The Balkan Monarchies

I have never been very interested in politics, only in monarchies, but especially over the past few months I have followed the royal and political developments on the Balkan with much attention. The least known of the Balkan 'kings' is Prince Nikola Petrovich-Njegosh of Montenegro, the great-grandson of Nikola I, the last reigning King of Montenegro who abdicated in November 1918. Prince Nikola lives in France together with his wife, Francine, son, Boris, and daughter, Altinai. He works as an architect and sculptor and doesn't have a lot of contact with other royal families. After the fall of communism, he has visited Montenegro at least once, in 1990 when his great- grandparents were reburied there, but doesn't seem to play any political role.

King Leka I of Albania is most known for his huge interest in weapons. Several times weapons have been found at his place, for example in 1979 in Spain and in 1999 in South Africa, where he lives now together with his wife, Susan, and son, Leka. Leka I was born a Crown Prince in April 1939 only three days before his father, King Zog I, and his mother Geraldine, an Hungarian countess, had to flee from the troops of Italian leader Benito Mussolini. He was proclaimed king by the Albanian government in exile in 1961 after the death of his father. Already in the 1950s he might have tried regaining power in Albania reportedly with the help of the British and American intelligence service. He tried to land on the Albanian coast in 1982 together with some thousands of supporters, which according to the Albanian regime failed because of alert Albanian farmers. The last time he tried a coup was in July 1997 after he had lost a plebiscite about the restoration of the monarchy. He and 300 armed supporters made their way to the office of the electoral commission. The police had to interfere and since then the King hasn't been seen in Albania again.

More chances are there for King Michael of Romania, born in 1921, who reigned in Romania between 1927 and 1930 and 1940 until 1947. Between 1930 and 1940 Romania was ruled by Michael's father King Carol II. After he (as he said himself) had been forced to abdicate in December 1947, Michael left for Switzerland. In 1948 Romania became a republic. In the same year Michael married Princess Anne de Bourbon de Parme with whom he has five daughters. In 1990 after the fall of Ceacescu he tried to return to Romania, but was stopped on his way from the airport to Bucarest. In 1992 he made an Easter visit, but it wasn't until 1996 that he was allowed to visit Romania regularly. Together with his oldest daughter, Margarita, who married the Romanian actor Radu Duda, he leads an organisation that gives humanitarian help in Romania. His Romanian citizenship was returned to him in 1997 and on June 1st of this year King Michael was acknowledged as the former head of state by the Romanian government and he now is allowed to return to his country. He was also given back the Elisabeth Palace as his residence. King Michael and his wife Anne will spend this summer in Romania.

The Yugoslavian pretender to the throne, Crown Prince Alexander II, was born in July 1945 in London as the son of the then King Peter II (1923-1970). Peter II had already fled his country, having escaped the German army in 1941. In November 1945 Yugoslavia became a republic and the King stayed abroad. Crown Prince Alexander married twice and has three sons from his first marriage. Crown Prince Alexander visited his country for the first time in 1991. During the Milosevic regime the Crown Prince was politically active and organised several meetings with the Serbian opposition. He and his wife Katherine also provided humanitarian help to the country. Soon after the recent fall of Slobodan Milosevic Crown Prince Alexander was received in the townhall with all regards. In the present Serbia 40% of the inhabitants are in favour of the monarchy including President Kostunica. On July 12th the Yugoslav government has allowed the royal Karadjordjevic family to move back into their ancestral palaces the Dedinje Palace Complex in Belgrade - after decades of exile and the property was formally handed over on July 17th at the Palace of the Federation in Belgrade. The move by Yugoslavia's new pro-democracy authorities is part of their promise to restore the rights of the royal family. Crown Prince Alexander will now establish his home in the Palace and work in the best interests of all the people regardless of their ethnicity or religion.

And finally King Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was born in 1937 and reigned in Bulgaria as a boy king between 1943 and 1946. He had to flee his country in September 1946 and afterwards Bulgaria became a republic. King Simeon II settled in Spain where he became a businessman. He married a Spanish aristocrat with whom he has four sons, one daughter, five grandsons, and three granddaughters. He returned to Bulgaria for the first time in February 1990 and was greeted by a huge crowd of enthusiastic Bulgarians. The same enthusiasm could be seen during his later visits to the country, although there wasn't a huge support for the return of the monarchy. Some years ago he was given back several nationalised palaces, houses, and estates. He surrendered most of the property immediately, partly to show his good will, but also because it would have cost him too much money to take care of the properties. In the beginning of April 2001 it was announced that King Simeon II would lead the National Movement for Simeon II during the parliamentary elections on June 17th. He promised to transform Bulgaria in 800 days with a radical liberal reform program to attract foreign investment, slash taxes, root out corruption, and create better living circumstances. The polls before the elections showed a huge majority for the party. After some opposition - the National Movement for Simeon II couldn't meet the requirements for registration for the election - the party was finally allowed to take part in the elections in the beginning of May. The party won the Bulgarian elections on June 17th with an overwhelming majority. The party won over 43% of the vote and thus 120 of the 240 seats in the Bulgarian parliament, which was just one seat short of sealing an absolute majority in parliament. After the elections it wasn't immediately clear what the King's new role would be, but on July 12th King Simeon II was named as the country's next prime minister - he was formally installed on July 15th - and formed a new Cabinet in the week thereafter. He couldn't become the president as the constitution says only someone who has lived in Bulgaria for more than six months each year in the past five years can become the president.

I must admit I am quite sceptical about these recent developments in Bulgaria, and it seems I am not the only one. The Bulgarians, who have experienced ten different governments in less than twelve years, seem to be looking for a saviour and I am afraid they just ask too much of King Simeon II. Of course I hope he will succeed in creating better circumstances in Bulgaria, which still can be seen as quite a poor country. I am just very worried what will happen when he will not be able to fulfil the promises he made during his campaign. What will happen if he fails? If he succeeds, he might open the way for King Michael of Romania and Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia to take part in the politics of their countries, but if he fails it might make an end to all hopes of himself, King Michael, Crown Prince Alexander, and maybe several other pretenders to the throne all over the world for a restoration of the monarchy. Only the future can tell.

Netty Leistra
Royal Watch
August 2001

1998- Netty Royal
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