Skip to main content
May 4, 1992
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 32
Prince Aleksandar, the Reviver

Crown for the Headless

by Stojan Cerovic

"When I feel the time has come, I will return", said Aleksandar II Karadjordjevic on Studio B. His short visit last autumn to Belgrade provoked an enormous euphoria but it all faded away, so that now, while the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is being set up, even many confirmed republicans along with the monarchists, are reminded that this pretender to the throne is the only hope. Not because of admiration for the personality of the London prince, or because of belief in the pacifying role of the crown, but because of the panic Milosevic arouses even among ordinary people.

Even the part of Serbia which somehow accepted and bore the war in Croatia must now see that Milosevic can go from war to war for some time more, constantly moving borders against the desired direction. He has ruined Bosnia from within and sealed the border at the Drina, and the world has begun to be so appalled by his Serbia that it will offer all assistance to its adversaries, no matter who they are. It will demand that he give to the Albanians and Moslems in Sandzak all that Izetbegovic has to give to Karadzic. Not even the Vojvodina Hungarians will leave him alone. Milosevic can only go to war with them all, but he can neither win, nor win them over.

All this is taking place in economic chaos, in the transformation from social to Mafia ownership and social despair. No-one has any idea what he will do tomorrow, where he will live and against whom he will fight in vain. And in all this the pompous proclamation of a hurriedly compiled state which, as if nothing had happened, is called Yugoslavia, seems all the more grotesque and weird. Everyone can see that the Montenegrins have practically been forced, and the Serbs weren't even asked. And both will give up and jump out at the first bend in the road. But Milosevic has decided to show himself as a builder and just when everything around him is falling down, he doesn't lift his head and quietly draws borders in the ashes.

Serbia can do no more than wait for something like salvation to come out of the sky. In times like these, messiahs and prophets used to appear, those who said they knew the way and that they could lead. It looks like a good part of the population here are ready to give Prince Aleksandar the this role. I would say that one of his greatest advantages is that he isn't from here, he comes from outside, he doesn't even speak the language very well and is in no way mixed up in internal affairs.

From the time when it was maintained that royal power came from God, many monarchies became republics, and it was rare for the opposite to happen. In Europe only those dynasties have survived that were able to adapt and accept the fact that power had been handed irrevocably over to the people, and the role of monarch has been watered down to a symbol of national continuity which in circumstances of instability in some places have became important. In Serbia now many seek the return of the Karadjordjevics to the throne for just this kind of continuity, because of the desire to make contact with the past and destroy all the results of a half century of communist rule.

As communism has been renounced by all, even Milosevic, it seem logical that things should go back to the way they were, and it is because of this that Prince Aleksandar appears as a legitimate heir and a monarchy as a realistic possibility. But one should be extremely careful with the arguments of the new Serbian conservatism. Because if it is easy to show what chaos the communists caused, it is much harder to convincingly describe the previous state as an example of virtue, harmony and prosperity. Even if this country half a century ago was more modern and lived in greater accordance with the world then, this world has somewhat changed in the meantime. To put everything back to its first state, even if this were possible, would make no-one happy, and Serbia would look no less strange and ridiculous than it does now.

The problem is, therefore, that with a monarchy, as with almost all of our traditions and historical heritage, particularly national and political, there is nothing that is worth reviving and preserving. There were examples of political wisdom, rationality and realism; there were, for that time, excellent political writers and analysts, open and inquisitive minds, but as an institution Serbia is in no way England. Even though many hold dear the illusion that it was once good and fine, the old state was comparatively compromised and shaken before it was destroyed by communism. If there had been no war or revolution, that state, in the course of the last half century, would certainly have been thoroughly rearranged, it would have kept abreast to its European neighbors and today would no longer resemble itself from that time. If this didn't come about, it would have fallen even without communism.

Not all the reasons for the revival of a monarchy are the same, but the conservative arguments seem to me like a solution which is the fruit of indolence, weakness and inertia. Apart from this, the conservative criticism of a regime which is drowning in the worst kind of national conservatism which breaks and rejects all contact with the rest of the world because it is leaning on the oldest and most old fashioned Serbian ideas and methods, is not particularly efficient. What do we need a king for if he is to ensure the continuity of the national projects that Milosevic himself so ruthlessly represents and is carrying out?

If the idea of bringing the Karadjordjevics back were directed towards freeing ourselves from Milosevic and all that goes with him, if it were a symbolical beginning of something new, then it would mean something else. Prince Aleksandar himself presents himself as a modernizer; he speaks of opening up the economy, trade, money, which has disappointed many monarchists. He says that the crown could help Serbia to come out of isolation, but everyone here knows why they have been isolated, and they know how to get out of it, but they don't want to pass through the door because they would have to leave behind them the power that is based on domination, violence and theft.

Prince Aleksandar has given the impression up to now of leaning towards the Serbian Renewal Movement and the part of the opposition closest to Draskovic, which is a mixture of traditionalism and Europeanism. Among the bigger parties momentarily in Serbia there is nothing more modern. But he hasn't completely closed the door to the government and Milosevic himself, although he rebukes him sometimes. On the other hand, with the constitution of the new "Yugoslavia", Milosevic has excluded the monarchy and there doesn't seem to be any civil mechanism which, contrary to his wishes, could change this.

The question of a monarchy remains, however, one of the biggest Serbian barriers, whose overcoming is the dream of the national elite. In this elite there have always been informal circles of influence that have contact both with the opposition and the government, giving them signals and messages under the table, and sometimes shaping major decisions for which others take the responsibility. Without the discreet or open support of this elite which offers a moral alibi and promises indulgences on the part of the Serbian people, Milosevic would be unable to continue in his conquering and suicidal policy.

The heir apparent to the throne is maybe the last man who, because of the symbolical power of the crown, still has some chance of disturbing the unhappy symbiosis between Milosevic, the church, army, police, intellectual elite, judicial system, underground, national vaults and part of the opposition. This archaic symbiosis strives to hold a complex and stratified society on the level of a village community, and there is no place for a businessman from London. In order to change this kind of Serbia, Aleksandar needs a lot more will and skill than he has, and more real power than is being offered to him.

So, the Prince must wait some more, though there are many here who would happily pull him into the above mentioned symbiosis and maybe persuade him to accept Milosevic, and vice versa. This would be a kind of national reconciliation. The Prince will perhaps lose patience and give in to such a return. A happier alternative in which the king would appear in an almost revolutionary role, leaning on the best part of the opposition here, is still not in sight. There is still a lot more that Milosevic hasn't yet destroyed in Serbia.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.