Prince Mihailo Obrenović
Republic Square, Belgrade, Serbia
This statue was erected in 1882. It marked a first. Because never before had a leader of Serbia been depicted in statue form while on a horse. So the man on that horse must have been a leader of some importance. His name was Prince Mihailo Obrenović. Prince of Serbia, or of what was then known as the Principality of Serbia. And prince not once, but twice. The first time was in 1839. His father had abdicated in favour of his son, Mihailo’s older brother, Milan. But after 26 days, Milan had fallen ill and died. The throne of the principality went to Mihailo. Who was at the time just 19-years-old. It’s fair to say things didn’t go well, and only three years later, in 1842, Prince Mihailo Obrenović had been overthrown and replaced by Prince Alexander of the rival House of Karađorđević. But things didn’t go very well for Alexander Karađorđević, either. In 1858, after years of wrangling with his Council, and after his refusal to take part in the Crimean War as an ally of the French, British and Ottoman Empires against Russia, he was forced to abdicate. The Obrenović family was in power again. First, Mihailo’s dad was Prince. Then, when his dad died in 1860, Mihailo became Prince of Serbia for the second time. And things went much better. Sort of. By 1862, Mihailo had persuaded Ottoman troops to leave the Serbian cities of Užice and Soko Grad, where they’d been stationed for generations. Five years on, in 1867, he’d managed to talk them into leaving Belgrade, Šabac, Smederevo and Kladovo. It was a diplomatic triumph, a masterstroke of statecraft. And Prince Mihailo Obrenović was loved for it. What Prince Mihailo Obrenović was not loved for, however, was his increasingly autocratic and absolutist approach to governing his country. He wasn’t much loved for his extra-marital dalliances, either. Mihailo had married the Hungarian Countess Júlia Hunyady de Kéthely in 1853. But Mihailo was more interested in his mistresses than he was his wife. And more interested in one particular mistress than all the others. Katarina Konstantinović, a Serbian noblewoman. Beautiful. And 25-years younger than the Prince. When Mihailo announced his intention to divorce Júlia and marry Katarina it didn’t go down well. Not with politicians, the clergy, or with Serbia’s conservative public. And so it was that on 10 June 1868, Mihailo was assassinated. Shot dead. He’d been out walking through Košutnjak Park in Belgrade with Katarina and her mother, Anka, when he was ambushed by two gunmen, Pavle and Kosta Radovanović. He was killed outright. And so was Anka, caught in the spray the assassins’ bullets. Only Katarina survived. A period of national mourning was declared that lasted three days. It’s been speculated ever since that the two assassins may have been in the pay of Mihailo’s great rivals, the House of Karađorđević. Although nothing has ever been proved. Fourteen years after his death and the people of Serbia missed Prince Mihailo Obrenović. He’d brought them freedom from the Ottomans. Which is why, when they decided to create a monument to him, they showed him on horseback. Dignified, imposing. And galloping towards a happier, and freer, future for his country. Sort of.