The Russian House of Emperor Nicholas II in Belgrade, Serbia

PHOTO: the main entrance to Russian House in Belgrade.
Note the images of Emperor Nicholas II and King Alexander I Karageorgievich

For nearly 90 years the Russian House, situated in the very heart of old Belgrade, has been a spiritual and cultural center aimed to promote Russian language and culture. The Neoclassical style building on Kraljice Natalije [Queen Natalia[1] Street], is regarded as one of the most beautiful locations in the Serbian capital. It is recognized as the oldest Russian cultural center in Europe, one of 44 Russian Cultural Centers worldwide.

During the early 20th century, the October Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War, each contributed to the mass resettlement of Russians in Serbia. In April 1919 and the early 1920s, the government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes [2], welcomed tens of thousands of anti-Bolshevik Russian refugees.

The defeat of the White Russian Army under General Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel (1878-1928) in Crimea, resulted in a third wave of emigration (November-December 1920), of another 20,000 emigrants.

The Kingdom extended its hospitality as gratitude to Russia for the it’s intervention on the side of Serbia at the outbreak of WWI. Thus, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, became home for 40,000 exiles from the Russian Empire of Emperor Nicholas II. The mass exodus of refugees from war-torn Bolshevik Russia, promted the founding of the State Commission for the Arrangement of Russian Refugees in Belgarde.

Built and financed by Russian emigres

The pain of losing their fatherland and the illusory hope of returning had always lived in the souls of those who, by the will of fate, ended up in a foreign land. And in an effort to preserve their world – the Russian world – everything that was so dear and sacred, everything which closely connected them to their homeland, the Russian community put forward the idea of ​​​​creating its own cultural center in Belgrade.

The Serbian public warmly responded to this idea. The center was constructed mainly with the money donated and raised by the Russian community. In addition, significant funds were allocated by the Yugoslav authorities. The architect was Vasily Baumgarten (1897–1962), a military engineer, ex-chief of engineering supplies of the Denikin Volunteer Army[3].

The idea of ​​the Russian community to establish its own cultural center in Belgrade was fervently supported by King Alexander I, Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church Varnava (1880-1937), as well as many Serbian politicians and cultural workers.

In 1928, the Russian Cultural Committee was founded in Belgrade under the auspices of academician-Slavist Aleksandar Belic (1876-1960), who graduated from the Imperial Moscow University, and who later became the president of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences. One of the main directions in the activity of Belic’s committee was to help in the creation of the cultural center.

On 22nd June 1931, the foundation stone of the building was laid, less than two years later, on 9th April 1933, the Russian House named after Emperor Nicholas II was officially opened. A charter with words comemorating Russian-Serbian brotherhood and a dedication to Nicholas II, as well as words of gratitude to King Alexander I, were laid in the building’s foundation. In addition, two plaques were installed – one for the “protector of the Serbs” Nicholas II and the other for the “protector of the Russians” Alexander I.

The opening of the Russian House of Emperor Nicholas II was attended by members of the royal family, headed by Queen Maria of Yugoslavia[4], Prime Minister Milan Srskich (1880-1937), and prominent representatives of the Yugoslav intelligentsia.

Why was the Russian House named in honour of Russia’s last Tsar and Emperor?

The Serbs were not only grateful to Nicholas II for the assistance he provided in their struggle for freedom and independence, but also for coming to their aid against Austro-Hungarian aggression in 1914. The idea of ​​the canonization of Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov and the construction of a church in memory of the martyred emperor arose in Serbia in the 1920s, many years before his canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church. For many Serbs, Nicholas II is today recognized as the “greatest and most revered of all saints.”

The memory of Emperor Nicholas II’s life and reign is today honoured and celebrated throughout modern-day Serbia. On 7th May 2019, during the opening ceremony of the photo exhibition The Romanovs: the Tsar’s Ministry, in the Serbian Embassy in Moscow, Serbia’s Ambassador to Russia Slavenko Terzic stated: “I consider Nicholas II a great reformer and a patriot of his homeland. The challenges of the revolution were very tough, to which it was necessary to react harshly, but since the Russian emperor was a deeply religious man, he sacrificed himself and his family in order to save the Russian empire. Eternal memory to Nicholas II and eternal gratitude to him from Serbia and the Serbian people,” concluded Terzic.

Further reading: Click HERE to read my article Nicholas II through Serbian Eyes, originally published on 13th October 1920.

The Russian House in the post-war years, and during Nazi and Soviet occupation

During the interwar years, the Russian House became the center of cultural, scientific and religious life of the Russian emigrant community in Belgrade.

The monarchy, which had been established in Yugoslavia since January 1929, followed by the assassination of King Alexander I in October 1934, and the period of the regency of Prince Pavel Karageorgievich only strengthened the foreign policy vector of Belgrade. Up until June 1940, royal Yugoslavia took the side of the White Russian movement, and officially ignored the existence of Soviet Russia, a brave and noble political feat for which they must be honoured.

The situation changed, however, in March 1941 after a coup d’etat, a result of which a regency was set up under Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, also known as Paul Karađorđević (1893-1976). After Paul declared Yugoslavia’s accession to the Tripartite Pact in late March 1941, a pro-British coup d’état deposed the regent and declared Peter II (1923-1970), who would reign as the last king of Yugoslavia and the last reigning member of the Karađorđević dynasty. In response, Axis forces invaded Yugoslavia ten days later and quickly overran the country, forcing the king and his ministers into exile.

After the capture and dismemberment of Yugoslavia by the Third Reich and its allies during the short-lived April War of 1941, Serbia came under Nazi occupation and the formal control of the puppet government of Milan Nedić (1877-1946). The occupying authorities installed the “Russian Trust Bureau” in the Russian House, to “protect the interests of the Russian diaspora”.

According to Monarchist General Mikhail Skorodumov, “the cellars in the Russian House, were filled with hungry Russian refugees. As a result, and with great difficulty, a free canteen was created, however, this did little to alleviate the problem…” Later, Skorodumov formed the Russian Security Corps for punitive operations against local communists with the prospect of sending the latter to the Eastern Front in the ranks of the Wehrmacht.

In 1944, the Russian House was badly damaged during fierce battles between the Red Army and the Belgrade Strategic Offensive Operation for the liberation of of the city from Nazi invaders. In addition, the Russian House library (created in 1920, and moved from the building of the Royal Academy of Sciences), lost almost all of its extensive pre-war collections: books, old newspapers and magazines from the library heated the boiler room of the Russian House during the cold months of the war.

In the post World War II period, the Socialist-Government of Yugoslavia handed over the building to the Soviet Union, whereupon the Russian House of Emperor Nicholas II was renamed the Home of Soviet Culture. In 1994, the building was officially renamed the Russian Center of Science and Culture — The Russian House.

In defiance of the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO forces in 1999, the Russian House remained open daily, despite the fact that some events had to be carried out then under extreme conditions, including the building being hit by shell fragments. On 24th May, when electricity was cut off throughout Belgrade, the celebration of the Day of Slavic Literature and Culture took place by candlelight – a tradition which continues to be held annually.

Today, the Russia House includes a theater, a 390-seat cinema and concert hall, a 2100 square foot exhibition and conference hall, a gymnasium, a sports hall, an elementary school, and even a house church named in honour of the Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. 

The center offers Russian language courses, a publishing center, the Matryoshka Children’s Studio of Russian Folk Dance, and the Sergei Rachmaninov School of Music. The center’s public library boasts a collection of 60,000 books, and is considered one of the largest Russian libraries in Europe. In May 2015, an electronic reading room of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library, located in St. Petersburg was opened in the multimedia center of the Russian House Library.

The Russia House is also home to the Museum of Nicholas II [opened in June 1936], the Museum of the Russian Cavalry, the Society of Russian Writers, Artists and Musicians, and the Russian Scientific Institute (founded in 1928 and moved from the house of the former Embassy of the Russian Empire). The center receives over two thousand visitors a day.

It is interesting to note, that in 2022, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Russians moved to Serbia, many of them opponents to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

PHOTO: Aleksandar Vasilevich Chepurin, who served as Russia’s ambassador to Serbia (from 2012-2019), at the unveiling ceremony of the bust to Nicholas II in the Russian House, Belgrade

In addition, the Russian House has exhibition material, which includes a vast collection of films and books. It is involved in the organization of various festivals, conferences and other cultural events in Belgrade and throughout Serbia. In recent years, the Russian House in Belgrade has hosted a number of exhibitions and government sponsored events honouring Russia’s last Tsar.

On 25th December 2013, a bronze bust of Emperor Nicholas II was unveiled in the foyer of the library in the Russian House with the participation of the International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Nations. The bust was the work of the eminent Russian sculptor, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Klykov (1938-2006). The pedestal of was designed by the famous Serbian sculptor Miodrag Živković. The installation of the bust marked the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty and the 80th anniversary of the Russian House in Belgrade.

PHOTO: poster for the photo-exhibition Meeting the Russian Emperor (above), and opening day of the exhibit at Russian House in Belgrade, on 5th April 2017 (below)

From 5th April to 3rd May 2017, the Russian House hosted a photo-exhibition Meeting the Russian Emperor, dedicated to the life and reign of Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918). The exhibition was a joint project prepared by the Russian Tsar Studio in Belgrade and the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow.

The exhibition was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of the last Russian Emperor and his family, which took place in July 2018. The travelling exhibition, which during the first six months had been held in dozens of cities in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. The exhibit showcased photographs to better acquaint the Serbs with the image of the Holy Royal Martyrs, and their pious and private family lives. 

The ceremonies marking the opening of the exhibition, were crowned by the Orlic Children’s Church Choir, under the direction of Elena Pavlovich, who performed several Russian spiritual songs, and closing with the Russian Imperial Anthem “God, Save the Tsar!” [refer to Video No. 6 in the playlist]

Upon its closing, the photo-exhibition reopened at the Memorial Museum of King Peter I Karađorđević, also in Belgrade.

PHOTO: on 15th May, the photo-exhibition reopened at the Museum of King Peter I Karađorđević

PHOTO: Serbian Patriarch Irinej and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill attending the unveiling and consecration of the monument to Nicholas II in Belgrade, on 16th November 2014

The Russian House is situated near Park Aleksandrov, bounded by the streets of Kralja Milana on the east, Kosovke devojke on the north and Kraljice Natalije[1] on the west. 

On 16th November 2014, a large monument to Emperor Nicholas II was installed in the park, on the site of the old Russian Empire[5]. The bronze monument, donated by the Russian Historical Society in Moscow, was sculpted by Andrey Kovalchuk and Gennady Pravotorov. The monument weighs 40 tons, and stands 7.5 m (25 ft) high, which includes a granite pedestal, the monument itself stands 3.5 m (11 ft).

The monument was jointly consecrated by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and the Serbian Patriarch Irinej (1930-2020), which was followed by a wreath laying ceremony. The unveiling ceremony was attended by the President of the Republic of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić,

The inscription on the pedestal which marks the words of Emperor Nicholas II, reads: “All my efforts will be directed to preserving the dignity of Serbia and in any case, Russia will not be indifferent to the fate of Serbia”.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill addressed a multitude of people present with a brief homily, saying in particular:

“We are present at an event of historical significance – the blessing of the monument to the Holy Passion-Bearer, Tsar Nicholas II. Emperor Nicholas did so much to save Serbia and the whole Europe that it cannot be described in a few words. It is remarkable that the first monument in his honour outside of Russia has been erected here, in Belgrade.

“The Serbian people were cherishing the memory of Emperor Nicholas II even at the time when his name was forbidden to be pronounced aloud, at the time when one could only say something bad of him. However, the truth has a great power. Sometimes we see grass shooting through asphalt, life coming out in the open. The same is with the truth – it cannot be hidden under the asphalt or concrete; sooner or later it comes into life of next generations. The truth about the sacrificial heroic deed of Emperor Nicholas II has struggled through the ferroconcrete slab laid on his name.

“I would like to thank the people and the authorities of Serbia, as well as to all the compatriots who have done much to honour the memory of this great man in this remarkable monument.”

Serbian Patriarch Irinej pointed out that this was a great day for Belgrade, Serbia and the Serbian people in the country, in Serbian lands abroad. As he emphasized, the monument in King Milan Street was not just a monument, but also an image of a holy martyr. According to his words, one of those tragic links uniting our tow peoples was the fate of Tsar Nicholas and his family.

PHOTO: view of the Russia House in Belgrade, the oldest Russian cultural center in Europe

© Paul Gilbert. 12 October 2022


[1] Natalija Obrenović (1859-1941), known as Natalie of Serbia, she was Princess of Serbia from 1875 to 1882 and then Queen of Serbia from 1882 to 1889 as the wife of King Milan I of Serbia (1854-1901). A celebrated beauty during her youth, she was later regarded as one of the most beautiful queens in Europe.

[2] The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a state in Southeast and Central Europe that existed from 1918 until 1941. The preliminary kingdom was formed in 1918 by the merger of the provisional State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (itself formed from territories of the former Austria-Hungary,

From 1918 to 1929, it was officially called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but the term “Yugoslavia” (literally “Land of South Slavs”) was its colloquial name due to its origins.

The state was ruled by the Serbian dynasty of Karađorđević, which previously ruled the Kingdom of Serbia under Peter I from 1903 (after the May Coup) onward. Peter I became the first king of Yugoslavia until his death in 1921. The official name of the state was changed to “Kingdom of Yugoslavia” by his successor King Alexander I on 3 October 1929.

[3] The Volunteer Army was formed by Anton Ivanovich Denikin (1872-1947), a Russian Lieutenant General in the Imperial Russian Army (1916), who later served as the Deputy Supreme Ruler of Russia during the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922.

His volunteers served as part of the White Army, who were active in South Russia during the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1920. The Volunteer Army fought against Bolsheviks on the Southern Front and the Ukrainian War of Independence. In 1919 it was made part of the Armed Forces of South Russia, becoming the largest force of the White movement until it was merged with the Army of Wrangel in March 1920.

[4] Maria of Yugoslavia (born Princess Maria of Romania: 6th January 1900 – 22nd June 1961), her parents were Princess Marie of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Prince Ferdinand of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen – future Queen Marie and King Ferdinand of Roumania.

Known in Serbian as Marija Karađorđević, was Queen of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later Queen of Yugoslavia, as the wife of King Alexander I from 1922 until his assassination in 1934. She was the mother of Peter II, the last reigning Yugoslav monarch. Her citizenship was revoked, and her property was confiscated by the Yugoslav communist regime in 1947, but she was “rehabilitated” in 2014.

[5] The old Russian Embassy was constructed in 1919. The embassy was initially used by the Russian deputy Vasiliy Nikolayevich Strandman (1873-1963), who represented the White Guard government, under the leadership of General Kolchak. In 1924, when the Russian mission was closed by the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the embassy building became the headquarters of the Delegation for the Protection of the Interests of Russian Refugees, and Strandman became the head of the Delegation. Nevertheless, the state flag and coat of arms of the Russian Empire remained on the facade of the embassy building until September 1939.

During the battle for the liberation of Belgrade in the Second World War, in October 1944, a German bomb severely damaged the embassy building. After the war, the building was completely demolished and a park built in its place.