ASSOCIATED PRESS: LONG LIVE THE KINGS

Views on BG | June 26, 2001, Tuesday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0

Bulgarian ex-king`s path to political power could be model for other dethroned monarchs

By BURT HERMAN
Associated Press Writer
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) - Dethroned King Simeon II`s election triumph has heartened supporters of other ex-monarchs in the Balkans hoping to play a larger political role in countries their families ruled before communism swept them away. No former monarch has done as well as the Bulgarian king, embraced as a symbol of royal uprightness in the traditionally corrupt Balkans. His National Movement Simeon II swept June 17 national elections, leaving him positioned to call the political shots as prime minister or leader of the country`s strongest political party. Former rulers elsewhere already are waiting in the wings. In Romania last month, ex-King Michael was formally recognized as a former head of state, entitling him to an official residence, guards and car. The return of democracy to Yugoslavia has raised hopes for some that Crown Prince Alexander II could play a leadership role in that country, made up of Serbia and Montenegro. In countries devastated by communist rule and still struggling with democracy, the monarchs are often seen as a last chance tore store once-proud nations to past honor. ``It`s only natural, if the political elite botches things, like here,`` said Bozhidar Dimitrov, a professor of Balkan history. ``I wouldn`t be surprised if monarchs try to return to Romania, Serbia and Montenegro through the same model.`` When Romania`s Michael first returned from Swiss exile in 1990 after the fall of communism, he was arrested and deported. On another visit in 1992, millions welcomed him but President Ion Iliescu told him to leave. Iliescu is once again president, but with the constitution barring him from another term, he now appears reconciled to Michael`s popularity. The government earlier this year gave Michael back his Elisabeth Palace in Bucharest, the same two-story white mansion where in 1947 he was forced to sign papers abdicating the throne. So far, Michael, 79, has shown little interest in getting involved in domestic politics, and declined a 1992 offer from the Liberal Party to run against Iliescu. That hasn`t dimmed hopes among Romanians who equate him with stability and incorruptibility that he could contest _ and win _ the next elections in 2004. ``If foreign investment would come to Romania because (King Michael) was elected, all Romanians would vote for him,`` said Gheorghe Dobre, 69, a Bucharest chauffeur. ``We are watching to see what happens in Bulgaria to see if Simeon can fulfill his promises.`` Elefteria Ioficiu, who emigrated to Toronto 31 years ago, also sees Michael as improving Romania`s image, tarnished by years of government corruption and economic stagnation. ``We are not trusted as a nation. If Michael was elected, perhaps there would be more trust in Romania,`` said Ioficiu, 74. Yugoslavia`s Crown Prince Alexander II also remains elusive on his future plans. His London office declined to comment on whether he hoped to follow Simeon`s path to power or content himself with a role as a kind of ambassador-at-large seeking to improve his country`s image now that Slobodan Milosevic`s regime has fallen. ``This is the beauty of my position that I do not belong to any political party. I don`t want to be a politician ... just a meeting point, putting people together,`` Alexander, of the Karadjordjevic dynasty that periodically reigned in Serbia starting in the early 1800s, said during a visit there in winter. A return of any kind of king to Yugoslavia would possibly be in the form of a constitutional monarchy where the monarch had just symbolic powers, said Dusan Radulovic, a political journalist for the weekly Vreme. ``People think here that monarchy could help to stabilize the situation,`` Radulovic said. The least-likely Balkan blue blood to regain any kind of power is Albania`s ex-King Leka - although he was the first to actually gain a political voice with his pro-monarchy Party of Legality, which won one seat in parliament in 1997. Leka, 62, is a convicted gunrunner in his adopted home, South Africa. In Albania, he was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison in 1999 for participating in a rally that turned violent. He had been toting a pistol and an Uzi submachine gun. A 1997 referendum on restoring the monarchy _ which ended when King Zog, Leka`s father, fled an Italian invasion of Albania in 1939 _ was rejected by two-thirds of voters. ``He has only been in Albania twice, for a few days,`` said Ahmet Seladini, 56, a shopkeeper in the capital, Tirana. ``What does he know about this place and about us? Nothing.`

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