BELGRADE, Serbia – The upcoming visit by Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to Serbia is important because it gives recognition to the troubled Balkan country in Europe and beyond, the heir to Serbia's defunct throne, Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic said Wednesday.
"The visit by the future king of the United Kingdom is an important matter," Karadjordjevic told the Associated Press in an interview. "It means recognition ... it is a very good gesture for international relations, and it goes noticed in many other countries, in the European Union, United States, Canada."
Karadjordjevic, who is the godchild of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and has close family ties to the British royals, said the chance to welcome the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at Belgrade's Royal Palace next week has personal significance as well.
"For me and my family, it is very nice," Karadjordjevic said. "Our relationship is vital."
Karadjordjevic was born in 1945 to a Greek princess living in Claridge's Hotel in London when the Serbian royal family — which ruled Yugoslavia at the time — was exiled to England during World War II. The government of Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared suite 212 Yugoslav territory so the newborn can one day claim the throne.
But, after WWII the communists took power in Yugoslavia, abolished the monarchy and stripped the royal family of any rights. The crown prince lived abroad, earning his education in Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
Karadjordjevic said he and Prince Charles went to Gordonstoun School in Scotland together. Prince Charles was two years younger, but "we were together, and he was a great person to know," added Karadjordjevic, who described Prince Charles as a "very caring person."
"There was a desire few years ago that the Prince of Wales would come to Serbia, and I've mentioned it to him," Karadjordjevic recalled. "The idea was that he would come here to ski in Kopaonik" mountain resort "since the Prince likes skiing."
Prince Charles was last in Serbia in 1978, when it was still part of Yugoslavia. His Balkan visit next week also will include Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo — Serbia's former province that has declared independence against Belgrade's will. Britain, the United States and their allies have all recognized Kosovo, but Serbia has sought Russia's help in blocking the statehood bid at the United Nations.
Karadjordjevic said Kosovo "is very close to our heart," but insisted that royals traditionally keep away from politics. The only time he was involved in politics, Karadjordjevic said, was during the rule of strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who pushed Serbia into wars and international isolation in the 1990s'. Karadjordjevic then sided with the democratic opposition "because I did not see a future of Serbia in the world, to be very blunt."
The Crown prince only returned permanently to Serbia to live after Milosevic was toppled in 2000.
"Times have changed now, now Serbia wants to take part, to have a voice in Europe and show our culture and our history," he said. "It is very important — in the case of Serbia — that we are on the map of Europe and the world."