Former Romanian king calls for 'faith in democracy'

 

ROMANIA’S FORMER king, Michael I, delivered a historic pep talk to the nation’s politicians yesterday, as he marked his 90th birthday by addressing parliament for the first time in more than 60 years.

Speaking in a Bucharest palace built by communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, he urged Romanians to show “faith in democracy” as they struggle with poverty, corruption and political apathy.

“Tomorrow’s world cannot exist without morals, without faith and memory. Cynicism, narrow interests and cowardice mustn’t occupy our lives . . . They remind us too much of the years before 1989,” Michael said, referring to the year Ceausescu was executed and communism abandoned.

“The last 20 years have brought democracy, freedom and a beginning of prosperity,” he said in his first speech to parliament since the communists forced him into exile in 1947. “All united, we have to pursue efforts to become once more respected and dignified.”

He called on politicians to abandon “demagogy, selfishness and attempts to cling to power”.

A great-great-grandson of Britain’s Queen Victoria, Michael first became king in 1927 when he was only five years old, after his father Carol II abandoned his wife, Princess Helen of Greece, and eloped with a mistress.

Carol II returned in 1930 amid dissatisfaction with Michael’s regency and ruled for a decade until he was ousted by fascist leader Ion Antonescu, who allied Romania with the Nazis.

Antonescu allowed Michael to return to the throne, seeing him as a powerless figurehead who could easily be controlled.

However, as the Axis powers fell into disarray in summer 1944 and the Soviet Red Army bore down on Romania, Michael led pro-Allied political groups in launching a coup against Antonescu. The dictator was arrested at the royal palace and Romania joined the Allies.

In 1947 Romania’s communist rulers forced Michael to abdicate, and subsequently he lived in Britain, the US and Switzerland.

He worked as a test pilot and a banker among other things, while restoring and racing cars in his spare time. He returned to Romania in 1992, but the post-communist leaders would not let him stay, fearing a monarchist revival. He regained Romanian citizenship in 1997.

Michael received a standing ovation in parliament yesterday, although Romanian president Traian Basescu refused to attend, having criticised him for abdicating at the communists’ behest.