A Regal Bid Too Far?

Globus (Zagreb) 25-10-1991

As war rages in Croatia has Crown Prince Alexander anything to offer that 'his people' there want? CHRISTOPHER LONG met him in London as he returned from his first visit to Belgrade and the kingdom of his forefathers. [Transcript of an interview in Park Lane, London]

See also: The Man Who Would Be King

"He would make a perfect king for almost any country in the world – except perhaps for the United Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1991"

"I don't have to do this, you know! But I want peace for my country and I think I can help."

It was quite typical of the Balkans that it took a bloody and unnecessary war to persuade a potential king to visit the land of his forefathers for the first time in his life – just when people were so busy fighting that few people noticed he had gone at all.

And it was clear that this visit had been one of the most strange and emotional events of his life, confirming his belief that a moment of destiny had arrived. He had indicated the possibility of his 'return' to Yugoslavia at London's Houses of Parliament in early June. But was this really a moment of destiny or had that moment come and gone some time after the death of Tito in summer 1980 and some time before war broke out in June 1991? Is the moment still to come or is it never destined to be his at all?

The greatest puzzle is how an exiled Crown Prince, with Serbian ancestry, living in London, could offer any solution to the nightmare of what is, or was, Yugoslavia in 1991?

In recent years I have learnt a lot about the Balkan peoples and their obsession with ethnic origins. As we talked together I found myself asking: what if I were a Slovene, a Serb, a Croat, a Macedonian, a Bosnian, a Montenegrin... Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish...?

Which explained my first question to the Crown Prince – because the trick question should always come first:

"You were actually born on Serbian territory in London...?"

"No! I was born on Yugoslav territory. Yugoslavia has existed since 1917. Yugoslavia was the creation of politicians from Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia; and there was a Cardinal Strossmayer involved. It was by mutual consent. So, I was born on Yugoslav territory at Claridges Hotel in London, 1945, on June 17, and this was done in agreement with the British Government."

"On this first trip to Belgrade, what were your personal feelings?"

"Extremely emotional, of course. I was very concerned. I went in peace for peace."

"When you got there, was it what you expected? Did it look like what you expected?"

"It looked like any country going through problems. I was very concerned about the situation. I arrived with hope to seek dialogue. I was invited by the united opposition, some 24 parties who put themselves together. They had planned a demonstration on 9 October. I met them in Geneva and I requested that they should cancel the demonstration because I did not want to be associated with a particular party or particular rally. So I arrived in friendship and hope in search of democracy."

"Did you meet the leader of the Opposition?"

"I met the leaders – plural – of the Opposition."

"Did you meet Mr Milosevic?"

"No. I was not given the pleasure of meeting Mr Milosevic which I find extremely sad because a dialogue would have been of interest – the eye-to-eye contact. He knows what I stand for. I stand for true democracy."

"And the same goes for Kadievic and Adjic, presumably?"

"I didn't meet anyone connected with the Serbian government of today."

"Did you manage to walk the streets incognito and get a feeling for the situation?"

"No. I was received by over one-third – and I'm not exaggerating – by over one-third of the population of Belgrade. Three hundred thousand people who were looking for peace, for democracy, for better days. There is an economic disaster there."

"It's one thing to be received formally, but very often someone in your position can wander out into the streets and listen...?"

"My face is well-known. I've had interviews. I've always stood for the principles of human rights and respect of religion. It's been advertised by numerous publications."

"And you're convinced that there's a strong body of people who, on reasonable terms, would seek peace tomorrow?"

"Absolutely. It's well-known in the Western media. There are articles about mass desertions in the Yugoslav National Army. There are articles about command structure problems. There are shortages of petrol, economic problems, jobs and so on. It's not only in Serbia: also in Croatia. We must not take particular partisan sides. We're talking about people's lives. I strongly condemn when people are being killed."

"Can you describe your greatest fears and your greatest hopes for the future?"

"My greatest fear today, in Europe, at the end of the C20th, is the historical hypocrisy of the past which is taking place today. We're going into the past. You know what I mean. This is bad. Are we supposed to be a modern people? Are we supposed to be part of the end of the C20th and the great movement for democracy and the collapse of communism and the re-birth of democracy? Democracy will always win in the end. It will go through great tribulations but we're delaying it. Why? Because the leaders of today are using negative nationalism as their power-base."

"Would you say then that the present war is a method of propping up a bankrupt regime – or regimes?"

"It was bankrupt in any case: bankrupt since 1945. Capitalism and competition has succeeded. We've seen it in the West. If you want to see true socialism it is a modern [Western] company where employees take a share of the profits and they're allowed to purchase shares with help from the corporation. This is true socialism, on a lower scale, because they're proud to take part. Ever since communism came on the face of this planet it has been bankrupt. A command economy will never work unless it deals with specific, volatile areas like the military. Example: Soviet military. Example: Soviet space effort. Look at the West. We live in the United Kingdom: look at the competition of technology here, in the European Community, in the United States. We're all high-tech in the West. Can you tell me of any high technology that took place in the East under communism? Zero. It's a fact. Why do they want to buy IBMs and all these computers. There's a whole list of them.

"We've covered the greatest fear. What about the hope?"

"My greatest hope is to solve this disaster through negotiation. I believe in self-determination. The people have the right to go where they wish. But in doing so they must realise the economic costs involved. You see, to set up new nations is an expensive operation. We already have a world recession and we're arguing whether it's over or not. That's pretty tough. But to set up a new country, government, institutions, customs systems, tariffs, a diplomatic corps (which is most expensive)... I'm sure it can be done, but in the end the people pay. So I'm saying let's put the people first. Let's not use the people to fight against other people. So my biggest hope is that we can solve this problem by respecting everybody. But I have news for everybody – not only in Croatia and what we call the rest of Yugoslavia – democracy is a delicate flower. With this conflict taking place, democracy is taking third, fourth or fifth place."

"I understand what you're saying..."

"...of course you do because you were born in the West and I hope you are not being used by this disaster..."

"... I'm not being used by anybody!"

"Let's be careful!"

"I'm wondering what a Croat or a Macedonian or anybody else might say. With great respect, they might say: 'He's not our king. He is the Serbs' king'."

"So what! I am a person who was born in the West, educated in the West, went to work in the West. I have umpteen Western connections. I live at the end of the 20th century. I am proud of my historical background. Of course there are dark areas – like in any family there are dark areas. If we looked into any family we would find a lot of stuff, wouldn't we? Now I'm sure that we must put the democratic principle, which I respect deeply, into operation. I respect all political parties, all nationalities. If you put this all together – with human rights, religion and so on, we can work it out for the best interests of everybody. Why? Because in the end we're going to need each other. In the end we're going to have to have some economic tie. Also, don't forget the Economic Community. The EEC has its problems, but it's moving ahead. Where is Yugoslavia today? It's sandwiched between the northern part of the Community with Austria joining eventually, in the next few years, and the southern part which is Greece. So, it's logical that what's in between the sandwich must connect up. But this is not the way to do it: by fighting each other. We can resolve it around the conference table in a civilised way, respecting points of view. There are a lot of people there who are out for power and using militias to do it, which we don't want. We must respect each other. We must respect each other's origins. Here is an individual [the Crown Prince] who cares about this respect and doesn't want to act like a stone-age person."

"It's been said to me that it might be possible for you to establish your role in Serbia and to build a Commonwealth of Yugoslavia out of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia and Slovenia – something that would build over time as confidence was gained. Is that a strategy with which you could agree?"

"I've read about it. It came out in a few publications. Certainly I'm interested if I can contribute to some sort of sanity where people do not get killed and people get respected and we can take the whole region into proper economic stability – political first, then economic stability."

"But would you see it as practical to recognise that Serbia is distinct from the rest of Yugoslavia? Would you be able to say to yourself that you would begin with Serbia and then expand to the rest of 'Yugoslavia' as confidence in you grows...?"

"Well, as you know, the historical connections of the family are from Serbia. Yet here is an individual who is proud of his origins yet standing by the virtues of democracy and all the principles which you and I know. I think it can be taken to a further step and there are people in Croatia who I know very well, and in Slovenia and other parts of what is Yugoslavia, who respect this. In fact people in places like Croatia are deeply worried about the state of democracy today. People who are concerned about the future... very concerned..."

"Now, after such a long period under Tito, such a long period as a republic, how well prepared are the people of Yugoslavia , in the largest sense, for a monarchy such as Spain or Britain where a monarch's position is given by the consent of the people and of their parliament?"

"The people of Yugoslavia were accustomed to an autocratic king: that was Tito. Tito was a truly mediaeval, autocratic king, using force to remain in power and a secret service. And this happened everywhere – including Croatia. It was desperate. At one period Yugoslavia had more political prisoners per capita than the Soviet Union. It was a disgrace. Yet Tito was recognised in the West as a great non-alignment individual. People were suffering in the country, yet keeping quiet and emigrating and going as guest workers to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Nothing to be proud of. So they were attuned to an autocratic King Tito. What I'm talking about is constitutional monarchy where the king reigns but doesn't rule."

"By consent of the people...?"

"Absolutely. We have this in the EC. There are twelve members and six are constitutional monarchies. Some of them have multi-national factors. But people are free to come and go as they wish. But I question the state of democracy today [in Yugoslavia] with all this fever, all this blood flowing, which I strongly condemn."

Sitting calmly at her desk 500 metres away at Buckingham Palace was Queen Elizabeth ll – Queen of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the British Colonies. In addition, she is Head of State to hundreds of millions of British Commonwealth citizens around the world. It would take too long to explain how many civil, religious and ethnic wars have occurred on British soil and how many British king's and queens have seen their moments of destiny. Even as I talked with Crown Prince Alexander, our British, half-Scottish and half-Germanic Queen Elizabeth may have been reading the latest reports of the 22 year-old guerrilla war in Northern Ireland.

As far as the reporting of the war in Croatia is concerned, the Crown Prince is clearly upset by the number of journalists killed – a number higher than those killed in over a decade in Vietnam. But he feels that while Britain has been bombarded with news coverage of the events every day, there has been an understandable but clear bias in reporting from Zagreb, both geographically and editorially, from the Croatian point of view:

"I think the British media has suffered both financially in covering the war and from the lives lost. But it has not been a purely balanced point of view. What we are looking for is more objectiveness."

He is also upset by the division of Yugoslavia into separate language areas, reflecting the old borders of the Austro-Hungarian and the old Russian-influenced sides.

"Would you say the reporting so far has been more pro-Croat than pro-Serb?"

"I think if you were to add up, numerically, the number of correspondents in the area of Zagreb, they must be – and I'm certain I'm right – they must be superior to the ones in the south."

"I'm sure you must be formally, or at least informally, in touch with the British government. How much support do you think you would get from it to do what you would like to do?"

"The British government is its own entity which I deeply respect, as I do the French and German governments... but Yugoslavia is being tarnished just as the old animosities are beginning to appear among the EC governments. The European Community has the initiative and the United States has given its blessing to Europe to settle the Yugoslavian situation. Why I am concerned is that you get the leaders together and they break everything two minutes afterwards. You must understand that there are a lot of private armies involved and so what is the command structure. What is the resolve to do something?"

"I'm still not sure from your answer how much support you think you would get from the British government if you were to return to Yugoslavia."

"I have a friendly line to all governments."

What are your feelings on the Carrington/EC/Brione axis? I myself have suggested several times that a solution might be found if the leaders of Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovenia and, perhaps, Montenegro were to meet as a united group of sovereign and independent countries on the island of Brione and propose a solution to an invited Serbia..."

"Brione would be the wrong place. It has imperialist connotations connected with King Tito. And nobody has to be invited, they're all included..."

"The point I was trying to make was that if those republics had made the initiative and then asked Serbia to be included..."

"But why are you singling out Serbia?"

"Because the other republics have, until now, had the wishes of Belgrade imposed upon them."

"I don't think that's right. If you look at Slovenia: who were the commanders of the JNA? Do I have to tell you that they were Slovenian and Croatian? What we've got here is a disaster, a total disaster, all connected to the past. Everybody is responsible. I put my finger on everybody. I blame everybody for the bloodshed. But there must be no revenge. We've got to solve it together. My impression is that Geneva is the venue for such a peace meeting. Why? Geneva has historically hosted numerous peace conferences and initiatives for disarmament. I fully back Lord Carrington's initiative. He has experience as a Foreign Secretary, from his role in Rhodesia. He is deeply respected in the EC and globally. I don't know whether to feel sorry for him in his position or congratulate him for being appointed. But I wish him very good luck. Geneva should be used and apart from the leaders of the republics we should include the opposition leaders. Elections took place throughout Yugoslavia in 1990. There were problems in every area, but they did take place. There are some very intellectual opposition leaders who must be respected. In Britain all debates in Parliament take place between the Government and the Opposition. This is a tradition of democracy... All we're hearing now [in Yugoslavia] is one single view connected to the past. We have a gentleman like President Tudjman who was a general in the Tito years. We have Mr Milosevic, born in 1943 and brought up in the [communist] system and the whole story of his wife. Now in the opposition... you can bring in a more balanced view. Of course you'd have to be selective and have a commission to choose representatives, but maybe one could bring it up at the Vice-Chairman level of this peace initiative by the EC... In addition we have a multi-religious society and everyone seems to have forgotten the religious factor. We have two cardinals, one patriarch, Muslims, Jews – and these gentlemen or their representatives should be respected also. Religions believe in peace too – hopefully ! Thirdly there are the intellectuals. We've had intellectuals everywhere in institutions who have studied our multi-national, multi-ethnic problems for years. I think some of them have got some very interesting ideas. They seem to have been forgotten. Put all of these people together and you will get a great calming effect."

"Can I pin you down tightly to a time-scale and your role in these talks?"

"They should have taken place yesterday."

In fact the Crown Prince seemed unwilling to be precise about what his role would be. The most he will say is that he is a 'concerned person for the future of democracy', a person who cares for people, a person with a Serbian background, but someone who can be used because he wants to see everyone get on together. He would, he says, like to leave it to the elected politicians to negotiate the treaty. He is also worried that the 10 November elections in Serbia may be called off. If, however, there were to be a monarchy of some sort in all or part of 'Yugoslavia', would he be prepared to move the capital from Belgrade to some other less Serbian city?

"I don't think we've got to that stage. First of all you've seen the cost of moving the capital from Rio de Janiero to Brazilia – Brazil is still paying for it... then there's Bonn and Berlin. Regarding Yugoslavia, I'm sure the problem can be solved providing the leaders put the people first. But my big worry, today, is all these private militias. I go to the Middle East and have many friends there and I wonder if Yugoslavia will be the Middle East of Europe. I'm deeply, deeply concerned about this."

And the potential problems of Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina (which are not officially part of the Yugoslav kingdom) can also be solved by dialogue, he says, perhaps in the form of a Common Market or loose federation. In the entrance hall to his office the Crown Prince has a map which was made by the Geographical Institute in Zagreb. It shows the ethnic distribution of Serbs in Croatia, Croatians in Bosnia, and all the over-lapping racial, language, religious, cultural and historical mixing of minorities throughout Yugoslavia, each in a different colour. This map, he says, shows the nightmare of Yugoslavia.

"What we don't want to do is move people from their traditional homes. People are attached to their homes. They've been living there for centuries. Can't we really work this out around a table? Yes, if there are definite areas, which there are, let's give more autonomy to that area. But let's talk about it, not shoot each other and create umpteen refugees on both sides... children, mothers, old people, the sick. This is not the way to do it. This is Europe. Is it Europe?"

"And yet, a Macedonian, a Croat or a Slovene , sitting here with us now, would say that this is just another way of describing the Greater Serbian plan. 'He [the Crown Prince] is envisaging a Greater Serbia'."

"I am not a person who is empire-seeking. I don't have to do this! I'm a person who was brought up in the West, an innocent person who cares for people, who has the best interests of everyone in my heart. It was very moving going to Belgrade and seeing all my ancestors – the mausoleum and seeing King Peter l, Karadjordjevic graves, the magnificent chapel, King Alexander's grave... you must not forget King Alexander in the days of fascism before the war. He was killed by two Montenegrin assassins hired by the fascists. We must put these days aside. Of course it's hard to forget them, but this is Europe at the end of the 20th century. And the last fascist state was Franco's state. It ended and today we have Spain – one of the great democracies of Europe, the 10th economic power in the world, a success in the EC, decisive. That's what we should aim at: to produce out of Yugoslavia in whatever shape or form, results from negotiation, a kind of Spanish solution. Yet our past is a communist past which is also out of date. Naturally there are good things from every political system. I strongly believe in a National Health System. I strongly believe in private health care for those who can afford it. We must be allowed the choice. Socialism provides many positive things. So does capitalism. Now let's allow the political parties to these platforms forward. Also to put their nationalistic policies forward in a positive way. Language, customs, traditions and so on. But to use them to go and hang each other? – it's incredible ! We had the worst civil war you can imagine (in World War ll). People forget. I know there are many dear Croatians who would not subscribe to this: during the Second World War Croatia was a puppet state of Hitler – Hitler! Now many Croatians would have no part of this. Many Croatians, along with Serbs and Jews and Gypsies died in the huge Jasenovac concentration camp. It was disaster. I saw the memorial when I was in Jerusalem the other day. It was very moving: 60,000 Jews, 800,000 Serbs, including Croats, Slovenes, gypsies also, and anyone who's against fascism. And then there were the Tito massacres... a disastrous civil war which was worse than the Spanish one. And now, today, are we going to aim in the same way with this madness? We'll have it for the next 50 years! Can't people live happily however they want, choosing the democratic way, without the politicians using all these disasters of the past? It works in Europe. Belgium and Spain are multi-national countries. So is the United Kingdom, although it has many problems, sadly. Britain has been at war, if you like, since 1969 with the Irish problem."

"When you look at 'Yugoslavia' today, do you sometimes think you are looking at Britain in the C16th and C17th with Bonnie Prince Charlie exiled in Paris and a religious/political war of bigotry in England which eventually ended up with the democracy we have today?"

The Crown Prince laughs a lot at this and then points out that the Cardinal of Slovenia and the Patriarch of Serbia were able to meet constructively recently, which offered some hope.

"I'd like to see Cardinal Cucaric of Croatia do the same thing... There is a Christian base and put the flag of Christianity in Rome, in Ljubljana, in Zagreb, and in Belgrade... we all worship the same God. One thing in our favour today is telecommunications so that we can communicate quickly and prevent disasters from happening. But many people in Yugoslavia are scared, as well as foreign correspondents, EC monitors... and I hate to see them get hurt."

"At 3.00 o'clock in the morning, in the middle of the night, do you ever hear your father giving you advice?"

"Oh, my poor father. He suffered a lot. He left the country when he was not even 18 years old after the coup d'etat against the Nazi pact. He left and went through Greece, Palestine and Egypt on his way to England. He was a great believer in democracy and one thing he always said to me was: 'One day there will be democracy in Yugoslavia. Help it to happen. Talk to everyone. Treat everyone politely and correctly'. That's what I've done. If he couldn't do it, I'm doing it... Look at all the kings and queens of democracies today: they talk to everybody. All the political leaders talk to everybody. Isn't this what we expect at the end of the 20th century?"

On the table beside us are photographs of the Crown Prince's three sons, Peter, aged 11, and the twins Philip and Alexander, aged 9. They are the children of his marriage to Princess Maria da Gloria of Orleans & Braganca (of the Imperial House of Brazil) whom he divorced before marrying a second time to Katherine Battis in London in 1985. What advice, I wondered, did he give to his son and heir in these difficult times?

"He has an open mind. I should remind everybody that his mother is a Roman Catholic! My three boys are being brought up as young school-children in the United Kingdom under the democratic principles of today. And I hope that will continue."

I found our long talk both encouraging and poignant. He will be criticised if he takes one side or another. He will be criticised if does not take sides in the 'Yugoslavia' of the 1990s. He is a Serb by birth which means a lot in Croatia but means little or nothing in the international, cosmopolitan countries of Britain and Western Europe.

He is charming, relaxed, intelligent, informed, authoritative and, I think, an honourably impartial man. He has the perfect training for a modern king. He was brought up and educated in Britain, the USA and Switzerland. He served as an officer in a cavalry regiment of the British army, speaks six languages and has been a successful businessman. He would make a perfect king for almost any country in the world – except perhaps for the United Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1991. But he cannot help the fact that he's a Serb. The Queen of England has no English blood at all. Perhaps in 1992, or at some other time in the future, such things will matter less in the Balkans. At the very least he does what his father asked him to do. He talks with everybody he can – including Globus.

Prince Alexander's brief attempt to find a role in 'Yugoslavia' was doomed. Within months the concerted policies of presidents Milosevic and Tudjman led to war in Bosnia. The 'Greater Serbia' policy was matched by a 'Greater Croatia' policy in Bosnia-Hercegovina and any hopes he may have had of bringing about reconciliation were plainly at an end.

© (1991) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

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