Together with the humanitarian organization Lifeline Canada, the U of T Serbian Students’ Association hosted royal claimaints Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, St. Michael’s College on October 19. Lifeline Canada is an organization that strives to improve public health services in Serbia and provide humanitarian aid.
The Serbian monarchy was abolished when Serbia became part of the communist state of Yugoslavia after World War II. The royal family was forced into exile, but was allowed to return to Serbia in 2000 after the revolution that removed former President Slobodan Milosevic from power. The monarchy has not been reinstated but Alexander believes himself to be Serbia’s rightful king.
“Canada has been very good to us,” said Alexander. “Lifeline works very hard here.”
Alexander also promoted his own organization, the Foundation for Education and Culture, which aims to provide support for bright students in Serbia through partnering Serbian schools with reputable institutions abroad.
The couple urged youth in the audience to take up altruistic missions of their own.
“I really think that the [sooner] younger people start helping others, the easier it is later in life,” said Katherine. “I don’t know if I could have done what I am doing today if I did not have parents who taught me the joy of giving from a very early age.”
Katherine spoke about the longtime exile of the Serbian royal family as a source of inspiration behind their humanitarian efforts. Alexander was born at Claridge’s Hotel in London, and at two years old, he was declared an “enemy of the state” of Yugoslavia.
“My husband always wanted us to be with the people,” said Katherine. “‘I’ve never been to our country,’ he told me, ‘but I always want to know that if we ever go, I can look at people in their eyes and know that we’ve been with them when they needed us the most.’”
Katherine founded Lifeline in 1993 after witnessing tragedies endured by people of the war-torn Balkans at the time. Starting with her efforts to bring medical and practical supplies to the region during the conflict, it has since expanded to become an international philanthropic organization with offices in Chicago, New York, London, Athens, and Toronto.
The message that Katherine hopes to spread through her humanitarian work is one of unity and kindness. “Happiness comes from helping others,” she said. “It’s like going to the bank and looking for interest when you never made a deposit. So we have to deposit goodwill. We have to deposit care. We have to go beyond ourselves and think of others.”
To commemorate their visit to campus, President Marija Petrović and Vice-President Stefan Ninković of the Serbian Students’ Association at U of T presented Alexander and Katherine with a copy of The University of Toronto: A History.
Among the attendees who received the royal couple at the university were Vasilije Petković, the Consul General of the Republic of Serbia in Toronto, Professor Jaroslav Skira, the Acting Director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, and members of the Serbian Students’ Association, the Greek Students’ Association, and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus.