Symeon’s electoral visit: The ex-royalty’s ‘besa’

by Vasilis Vasilikos [*]

(“Ta Nea”, June 19, 2001)

There is no reason for the democrats to be alarmed, and no reason for the monarchists to rejoice. Symeon II (of Saxe-Coburg, to give him his full title) has not returned to his country as a former king, but as the leader of a political party and by virtue of a constitution which has abolished the institution of monarchy.

He has thus returned as an ordinary citizen—despite the fact that he has never officially recognized his deposition 55 years ago in 1946. He was made king at the age of six (in 1943), and at the age of nine, under Dimitrov, was forced to flee Bulgaria. He passed the years which followed in Spain, working, demonstrating his serious temperament, avoiding the life of the international jet set. Since 1989 he had visited Bulgaria frequently, founded a political party bearing his name (National Symeon II Movement), staked his claim in the political life of the country and finally, the day before yesterday, won a famous victory, securing 42% of the votes—a victory won quite legitimately, without any vote-rigging or corruption.

What does this mean? It means that the monarch—who never ceased to be such in his own mind or that of his followers, the royalists who make up 10% of Bulgaria’s population—has acquired an added value in the order of 32%, as a citizen-politician. In other words, those dissatisfied with the previous two governments (the four-year term in office of the former communists, who turned to social democracy, and that of the neo-liberals with their aggressive neo-capitalist disposition) voted for Symeon, rejecting the Scylla and Charybdis of the other two main parties.

Because the fact is that in any electoral confrontation very few voters actually vote for a party. The great majority vote against. In the case of our neighbour, Bulgaria, the votes were cast against the two parties which have ruled for the last eight years. In favour, that is, of the outsider, the third way.

In this sense the victory of Symeon does not constitute an example to be followed in other regimes in the region. In the case of Albania the king has no descendants and was a phantom king whose role was to legitimize the phantom country that Albania then was. In the case of Serbia the king will have a long wait before sufficient discontent has built up to let him occupy the seat of power. And he too will first have to recognize the constitution of his country, a democracy without a monarchy. And assume the attire of an ordinary politician.

And as for our own monarch in exile, the Olympic medal-winner… many people have asked me, in some anxiety, especially with the Olympic Games approaching, and with the Free Citizens Movement appearing to decline, whether he might appear one day as the leader of the ‘2004 Party’.

I reassure them, pointing out that none of the other ex-monarchs of the Balkans has involved himself in a dispute with his former country on matters of property. The other monarchs have been reconciled to their fate, living with quiet dignity and never stooping to behave like heirs cut out of a will, resorting to the international courts to demand their rights.

They had that quality of manly decency which the Albanians refer to as besa. They never deigned to seek to recover that fortune which, by the grace of God, their subjects had bestowed on them […]

* Vasilis Vasiliko is a writer and currently Greece’s ambassador to UNESCO

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