news 01 Oct 12

Serbia Honours Late Regent in Grand Style

Prince Paul, the controversial Regent who tried to keep Yugoslavia out of World War II - and whose name was blackedned for decades as a result - is to be reburied in his home country with full state honours.

Bojana Barlovac

The Serbian government is preparing to welcome home with the highest state honours the remains of the former Regent of Yugoslavia who was deposed in 1941 and villified for years after the end of the Second World War.

The bodies of Prince Paul Karadjordjevic, Princess Olga and their son, Nikola, were exhumed in Lausanne, Switzerland, on September 28.

They will be displayed at Belgrade's Cathedral Church on Thursday and Friday when top officials and clergy will attend a liturgy for the dead and a memorial service.

On Saturday, the remains will be laid to rest at the Serbian royal mausoleum at Oplenac, near Toplenac in central Serbia.

Jelisaveta Karadjordjevic, the Regent's daughter, says Paul will be re-buried at St George’s church in Oplenac in the crypt across from his father, Arsen. Her mother and brother will lie next to him.

Prince Paul, Knez Pavle in Serbian, became Yugoslav Regent after his cousin, King Alexander, was assassinated in Marseille, France in 1934.

During his years in power he tried to keep Yugoslavia out of big-power conflicts and invested great efforts in brokering a lasting peace between quarrelling Serbs and Croats.

The result was the historic "Sporazum", agreed in 1939, which established a autonomous Croat entity in Yugoslavia known as the "Banovina".

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Paul, though a convinced anglophile (his wife's sister was an English duchess and he himself had close ties to the British royal family), refused to join the allied side, fearing that involvement in the conflict would only lead to civil war in his own country.

However, he succumbed to intense German pressure in the end, as a result of which the Yugoslav government signed the Tripartite Pact in March 1941, which allowed German troops to pass through the country.

The pact caused popular dissatisfaction among the Serbs of Yugoslavia, and led directly to the military coup in 1941 that forcibly removed the Regent from power.

Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied days later. By then the Regent and his family were already in exile.

The Communists who later took power in Yugoslavia accused Paul of “violating the Constitution by assuming power and ignoring the people’s representatives” as well as “signing the Tripartite Pact and therefore contributing to the Axis powers’ aggressive war”.

During the war the British government kept Prince Paul with his family under house arrest in Kenya, Africa. 

Banned from returning to Yugoslavia and unwelcome in Britain for having refused to aid the UK at the start of the war, the Prince spent much of the rest of his life on the move, first in Kenya, then in South Africa and later in France. He died in Paris aged 83 in 1976.

In recent years, official hostility in former Yugoslavia to the Prince's memory has waned.

Last December, the Higher Court in Belgrade officially rehabilitated his memory and quashed a state commission verdict from September 1945, which declared the Prince a criminal.

Princess Olga died in 1997. Their son predeceased both of them, dying in 1954.

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