BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The Karadjordjevic dynasty, kings of pre-Communist Yugoslavia, are preparing to make a comeback as a political force in the land from which they are constitutionally banished.
Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, the exiled pretender to the throne who was born in London's Claridge Hotel in 1945, has accepted a joint invitation by all non-Communist parties in Serbia to return with his family and take up residence at his sumptuous Beli Dvor (White Palace) ancestral home Oct. 5.
The announcement was made at a joint news conference yesterday by the leaders of opposition parties led by Vuk Draskovic. "His Highness is not coming as a tourist," said Mr. Draskovic. "He and his family are moving back home."
Prince Alexander, in an interview with the Tanjug news agency, said that he was "delighted" to be going to his native land, which he has never seen.
The planned return presents a serious challenge to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is said to be agonizing over his response in his own palatial residence not far from Beli Dvor.
Whether Eastern Europe's last Communist strongman attempts to prevent Prince Alexander's return -- citing the constitution -- or tries to co-opt him by welcoming him, it will strike a serious blow to the foundations of his authoritarian rule, which is widely seen as the driving force behind the war between Serbia and Croatia and the violent breakup of the Yugoslav federation.
That war continued yesterday as federal tanks and warplanes retaliated with fierce attacks after Croatian forces cut off food, water and electricity to army garrisons in the secessionist republic. Federal army troops at three garrisons surrendered, reports said.
At least 400 people have died in 2 1/2 months of fighting following Croatia's declaration of independence June 25.
Prince Alexander -- who views his potential role as similar to that of King Juan Carlos of Spain -- is no friend of Mr. Milosevic. In an interview published here recently, he criticized the Serbian president for whipping up nationalist fervor to win elections last year but then failing to use nationalist pride "for economic improvement or democratic development."
The prince blamed the current Yugoslav disintegration on Mr. Milosevic's dictatorial policies. The government's stranglehold on the media, along with other manipulation, was so overwhelming, he said, that "it seems to me Serbia did not have real elections."
The restoration of monarchy in a "lesser Yugoslavia" expected to emerge from the civil war is a relatively new idea. But for several weeks, workmen have been putting the final touches on the restoration of the palace that was seized by Marshal Tito when he was swept to power after World War II.
Prince Alexander's decision to step onto the political stage apparently was engineered by behind-the-scenes Serb power brokers.
They see Prince Alexander, a London businessman, as perhaps the only figure who could redress the problems and bring renewed credibility in the West, as well as economic opportunities.
And they see the moment as now -- when Yugoslavia's institutions of power are disintegrating, the army is splintered and the squabbling politicians are impotent.
Prince Alexander's entry into the political arena has been coordinated by a coalition of Serb opposition parties that had been too fragmented to pose a threat to Mr. Milosevic.
Conscious of history, Prince Alexander intends to fly home from Switzerland rather than London, repeating the journey his great-grandfather, Peter I, made when he returned from Switzerland in 1903 to reclaim the crown that had been usurped from the Karadjordjevics by the House of Obrenovac more than a half-century before.
As a rallying point, Prince Alexander could prove far more destructive for Mr. Milosevic than the mass demonstrations that had been planned by the opposition for Oct. 9. Instead, at the prince's request, they are now holding commemorative services in two main churches -- St. Sava in Belgrade and at the Karadjordjevic seat in Oplenac -- Oct. 6 and Oct. 9, which is the anniversary of the assassination in France of Prince Alexander's grandfather Alexander I in 1934.
Opposition groups have also attempted to pre-empt any Milosevic maneuver to prevent Prince Alexander's return. They have invited Mr. Milosevic, as well as other Serbian leaders and parties, to welcome the prince at Belgrade airport Oct. 5.