The Serbian capital of Belgrade and the lavish Claridge’s Hotel in the heart of London might be more than 1,000 miles apart, but for one day some seven decades ago the two places came much closer.
On 17 July 1945, Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia gave birth to her son, Crown Prince Alexander, in the hotel’s 212 suite. Then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill designated the room Yugoslavian territory for the day so that the baby prince could retain his right to the throne.
“It was an extraordinary act that he did,” recalls Crown Prince Alexander.
In 1941, Germany invaded and occupied Yugoslavia forcing the country’s King — Peter II — to move into exile in London. Later on, he was banned from returning home by the Communist government that followed after World War II
Alexander, who was baptized by Queen Elisabeth and her father King George, grew up abroad and only visited his country for the first time in 1991. Ten years later, he returned to live in Belgrade after the country’s government decided to give him and his family the right to use the city’s royal palaces, which were taken from the royals when they were stripped of their possessions and citizenship by the communists.
“I never thought we’d come back here — I really didn’t,” he says.
The power of religion
After decades abroad, the return home signaled many first experiences for the Crown Prince — and one of those included celebrating the Patron Saint Day of the Royal Family, St. Andrew the First, in Serbia.
“It’s even more meaningful doing it at home, very much so,” says Alexander, who has today a strictly ceremonial role.
The Serbian Orthodox religion is closely bound to the country’s identity — around 85% of the 7.2 million population declare themselves as Orthodox.
Since his return in 2001, Crown Prince Alexander has enjoyed the feast of St. Andrew as an open, inter faith celebration — a turning point for Serbian history.
“It’s wonderful and very moving for me to see that he has accomplished that because they’re all together sitting and talking to each other,” says the Crown Prince’s wife, Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Katherine. “It’s hard to believe this country was in conflict so many years ago and for such a long time.”
Luckily, it seems that those days are over.
Watch the video below to find out more about Serbia’s royal family and the role of religion in the country’s history.