home”. Have you got used to the house and everyday life in it, and adjusted to the place? Do you have your favorite spots where you take your tea, see your friends, write letters or relax?
- Oh, yes, one has found some very favorite cozy spots in this beautiful property where one enjoys the incredible surroundings in peace with guests and visitors. We’ve had over 22,000 visitors come here since approximately October 2001. Naturally, this is people who not only come for lunch and dinner, but receptions, and people who actually slept here, visitors from abroad, and everybody who has come here has left extremely happy about what they’ve seen. This makes the determination even more to keep this Dedinje complex as one.
Is one of the steps in that direction the recent proposal to leave the Compound as the state property?
- Basically, what I’m following is exactly what’s happening in other countries. This is nothing new, in that this property which is of cultural and historical importance is of interest to the people. This building, where we are doing this interview, The Royal Palace, is our home, and I can not escape following our very strict rules as the Head of the Family and there is no getting away from that because it affects every family in Serbia. I have the total right to live here with my direct family. And with respect to The White Palace, the concept of the proposed law is that it be used by the state for official occasions for visitors of the state so that they be properly treated by our state and that the state visitor also reciprocate such a place by having guests of our Government there also. Both Palaces have art, which were the collections of King Alexander I and Prince Pavle. And there’s no dispute on this. But, having said that, can you imagine one of the Monarchs in one of the palaces, be it in London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo etc., where the palaces belong to the state, that they would say : I would like to sell this picture because I need a yacht! Well, this is impossible, because it is a loss to the nation. But the owners still are the descendants of King Alexander I and Prince Pavle. So it’s tough and bad luck that these are the people who are the owners. It’s too bad, but that’s going to be the rule, and that’s the rule throughout Europe. Even as far away as Japan, and even in republics.
One has to make something out of one’s life. I worked to earn my living, and I did OK, I did very well, I lived very well. Now, others have to do the same thing. And the solution is not looking at a painting and seeing a big dollar or Euro sign on it. You must look at it with love and admiration, and restore it, to its splendor.
Is there a lot of work to restore the artwork, what condition are they in?
- Sadly, the paintings need a tremendous amount of work. There have been visits from foreign experts here with supervision of the Government and we’re working on some projects regarding these nations where their national artist have been involved, for example, like Italy. And we hope that after examining the things they would bring their experts here to work with our experts to restore these wonderful pieces of art. They can not continue to live in such bad conditions. And I hope that we will have some solutions very quickly for this teamwork between domestic and foreign experts to get on with the task, so it’s a gift to our domestic experts to see the latest techniques of restoration. Finally, there’s research that has to be done which means involving institutions such as the National Museum in finding the art that walked away and bringing them back home.
Are there many of the works of art missing?
- Yes, and there’s also a confusion where things are. For example, some of the things that belong to the National Museum are here, and vice versa. And so, one has to do a sort of reorganization. Basically, the people must know everything that goes on. There is no hanky-panky. Everything must be in its place.
Is it difficult to live in such an environment? Do you feel free to live your private life as you like?
- It’s not difficult if one respects everything that is in all these lovely rooms. My wife and I have tried to bring back some form of discipline in maintaining these premises. Where it becomes difficult is when it gets cold. Being on top of Dedinje hill, it gets cold, and of course one has to worry about the windows, and the wind which can be quite strong up here. We have actually, while we are talking, people fixing windows and roof. But on the lighter side, if you look at a piece of furniture, you wonder, is that an original piece, or is that, shall we say, contemporary piece of the post civil war era, which happened to come here with the visitors who were heads of state. One of the dreams that I have, my wife and I spoke about it very often, is to have a book on what is in here, and how it came here.
THIS IS A MONUMENT!
We asked Princess Katherine, who was approving of our conversation with a smile, if it was difficult to maintain this home.
- It’s a huge responsibility, and it’s not the number of people, as it is that people know their job, and have to respect what’s here. We are very protective over the Palaces. I’ll never forget when my husband first came, when he looked around the place, he said: “This is a monument! This must be enjoyed for generations to come. We lost a lot in our country, but my responsibility is to preserve what I can”. Our hope was the family and everyone around us will respect this place the same way as we do. The idea is to have young children and many people for generations to come to come in and enjoy what their ancestors have created. We have a history. Taking these Palaces apart is like cleaning history. We came here to give and not to take, and one of the things we want to give to the people is the sense of belonging. They have been deprived of their rights for too many years, they have been forced to forget their history. It is like a tree, if you take its root out, it will die and not be there. It would be very sad for generations to come to destroy something that was created with a purpose. That’s why it is important to have an understanding with the family and in the whole nation, and to feel proud for having my husband who is a symbol of unity, stability, continuity and integrity. He always asks what’s best for the people, not what he wants for himself. I believe there is a lot of confusion in our country, people need examples, they got to know right form wrong. And now they have it; in any area if you look at my husband, you’ll find what’s right. Our country needs to learn to destroy the bad things, and to preserve the good things if we want to have a future.
Coming here, we made a promise always to put people first. If we destroyed this place, would we put people first?
Many people have come here for a visit. Still, do you ever feel lonely?
Is it difficult to find friends, being in the position you are?
- The most important is to be understood. When you are trying to do your best and you sacrifice everything you have: time, friendships, parenthood, and you don’t know if anyone understands you. The biggest comfort is, the smiles you bring on people’s faces and the bridges of hope, this our recognition. It’s a privilege to have this opportunity to change people’s lives. I just wish we were contagious, and that other people, in the morning when they get up, will start thinking about others and not just themselves. We need that in our lives: kindness, love, smiles. That doesn’t cost anything. People need to be reminded that you succeed when you have more friends than enemies. You can only make contracts when you have contacts. If we want the future for our economy we have to have the right attitude and that is that others are not better than us, we have to stop feeling pity for ourselves. We have to count our blessings that we have a chance to build our nation together. Who doesn’t like it, doesn’t have to live here. Only if we are united we can do it: only unity saves the Serbs, and my husband is here to remind us about it.
Is the Crown Prince sometimes lonely ?
- We have each other and the children. We travel around the whole of Serbia. We made 3,000 kilometers for ten days. Everyone, regardless of their religion and ethnic origin have got an incredible smile. We consider everyone our friend, because we are one big family in our country, and there must be no “Berlin walls” between anyone. When we come back here we are exhausted, but happy. Of course, we look forward to an occasional day of breathing, but even then we think how we must help someone. Any thought of loneliness goes out of the window when you think, just a few hours away from Belgrade, there are people who live in very, very bad conditions.
PROMISES MUST BE FULFILLED
The Foundation of HRH Crown Princess Katherine has done a lot. What activities are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my Foundation and people who work for it. They have stood by me in many difficult moments. One of the hardest things has been to try to tell to the world where we stand and where we are, because tolerance and pride of our people have no limits, because if we don’t ask we don’t get and our people like to get and not to ask. So I feel lonely in asking. I went to bed at 4.15 last night, I had to make some calls to California, because we are trying by the end of this week to deliver all the equipment, the ambulances, to empty the warehouses, to start all over again. I have my Office in New York in Lexington Avenue, and the Office in Chicago, and they are both doing events. There is also the Office in Washington, and I consider the offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There will be a great event in Athens on 2 December. I’m leaving tomorrow to put a Committee together for that event and then I’m going next week to London to put a group together for the event there. As you know our image is not the best, and thanks to the respect and love people have for my husband it makes this possible. At the beginning of December all these events will make possible to fulfill the promises I gave to various hospitals, for everywhere we go they gave us a list of wishes. And it’s my job to fulfille the wishes. If you ask me what I am proud of – I’m proud of the fact that we have never made a promise we did not fulfill. I think our people had enough promises and I think it’s worse not to fulfill a promise, than to give one. People need to know what they stand on and not to have stories. I hope they will find in my husband and me someone who is treating them the way they should be treated. My biggest regret is that there is just not enough hours. Sometimes I do not want to sleep at all, there is so much to do. My husband often tells me :”Everybody’s sleeping, you can’t help anyone now” , and I say :”No, no, someone in California is still awake”.
How do you cooperate with the people from the Crown Council? Do they help? Are they your friends?
I was very happy in 1992 when the Crown Council was established in Athens. Since that time the Crown Council has grown. Not only are they people of great knowledge but they love our country very much. I’m always happy to listen to their views and advice. Sadly, we have lost a few of the members owing to age and I lost some very dear friends.
Copyright © 1998 NJ.K.V. Prestolonaslednik Aleksandar II
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