Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Monarchist Movement in Bulgaria

Bulgarian monarchists have had a pretty rough time of it, facing one crisis after another throughout the last century and they continue to struggle against many disadvantages today. Bulgaria knew high points and low points after emerging as an independent monarchy after the long era of Ottoman rule but, like her compatriots, faced a real crisis with defeat in World War I. Bulgaria had joined the Central Powers after the war was already well underway after Germany promised Bulgaria a large portion of soon-to-be-defeated Serbia. Bulgarian troops won some impressive early victories but finally the Allies broke through on the Salonika front and forced Bulgaria to come to terms. This military disaster was worsened by a crisis on the home-front where the privations brought on by the war played directly into the hands of the revolutionary agitators, particularly the communists, spreading their influence from beyond the Russian border. Bulgaria, like Romania, Hungary, Poland and others came under threat from communist revolutionaries. The Tsar abdicated but the monarchy was saved and the revolutionaries ultimately suppressed.

The problem was that the dominant figures in Bulgarian national life continued to be communist revolutionaries or opportunistic nationalists who were not always absolutely loyal to the monarchy. Tsar Simeon II, a mere child, was too young to provide leadership and was acted for by three regents while Bulgaria endured increasing radicalism, the economic depression and threats from her neighbors. In Bulgaria, as with almost all of her neighbors, various factors contributed to a lack in strong royal leadership, sometimes because there was no monarch at all, others because the monarch was overshadowed by a political strongman. Countries looking for a solution to their terrible situation unfortunately saw a political landscape dominated by men like Stalin in Russia, Horthy in Hungary, Metaxas in Greece, Mussolini dominant over Albania, a rapid turnover in leadership in Romania and a shaky regency in Yugoslavia. Not all of these were ‘bad guys’ certainly. Metaxas was a staunch royalist, Prince-Regent Paul of Yugoslavia was idealistic and did the best he could under difficult circumstances but a strong, reigning monarch was lacking with the only exception being the short-lived authoritarian reign of Carol II in Romania which was opposed by both extremes of the political spectrum.

Like so many others, the political field in Bulgaria came to be dominated by pro-Nazi or pro-Soviet factions and neither had much consideration for the monarchy. The royal government tried to walk a fine line between the two but were not helped by continuing communist infiltration of the country and a short-lived invasion by Greece both of which pushed Bulgaria toward the Axis camp. After the Axis came to dominate the Balkans, occupying Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece, Bulgaria had little choice but to come to some sort of an accommodation with Germany yet was still wary enough to refuse to participate in the Axis invasion of Soviet Russia. Of course, this did nothing to save them when the tide of war turned against the Axis and Joseph Stalin gained Allied acquiescence to his desire to dominate Eastern Europe. In 1944 the USSR declared war on Bulgaria and entered the country without opposition. A communist-backed coup ousted the sitting government, arrested the regents and replaced them with reliable communists. The Royal Family did their best to keep a low profile but, as expected, in 1946 (by which time the country had been under communist occupation long enough to guarantee the desired result) a plebiscite was held which abolished the monarchy, forcing the young Tsar Simeon II and his family to leave Bulgaria and go into exile.

Bulgarian monarchists were left in the lurch. Even after the 1944 coup, the royal government-in-exile had been forced to set up in Nazi Germany, which naturally caused the western Allies to view them as being tainted and although Simeon II continued to assert that he was the legitimate Tsar of Bulgaria, there was little in the way of an organized leadership or movement to support him during his many long years of exile. First he stayed with his exiled grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, in Egypt and then later was welcomed by the Spanish strongman Francisco Franco to relocate to Madrid. It was in Spain that he spent the most time and eventually established something resembling a royal court but though he was a focus for Bulgarian monarchists and anti-communist opposition, he was never able to form a real government-in-exile. Circumstances beyond his control had meant that a lack of monarchial leadership left the opposition to fracture and most gravitated toward political views and governments more well established and fashionable -which did not include an Orthodox monarchy unfortunately.

It was during these years though that an organized monarchist movement began to form around the exiled Tsar, advocating for his restoration though, naturally, they could have little actual impact so long as the communist tyranny remained in place in Bulgaria. By the end of the 1980’s, however, there seemed to be hope as the Soviet colossus started to topple. The Tsar, who had been forced to leave his homeland at an early age, was 54 in 1991 and was a figure who could inspire. In an effort to remain detached from politics, he tried not to show favoritism among the various anti-communist factions but he let it be known that he would return to the throne if asked and he continued to use his legitimate title. This was the great opportunity for the monarchists as the communist bloc came crashing down and they could make the argument to Bulgarians for the first time since World War II that the monarchy was an option and would help reunite and restore the country after so many years of being brutalized Soviet satellite. Interest in the monarchy in Bulgaria was revived with a fresh look being taken at the late Tsar Boris III while monarchists were quick to point out that his son was ready, willing and able to resume the throne.

Given the odds against them, what the Bulgarian monarchists achieved was remarkable. Various factions were in competition to be ‘founders’ of a new, post-Soviet Bulgaria and, not surprisingly, even the former communists were quick to turn their coats, change their name to socialists or social democrats and join in the fight to hang on to power and, once again, there were no strong neighboring monarchies to lend support either. Certainly neither Russia nor the NATO powers were favorable to the idea of a royal restoration. Nonetheless, the Bulgarian monarchists carried out such a revival of royalist interest in the country that it was agreed to hold a referendum on the restoration of the monarchy in July of 1991. The fact that this aroused so much opposition on the part of the republicans and the revolutionary left can be seen as proof that support for the monarchy was widespread enough to make these groups very worried about the outcome if such a vote was held. The Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Union of Democratic Forces (a coalition of social democrats, greens, liberal democrats etc) were the most adamant opponents of holding such a vote and they succeeded in causing sufficient turmoil to give the National Assembly an excuse to cancel the referendum for fear of causing “division” in the country.

A new constitution was put into effect that was republican, ending the immediate hope of a restoration of the monarchy under Tsar Simeon II. However, the Tsar remained personally very popular. In fact, his support may have actually increased because of the cancellation of the referendum as Bulgarians could see the Tsar as having been unfairly cut out of the political competition. In 1996 the Tsar was finally able to return to Bulgaria where he was greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds of people cheering for his restoration. There was still obviously a great deal of support for the monarchy in Bulgaria but the entrenched political establishment wanted no part of it and at a time when emerging East European countries depended a great deal on foreign aid, particularly from the United States, it did not help that the Clinton administration opposed an restoration of monarchy in the region, President Clinton’s Secretary of State famously saying, “we don’t do kings”.

When it seemed that a direct restoration of the monarchy was no longer possible, to the surprise of many at home and abroad, Tsar Simeon II decided to enter the political fray at the head of his political movement and run for office. Not everyone was happy with the rightful Tsar going into politics, something generally seen as being beneath the dignity of royalty, but most Bulgarian monarchists rallied to his movement in the hope that it would be the first step toward a full royal restoration. For his part, Tsar Simeon II jumped in with both legs, adopting a non-regal version of his name and promising voters a tangible improvement in their lives within 800 days if he was elected. In 2001 his movement defeated both major parties, winning 120 parliamentary seats, allowing the Tsar to form a coalition and become Prime Minister of Bulgaria. Monarchists were elated with his success but some also saw trouble as the Tsar, in taking office as prime minister, swore an oath of allegiance to the republican constitution -something often seen as “burning your bridges” as far as a restoration of the monarchy is concerned.

Under Tsar Simeon II there were many genuine accomplishments for Bulgaria and, in international-diplomatic terms, a noticeable move to the west. However, as some monarchists had feared, by taking political office, the Tsar had tied his fortunes to the effectiveness of his government and while some would always be supportive, others would just as certainly always be opposed to him. No restoration was forthcoming and after the 2005 elections lost his position as prime minister. In the following years his political movement steadily lost public support until they were no longer winning any seats at election time. In 2009 the Tsar resigned leadership of the political movement that carried his name. He has also refused to make any official comment on the restoration of the monarchy. Although it is painful to say, this has certainly not helped the monarchist movement in Bulgaria. Few doubt that he would accept the throne if offered to him, yet when the man who should be monarch will not say publicly that the monarchy should be restored many potential monarchists might be prompted to ask why they should bother campaigning for it. Nor did it help when the former monarch stated that he considered being elected Prime Minister a greater honor than being Tsar. The monarchist movement continues of course, especially for the devoutly Orthodox population, there can be no other legitimate option, but just as in the last century, the same is true in this one; Bulgarian monarchists have a difficult road to travel.

7 comments:

  1. I understand why he did what he did-"political Realities" and "Pragmatism" But I think he should have done like King Michael II of Romania and only accept the mantle of authority if a crown was to be returned with it. And by no means should he have turned his back on the people who support him by making a statement such that which he made. Prime Ministers like every other "Democratic" position, are fleeting- Being King is for life.

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    1. Personally, I've never been able to have quite the same regard for Simeon II after that. I still support him of course as he IS the legitimate Tsar of Bulgaria, regardless of what anyone thinks about it -himself included, but going into politics and certainly his comparison of the premiership with the throne certainly changed my opinion of the man.

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  2. Not to sound silly, but have you ever played Civilization III? I like games with some touch to History. I've noticed this farce of democracy gets more wind behind it with the way it is portrayed by this game. They portray Republics and Democracies as having the least corruption, and having been an observer of politics in America for some time now, I've come to the conclusion that the opposite is true: When you have people whose job relies on public opinion, those people will lie, cheat and steal to remain in power, and will rob the people blind while doing it.

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    1. The only computer game I ever played was the Age of Empires series, because I liked the tie-in with history (scenarios for El Cid, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan etc). I don't have time for that anymore, and I don't think they're compatible with my new system anyway. It is a pretty simple formula. When people have a job for life (like the Supremes) they pretty much stick to their principles, when the job is based on public opinion you get people like Mitt Romney whose principles change quite frequently depending on who he's trying to win over.

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  3. clinton was nothing more than a blow***-loving schmuck!!

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    1. Pretty much, yeah.

      What a waste of a good cigar...

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  4. If you have the latest version of windows, you can still play AOE2. I do it all the time.I was thinking about asking you your take on the POTUS vs. the SCOTUS. I keep having to correct my fellow conservatives when they compare Obama to a king. He's not a king in any sense.. He's a dictator and there's a huge difference.. But you well know better than I that its difficult to separate the two in the minds of Americans raised on America's version of history. I'm just now learning the truth myself.

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