Four wooden coffins lie in a row, each draped in a subtly different red and blue standard. Behind them, an ornate iconostasis rises 20 feet to the cupola of the royal chapel. In front of them, crucifixes in Cyrillic script record the names of the coffins’ inhabitants. “This is my father, my mother, my grandmother, and my uncle,” says the crown prince, gesturing at each in turn.
Republics do not often throw state funerals for royals, still less for four at once. Nor do they have princes, princesses and palaces. But Crown Prince Alexander II, heir to the throne of what for a short time before World War II was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and is now a mosaic of republics in sometimes unhappy coexistence, is untroubled by such apparent contradictions. After a decade of lobbying, he succeeded last month in burying four members of the Karadjordevic dynasty in what was once their kingdom.
On an overcast May morning in Oplenac, an hour’s drive west of Belgrade, thousands of Serbs queued for hours to get a glimpse of the prince as he arrived for the service. He stood to kiss a crucifix held aloft by Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, before watching men in national costume bear the coffins to the royal mausoleum, where one day he, too, will be buried.
The sun finally appeared just before he emerged to address the crowd, interrupting their chants of “Long live the King!”
“The Karadjordevics’ lives are the reflection of what happened to their people and their homeland,” he said. “Their wanderings and their exile lasted for too long. Today they are in Oplenac, among their family and among their Serbs.”