Serbia reburies last Yugoslav king with honors

Peter II fled Nazis after just 11 days in power, died in exile in U.S. during Tito dictatorship

AFP-JIJI

Yugoslavia’s last king, Peter II Karadjordjevic, who fled the Nazi occupation of his country just days after being proclaimed monarch at the age of 17, was reburied with state honors in Serbia on Sunday.

Serbian dignitaries joined hundreds of royalists who turned out for the ceremony in the central town of Oplenac to honor King Peter, 43 years after his exile and death in the United States after a failed liver transplant.

“Our king was forced to leave, he was forced never to set his foot back to his homeland, but now, finally, he is here where he belongs,” Milka Radojicic, a 78-year old from the nearby town of Topola, said with tears in her eyes.

Peter was laid to rest alongside his mother, Marija, a great-granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, as well as his wife, Alexandra, the daughter of King Alexander I of Greece, and his brother, Andrej.

Their coffins, draped in Serbian state flags, were laid out in the Orthodox Church of Saint George during the liturgy performed by Serbian Patriarch Irinej before being taken to the royal family crypt in Oplenac.

Top officials, including President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, attended the ceremony along with members of the royal family and foreign dignitaries, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Britain’s Duke of Kent.

Hundreds of supporters gathered to pay tribute to the royals, some spending the night outside the picturesque church to be able to watch the ceremony. The ceremony of the funeral was broadcast live on national television.

The third and last king of Yugoslavia, Peter ascended to the throne in 1934 following the assassination of his father, King Aleksandar I, in the French city of Marseille.

But as he was only 11 when his father was killed, his uncle, Prince Pavle, ruled in his stead.

On March 27, 1941, Peter was proclaimed king at the age of 17 in a coup staged in opposition to Yugoslavia joining the so-called Tripartite Pact signed by Germany, Italy and Japan.

However, he was forced to leave the country with his family only 11 days later as Germany invaded Yugoslavia.

He spent the remainder of World War II in Britain but was prevented from returning to Yugoslavia by the communist regime of Josip Broz Tito as the monarchy was abolished in 1945.

He moved to the United States, where he died in 1970 at the age of 47, and his remains were returned to Serbia in January.

The royal family was allowed to return to the country by the postcommunist authorities in the early 2000s, and asked for relatives to be given a final resting place at Oplenac.

Hundreds of people, mostly elderly and some dressed in former royal army uniforms, lined up to pay their respects to the late monarch.

“This funeral is only a drop in the ocean that can not amend countless sins that have been committed against the royal family,” pensioner Djordje Zelenic said from Belgrade.

The restoration of the monarchy, although never officially requested, remains a divisive issue among Serbians.

A survey published this month by pollsters SAS found that 40 percent of 1,615 people questioned considered that a possible restoration of a parliamentary monarchy was a good idea, while 32 percent were opposed.

But 77-year old Djurdja Konstantinovic, said it would bring “nothing to us nowadays, only more money spent on some to live better then others.”

“I was born in the kingdom, I have lived through communism and it is all the same, no matter whether they are called kings, presidents or prime ministers,” she said.

But Zelenovic, the retiree from Belgrade, insisted that “young Peter did not even have a chance to show his people how (he) would . . . rule.”

“I live for a day that his son Aleksandar will take the helm,” he said.

Aleksandar, who was born and lived in exile in London, returned to Serbia in late 2000.

As the only son of the last king who never abdicated, Aleksandar is considered the rightful heir to the Serbian throne should the monarchy ever be restored.

Although in the 1990s he supported the opposition in its bid to oust late strongman Slobodan Milosevic from power, Aleksandar has never publicly voiced his support for a restoration of the monarchy.