I was born a princess, so this is normal for me and I don’t have to pretend to be one, like some do. This is me, a princess born in Bohemia, on large estates with castles that my family used to own in the regions of today’s Czech Republic. That being said, I never think about this, in Serbia or anywhere else in the world. Last night, as we were saying our good-byes, a man said to me “Good bye, Your Royal Highness”.
“Oh,” I replied, “What are you talking about, I am Barbara, by fortunate circumstances also a princess – I am no highness”, we record the words of Princess Barbara Karadjordjevic, Princess of Lichtenstein, Countess of Rittberg, wife of Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, son of the Regent Pavle.
Our meeting is in a hotel in Belgrade, where she is staying with her only son, Prince Dusan, having come to Serbia to commemorate the anniversary of the death of her husband, who was buried at Oplenac with other members of the Karadjordjevic dynasty. We are face to face with a princess from the ruling European house of Lichtenstein, a lady of exceptional beauty and elegance, of considered speech and gesture and, to add to that, straightforward, funny, intelligent…
Princesses have their dreams too, of course, and my greatest dream came true when I married Aleksandar, a great and wonderful man, a multifaceted intellectual. The dream came true in the manner of the best Hollywood screenplays, here, in Serbia. While he was still in exile and without an entry visa, in 1995 the thing neither of us could have imagined happened: we got married at Oplenac, Aleksandar and I, in an Orthodox church, according to Orthodox customs. It was the best day of my life. Our son Dusan, who was 17 at the time, was also present at the wedding. This is something I can never forget. So, I started believing in your country and yes, I started liking it. Thus, Oplenac became, and still remains, a special place in my life and my heart, the place I got married, but also the place where my husband rests – says Princess Barbara for “Reminder”, telling us about how a Lichtenstein became a Karadjordjevic. She says that it seems to her that it was meant to be, that two exiled, persecuted people would meet. Namely, unlike Aleksandar who was 17 at the time of his exile and the only Karadjordjevic to actually remember his home and his homeland, she was a Lichtenstein with no memory of a care-free childhood of a Bohemian princess. She was two and a half when, in 1945, the Russians came; all they had was taken from them and the family moved to Vaduz, the capital of Lichtenstein. There she graduated from high school aged 17 and moved to Vienna, where she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts.
My youth was very interesting, dynamic; the period between my 20th and 30th year was marked by numerous travels, getting to know the world. I also worked as an interior designer in Munich, later in America, Geneva and Lausanne; a friend and I opened an interior design company together. I was everywhere and nowhere, until 1972 when Aleksandar came into my life – recalls Barbara the moment that lead to the marriage between Karadjordjevic and Lichtenstein. They met in Paris, at a private dinner in the home of some mutual friends, a day before a large reception organised by Aga Khan, which was the reason why Barbara had come to the City of Light. It was love at first sight. She made the first move and asked him if he would accompany her to Aga Khan’s ball.
He said yes, but he later admitted that he had already had a date for the evening which he cancelled, but also that he was thunderstruck when he saw me. It was mutual – says Princess Barbara.
The wedding was extremely complicated for her, almost impossible, as she came from a devout Catholic family. This was primarily because divorce, as an institution, had not existed in the house of Lichtenstein for all these centuries.
And Aleksandar was divorced, 18 years my senior and my family was not so happy to contemplate this marriage. I was also blocked from a church wedding, as he had married his first wife in a Catholic church. And then, when my parents met Aleksandar for the first time, amazingly, they accepted him. My mother was simply disarmed by his charm. Under the circumstances, my uncle, the ruling Prince of Lichtenstein, accepted Aleksandar and gave his permission for me to marry the Serbian Prince, for which I am very grateful, says Barbara.
When she married Aleksandar, Serbia was “like the moon, a place where he could not go”. He had a hard time in exile for over 60 years and, as she reveals, he did not talk about it much; even though he had little occasion to use it, he spoke Serbian fluently. The first time they arrived to Belgrade was in 1992, still exiled and without visas. Aleksandar acted as her tour guide to Avala, where King Aleksandar I, with whom he had been very close, used to take him; he spoke of the places he remembered with elation, showing her the window of his childhood room, where he had been born, in the building that is now the Presidential Palace of Serbia in Andricev Venac.
The changes in 2000 meant an end to the exile and a passport of his homeland, which was presented to him at the Embassy in Paris. It was, says Barbara, one of the happiest days in the life of her husband, the son of the Regent Pavle and Princess Olga of Greece. Frequent visits to the country followed, and she accompanied her husband.
When he first entered the White Palace in Dedinje after his exile, the place where his parents had lived and where his sister, Princess Jelisaveta had been born, he asked the man who accompanied us not to give him any pointers, as he remembered every corner – recalls the Princess of Lichtenstein. She and Prince Aleksandar lived in the most prestigious aristocratic quarter of Paris. After his death, she says, nothing remains to hold her in the City of Light and she plans to move to Vienna to be closer to her family. To the global aristocratic circles, she brings the story of her connection with Oplenac, the home of the Serbian crown, where she and Aleksandar Karadjordjevic forever mixed the blood of the ruling houses of Serbia, Greece, Denmark, Russia, Lichtenstein, Hungary…
autor: Dragan Milivojević