SERBIA: Royalty Rehabilitated in Retrospect

  • by Vesna Peric Zimonjic (belgrade)
  • Inter Press Service

The 15-page long court ruling says prince-regent Paul Karadjordjevic (1893-1976) will no longer be considered a war criminal - the conviction pronounced against him by the Communist regime that took over in 1945 at the end of World War II.

The ruling also says that rehabilitation means restoration of property to the prince's heirs, seized by the Communists 66 years ago.

'The prince's criminal conviction was of a political and ideological nature,' historian Branka Prpa told IPS in an interview. 'His rehabilitation is a matter of reviewing historical biases. History did happen, we have the precise facts, and we have to look at them again. What we had as a ruling against him since 1945 was a selective approach to history and a falsification of facts,' she added.

Prince Paul was a member of the Karadjordjevic family that ruled what used to be the kingdom of Yugoslavia between the two world wars. He was the prince-regent after the assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia in 1934 in France, as Alexander's son Peter was a minor.

History books, after the Communists took power, said that Paul's foreign policy immediately before WWII was pro-German and 'contributed to the Axis powers' war of aggression.' The prince was accused of signing a cooperation treaty with the Axis powers - Germany, Italy and Japan — and was dubbed a 'traitor to the nation'.

However, historical documents and international archives available for the past two decades revealed that it was not the prince who signed the treaty, but two top Yugoslav politicians at the time, and that the prince believed in vain that the treaty could keep Yugoslavia out of the war. Instead, the Germans overran the country and the Karadjordjevic family fled abroad.

The Communist uprising freed the nation and banned the royals from returning, labelling them as traitors. All their property was confiscated. But the Yugoslav federation fell apart in 1991 during a bloody war.

'The court ruling on rehabilitation tells us some other things we still have to learn about and deal with,' Prpa said. 'The Prince was pronounced a criminal and traitor at a time of (Communist) political monopoly without proper procedure, by a hastily convened Commission…Tens of thousands of people met the same fate and it's time to see justice done for many of them. It's never too late, as so many families have suffered the consequences.'

For historian Predrag Markovic, the rehabilitation of Prince Paul represents an effort by modern Serbian society to overcome the ideological divisions imposed by the Communists who ruled the country from 1945 to 2000.

'It was the long imposed division that said 'Communists were patriots' as they were victorious in WWII, while 'all the others were traitors',' Markovic told IPS. According to him, the prince was a pragmatic yet naïve politician 'who believed in negotiations and tried to avoid the war.'

In the opinion of both Prpa and Markovic, the first rehabilitation of any of the Karadjordjevics does not mean monarchy could be restored in Serbia, the part of the former Yugoslavia that the royal family came from.

'It's a moral act of satisfaction for the family,' Prpa said, while for Markovic it is not yet clear 'what the broader public thinks about the issue.' No in-depth survey has been conducted in Serbia about the restoration of royalty.

Over the past decade, several members of the Karadjordjevic family have returned to Serbia, following the downfall of the Communist regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

A grandson and namesake of assassinated King Alexander lives in the White Palace in Belgrade, since a special decree was issued by the first post-Milosevic government. He is involved in charitable and humanitarian activities.

The daughter of Prince Paul, Princess Elizabeth, lives in Belgrade as well. She initiated the procedure for rehabilitation of her father before the supreme court. In one of her many interviews in the Serbian media, the princess said she was glad that her father's name 'was finally cleared…That is the most important thing I ever wanted,' she said.

One of the possibilities for the princess now is to regain her property rights and claim some houses and a castle her father had in Slovenia. As for a large collection of classical and particularly modern paintings by prominent impressionists, owned by her father until 1945 and currently in the National Museum of Serbia, she said their place is 'in the museum.'

So far, none of the Karadjordjevics have any political ambitions, unlike their relative in neighbouring Bulgaria, Simeon II. The heir to the Bulgarian throne created a political party upon his return to the country after the fall of Communism in 1989, and won the elections in 2001. As prime minister, he and his National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) ruled the country for four years, until 2005.

The Karadjordjevics will most likely follow in the footsteps of another relative, King Michael of Romania, who was also allowed to return to his country after the fall of Communism. He splits his time between Romania and Switzerland, and never took up the revival of monarchy as his cause.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service