Eyewitness: Simeon II of Bulgaria

May 25, 2001

Simeon II, Bulgaria's "king without a throne", will not personally stand for office in the June 17 parliamentary elections. However, the monarch-in-exile will be represented by candidates from the Simeon II National Coalition.

Unlike pro-monarchist movements elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Simeon's supporters include a number of high-ranking academics, including former education minister Marko Todorov, economist Venstsislav Dimitrov and law professors Plamen Panayotov and Georgi Petkanov.

Why has Bulgaria managed to attract people of such calibre to a cause that superficially seems to be an anachronism on the political scene?

William E. Butler, professor of comparative law at University College London, said: "It would be misleading to compare Bulgaria to, say, the Baltics or the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), where there is effectively no living memory of monarchy."

"It is an attempt to legitimise the past," says Martin McCaulay, who as lecturer in politics at London University's School of Slavonic Studies, followed the transition from communism. "The political reason is that those backing the coalition believe that their best chance to gain power is through the agency of the king. There is obviously a section of the population that - after the traumas of the past few years - is ready to turn to the structures of the past, as in Spain after Franco."

In Bulgaria, the academic calibre of Simeon's supporters suggests that the movement is not simply rooted in nostalgia. The academics are contesting seats held by senior figures in the main political parties. Simeon's supporters "have put forward people of stature to stand against people of stature", Professor Butler said. "The question is, if they win, are they really prepared to serve, or would they want to resign in favour of someone less known?" It is possible that even if the coalition wins seats, voters will be represented by some party nonentity, says Mr McCaulay. But he thinks that the academics may continue to exercise influence on its policies and decisions outside parliament.

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