Seth B. Leonard, author of the interview: I am grateful to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, who was the first Royal to be interviewed by the European Royal History Journal in the late 1990s, for his participation – especially during this difficult time for the world and for Serbia.
How do you and your family plan to celebrate your seventy-fifth birthday? Your father, King Peter II, only lived to be forty-seven. Your grandfather, King Alexander I, had his life cut short at the age of forty-five. It is an important milestone. What lessons or morals do you feel you can draw from your father and grandfather at this stage of your life?
– I am not sure that the present situation would permit any form of solemn or social celebration of my 75th birthday. Anyway, I can draw much from examples of my ancestors that when the nation is in trouble, one’s own priorities must step back.
What are some of the most important life lessons that you have learned? What are some of your guiding principles and values?
– I am not quite certain that the process of my experience so far is really to be valued as definitive. Our world is one of quick changes. We try our best to understand those changes and to draw adequate conclusions. Only after a certain lapse of time we can evaluate the consequences. On the other hand, one has one’s own principles and beliefs which are impossible to change. I know mine.
How has your Orthodox faith sustained you during your life? What is your earliest memory of what it meant to you to be a member of the Serbian Orthodox Church? What does it mean to you to be a member of the Serbian Orthodox Church presently living in Serbia?
– It is really impossible to define something that is part of your personality and spirit since the time when your memories were born. I respect all religions and faiths, and consequently I do expect that everybody respects my right and privilege to be Orthodox Christian. We Serbs are traditionally closely related with the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is a feeling of common destiny, not of enmity. We had, and still have, many Serbs that are not Orthodox Christians, and that
is their heritage which they treasure, and we respect that. It is not an impediment, however, to feel and behave as a good Serbian!
Are there any recollections of your parents, King Peter II and Queen Alexandra, that you could share with us? The King and Queen had a difficult life in exile, and, as their only child, you surely were one of the strongest factors that held them together during all of the challenging experiences that they faced.
– I love and treasure memory of my parents. Sadly, at times they were not happy people, nor sometimes a happy couple. However, they were my mother and father, and my memory of them shall always be a happy one. They lived in a difficult time, a tragic time, and were the victims of such times. They were betrayed by their allies and their enemies, in a similar way and measure. But I loved them very much, and they were deserving of my love.
Princess Aspasia of Greece, your maternal grandmother, was a very strong lady. As the widow of King Alexander I of Greece, she brought up your mother as a single parent. What role did Princess Aspasia play in your upbringing? What was she like as a person?
– Princess Aspasia, as you mention, was a very strong person. She was like a mother to me. She was a character and portrayed real authority, and I remember her as such. She was dignified, and yet it was up to her to bring on the most difficult decisions that anyone had to imagine or to live through. A formidable woman who was so good to me.
Did you ever have occasion to meet your paternal grandmother Queen Marie of Yugoslavia? Your paternal grandmother was the daughter of King Ferdinand of Romania and his wife Queen Marie, who was born a Princess of the United Kingdom. If you were able to meet Queen Marie, what impression did she make upon you?
– Of course, I did meet her on many occasions. She also was a sort of a walking monument. She had both strong supporters and formidable enemies, and she – sometimes – chose a sort of seclusion to defend herself. After the untimely death of her consort, King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, she felt a little lost in the world, but she was a fighter, and she died as one.
Your godmother is Queen Elizabeth II. You have always had a close relationship with her and the British royal family. What impact has Her Majesty had on you? What is it like to have the Queen as a godmother?
– It is both a privilege and luck! She is a unique person in the world that represents the history of the World, the present times, and a promise for the future. She is a liaison between times, and a pillar of staunch and sturdy commitment that one’s destiny is not only a private relation with the time and nation, but an essential institution that keeps different worlds together. There are many that understand this very well, and also some that never will understand anything. That is the world, and The Queen knows and understands that. I always enjoy very much meeting her.
This year, you and Crown Princess Katherine will celebrate your thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. What are some of the fondest memories that you have shared during your long marriage?
– Yes! We are together 35 years. A long time, and a short time! A time of love, and a time of temptations. Our fondest memories keep us together, and they are our private treasure. I am very grateful for the care and love my wife has given me, and for her great patience.
How are your sons doing during this time? Hereditary Prince Peter as well as Prince Philip and your daughter-in-law Princess Danica live in the United Kingdom. Prince Alexander lives in the United States. How do you all keep in touch? What are you proudest about when you think about each of your sons?
– Keeping in touch, not only communications-wise, but also in sense of keeping the sense of family unity, filial piety and fatherly love, is easy in form and difficult in essence today. The fact that our lives are organized in different places and that my sons are now independent men, with their own destinies, professions and temptations, is a very complicated issue. However, many families experienced such situations. I can only say this: I love my sons and my grandson very much, and their family happiness and security in life and in pursuit of the way they chose and within families they have, or will have, is my greatest hope and trust.
In February of this year, your grandson Prince Stefan turned two years old. What are your dreams and hopes for your grandson? How does it feel being in the role of grandfather?
– He is a beautiful child, Stefan is also very sweet and full of humour. He has the good looks of his mother, and the shining spirit of his father, and I am sure that God will bless him with all the good fortune and goodness of character that he possesses and deserves. I pray for that.
As the Head of the Serbian Royal Family, you possess close genealogical ties to all of the crowned heads of Europe. Naturally, you are also the cousin of the heads of currently non-reigning families. How do you all stay in contact with each other?
– Well, we are all one family, and we share our good and bad times. Each of us is a different story and each of us has a different destiny, but we are branches of the same tree, and fortunes, positive or adversary, of each one touches everybody else.
Due to this worldwide public health emergency, you and the Crown Princess have had to shelter-in-place at your residence, the Royal Palace in Belgrade. What does a “typical” day look like now for both of you? Are there things that you both have discovered a newfound appreciation for while you stay at home?
– This is an incredible experience we lacked so far. We are learning new information on a daily basis to see what is coming and rousing up the force to fight this evil virus. My wife and I praise our government, doctors, nurses and medical staff for putting their lives in danger to save lives. I am proud of my wife and her hard work and devotion in helping and providing our healthcare system with urgently needed equipment and contacts. She is very dedicated working with her foundations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Greece and Serbia.
The novel coronavirus has led to millions of people around the world having their existences upended and changed drastically. Among other cousins of Your Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales contracted the virus, from which he has recovered. As of 14 April, there have been 4,465 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Serbia, and ninety-four Serbians have lost their lives due to this virus. In the face of this pandemic, what is your message to the people of your country?
– Keep one’s head up and endure! Be strong and look forward to a bright future. Above all follow carefully the government directives and keep safe.
When COVID-19 is contained, and less of a public health threat, what are some aspects of life that you believe many of us will not take for granted? Things we might have not valued before all of this, but which self-isolation may have caused us to value much more than we had previously?
– Let us not surmise, let us have patience to see what is coming and the strength to fight the adverse situation. We will rebuild the economy and we will win and survive.
May God Bless Serbia, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, and all members of the Royal House of Serbia!