THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: SIMEON II MAY PROPOSE NEW EDITION OF MONARCHY
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June 28, 2001, Thursday // 00:00|
The triumph of King Simeon II`s `movement` in Bulgaria`s parliamentary elections has brought widespread media attention to the idea of a renewed Bulgarian monarchy. But Simeon is not the only monarch-in-waiting from the post communist world. His fellow royals may also deserve a look. A dose of royalty may be just the tonic that these nations in transition need. Constitutional monarchy today, when its powers are minimal, has much to recommend it. What could be simpler than a head of state who is impartial, dedicated to the country's interest and chosen by biological inheritance, subject to parliamentary confrontation? Not to mention the touch of nostalgia it can offer to peoples who had their national identities repressed by communist totalitarianism for half a century or longer. Simeon Saxe-Coburg's story offers a case in point. Succeeding as czar at the age of six on the death of his father in 1943, Simeon was driven from Bulgaria by the Soviet-backed communist regime three years later. Now, following his electoral victory, there is speculation as to the possibility of a "royal" president come November's the monarchist option. "It would be a strange game of football where the referee was a member of one of the competing teams," he recently remarked. The idea of a royal presidency has been floated before. In the 1920s, when Simeon's father, Czar Boris III, faced republican agitation, Alexander Stamboliiski, leader of the opposition Agrarian Party, observed, "If we do make the republic, we must keep Boris, for he would be the best of presidents." Politics must be in the royal blood, for there is little doubt that the son would excel in the job as well!! Nor has Simeon been the only object of such speculations in Eastern Europe, in the postcommunist Balkans, the debate is whether monarchy, recognized as a focus of national aspiration, can serve a practical function by providing an outlet and focal point for nationalist sentiment, as well as a much-needed sense of stability. A group of middle-aged royal exiles have attracted attention. Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia, a London-based businessman and the son of the last King Peter II of Yugoslavia, did not take up his royal claim following his father's death in 1970. More importantly, he has confessed that his knowledge of the Serbian language is week, not a good sign for a potential national figurehead. After the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, he was feted by monarchist on visits to Yugoslavia, but saw his general popularity eclipsed by President Vojislav Kostunica. Unlike many former monarchs, Albania's royal aspirant has not merely waited for history to call. "King of the Albanians" Leka Zobu, son of Zog, the first Albanian king, claimed the allegiance of the many ethnic Albanians beyond the country's political boundaries. This giant of a man, known in Spain as "el Rambo de los Balcanas," was expelled from Spain in 1970 and for a time held i custody in South Africa on suspicion of arms dealing. He returned to Albania to wild scenes of welcome in 1997 but, perhaps perceived more as an adventurer than a statesman, lost a referendum on the question of the restoration of the monarchy. After a desperate armed coup also failed, he fled the country. In Romania, King Michael's devotion to his country's interests has been uncontested since the day when, as king aged 23 back in 1945, he engineered the overthrow of the German-backed dictator Ion Antonescu. His reward, however, was expulsion by communists instigated by Soviet Russia, which feared an independent Romania. With the fail of communism, he was finally readmitted to the country to an ecstatic popular welcome. In the late 1990s, he served as a semi-official roving ambassador for his country. Today, enjoying a government salary and a residence in Romania, his place in popular affection is secure. But Michael is now elderly and his five daughters are barred from the succession on grounds of their gender. His decision to respect the republican constitution thus closed this chapter in European monarchy. Personal integrity and patriotic dedication are not always enough. When coupled with political savvy, they can go a long way. Witness Simeon, like Romania's Michael, he is fluent, in his native language. While earning his living as a businessman and banker in Spain and U.S., he never relinquished his interest in his nation's affairs. In the 1990s, a stream of citizens and even legislators made their way to the exiled monarch to pay respects and seek advice. In 1991, a constitutional clause introduced to prevent his campaigning in presidential elections already testified to official uneasiness about the appeal of this "father confessor" of his people. On visits to the country he pressed the flesh in street walkabouts, hard-hatting in mining galleries and, with his wife Queen Margarita, visited local churches. The recent election victory for the National Movement for Simeon II is, in the King's opinion, just that - a vote for him personally. Not as king, maybe, but as an honest man committed to work for his country. Should he wish to hold office in the Republic, he would presumably have to renounce his royal status. But nothing is certain in the history of monarchy. Whatever Simeon's strategy for the future may be, of one thing we may be certain - it will be based on tradition. For Simeon passionately believes that "a country without a past is a country without a future." During the election campaign, he promised a program of reforms that would change the lives of all Bulgarians within 800 days - that is, by August 2003. The apparently arbitrary number acquires intriguing significance when one realizes that that year will mark the 1,200th anniversary of the accession in 803 of Khan Krum, conqueror of Sofia, Bulgaria's historic capital. Perhaps this modest yet enigmatic man, a self-confessed devotee of politics, may yet deliver one more variation on the eternal theme of monarchy.
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