"Blic News", 16 April 2003
HOW THE PROPERTY OF THE KARADJORDJEVICS WAS CREATED
From Karadjordje to Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, this Serbian dynasty has gone through many uprisings, wars and truces in which their property was enlarged or reduced, confiscated or plundered
The Royal and The White Palace, situated in 130 hectares of the estate in Dedinje stretching toward Rakovica, is the property of Karadjordjevic dynasty, that was also "fancied" by other Serbian and Yugoslav rulers.
The girl in the reception hall of The Royal Palace offered us with drink while outside the Palace the guard at the gate was lifting the bar, letting in the car with Dragomir Acovic, member of the Privy Council who we were expecting. The director of the Royal Fund Dusan Babac explains to me that The Royal Palace building in which we are sitting, was built from 1924 to 1929, designed by architect Zivojin Vujic. His advisor and assistant was the famous Russian architect Nikolai Krasnoff who designed the Army Headquarters building. Before approaching the Palace, visitors pass by a small house with thatched roof from which King Alexander supervised the works, and later on Princes Andrew and Peter used it as their study.
In the large reception hall of The Royal Palace I finally sit with three men of special trust of Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic: Dragomir Acovic, Dusan Babac and the correspondent at the Office of the Crown Prince, Gavrilo Dosen. We start the story of Karadjordjevics' estates from the beginning, from Karadjordje.
- At the time when the First Serbian Uprising was about to be raised, Karadjordje was already a relatively wealthy man. It was the reason why he entered the narrow circle of people who decided on starting the Uprising. It wasn't just his fierce character, but also the fact that he belonged to the few wealthy Serbs of the time. However, Karadjordje's property grew and melted away, depending on how the Serbian cause was getting on. The main piece of property was in Topola and around it. It was the place where Karadjordje's family had settled and felt at home - says Dragomir Acovic.
The Petrovics came there from Montenegro, but not in the first generation. One can say that the migration took several generations. Karadjordje wasn't born in Topola, but in Visevac, although some sources claim other villages, but anyway in that area. Visevac is between Raca and Topola. Karadjordje's property after his departure from Serbia was plundered. What was left of it was of no importance and the Karadjordjevics started creating their new property where they found themselves, in Besarabia, in Hotin.
- The were living off the pension granted by the Russian government, which was not much, and the payments ceased when they were ordered to leave Hotin and go to another part of Russia. When they refused, the pension was terminated and they were left with no income at all. New assets were gained when Karadjordje's sons went into trade. The elder married the daughter of Captain Misa Anastasijevic, while the younger, who became Prince Alexander, created new family property for himself. Their family situation became better when Alexander Karadjordjevic was elected the Prince of Serbia - says Acovic. Then the Karadjordjevics establish their wealth in Serbia, keeping their estates in Walachia and Besarabia. The property of the Karadjordjevic was got enlarged, until the fall of Prince Alexander. After Prince Michael Obrenovic was assassinated a law was passed confiscating the entire property of the Karadjordjevics in Serbia. It was even partly destroyed. For instance, the original Karadjordje's estate was razed to the ground twice. Karadjordje's fort was demolished, and only the "konak" (house) was left, which exists today, too. The principal heir of what was left of the property, mainly abroad, was one of Prince Alexander's sons, Prince Andrew, and he was the one who financed all early activities of the future King Peter I, during Herzegovina uprising and his several illegal visits to Serbia, when he went under the name of Peter Mrkonjic.
The King and the soldier
The future King Peter I and his youngest brother Prince Arsen built their careers in the military profession. They both finished military schools. King Peter the one in Saint Cyr in France, where he later entered the Foreign Legion.
- One should not forget that King Peter served regular French army and was wounded in the hand in the battle of Sedan, during French-Prussian war, while Prince Arsen served in several armies. He was a professional soldier and an adventurer and he fought in almost all wars in the first half and at the end of the 19. century, starting with Manchuria front, where he fought in the Russian army against Japan, through Indochina wars and all the way to Algeria.
When later King Peter married the daughter of Montenegrin King Nicholas, that was, above all political marriage, but with romantic side, too, say our collocutors. That was not a marriage based on material interest. At the time when Peter I was invited to come from Geneva where he lived and take Serbian throne, the financial situation of the Karadjordjevics was rather "slim". King Peter and his family lived a fairly modest life.
On the other hand, Prince Arsen was married to Princess Aurora of the wealthy Russian family of Demidoff, and he got a substantial dowry, which significantly improved his financial situation, but the marriage didn't last. After he had come to Serbia, King Peter started reconstructing what used to be family property of the Karadjordjevics. He was a man who got used to a very modest life, which can be confirmed by his diaries. At every moment he knew exactly how much he had and his sparingness was legendary.
- He wasn't a miser. He had gone through various troubles and he learned to avoid every expense he could. It is supported by the fact that so few of his personal belongings was found when his museum was to be opened that the exhibition could not be set. There was enough to fill one room only. Everything else was about his military career - says Acovic.
King's civil list
He endowed those objects to the museum, and what was left were the real estates. He bought his grandfather's and his father's estates and also a few houses in Belgrade, and that made his belongings. According to the then constitution and laws, there was a civil list, which did not exist only in monarchies, but in French republic as well. It is what might be called budget expenses of the head of state. Civil list, as a rule, was determined several years in advance. It could not be altered, neither be increased, nor reduced, between two decisions of the Parliament. It consisted of the King's salary and all expenses of the head of state. That includes maintaining of the residences, staff salaries, and appanages for all members of the Royal family. By wise managing of the civil list, King Peter succeeded in reconstructing what used to be the family's property that was lost or confiscated. After King Peter's death, it was enlarged by King Alexander.
Every now and then stories appear of King Alexander being the best paid ruler in Europe. Acovic says they are sheer fabrications.
- Absolutely false. The salary was compared to the one of the American president, forgetting to mention that that the sum the American president gets is his salary only, and that it served to that purpose only, while everything else was covered from the budget, since there is no civil list in it. On the other hand what was called King Alexander's salary was in fact the civil list, which included covering the expenses of trips abroad and receptions for foreign statesmen. All expenses of the head of state's cabinet were included in the list - notes Acovic.
When he got married, King Alexander received a wealthy dowry from Queen Maria who came from Romania. German dynasty of Hohenzollern ruled Romania, the same dynasty that ruled Germany. German Kaiser and Romanian king were from the same dynasty, only from different branches. So dynasty of Karadjordjevic had many relations with other ruling families.
- Al those ties with other dynasties were originated only by the marriage of King Alexander, there were no relations before that. When I say other dynasties, I mean that Petrovic Njegos can't be regarded as a foreign dynasty. That also was Serbian dynasty from Montenegro - says Acovic.
Karadjordje was married to a girl from the family of Jovanovic, Prince Alexander was married to Persida Nenadovic, and King Peter I to Zorka Petrovic Njegos. Only King Alexander got married outside national context, to Maria, Marioara, Hohenzollern, who was a distant descendant of the Nemanjics. An arch in time was made and "wandering blood" of the Nemanjic returned to Serbia. After that, Prince Pavle also had a dynastic marriage, he married Princess Olga of the Greek dynasty.
After King Alexander's assassination in 1934 the court established what the property of the late King consisted of. Above all that was The Royal Palace, the place of our interview.
The property included The Royal and The White Palace with belonging objects like offices of the 'mayor of the palace'. Beside this estate, there was a piece of land belonging to the Royal gardens, and it was situated in Patrijarha Dimitrija street in Rakovica. The King also owned a house in Sarajevska street, which was demolished, and in its place there is hotel "Turist" today; then there is a house in Krunska street, next to Brazilian Embassy; land on which the endowments of King Alexander were built and they are the Archive of Yugoslavia and Military High School, as well as the students' home of King Alexander, today known as "Lola" in King Alexander's street.
In addition, there was property consisting of a villa in 1, Uzicka street, and the house endowed to King Alexander's son Tomislav in 2, Tolstojeva street. And of course the land on which the endowments of Queen Maria were built - 1, Aberdareva street where the building of Radio and Television of Serbia is, the one bombed by NATO in 1999.
The Family owned land in Sokobanja, shares in some mines, like the gold mine of Nevesnica on the river Pek. It also owned rights to hunt and fish, but not to own some land, so that today it is rather difficult to define those rights. In Slovenia Prince Pavle owned a castle, Brdo kod Kranja, while King Alexander owned the estates at the Bled and Bohinj lakes, in municipalities of Kamnik and Radovljica. It consisted of several objects in Bled and Bohinj. In Croatia, Queen Maria owned several objects, like the palace in Zagreb, estate in Belje and a villa in Dubrovnik. She also owned a villa in Han Pijesak. In today’s Macedonia, the King owned a large agricultural estate near Demir Kapija, which he bestowed to his son Tomislav.
In Montenegro, the dynasty had possessions in Podgorica, Rijeka Crnojevica and Cetinje, while Queen Maria owned the estate in Milocer. Oplenac, which is often stated as a part of the property, is in fact a Foundation and it is under a special regime of management, under control of the Board. And that would be all, as for the real estate.
Mestrovic and Bukovac
- The Karadjordjevics own many paintings by Vlaho Bukovac and sculptures by Ivan Mestrovic – says Dusan Babac during the tour of the Palaces.
There is a self-portrait of Mestrovic and a bust of Njegos, also the work of Mestrovic.
- As for the library, I have to point out that out of about 50,000 books only 4,000 has remained. Regrettably, the most of books has disappeared – explains Dosen.
From the Blue room we go into the King’s office, with the bust of King Peter, by Dragan Jovanovic. Then the Golden room and again the work of Mestrovic – “Prince Marko”. Then the portrait of King Alexander by French painter George Scott. Through the large windows of the Royal dining room one can see a patio with “Bathing beauty”, a sculpture by Frano Krsinic. Marble is everywhere and the impression of Mediterranean is in the air.
We go to Oriental room in the style of “1001 night”, and next to it to “the room of whispers” with a marble fountain on the wall, that was activated when the King wanted to have a confidential conversation.
Family church of Saint Andrew the First Called, designed in Mediterranean style was finished in fatal 1934, the year when King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles.
- Painting of the Family church was done under instructions of King Alexander, on the model of the frescos from Serbian medieval monasteries. The painting was coordinated by academician Nikolai Krasnoff, and performed by Boris Obraskov, Nikola Maiendorf, and Vladimir Bickovski. In front of the church of Saint Andrew the First Called, the patron saint of the Karadjordjevics, there is a cannon, cast before the First Serbian Uprising – explains Babac while we are standing in the church yard, among frescos.
Tito, Krcun, Milosevic
The White Palace shines in the afternoon sun. The life-long president of SFRY Josip Broz Tito used this Palace for a year intensively, and then only occasionally. The grave of Davorjanka Paunovic, a beautiful girl from Sumadija and Tito’s secretary with a wartime name of Zdenka, who was buried between The Royal and The White Palace, is according to some sources, probable reason why Tito later stayed at The White Palace only officially.
The inside of the Palace is matching its outside. There is the famous settee, which we used to watch so often on the state TV, while the then president, and the present accused by the Hague, received guests from all over the world. The picture of the real owner, King Alexander Karadjordjevic could rarely be seen. Such were the times.
Not only Milosevic fancied the Palace in which he gave his last statement, when he finally admitted his defeat in the elections of 2000 and the victory of now ex-president of ex-Yugoslavia Dr. Vojislav Kostunica. As our collocutors have testified, after the WWII the “red princes” of communist revolution, particularly Slobodan Penezic Krcun, liked this Palace in which they often took pictures of themselves smiling and with a glass of champagne in their hands.