CIGI's Vice President of Public Affairs J. Fred Kuntz (left) welcomes His Royal Highness Crown Prince Alexander II and Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Katherine to the CIGI Campus. (Lisa Malleck/CIGI)

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by Fred Kuntz

Here at CIGI, we’re used to rolling out the red carpet. As part of our work to develop innovative global policy networks, this think tank often receives high-level visitors from the worlds of international governance, banking and diplomacy.

But it’s not every day we entertain royalty.

So we were delighted to receive members of the Serbian royal family at the CIGI Campus, during their private visit this month to Canada.

Leading the visit were His Royal Highness Crown Prince Alexander II and Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Katherine. They came to Toronto and Waterloo to help promote the charitable work of Canada-based Lifeline Humanitarian Organization, which works with like-minded groups in Serbia to improve medical care and other social services. While in Waterloo, they first attended a church service and luncheon at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, then graciously dropped in to see us.

As the photo collection at Flickr shows, we gave the visitors a look at the awesome architectural display of antique whiskey barrels in CIGI’s headquarters (a former Seagram’s distillery warehouse), as well as the splendid new CIGI Auditorium and the provocative public art in the Campus courtyard.

Then we sat together for an engaging discussion of the challenges and triumphs occurring in Serbia today.

The Crown Prince opened with a brief review of Serbia’s recent history, and the difficult transitions over the past century from monarchy, through successive wars, to dictatorship, then democracy. During the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, His Royal Highness was vocally supportive of the democratic opposition and personally campaigned to encourage Milosevic’s ouster. Alexander himself convened successive conferences in Europe to explore ways to accelerate the transition to democracy.

While Serbia today is proudly and finally a democracy, and affords no governing role for the old monarchy, the royal family were invited back into the country to re-inhabit their palace (and their official residences remain open to the public) and to engage in, and actively support, post-conflict social reconstruction.

At our meeting, The Crown Princess described the work of Lifeline in her country, including efforts to address Serbia’s higher rates of cancer by promoting earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Prof. Dejan Guzina and PhD student Branka Marijan of the Balsillie School of International Affairs also joined the conversation, describing their research project, supported by CIGI, to explore European Union state building in the Western Balkans.

Although this blog began by stating that CIGI doesn’t often “entertain royalty,” I confess that it was really the royals who entertained us. Crown Prince Alexander is a gifted raconteur. His stories included one about his encounter with Vladimir Putin some years after the Russian leader stayed in the Serbian palace – during the royal family’s exile – and slept in the king’s bedroom. “You know my background?” Putin asked, to which His Royal Highness replied, “Yes, KGB.” Well then, Putin continued, the prince would understand – and be grateful to know – that the Russian security team swept the bedroom for electronic bugs; and several microphones were detected and removed. All well and good, Alexander replied, but “did you leave any of your own behind?”

It was just one of a series of amusing anecdotes, thoughtful insights and impassioned historical perspectives from our royal guests that made their welcome visit seem all too brief. They are welcome back any time!