Monday, October 22, 2001
For some deposed monarchs, homeland calls
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
- As Mohammad Zahir Shah, ex-king of
, weighs his chances of returning home, he might consider the comebacks
that several other deposed monarchs elsewhere are enjoying.
villa where Zahir Shah has spent the last 28 years, two Eastern European
royals who were ousted decades ago have been welcomed back to their
homelands after lifetimes elsewhere.
"It sounds a bit of a romantic myth,"
of the International Monarchist League said. "But in the hearts of
many people, they never went away."
They say their returns have been impelled more by a desire to encourage
stability and speed progress than to turn back the clock. In nations still
emerging from upheaval that began with the rise of fascism and only ended
with the fall of communist dictatorships, the exiled monarchs roles' have
went back to
, and, within months, became its prime minister.
is serving as a roving goodwill ambassador for
. Both are living in ancestral palaces that had been confiscated in their
absences. A third -
, who spent more time in power than the other two - has sought no
political role, only his property and the right to live peacefully in his
For the most part, they have been embraced warmly, even emotionally -
none more so than
, who was thrust to power in
by an electorate disillusioned by a string of corrupt leaders.
Born Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, one of many descendants of
Britain's Queen Victoria, he took the throne as a child after his father,
Boris III, died prematurely and mysteriously after a visit to Hitler in
's reign was brief: His uncle and other regents who ruled on his behalf
were executed by the Communists in 1945, and, a year later, the 9-year-old
king and his mother,
, fled to
. They later settled in
grew up to become a businessman.
, at 64, he left
and returned to
, where his upstart political party, the Simeon II National Movement, was
grudgingly granted a place on the
ballot by election commissioners. Running on a platform of radical reform,
the party won 43 percent of the vote, about half of Parliament's 240 seats
- and the prime minister's job for its leader.
"For the first time in history, a czar has come back to his
country through republican elections," said
, a medical professor and a member of
's party, who won a parliamentary seat in
. "I would have never tried to enter politics if
hadn't been there."
's appeal stemmed from his status as an outsider with strong links to the
country, his experience as chairman of the Spanish unit of a French
electronics firm, and his popular touch as a campaigner. He speaks
Bulgarian, and his wife, Princess Margarita, has been spotted sweeping the
front porch at his family's old palace on the outskirts of
Still, some of his constituents suspect that
's real hope is to restore a constitutional monarchy and resume the crown.
The communists abolished the monarchy without a referendum, but
never abdicated. Bulgarians remain divided about the subject, and their
new leader has so far refused to discuss it.
xander of Serbia's Karadjordjevic dynasty also has come home - to a
country in which he never lived - and he, too, studiously dodges the
question of whether he wants someday to be king. In a recent interview in
his office in
, he royally referred to himself in the third person - but what he said
was that he only wanted to attract investment and create jobs in a land of
low salaries and double-digit unemployment.
is busy talking up his struggling country to outside investors and
lobbying hard for improvements in areas such as telecommunications,
airline connections and train service. A former banker and insurance
executive who grew up in
, he promotes himself as a bridge between
and the Western countries that bombed it two years ago.
"The main issue now is jobs," he said. "There I really
want to help, and there are several plans on the books to visit various
cities across the world to show that we are an investment center, a land
of opportunity within
and at the crossroads of southeastern
's road home has been harder than
's. His grandfather,
I, was assassinated during a state visit to
in 1934, and his father's uncle,
, became prince regent for the new king, 11-year-old
's effort to appease the Nazis in 1941 failed, and, after a coup d'etat
ousted him, the Germans bombed
, and the entire royal family was driven out, eventually settling in
was born in 1945 in a suite in Claridge's Hotel that
temporarily declared Yugoslav soil for the purpose of his birth.
was educated in
, then at military academies in
, and he served in a British army regiment. He got on with his life,
taking out a mortgage and paying his phone bill like everyone else.
"It never crossed my mind before 1989 that a day like now would
come," he said. "I never thought about it. I was minding my own
The political landscape changed when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989,
clung to his dictatorship in
for a long, disastrous decade. When he finally was ousted last year, an
opportunity arose in
was granted Yugoslav citizenship during a ceremony in the Claridge's suite
where he was born. This summer,
ordered two family palaces in
, and now he is busy supervising the repair of roofs, plumbing, and
cracked swimming pool tile.
"Over the last 10 to 12 years, zero maintenance took place,"
, 56, said. "We'll have to be careful about expenses, but that should
be done now."
He is still working on his Serbian, and hopes that his three
, will spend more time in
now that the family has relocated there.
And then, across the border in
, there is 80-year-old
, who took the throne as a child in 1927 after his father,
, renounced his right of succession. He stepped down when
changed his mind and returned in 1930, only to abdicate in 1940.
was king through World War II, and, in 1944, at the age of 22, ousted
's military dictatorship and cast his lot with the Allies. By the end of
1947, the royal family had been forced into exile by a communist regime.
failed in his initial attempt to return after the 1989 overthrow of
. But he since has reestablished himself, and has lived in
since 1996. Agreeing to respect the republican constitution, he was
granted a state salary and a residence.
What lessons might 86-year-old
draw from the returns of
? Since he was deposed by a cousin in 1973, he has lived as they did,
watching from a distance as turmoil descended over his homeland.
Now he is the sentimental choice to help reunite the country, and is
being courted by everyone eager to have a hand in whatever Afghan
government might replace the imperiled Taliban regime. Even old kings have
their uses, and - sometimes - can go home again.