Bulgaria: A monarch’s return

Opinion
by Costas Iordanidis

(“Kathimerini”, June 21, 2001)

The impressive election victory won last Sunday by the party of the former king of Bulgaria, Symeon II, is a major political development, both in terms of the changes it is expected to bring to Bulgaria itself and in terms of the consequences to be expected for the region as a whole.

Firstly, the verdict of the Bulgarian people confirmed the trend towards a return to power of the right wing parties—and in the case of Bulgaria, of such a party in the most traditional form, under the leadership of a former monarch.

This does not mean, however, that the Bulgarian trend will be repeated in the other countries of south-eastern Europe. Symeon II of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is a highly intelligent leader, who had the sense not to quarrel with history or attempt to justify the deeds of his dynasty in times past, but instead to appeal to the Bulgarian people in language which addressed their own specific problems and expectations.

The challenge facing Symeon is to restore Bulgaria to order and prosperity, bringing to heel the economic oligarchy which came into being in the wake of the communist system and forcing it to play its part in an orderly and well-governed social system. In other words he must act—regardless of his official capacity—in the same way as the monarchs of south-eastern Europe in the 19th century, when the nation states were emerging from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

The overwhelming advantage of former King Simeon II vis-a-vis his political opponents is that he has kept away from corruption and tangled interests; what is more, he seems to be the only one capable of fighting them. Should he succeed, Bulgaria will soon become a country with reinforced national confidence, a disciplined nation with a sense of mission, and will try to reclaim its title as “Prussia of the Balkans”[...]

Simeon is a perfect stranger to Greece. The PASOK government had never contacted him... out of ideological loathing for royalism. And New Democracy was unwilling to restore ties with Simeon, fearing that Greece's left would accuse it of having royalist sympathies.

The result is that the country's political elite has no contact with the party that won the elections on Sunday[...] Needless to say, every effort must be made in order to tackle this serious political deficit in relations between the two countries.

Some have already started to dramatize the situation, seeing a resurgence of nationalism in Bulgaria... But the former monarch is too wise to jeopardize his country's entry into NATO and the EU by treading foolish nationalist paths, without this meaning that he will not clarify the interests of the Bulgarian nation within and beyond its national borders[...]

Symeon’s political career—at least to date—offers Bulgaria the assurance that it has acquired a leader who will not be seeking his own enrichment, a pawn in the hands of the economic oligarchy and the foreign ‘investors’ in the country. It has also acquired a superbly qualified representative on the international stage, since the dynastic house of which Symeon is a member (Saxe, Coburg and Gotha) has played a far more substantial part in European history than either the Bulgarian prime ministers who preceded Symeon or the leaders of the various European countries today. Symeon’s success is by no means guaranteed, but there can be no doubt that his new political career will be fascinating to follow.

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