Few political moves have caused more controversy and polarization in Bulgarian society than the recent stand taken by the former monarch, Simeon II. The Czar, son of the late Boris III Saks-Koburg—who died in 1943—has lived in exile for over 50 years. During Todor Živkov's Communist regime, all contacts with the monarch were considered to be against the state. Czar Simeon now looks set to make a political come-back.
The only hope?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Bulgaria's subsequent "democratization," the country's political scene became as colorful as a rainbow, deeply penetrating and polarizing society.
During the initial and very difficult post-Communist years, when Bulgarians were given coupons for bread and the grocery store would stock nothing more than vinegar on its shelves, when my mother—an excellent designer who would have been a well-respected and sought-after professional in a fully functioning democratic society—would leave the house at three thirty in the morning to wait in a line for milk and bread, the Czar was quiet.
Somewhere out there, under the beautiful sun of Spain, he quietly followed political developments in his former kingdom. Many Bulgarians, including me and my family had lost hope that there was indeed a domestic figure to lead and inspire, to end the crisis and constant betrayals of different political factions. Instead, we looked toward that sunny country and hoped that the man out there would see our troubles and wave his royal magic wand, ending the long agony of a country run-down by the ex-Communists and their political mutations.
But the czar was quiet. He was too far away.
Money for flowers
In 1996 Simeon II visited Bulgaria for the first time in 50 years. His visit coincided with the most difficult political and economic period of post-Communist transition. He arrived, and the people with arms wide open saw a new "messiah," a new hope, a king to lead a movement to reinstate the monarchy. The king gathered all the flowers given to him by the hopefuls, triumphed around the country, revisiting his former lands, and did nothing more than get back on the plane and head for sunny Spain to celebrate his birthday.
Bulgaria was not an upbeat enough place for a royal birthday. So he went. And many Bulgarians decided not to spend money on flowers again.
Then the reformist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) organized a national movement to bring down the Communist government of Jean Videnov which had led the country to a total economic and political catastrophy: inflation exceeded 500 percent in one year alone. Videnov's government resigned and the UDF won the resultant 1997 elections.
Ivan Kostov, former chairman of the Economic Commission, twice finance minister in the post-transition governments of Dimitar Popov and Philip Dimitrov, and Chairman of the UDF became Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria. The new cabinet gave a green light to many reforms and began to take the country in a new, positive direction.
... but seeds of hope planted
With the risk of gaining more enemies than friends, Kostov's government sensed the pulse of the tired and desperate population and steered the ship towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The new government took upon its shoulders the heavy load of privatizing the large national businesses, finding new investments and cooperating with international economic structures.
Lack of hope, however, still existed for many and an average salary of 200 Leva (about USD 100) was not the solution either. Nevertheless, the ball was rolling and picking up more snow than ever. Bulgaria became an island of stability in the Balkans. This proved to be very important during the Kosovo crisis, when Kostov's government backed NATO's actions.
NATO is now to build bases here, Bulgarians travel without visas throughout the Schengen states, the European People's Party, whose deputy chairwoman happens to be Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, chose Bulgaria as the first non-Schengen country for its annual summit this month; Bulgaria is negotiating for membership into NATO by 2002, and integration into the European Union by 2006.
Right at this moment, when all the hard work is done, when the worst years of Bulgarian transition appear to be over and the fruit of all the seeds planted during the past few years are soon to be picked, our exiled Czar showed up again. This time, however, he's wants to stay for a while and enter the political scene as a regular citizen under the name of Simeon Borisov Koburgotski.
When the kingdom is gone, long live the king!
Mr Koburgotski, we are still waiting.
On April 12, in a live telecast from his Vrana residence, Mr Koburgotski established the "Simeon II National Movement in the name of new ethics in politics, new economic decisions, with new (for Bulgaria) ideas, and new leaders."
"is designed to achieve three essential goals: first, immediate and qualitative change in the standards of living, by turning the economy into a working market economy in accordance with the European Union criteria for membership, as well as by an increase of the flow of global capital. I am ready to propose a system of economic measures and partnerships which, within 800 days and based on the well known Bulgarian work ethic and entrepreneurial skills, will change your life.
Second, by abandoning the political partisanship and unifying the Bulgarian nation along historical ideals and values that have preserved its glory for all its 1300-year history.
Third, by introducing new rules and institutions to eliminate corruption, which is the major enemy of Bulgaria, causing poverty and repelling vital foreign investments."
This all sounds like a perfect goal but is rather populist as an idea. It is easy to use someone else's foundations and structure and take the credit for erecting the whole building.
Furthermore, how can one be trusted when the founders of one's new political movement have rather dubious political stands, have compromised themselves enough to just retire in some quiet corner and observe. The present entourage of Mr Koburgotski includes people who have long lost the public's respect due to political chameleonism and lack of dignity. They have now found a way to resurrect themselves.