A Sovereign Example: Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia
by Eleni Kostopoulos
Every year, Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Alexander II and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia host a traditional Easter reception at the lavish White Palace in Belgrade. More than 1,000 orphans, Roma children and children with disabilities gather for a special holiday reception and fun-filled egg hunt in the palace’s picturesque garden. During one of these festive events, Princess Katherine recalled hearing two children screaming from one of the palace’s rooms. Concerned and befuddled, the princess and some others quickly ran to the source of the racket only to become stunned at what had transpired: two siblings -an eight year-old boy and a six year-old girl- found each other among the hundreds of children after an accidental, long-term separation. Later that day, the hopeful little girl looked up to the sky and asked, “Are mommy and daddy coming, too?”
“To have the ability to witness something like that makes all the work I do worthwhile,” said a teary-eyed Princess Katherine, adding that the young duo became inseparable after their reunion. “We had to pick them up as a unit just to put them back on the bus.” Moments like this drive Princess Katherine to keep on giving, though making a difference in an often crude world is not always a simple task.
“Although it’s a lot of hard work and a huge responsibility, I wouldn’t change anything; I just want to do more and more and more,” said Her Royal Highness, who credits her thriving philanthropic spirit to her parents and Greek roots.
The daughter of Robert and Anna Batis, Crown Princess Katherine was born in Athens, Greece on November 13, 1943. “At 94, my father was awarded by the Greek government for his philanthropy, and my mother was a saint; she always helped everyone around her. At a young age, I asked my mother, ‘what do you want me to be when I grow up?’ and she said, ‘I want you to be a good example’.”
Princess Katherine was educated in Athens and Lausanne, Switzerland before studying business at the University of Denver and the University of Dallas in the United States. Following a stint in business, she received an honorary doctorate in letters from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom in 2007. Through a previous marriage, Her Royal Highness has two children, David and Alison, and five grandchildren. In 1984, Princess Katherine found herself in Washington, DC, where she met His Royal Highness Crown Prince Alexander II, grandson of King Alexander of the Hellenes and Aspasia Manos. Prince Alexander II had three sons of his own: Hereditary Prince Peter and fraternal twins, Prince Philip and Prince Alexander, whom eventually Princess Katherine raised as her own. The couple wed in London on September 21, 1985 with King Constantine of the Hellenes serving as their best man and Prince Tomislav, Crown Prince Alexander’s uncle, as their witness.
From early on in her marriage, Princess Katherine knew her role would be an important one. Though Their Royal Highnesses lived in exile for a number of years, their dedication to their country was unwavering. “When the conflict in former Yugoslavia started, I knew very well that the situation needed support,” said Princess Katherine, who founded her Lifeline Humanitarian Organization in 1993 with offices in the United States (Chicago and New York), Canada (Toronto), United Kingdom (London) and Greece (Athens). When Their Royal Highnesses returned to Belgrade in July of 2001, the scope of their humanitarian activities expanded. “One of the things people don’t know is that we are not back in our country for nearly 13 years because [Crown Prince Alexander II] is the son of King Peter, but we are back because my husband united the opposition leaders in Budapest and brought democracy to our country,” said Princess Katherine. “He garnered support from the Greek government, the European Union and the United States; people realized he was a magnet and united under his umbrella. My husband has become the symbol of unity, stability and continuity.”
In August of 2001, the Foundation of Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Katherine was established. Her humanitarian efforts became full-fledged and have yet to cease. “My husband and I have been to every hospital in Serbia and to every clinic, and we have worked very hard,” she said. “With the amazing help of the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, we were able to obtain a mobile unit of digital mammography, which has now screened more than 60,000 women for breast cancer.”
Princess Katherine is currently in the process of not only taking preventative measures for the well-being of her people, but working to help those who have been diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. “We don’t have vehicles to pick people up for chemotherapy or other treatments, so I’m launching a campaign within the next few days in which every citizen must give just one euro, and with this money and the help of Fiat [Automobiles Serbia], we have a goal to help to fill a whole parking lot of cars that will be used to transport patients to hospitals,” said Her Royal Highness. “There are no borders when it comes to suffering, and we should help people regardless of religion or ethnic origin.”
For the last three years, Lifeline Humanitarian Organization’s Athens office has refocused its efforts on the financial recovery of Greece. Princess Katherine stressed the importance of not only reaching out to the victims her native country’s citizens but also working to prevent closures of essential establishments. “The people of Greece have been so amazing and charitable to Serbia over the years, and now it’s their turn to receive the help they need from us,” said Princess Katherine. Her organization has raised funds for various institutions, including Together for Children (“Mazi Gia to Paidi”), a non-profit aimed at offering assistance to more than 10,000 children and young people in need, particularly to those facing social exclusion, domestic violence, mental or physical disabilities and other challenging circumstances. (To contribute, visit lifelineny.org.)
In further support of Greece, young people supporting Lifeline UK gathered at the London-based Claridge’s Hotel, the birthplace of Prince Alexander II, for a charity dinner in March. A total of $365,000 was raised for the country, with which Her Royal Highness, together with the young people of Lifeline, plans to support a neonatal intensive care center outside of Athens, as well as a cerebral palsy institute. She also said she hopes to be able to fund daycare for the children of mothers who want to work but don’t have the necessary support to do so.
“There’s an economic crisis in Greece, and children have become victims of this economic crisis,” she said. “I encourage Greeks abroad to give to these institutions that are in danger of closing if they don’t get the support they require.”
Princess Katherine’s philanthropic endeavors certainly haven’t gone unnoticed. Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Alexander II and Crown Princess Katherine were guests of honor on March 19 at the Martha Graham Dance Company at New York City Center. Princess Katherine was honored for her global philanthropic work at the 2014 gala, which according to the renown dance company, “honors leaders of Greek heritage from around the world who, like Martha Graham, lead and inspire through innovation, generosity and a commitment to empower the next generation, and who are making an impact through significant efforts to lift humanity.” Her Royal Highness stressed that she was grateful to be in the presence of dear friends and associates who she credits as the backbone behind many of her successes.
Those in attendance of the special event included President of the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) and former president of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremic; Serbian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Vladislav Mladenovic with his spouse, Consul General of Serbia in New York City, Mrs. Mirjana Zivkovic; Chair of the Department of Radiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dr. Hedi Hricak; Clinical Professor of Radiology of Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Alex Margulis; President of Lifeline NY, Mr. David Hryck and other distinguished guests.
“This honor was a big surprise for me,” said Princess Katherine. “I believe that no one can accomplish anything without the support of other people, and so I was very happy to have all these people around me to share the award with. I admire the determination of people who keep the Martha Graham spirit alive.”
Though the princess has been recognized as a tenacious, selfless woman, she admits that balance has been the key to her triumphs. Her Royal Highness acknowledges her achievements wouldn’t be possible without the strong support and love of her family, friends and strong faith in God (she is also president of the American Associates of the Saint Catherine Foundation in New York, a position she’s held for 10 years).
“For a woman to be happy and successful, she has to know her priorities,” she said. “Regardless what she loves doing, her priorities should always be her husband, her children and her family, because you can’t do the things you want to do or need to do if you’re not at peace. Priorities balance one’s life and give purpose. I believe a woman must never underestimate herself. She must have confidence in herself, she must get to know herself, she must like herself, she must respect herself. You can not have respect from others if you don’t have respect for yourself. You can not have others like you if you do not like yourself. Women must never forget that they are an example to their children.”
Princess Katherine laughingly recalled receiving a prized gift from one of her daughters: a T-shirt that reads, “It’s not easy being a princess.” In all its humor, the tag line spoke volumes about the expectations of a princess in today’s world versus the reality of the role.
“Success and titles should not govern one’s hand because you can lose your balance if you allow them to,” said Princess Katherine. “We don’t wear the crowns on our heads. When the children come to the palace – we have several hundred visiting the palace each day- they always ask where my crown is, and I say, ‘my crown is in my heart. Without love we have nothing’. That’s how we feel. We wear our crowns in our hearts because we have to love the people to love what we’re doing and to do it well.”
For more information on The HRH Crown Princess Katherine Humanitarian Organization, or to make a contribution, visit: www.lifelineny.org (New York), www.lifelinechicago.org (Chicago), www.lifeline-Canada.org (Canada) or www.lifelinegr.org (Athens).