Return of Kings
first glance, it seems the Balkans are no better off this
week than last. In Macedonia, defiant and exuberant UCK bandits
proclaim willingness to reach
"Bulgaria and Athens" if only they had some
tanks, while one half of the government is negotiating with
the other the terms
of eventual NATO occupation they both desire for different
Montenegro, President Djukanovic is finally facing the fate
of servants whose services are no longer needed. Having failed
to secure a majority for secession, he is now sinking
into the mire of accusations involving corruption, smuggling
and other criminal conduct. In Serbia, the government has
failed yet again to ram an extradition bill through the Parliament,
by their coalition partners from a Montenegro party opposed
to Djukanovic. Slobodan Milosevic is still in jail, though
against him ended Monday with no
evidence of wrongdoing available to the public.
however, has done something that might yet signal a fundamental
change in Balkan politics. After suffering for four years
under a corrupt, incompetent regime fanatically subservient
to NATO and the West, Bulgarians voted
this weekend for a monarch their Communist government
exiled 55 years ago.
II von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
was overthrown by Stalin's proxies in 1946, at the age of
nine. He shared this fate with Romania's Michael
I (ex. 1948) and Petar II (ex. 1946) of Yugoslavia. Since
the collapse of Communism in 1989, no royal has managed to
regain their status, and few have even been allowed back into
their countries. Eager to dismiss other legacies of Communism
save the absolute power to plunder the people through
the powerful apparatus of the state the new Balkan
governments continued to passionately oppose royal families.
It took Simeon II to show that this opposition is largely
motivated by fear of competition, not dedication to republican
king's popularity can be gauged by his party's meteoric rise
to power. When he was banned from running for president by
residency requirements of the jealous regime, he registered
a political party National Movement for Bulgaria and entered
the parliamentary race. This was two
months ago. Even then, his party's was cheered by jubilant
crowds of Bulgarians, hopeful that the returning royal would
put an end to twelve years of post-Communist misery. For,
though life in Communist Bulgaria was no picnic, it paled
in comparison with what came afterwards. Rising prices,
increased joblessness, crime and corruption, destruction of
the nation's economy and its sale to the lowest bidder by
compliant authorities have all made Bulgaria's outlook one
of the bleakest in the Balkans worse off than the bombed
and sanctioned Serbia! and "democracy" a dirty
word. Simeon II's job is to change all that, and the landslide
victory has given him all the necessary legitimacy.
thing marring Simeon's triumph, of course, is that Bulgaria
is still a republic. He does not seem in a particular rush
to change that, yet it is highly unlikely he would refuse
a crown if offered. Such an occurrence would be a good thing,
both for Bulgaria and for the Balkans in general.
a libertarian to advocate a return to monarchy is not as insane
as imagining the Founding Fathers singing praises to George
III. It is worth recalling that even they considered the monarch
by consent which is exactly what a constitutional, limited
a constitutional monarchy, there is a clear distinction between
the head of government (the chief executive) and the
head of state (president), which is largely a ceremonial job.
Some countries Germany and Israel, for example
have ceremonial presidents that serve this capacity. It is
only in the United States that the distinction between ceremonial
and executive disappears. Given the imperial
nature of the modern American presidency, that can hardly
be taken as a compelling cause for republicanism.
where limited monarchies were invented in ancient times and
reinvented in the 19th century, shows many examples
of stable, civilized societies with a crowned head of state:
Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain and the Netherlands
come to mind. The United Kingdom is technically not a constitutional
monarchy, but since the Magna
Carta (1215), the kings and queens of England have agreed
in principle to rule with consent of their subjects.
established monarchies, however repressive, has proven to
be a recipe for dictatorship and tyranny. Two most notable
examples of passage from kingdom to Empire via republicanism
are ancient Athens and ancient Rome, both of which have had
enormous influence on Western civilization culturally
as well as politically. England and France experimented with
regicidal republics in the 17th and 18th
century, in both cases with lethal results for many of their
inhabitants. While Oliver
Cromwell's republic only served to convince the English
of the benefits of royalty, the French republic gave birth
modern examples include Spain, which overthrew the monarchy
in 1931, only to fall to general Franco's fascists in 1939.
Deprived of the Hohenzollern
Kaiser in 1919 and forced to experiment with a feeble Weimar
republic, Germany became easy prey for Adolf Hitler in 1933.
it turns out, are stable systems that on average tend to work
fairly well. When they do slip into tyranny, replacing the
head that wears the crown has proven a lot less disruptive
than renouncing the crown itself.
for Western Europe, one might say, but what does any of this
have to do with the Balkans?
of all, people of the Balkans have a historical attachment
to monarchies. Croats and Slovenes were ruled by the Austrian
Hapsburgs for centuries, with little or no objections to the
idea of monarchy. Upon their independence, Greece (1821),
Romania (1859) and Bulgaria (1879) imported foreign royalty
mostly Germans. This was not uncommon; indeed, the
British have been ruled by a Hannoverian dynasty since the
mid-1700s; Russia's Romanovs were anchored in power by Catherine
the Great, herself a German. So, Romania's Hohenzollern-Sigmaringens
(1859-1948), Bulgaria's Saxe-Coburg-Gothas (1887-1946) and
Greece's Bavarian and Danish dynasties (abolished 1974) have
been a part and parcel of those nation's modern histories.
had its own royalty two dynasties, no less. The Obrenovic
family dominated in the late 1800s, only to be overthrown
amid scandals and despotism. The Karadjordjevic
(Karageorgevich) dynasty succeeded to the throne in 1903.
Aleksandar I Karadjordjevic ruled Yugoslavia (1919-1934),
and his infant son, Petar II, reigned for a grand total of
nine days in 1941, before Nazi Germany turned Yugoslavia into
a cinder. Petar's son, Crown Prince Aleksandar II, recently
decided to return to Serbia, after the new government restored
his family's property rights (taken away by the Communists
Montenegro had a royal family. Nikola
I Petrovic, a descendant of bishop, prince and poet Njegos,
reigned as king from 1910 to 1919, when Montenegro joined
Serbia under the Karadjordjevic crown.
is obvious that monarchies have been a fact of life in the
Balkans much longer than Communism and republicanism combined.
True, they have had their share of bad times. Serbs have few
kind words for King Milan Obrenovic, for example, or his son
Aleksandar I (whom his royal guards hacked to death with sabers
after he nearly ruined the country). The second
Karadjordjevic king, also named Aleksandar, was a generally
disagreeable person, who spent the last five years of his
reign enforcing a brutal dictatorship. Only his murder in
1934, at the hands of a Bulgarian mercenary acting on behalf
of Croatia's fascist separatists ("Ustashe"),
ensured him martyrdom and a fond remembrance. On the other
hand, his father Petar
I, was the living example of a gentle, beloved, "people"
1989, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia perpetuated the pseudo-republican
system of government practiced by their Communist rulers.
As part of the campaign to legitimize their rule and eradicate
any opposition, Communists had paid close attention to systematically
destroying the institutions of monarchy in all three countries,
demonizing the exiled kings and reinterpreting their reign
as something out of the Dark Ages. Of course, this was the
case with all pre-Communist history. Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia,
all of which had been republics before World War Two, were
similarly repressed. Yet the experience of the past 12 years
clearly shows that these four former republics (Czechs and
Slovaks separated in a 1992 "velvet
divorce") have had a much better transition from
Communism than any of the former monarchies that tried to
become republics with no experience whatsoever.
the nature of regimes that succeeded Communism in Bulgaria,
Romania and the Yugoslav states, one is tempted to wonder
if those regimes deliberately avoided the restoration of monarchy
for fear of competition. The "republics" which they
ran were marked with all the worst traits of their Communist
predecessors corruption, utter lack of accountability,
personal politics and woeful mismanagement of state affairs.
As a system of government, Communism had been akin to feudalism,
with its system of patronage and virtual serfdom to the state.
Leaders of pseudo-republics came to see themselves through
definitions the Communists had set out, predictably failing
to reform or revitalize their states. The crushing poverty
and misery in Serbia can and should be blamed
on the wars of Yugoslav secession and succession, but the
even worse conditions across its eastern and northeastern
border have no such excuse.