Interview of HRH Crown Prince Alexander II – weekly magazine “ILUSTROVANA POLITIKA”, 8 November 2003
BILLIARDS AND PIROT CHEESE
Leading us through the salons of The White Palace, the Crown Prince told us about the secrets of the house, morning recreation, favorite actor Harrison Ford, his father whose remains will be transferred to Oplenac the next year, but also about the topics that have aroused the public and the Royal Family for the last couple of months – who can use the Palaces, what will happen to the property, who is not telling the truth, and he says no one has a reason to get angry.
Beginning the tour of The Royal Palace, Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic says: We do not alter history, we only preserve it.
And history is everywhere around us. At the entire Royal Compound. The twenty first century, represented by cords, sockets and phones is well hidden so that it doesn’t disturb the patina of times gone by. Under some wall paintings on the motifs of 1001 night in the Oriental salon (also known as the Magic salon or the Room of whispers), one can still see the silhouette of the double headed white eagle – the coat of arms of the Karadjordjevics, painted over skillfully by communist artists so that they fit into the original paintings.
- Tito was a “good“ painter – laughs the Prince and shows us another wok of the Marshall’s artists. It is on the ceiling of the Small salon, used as the smoking and card room. Two red stars. Also painted over to fit the existing decoration.
- The communists wanted to look at them while they were playing cards here – explains our host.
He repeats that he and his wife are not here to alter or remove anything:
- Everything belongs to the people. The grave of Davorjanka Paunovic is here, too, right next to the house, where she was buried.
The Crown Prince loves the basement of The Royal Palace. He is delighted with its colors and shapes every time again. He tells us about the extraordinary fountain in the Room of whispers.
- King Alexander I wanted to talk to his guests in this room with no doors, without being heard by the staff. That is why he commissioned the fountain, so that the conversation could not be heard.
We pass by a sculpture of a knight with a cloak and a sword. It is less known that it is the work of Queen Maria, who devoted herself to art after the assassination of her husband in Marseilles. She was quite good at painting and sculpting. Then there is a story of how the Karadjordjevics became related with the Nemanjics through Queen Maria! But, about that – some other time.
This time – we come to the cinema room. And the armchair where Tito used to sit and watch his favorite westerns.
- When we are here, at home, we seldom have a chance to spend time on our own – says the Prince. – We work a lot. We are mostly up by 7 a.m. and either walking or exercising in the mansard before breakfast. We get all the newspapers early too and watch the news on TV at breakfast. We have either travel or meetings and visits or visitors. We go to bed late at night.
They keep fit by machines they received as gifts, and keep them in the penthouse. They also love to walk in the Royal Compound park. “It is a great pleasure for us”, says the Prince. And except on business, they go rarely outside the Palace. “My life once in a while consists of going to a restaurant or two and even a museum. I have been to the national theater.”
- Rarely do we watch a film and when we do it is a welcome treat. The boys love watching DVD’s. We have met many actors over the years and one of my favorite is Harrison Ford. My favorite actress was Katherine Hepburn. There are many actors that I like.
The young Princes Peter, Philip and Alexander love to spend time in the next room playing billiards. The Crown Prince gladly joins them for a game or two. Wishing to make the atmosphere relaxed and enjoyable while we are taking photos of the Crown Prince, Princess Katherine breaks the balls and says:
- Here, hit a ball! Why, no, everyone who sees the photos will think “what’s he doing?”and laugh – giggles the Prince himself. The game starts by breaking the balls when they are together.
While everybody is laughing, we ask the Princess if she has ever played billiards.
- No, I have always thought it’s a men’s game.
But, all the women in America play it, we continue.
- They are not women, they are half and half – jokes the Princess.
Explaining how they take their guests everywhere except upstairs where the private premises are, Crown Prince Alexander takes us trough the dining room, the blue room, the King’s Office and the terrace with a view on much of Serbia. There Their Royal Highnesses are again ready to pose in front of our camera. The Princess suggests us to take one photo with her husband.
- You can keep your hands in your pocket, it becomes you – suggests Katherine, who never omits any detail. From the flag to the light bulbs.
The flag on the roof is torn in two – notices the Princess and tells the staff to make a note of it. And change the flag. – Everything is torn in two in this country.
- One half for Serbia, another for Montenegro, we add, while the Crown Prince changes the spot. “More smile, please”, requests the colleague photographer. “Say cheese!” says he, and the smile comes to the Crown Prince’s face when he replies “From Pirot”.
A little relaxation did good to us and our hosts who received us between the memorial service for the Crown Prince’s father King Peter II (33rd anniversary of his death) and the reception for the new Lebanese Ambassador.
The memorial service for his father was our queue to ask the Crown Prince if he visited his grave during the recent visit to America, and what he was doing on that continent?
- We had a brief holiday on the island of Crete in August, followed by domestic humanitarian travels late August and September with my wife. We traveled over 3,000 km across Serbia delivering medical equipment. At the end of September we went to the United States to New York, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Sacramento, Washington, Cleveland, then back to New York and finally Chicago. We did see many interesting foreigners, but also met with our Diaspora and organized several functions for my wife’s charity Lifeline in New York, Washington and Chicago. I also addressed the Western Policy Center in Washington. We visited the Serbian Unity Congress convention in San Francisco.
It was wonderful that that the Divacs gave a dinner for Lifeline in Sacramento. Mr. Alex Machaskee, the publisher of the newspaper Plain Dealer also kindly gave a dinner in Cleveland for Lifeline. We are very pleased that several medical specialists from Indianapolis and San Francisco have taken great interest in meeting with our doctors in Belgrade in December.
Of course, the Crown Prince visited the grave of his father King Peter II in Saint Sava’s Monastery in Libertyville:
- His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher said prayers over the grave. I am delighted that my father’s remains will come home to Oplenac next year, he belongs at home in Serbia and that was always his wish to come back.
What are your memories of your father from your young age, how much time did you spend together, what did you talk about?
- My father was a good father to me. We loved each other very much. He was very home sick, always hoping that he would go home. He told me that he felt that he had been torn away from what he knew and loved. He was a gentle man and caring. He felt very much let down by the allies during World War II and was hurt that he was in exile. He loved his people and always told me to respect everyone. We spent time together, but not as much as I would have hoped.
How did you spend your childhood? Did you move a lot?
- I followed my parents around Europe and to America. They were most of the time looking for a home, be it in Europe or America. My mother was not strict, but concerned about the future and about my father. I had a nanny who was very good to me and my mother would organize things with her for me. We would visit zoos and go to the cinema with my parents. They were young and fun.
I was sent to boarding school in Switzerland at eight in 1953 in Gstaad. My mother was a skier and she would love going up the mountain with me. My father enjoyed playing mechanic with me, but we had difficulty at times putting things back together! I was a naughty student. My favorite subjects were science and history, I hated mathematics. I would visit my grandmother (my mothers mother Princess Aspasia, she was Greek, in Venice) during my holidays. I also remember visiting my fathers mother Queen Maria in London.
Where were you when you father died and how did you take the news?
- I was stationed in Germany with the British Army and heard the news on the BBC radio. The news said that King Peter II had died three days earlier and that the reason why it was not announced earlier was that the family had to be informed. Can you imagine how I felt listening to the announcement about the death of my father over the radio. The whole story was quite sordid in that my father died in Denver Colorado after having a liver transplant without my mother’s or my permission. The whole surgery then in 1970 was experimental. My father was in very bad hands who claimed they were doing the best for him.
I remember after having visited my father in California April 1970 I had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and I mentioned that my father was very ill. I asked Queen Elizabeth’s permission should the worse happen for my father to be buried next to his mother Queen Maria. Queen Elizabeth said of course and we discussed the tragic situation around my father. My father was in and out of coma. My agreement with Queen Elizabeth regarding the future provisional resting place for my father was not implemented, because some people in US decided to usurp the rights that belonged to me and my mother, and organized the burial in the way they considered proper.
The will of your father has caused some confusion, regarding that he left the largest part of his property to the others, and to you, allegedly only $ 5,000, and that he appointed Mici Lou, the woman who spent several last months with him to be the executor of the will? What is the truth, and is the will original and fair in your opinion?
- The official medical documents and records from Colorado clearly indicate that my father was totally incapable to sign anything owing to his very critical medical situation. Unfortunately my father was at times surrounded by some pretty malicious individuals that we can not be proud of who were basically blood suckers and playing detrimental games to diminish my father’s image and always lying or inventing lies things. These people were quite pathetic. My father suffered from ill health and combined with home sickness and all the intrigue it had its terrible toll on him. The regime no doubt played a lot of deception and rule and divide games. My father suffered from a lot of injustice. I miss him.
What did you know about Mici Lou at that time and did you meet her?
- No comment.
After his father’s death and leaving the army where he had the rank of a captain, Crown Prince Alexander got married to Princess Maria da Gloria from Orleans and Braganza, of the Brazilian Imperial House, in 1972. The wedding took place in Spain, but the newlyweds soon went to live in Brazil.
- We lived in Rio de Janeiro and I worked with an American company in advertising. I also spent sometime time in London and New York. Later on I went into insurance and we moved to Chicago in 1976. Peter was born in Chicago in 1980.
How did you meet your first wife, and what did she do?
- I met Maria da Gloria in 1971 on holiday in Portugal when staying with King Umberto of Italy at his house in Cascais. Maria da Gloria worked in Chicago for fashion then she took art courses. We moved to Virginia in 1981 and Philip and Alexander were born in 1982 there. Our marriage broke up in 1983.
What went wrong in your marriage? The divorce certainly was not an easy decision regarding that you had three young children?
- You are right in saying that the divorce was a tough one for three beautiful children. There are times when things don’t work out and this was one of them. The friendship and relationship between all of us is warm and excellent. Katarina and Maria da Gloria are friends and we see each other occasionally. Katarina had been like true mother to the boys and everyone deeply appreciates her loving care.
At the time when Alexander and Katherine met at a Washington restaurant (“It was love at first sight”), the Crown Prince was friends with all the members of Karadjordjevic family.
- My relationship with all family members was warm and nice when living in exile. Prince Tomislav and Princess Margarita were very good and caring to me as well as Princess Linda. Prince Paul and Princess Olga were always very good to me and I would visit them in Paris and stay with them in their house. I would also see Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara and Princess Elizabeth and we would always be very happy together. I rarely saw Prince Andrew who was living in California, but when I saw him it was very nice.
Did you feel relief when Princess Elizabeth first crossed Yugoslavia’s border? What did that mean for the Karadjordjevics?
- It was nice when my cousin Princess Elizabeth came to Belgrade she told me all about it and how beautiful our people and country is.
Interestingly before Katarina and I got married in 1985 she came that year on my wish to visit Belgrade and Oplenac.
The Crown Prince points out how disappointed he was with the slow pace of the changes in our country and “the extraordinary madness of the last decade”.
- I am still shocked. There are people are still suffering from what happened: killing, dictatorship, sanctions, isolation and bombing. I was also disappointed in the international dealing with our situation. I committed myself to work to peacefully change the regime in the best interest of the people and support our democratic this is well known. The regime was but a continuation of the former one, but in another format. The international community did not quite understand what our former Yugoslavia leaders were playing so they go mixed up and many arguments and pain ensued owing to missed opportunities to firmly implant democracy and reforms. What a terrible price the people paid. Now we must get on with the new situation to ensure economic success and prosperity, there is no other option.
The exiled Crown Prince did not feel, as he says, any fear when he first came to the country of his ancestors in 1991.
- I was very emotional when I came to Serbia the first time. Like most Serbs I am emotional, and it is natural that I cried then.
Three years ago he and his family got Yugoslav passports. They travel with them, although...
- When needed we use the British one owing to the unfortunate visa problems with the European Union which I hope will be resolved soon.
Many people reproach the Crown Prince for not quite mastering Serbian, although from our personal point of view, he speaks better than he reads prepared texts.
- I have been told that too, thank you for your comment. Let’s face it Serbian is not easy, but it is coming along. I must admit that Katarina and I are naughty when abroad because we go into Serbian to make comments and once someone understood us!
Last year the dispute in Karadjordjevic family drew the public’s attention. First with Princess Elizabeth, then Prince Vladimir, Princess Eva Maria (Mici Lou) and other members. What are they about and could the problems of the Royal House be overcome for Monarchy’s sake?
- There must be of course unity within the family as there must be respect for the traditions of the family and rules as set by King Peter I and King Alexander I. Respect also means not disclosing family affairs in public and inventing things. My hope is that the family realizes that we have to be united and that there will be only one head according to our rules that are mandatory and very clear.
Have you or any person from the Palace’s protocol ever forbidden any member of the Karadjordjevics to stay at The Palace, for some have said so, and that they do not feel welcome?
Members of the family can always stay at the palaces when visiting. I have mentioned that any times. I have been responsible for all expenses, full upkeep and maintenance of the whole complex and in addition I must follow the King Alexander’s rules of The Royal House.
Your proposal of the Law on the Compound has caused a lot of polemics. What happened? What exactly did you propose, and do other Karadjordjevics have any reason to be angry?
- The proposal says that the Complex is and should remain the entity that constitutes a national heritage. Being now composed of mementos of different periods and provenience, it is not to be divided among original owners or their descent, but maintained as a unit. Therefore, the State should compensate all the owners and heirs, and save this as national monument. The Head of the House should in perpetuity be allowed to use the complex, and the State to profit from it for the state functions. It should not be a dead museum collection, but a living and prospering complex, because monuments are not just empty shells or soulless collection of artifacts, but an active organisms. Otherwise, this would have divided into small morsels according to the original owners and numerous heirs, and - since the structures can not be divided as pieces of a cake - the public sale would have been the only solution. Original owners of the items contributed in the Tito's time would be traced, and the National Museums and libraries depleted, because property was not only what is now in the Palaces, but what once was there as well! This is why I proposed the solution. I am sorry that some of those that reacted loudly and publicly did not take a minute to think about it before they reacted!
The House of Petrovic-Njegos issued a statement that “a Karadjordjevic will never be the King of Montenegro” and that the Petrovics never renounced their right to the throne. Please give us your comment on that.
- You know that in Montenegro there is a strong and well organized anti-Serbian propaganda, which very often goes far beyond the limits of chauvinism. My ancestors came from Montenegro, and my Great-grandmother was daughter of the first and only King of Montenegro! That heirs of King Nicholas thought different from what is heard today one may see from the letters of Prince Petar and Prince Michael. Royal Family of Montenegro sold their property to the State, and were paid an appanage even after the decision of the Assembly of Podgorica, and the payment was ended only in August 1945. I sympathize with the present Head of the House, but he should investigate own claims better before he steps in the public with outrageous statements. That would help him, Montenegro and everyone, and would not harm nobody.
Finally, we asked the Crown Prince to tell us about his vision of Serbia’s future, European Union, NATO, the Hague Tribunal... ?
I believe we should join the European Union, but our people need to know much more about it and what the benefits are. We cannot afford to be isolated from Europe when everyone around us will eventually be a member of the EU. I feel very hurt that we were bombed by NATO, but I suppose that eventually we will have to do something about it and our security. Anyone who has committed a crime against humanity must face the music, but I must admit that I do have my differences with The Hague. I support the new international tribunal that has global membership with the exception of three or so who must join. Everyone must face justice without any exception and that was agreed by over 90 countries.
Copyright © 1998 NJ.K.V. Prestolonaslednik Aleksandar II
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