Will Kostunica restore Yugoslavia’s monarchy?

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle in November 2000 - Could Yugoslavia's President restore the monarchy? Since this article was written the Crown Prince has returned to Serbia and had his property restored.

Kostunica should restore Yugoslavia’s monarchy?

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 06 November 2000

The election as Yugoslav President of the noted constitutional scholar Vojislav Kostunica raises a fascinating question. Dr Kostunica is a long-standing supporter of restoring Yugoslavia’s monarchy. Could Yugoslavia be first post-Communist country to take such a radical step?

European monarchies have excellent records of democracy and preserving freedom. When Americans think of monarchy they are most likely to think first of Britain and Queen Elizabeth II. But Holland, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and the Scandinavian countries are all successful constitutional monarchies. Heredity is the single most common method for choosing a head of state in the European Union or NATO. And, of course, there are other successful parliamentary democracies which share Britain’s house of Windsor: Canada, New Zealand and Australia being the most prominent.

Virtually all the democracies of Western Europe are built on the parliamentary model. Republics such as Germany and Ireland have pseudo-monarchies where the President is constitutionally restricted to a purely ceremonial role. The French President has some additional powers, but is helpless in the face of parliament controlled by a different party. The US model of a strong executive president is not popular among democracies. Most countries which have switched from a parliamentary to a presidential system, including most former British territories in Africa, have gone on to severely restrict political freedoms soon afterwards.

The switch the other way, on the most notable occasion that it happened, was tremendously successful. Spain is a stable parliamentary democracy in no small measure because of the unifying effect of its popular King. He systematically dismantled the engines of Franco’s dictatorship and handed power to democratic civilian rulers. He stood firmly against an attempt by the military to restore fascist rule. When the military held parliament hostage, it was the King, as the symbol of Spain’s unity, who took charge and commanded the soldiers to lay down their arms.

The USA is a striking exception to a global rule: parliamentary systems are more stable, more effective, and better able to preserve freedom than executive presidencies, and some of the best examples of effective parliamentary democracies are constitutional monarchies.

Better governance is only one advantage of restoring the monarchy. If I were asked my advice as an experienced international public relations consultant I would recommend any of the new countries in Central and Eastern Europe seriously consider the option. As a host of new countries compete for the attention of international investors and tourists each will need a unique selling point. Perhaps in this sense Yugoslavia, with its familiar name, would not benefit as much from a restored monarchy as would, say, Slovenia or Lithuania. But what better way for a newly liberated country to attract tourists than to advertise to Americans its long history, its museums and its palaces? Countries with names that the Soviets wiped from the map can make much of their links to the past by establishing monarchies once again. Monarchy establishes that these new states are being built by old nations.

The link with the distant past is reinforced my making a clear break with the immediate past. Monarchy separates politics from government: in that sense it is the opposite of totalitarianism which deliberately pretends that the interests of the ruling elite are those of the country. In a monarchy it is clear that you can be loyal to the state without being loyal to the government: a distinction which Communism does not recognise.

And what better ambassador could there be to garner foreign investment than a King or Queen? Would American investors rush to meet the President of country they could not place on a map? Would the networks report such a visit to American shores? But the Queen of some exotic European domain would attract far more interest.

Yugoslavia is lucky. Like post-Franco Spain, it has a living royal family. Crown Prince Alexander, the heir of the pre-war Kings visited Belgrade in October. His long exile in London may be drawing to a close. Not all the emerging states of the former Communist empire have an obvious claimant if they should decide to take the monarchist route. That need not matter.

There is an established procedure to create a new monarchy; find an unemployed royal and offer them the job. A few years ago the leader of the Estonian monarchist party sounded out his old Cambridge buddy, Britain’s Prince Edward. The prince declined, and Estonia’s monarchist party is, in any case, rather small. Poaching the second, or in this case, third, son of someone else’s ruler has excellent antecedents. When Norway gained independence of Sweden in 1905 they asked the second son of the Danish King to take the throne. King Haakon VII, as he became, was Norwegian King for over half a century and US troops in the WWII and in Korea fought alongside Norwegian troops whose commander in chief was born a Danish prince.

The Habsburg family, former rulers, at various times of Austria, Hungary, Spain and Germany, as well as most of what became Yugoslavia, can usually be relied upon to provide a King or Queen if any country finds itself short. If it is glamour a country seeks, then Yugoslavia’s Crown Prince Alexander has a niece that might fit the role: the actress Catherine Oxenberg, who married an East European prince in Dynasty and played the Princess of Wales in a mini-series.

King Farouk once predicted that one day there would be only five Kings: England, Clubs, Spades, Hearts, and Diamonds. But he might just have been wrong.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 06 November 2000

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