HRH Crown Prince Alexander was very pleased to give an interview to the weekly “Libertatea”, the central newspaper of the Romanian national minority in Serbia. On this occasion, Crown Prince gave comprehensive answers to questions about the humanitarian work of HRH Crown Princess Katherine, the Royal family’s support for the education of children in Serbia, the question of the restoration of monarchy, the influence of the Royal Family on the promotion of Serbia, as well as the friendly relations between the citizens of Serbia and Romania. In the interview, you can also read numerous personal memories of His Royal Highness of his ancestors – father, King Peter II, grandfather, King Alexander I, and grandmother, Queen Maria, which are not that much familiar to the general public.
The entire interview, which was originally published in the Romanian language in the edition from 5 March 2022, can be found below.
1. For many years, Your Royal Highness, your wife and family have been prominent in humanitarian work. Can you describe in more details the activities of HRH Crown Princess Katherine’s Foundation?
The activities in the humanitarian field have always been very important to the Royal family Karadjordjevic. Inspired by my ancestors who did the same in the past, my wife, Crown Princess Katherine, has dedicated her life to helping others and providing support to the people of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, providing aid to all the people who need it, regardless of their gender, religion, race, age, or ethnicity.
The work of my wife’s Foundation in Serbia started in 2001, almost immediately after our return to our homeland, after decades of living in unwanted exile, due to the decision of non-democratic regime that ruled Yugoslavia after World War Two, which deprived my family of our citizenship and private properties. But it was not the start of her devotion to helping our people, because even while we were in exile, she found a way to send the necessary help to our people during the 1990ies. Large amounts of humanitarian aid came directly to the thousands of people and especially orphans that were inflicted by the terrible war.
One of our first projects together was the donation of an Isolation sterile room for hematology patients to University Children’s Hospital Tiršova, 30 years ago. This carries a lot of symbolism in it because the hospital in Tirsova was built by my grandmother, HM Queen Maria.
My wife opened offices of Lifeline Humanitarian Organization in Chicago, New York, Toronto, London, and Athens, that are all under her patronage. The hard work and efforts of all those wonderful people who have been supporting and helping the work of Lifeline offices for over 25 years now, have made a tremendous positive impact for the people of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska and made a difference in their lives. And after our arrival in Serbia, these offices abroad joined forces with Foundation in Belgrade, for the good of the people.
The focus of the humanitarian work is on supporting Healthcare, Social Welfare, and Education Systems in Serbia and the Republic of Srpska. We also never forget our countrymen who are in unimaginable conditions living, struggling, and trying to survive in our holy land, Kosovo and Metohija. Their well-being is always in our minds, and they are constantly in our prayers. Each year packages and packages of help are being sent to our people and numerous projects were realized in Kosovo by my wife’s Foundation, to make the lives and living conditions of the people better.
As my family motto says – From the people, for the people – we are always trying to do our best to help those in need. And by doing so, we are, as already mentioned, following the footsteps of my ancestors, who left many endowments that even today serve for the benefit of our country, they provided help for the poor people, orphans, my grandmother was the patron of Red Cross and Circle of Serbian Sisters… It is a very well-known fact that, even during World War Two, my grandmother sent humanitarian aid to our soldiers, prisoners of war in German concentration camps. She used the pseudonym Marija K. Djordjevic which shows that when there is a will, there is a way. This work is the continuation of their legacy and preserving the tradition set by them.
2. One beautiful tradition that you have established is the visit of the most successful high school graduates to the White Palace. The Foundation also worked on providing scholarships for pupils and students. How important is it for modern and contemporary Serbia to have university educated people?
I would rather say that I have re-established this tradition when we returned to Serbia in 2001. Because, same as for humanitarian work, my ancestors strongly supported education and students – they know very well that without educated people there is no future for the country. Good education is the foundation of every state in the world. My grandparents, King Alexander I and Queen Maria shortly after their wedding in 1922 started the “King’s Fund” – a charity organization that helped poor students. All the Kings from my family paid, from their own funds, scholarships to gifted students, it was done by my great grandfather, King Peter I, and continued by my grandfather, King Alexander I, and father, King Peter II. But it should also not be forgotten that the founder of the Royal dynasty, Supreme Leader Karadjordje, brought back to Serbia the most educated Serb of that time, Dositej Obradovic, to be the Minister of Education, who also founded The Great School at the beginning of 19th century in Belgrade. And his son, Prince Alexander, founded the education institutions and brought laws that regulated the work of schools. So, as can be seen, it is a long-lasting tradition, and I would say, it was and is my obligation to follow the path started by my ancestors.
Every kind of support for young people is always welcome and much needed. That is why I started my Foundation for Education and Culture after our return to Serbia, to preserve the tradition of my ancestors and to carry out my personal vision – to provide quality education for the youth of Serbia, so they can achieve personal development, successful careers, and personal fulfillment. The Foundation links Serbian educational institutions with reputable international institutions, with the goal to form highly educated well-trained young professionals, connecting Serbian youth to the business community and to the world. Our goal is also to provide the best possible education for young people, so they can come back to Serbia and serve our country and our people in the best possible way – with their knowledge.
One of our main events is the reception for the best high school graduates from Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, which we organize each year at the White Palace. In 2021 it was the jubilee – the 20th time since this event was started. Unfortunately, because of this awful pandemic, we were not able to gather all the students in the Palace, but we organized the conference online, and sent the presents to them, same as we did the year before. I hope that this year the pandemic situation will be better and that I will be able to greet all these wonderful young people and deliver them the presents again personally. Their commitment and enthusiasm truly are an inspiration and a motive to continue supporting them.
3. What exactly are the Palace and the Karadjordjevic family doing to raise Serbia’s reputation in the world?
Our country and our people were for so many years, victims of bad propaganda, the international public was looking at our entire nation as some sort of “bad boys”, which made me very unhappy. That is why I used every possible opportunity to speak in the international media, but also to my many friends abroad, to spread the good word about the people of Serbia and about our homeland. We really have many good and talented people, who have contributed so much not only to our country but to the entire world, Serbia is such a beautiful country, and everybody on the globe must know that. I am happy that, after they spoke with my wife and me, many great foreign companies came to Serbia and invested here. One of the examples is IKEA, shortly after the meeting that we had with the owner of this company, they started doing business in Serbia.
Besides presenting the truth to important people worldwide, I also think that the fact that one of my first decisions when we came back to Serbia – to open the doors of the Royal Complex, my family home, to the public – contributed to changing the image as the world sees us. I did not want that this jewel of Serbian history, that my grandfather, King Alexander I built with his personal funds as a home for his family, remain a “forbidden city” as it was during communistic rule.
And in these years, thousands and thousands of tourists from abroad came here, visited not only Royal Complex, but also Belgrade and other parts of our country, and they could firsthand see that what they heard about us is not true. When they come back to their home country, they spread the word about Serbia with their families and friends. Because it is always very important for the people not only to hear the truth but also to see themselves what the real condition is. And in modern days, “mouth-to-mouth” marketing is also very important.
A lot has been done to improve our country’s reputation worldwide, but we must not stop, because we owe it to Serbia that the world knows how great our people and our country really are.
4. Do you think it is realistic for Serbia to one day re-emerge as a parliamentary monarchy?
I have said it many times, and I still think the same – I am ready to take the position which belongs to me by the tradition of our country and also by the legacy of my family, as the Head of the Royal House, but only if it is the wish of the people of Serbia.
Because of the decades lasting negative propaganda against my family and everything that had even the slightest connection with monarchy, this is the topic that requires serious and thorough discussions, because the people of Serbia deserve to hear all the facts about the advantages of constitutional parliamentary monarchy and to listen the substantiated points of both sides, of those who are for and those which are against the renewal of monarchy. Only then a proper answer can be given.
I would like to emphasize that this system has proven itself to be very good and efficient in many countries – just look at modern monarchies, the Kingdom of Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Japan, Canada, and many others. These are all countries with high levels of democracy, human rights and freedoms, social justice… it is my opinion that it could be beneficial for Serbia as well.
The monarch in a constitutional parliamentary monarchy is the guarantor of democracy, continuity, stability, and unity. He is there for every citizen, regardless of their political, religious, or any other affiliation. His position as a non-party and above-party person is important for the country.
And to conclude, people often ask “How a monarch can be representative of all citizens when there are also republicans in the country”. I will just give you one example, from our history, an anecdote about my great-grandfather King Peter I, which gives an answer to this question. People say that, when he became the King, opponents of the monarchy in the Kingdom of Serbia organized demonstrations and gathered in front of the Palace, shouting against the King. Although the adjutant advised my great-grandfather not to come out to the balcony, he did not listen, he came in front of the protesters and told them:” Yes my children, shout! You should shout out loud, I came to my position so you would have the right to shout whatever you wish!”
5. What should the younger generations know about the Karadjordjevic family, which is not written in history textbooks?
They should know that we are the people’s dynasty, one of the rare Royal families that came from the people, and that never could or never will lose that special bond we have with our country and nation. The dictatorship after World War Two tried to break those connections, but they could never succeed. Because although forced to live abroad, we never stop thinking about our homeland. From the stories I heard from my grandmother and father, I kept dreaming of coming here and being able to see the land of my ancestors. And when this long-lasting dream finally came true, although never being before in Serbia, I knew I was home. There is something in our blood that makes this strong connection with our Topola, Sumadija, and entire Serbia, that is like a magnet to us. We cannot be separated from this land.
And the young should also be open-minded, to know not to believe everything that was written in the history textbooks made during the time of communist rule but to read and investigate as much as they can to see the truth. The wale of lies has finally started to be removed, and nothing can suppress the truth. And now, in the 21st century, with all modern technologies, knowledge is only a few clicks away from us. I will just give you one example – for so many decades after 1945 my grandfather King Alexander I was presented as the worst person who ever existed in Yugoslavia. They called him dictator, but I must ask – what kind of dictator reestablishes the Parliament? You must look at the historical context to make conclusions – at the time there was a murder in the Parliament and a sort of extraordinary state in the country needed to be implemented. When the circumstances allowed it parliamentarism was reestablished. This is only one example, out of many more. It did not start only after 1945, he was the victim of slanders even during his life because members of that extremist ideology saw him as the strong barrier against their goals. Nowadays, it is not hard to find for example, what the two greatest geniuses of our people – Nikola Tesla and Mihailo Pupin – said about King Alexander I, defending him from the lies. When people like them say something so great about him, then all the stories that the other side made up become very questionable, so I do not say something stronger. In a letter that Tesla sent to the editor of the New York Times, dated October 19th, 1934, among other things, our great scientist wrote: “…Alexander will live long in the memory of his people, a heroic figure of imposing stature, both the Washington and Lincoln of Yugoslavia: like Washington an able and intrepid General who freed his country from oppression; like Lincoln a wise and patriotic leader who suffered martyrdom.” And in a telegram of condolences, that he sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Tesla referred to King Alexander I as “genius, heroic and patriotic ruler”.
6. What did your father, King Peter II, tell you about your grandfather, King Alexander? What do you remember from those family stories?
My father, King Peter II, was always very sentimental when we spoke about his father… he was only 11 when that awful, tragic day of 9 October 1934 came, and when my grandfather fell as a victim of extreme ideologies Nazism and Fascism, that few years after that brought war, pain, and suffering to the entire world.
It is extremely hard for a young boy to lose his father at that age when he needs him very much. My father not even a full month before the murder just went to England, to continue his education there. On departure, my grandfather told him: “Now, Peter, you must realize that from now on you should not behave as a Prince but like any other young boy. I want you to work hard and to make some good friends: you will find they will be good to have later. Always remember that you will be a representative of our country and that people will judge us by your behavior.” It was the last time he saw him…
And shortly after that, when the assassination in Marseille occurred, the tragic news came to my father. Just imagine this young boy, who receives the news of such a thing with the words:” Terrible things have happened. You are our only hope! They have killed our King! Long live your Majesty!” This is something that would be much harder for even an older person, and just imagine how was all this for a young man… it is the destiny of every monarch in the world – personal feelings must be put aside because your country needs you. And interests and well-being of the people and the state are always in the first placeThat is why my father always spoke about my grandfather with so much love and devotion, but also sadness… He missed him very much.
7. What set King Alexander apart from other rulers of the dynasty?
Every ruler from my family has made a great impact for the good of our country, but speaking of King Alexander I, he was a man with so many different interests and talents that it is hard to believe. He was a great visionary, a great army commander, and a skillful ruler.
He is most well known for his military skills and achievements, and I will mention them just briefly because it is something that needs to be said, but he was much more than that. He went through Albanian Golgotha in World War One together with his troops, and his father, King Peter I. After all the struggles and medical intervention he had on the field, he saw the danger in Allies’ plans to send the members of the Serbian army to western fronts. He knew that the only hope for victory and liberation of the homeland was to keep the army together on a front near Serbia. That is why he visited Italy, France, and England where he was received not only at the highest level but also with the greatest cordiality. He made the first step of ending the war by succeeding in convincing the Allies of the necessity to equip the Serbian Army and maintain the Thessaloniki Front. And we all very well know that the break of this front, done by our heroes, brought freedom to the entire world.
And what should be mentioned is that he never lost connection with his brothers in arms. He always very much admired and loved soldiers with whom he shared the good and the bad in Balkan wars and World War One and did whatever was possible to support them after the war, although lies, about which we already spoke, told otherwise. The truth is that he gave financial support to war invalids, gave land to veterans, and always had time to speak with them and hear their problems.
Although remembered primarily as a great warrior and military leader, his life mission was to ensure lasting peace, stability, and prosperity, not only for the people of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia but also for Europe and the world. He was a very skillful diplomat. He was among the first people in the world who saw the danger from the rise of all extreme ideologies – Nazism, Fascism, and communism and created alliances with other European countries to unite them against the impending dangers. I will just mention the Little Entente and the Balkan Pact.
He worked to create new and strengthen existing ties between peoples. He advocated the rights of the Balkan peoples, wishing to see them independent of any great power, to be able to decide their own destiny by themselves. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the land of the South Slavs, was the 19th-century idea that he brought to life, dreaming of creating a great state in the Balkans that would not depend on any foreign will.
He was also a very good entrepreneur, a businessman in modern terms of speaking. He invested his personal funds in shares and bonds, purchased land and buildings, invested in gold and coal mines that increased his funds. But he also used a great part of these funds to build endowments and to support the poor and those in need.
On top of everything, he was also a great admirer of art and supporter of domestic artists, but also very keen on reading. It was he who started Royal Family’s art collection and library.
It is not easy to mention all his achievements, because he was a very complex and very interesting personality, who deserves every honor, that was unrightfully taken away from him.
8. We have read many beautiful and positive things about your grandmother Queen Maria. What was she really like?
She was a warm, loving woman, and I have very fond memories of her. Although I was her first grandchild, she was also very strict on discipline, she was not like the grandparents who let their grandchildren do whatever they like (laughs). I always loved it when we would sit down, take old family photo albums, and then she would tell me about the stories behind those photos…
The same as for my father, there was also great sadness in her whenever she mentioned my grandfather. She never fully recovered from the tragedy of his death. She had great love and respect for him, and it was like they complimented each other. He was the strong pillar in her life, and she gave the soft, more gentle side to this soldier who spent a large part of his youth in trenches and most of his life in uniform. Although almost every Royal marriage is a matter of state politics, the marriage of my grandparent was really filled with love and respect.
From King Alexander, my grandmother Queen Maria got the love for our country and for its people, and it was mutual. She designated her life to helping the people of Yugoslavia, and even after her death, I met many women and men who spoke highly of her and kept a fond memory of the great woman she was.
9. Can the marriage of your grandfather King Alexander and Queen Maria be considered the most important “bridge” of friendship between Serbia and Romania in the last 100 years?
It would be too much to say that it is the most important, but it most certainly was one of the strongest bridges between our nations and countries. As an example, this marriage made it possible to overcome a very difficult and potentially dangerous situation after World War One, when our countries had a dispute over the Banat region. But a peaceful solution was made, where the wedding of King Alexander and Queen Maria was a substantial factor.
And their marriage is a symbol of sincere friendship between Romania and Serbia, and our nations. These brotherly relations have persevered during our history, and they are equally strong today. For every nation, it is important to have a true and honest friend in the international community, and it is rare in the history of the world for two countries to have such good, I would say, brotherly ties.
The connections between Serbs and Romanians have for so long time been very strong and friendly, and we should all work together that these ties in the future only be even stronger. We owe it to our ancestors, but also future generations.