BELGRADE (Reuters Life!) - Showing visitors the extensive gardens at his 333-acre estate, Alexander Karadjordjevic gestures to a bed of flowers and comments on the burden of maintaining such large grounds.
“We’ve had to reduce the gardeners to six. These guys are really stretched out,” said Karadjordjevic, son of Yugoslavia’s last king and heir to the throne. “Tito had 40 — but he lived like an emperor.”
Serbia’s monarchy ended during World War Two, after which Communist leader Josip Broz Tito took power, using the royal palaces in Belgrade to host dignitaries and receptions.
Crown Prince Alexander II, son of the late King Peter II who fled to Britain during the 1941 Nazi invasion, returned to live in the palace in 2001 after strongman Slobodan Milosevic fell.
The government still holds title to the royal Dedinje compound, including the six-bedroom 1920s Stari Dvor (Old Palace) where Karadjordjevic lives with his wife, and Beli Dvor (White Palace) used for receptions. Belgrade budgets a million euros a year for upkeep — far too little, the prince says.
“It’s a big responsibility to maintain a place like this,” said Karadjordjevic, who wore a doubled-breasted suit and speaks far better English than Serbian. “You have a list of repairs. Number one is the roof. Number 50 is the swimming pool.”
Among the areas that are well preserved are the movie theater, billiard room and other ornate basement rooms, ground floor dining room with a massive fireplace and long wooden table, and library stocked with thousands of books.
After World War Two, Communism ended monarchy across the Balkans, although Tito maintained a regal tradition of entertaining top international leaders there.
“They were all dressed in brilliant uniforms, dress suits, the bejeweled ladies in long silk gowns, deep decolletes, some with fur around their shoulders,” Communist dictator Enver Hoxha wrote in his memoirs about a 1946 reception at the White Palace. “We were completely out of our depth!”
Later, walking with Tito in the palace grounds after a shower of rain, Hoxha’s shoes and pants became soiled with mud. “I blushed with shame,” he wrote. “I went through real torture.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 allowed former royalty to return, although no country restored the monarch.
Bulgaria’s former King Simeon II became the first ex-monarch to regain political power in post-communist eastern Europe, serving as prime minister from 2001-05.
In Albania, Leka, son of King Zog, returned to live in 2000 in a relatively modest two-story building in the capital Tirana and a seaside villa. His son works as an advisor in the foreign ministry.
Nikola Petrovic, great grandson of Montenegro’s last king who ruled through 1918 has complained that he feels like a tourist when visiting from France because he does not have a place to stay.
London-born Karadjordjevic was able to take up residence in the most grandiose residence in Serbia, but has not won much backing to establish a constitutional monarchy.
He chronicles his activities on his website and allows tourists to visit but blames the Serbian media for ignoring his views.
Without a throne in sight, the royal heir lobbies to win back legal title to the palace and its lands which he said were paid for by his grandfather, Alexander, who ruled Yugoslavia with a heavy hand until his assassination in France in 1934.
He wants the government to boost subsidies for repairs and operations, complaining the palace has received just 400,000 euros of a budgeted million euros this year.
“We’re not the only ones suffering from a lack of budgetary funds,” Karadjordjevic said. “Certainly it’s not been easy over the last two or three years as one moved more into the economic crisis.”
Asked how the larger public would benefit from state spending on the royal palaces, he became slightly miffed and said Serbia should support its cultural heritage, which in turn could help define a new image for a country still emerging from the international isolation of the 1990s wars.
By attracting well-to do people for parties such as his wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, he said, more foreign investment may result.
“These are the spenders of the planet earth — come on, you know that,” he said. “You’ve got to convince them. You don’t bring them into a smoke-filled room so that they catch cancer; you bring them into a friendly room and give them a cup of tea or coffee.
“You hope that they go back to the New Yorks, or the Frankfurts or wherever and they say ‘I went to Serbia, it’s a great place, we’ll go back and invest.’”
Additional reporting by Benet Koleka in Tirana and Petar Komnenic in Podgorica; Editing by Steve Addison