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King Simeon's Visit - A Series of Compromises, Contraditions

By Maxim Behar

Sofia, June 3 (RFE/RL) -- From the moment he stepped from the plane, King Simeon's visit to his native land has seen a series of compromises and contradictions.

Just moments after getting off the plane in Sofia last month, the exiled Bulgarian king said, "The fact that I'm here is unbelievable, but it is the best proof that there is a full democracy in the country." Within days the full scope of the country's deepest economic crisis since the collapse of communism in 1989 was evident across Bulgaria.

But our Sofia correspondent says it is clear that King Simeon had no intention of offending the Socialist Party, which had allowed him to return for a visit.

What came next?

Two years ago, President Zhelju Zhelev had called Simeon only a "small businessmen," and accused the King's father, late king Boris, of crimes against Bulgarians. Less that 12 hours after the King's return to Bulgaria, Zhelev was hosting a lavish lunch for Simeon.

It was 50 years ago Simeon the Second, then age six, was ousted from the country by the pro-Soviet Communist regime after Bulgarians voted in a referendum for changing the monarchy to a republic. Simeon has lived ever since in Madrid, where he became a business consultant.

Bulgaria's different political parties have displayed assorted reactions to King Simeon's visit.

The opposition, anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) invited him to the Parliament building. But Simeon decided to meet the UDF leadership in the lobby of his hotel in Sofia. Simeon explained that he wanted to avoid politics during the visit.

Parliment Chairman and a possible Socialist Party candidate for President, Blagovest Sendov, refused to see Simeon at Parlimanet, calling him a "private person and nothing else." However, Sendov invited Simeon for a dinner at home - just as Sendov had been invited to a private dinner in Madrid with Simeon.

About what would they speak? Sendov said: "Oh, I prefer to talk (with the King) about beautiful girls."

Socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov refused to meet Simeon. And state-controlled tv has broadcast no pictures of the King's extended visit. State-controlled radio reported Simeon's arrival, saying he was met by a "small group of people." More than 120,000 people from all over the country gathered to catch a glimpse of the King's return.

During a visit to Pleven at the weekend, Simeon was asked by a RFE/RL correspondent of plans for the future. "That's the main question," answered the king. "I really don't know. I want to go back to Madrid after a certain period of time, and afterwards I must make the decision. But sooner or later, I must return to my native country."

Our correspondent reports Socialist Party officials are prepared to react - and the reaction is expected to be sharp - if Simeon begins to comment on Bulgaria's empty shops, the long lines for bread and sugar, and rising tax burden. But the correspondent says that Party officials with whom he has spoken say it is important they not over react, because of the increasingly volitile situation in Bulgaria, and the admittedly good impression Bulgarians have of the King.