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In Bulgaria, Return of a King Without a Kingdom

By Maxim Behar

SOFIA, May 14 (RFE/RL) - Amidst swirling controversy, exiled Bulgarian King Simeon the Second plans to come home this month (May 25), half a century after the communists expelled him and his family.

Authorities have renewed the former monarch's passport for what they call "a private visit." Like most of his countrymen, he now has a red passport with the old communist state emblem on the cover, including the red star. He got it in the summer of 1991 from the Bulgarian Embassy in Madrid.

The exiled king once vowed: "I cannot visit Bulgaria as a tourist; I'm simply the King and can come back only as a king."

He evidently has changed his mind. Last year, when he announced his decision to visit Bulgaria, he said that he would avoid intervening in domestic affairs. When the pro-monarchist party, Confederation of Bulgarian Kingdom, started a month ago to collect signatures to nominate Simeon as a presidential candidate, the king broke relations with the Confederation. He issued a statement declaring: "I cannot afford to maintain contact with people, who want me for president."

One-hundred-one Bulgarian intellectuals issued an invitation to Simeon last November to visit his native land. At the time, he granted several interviews to European news organizations. But then he lapsed into silence in order to avoid provoking Bulgarian sensibilities as presidential elections loomed.

Since his family's expulsion in 1946, the royal exile has set foot on Bulgarian territory only once, and that symbolically. Last March, he attended a reception in the Bulgarian embassy in Madrid.

A week later, the Bulgarian government moved to recall Ambassador to Spain Todor Petkov. Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski said: "We can not allow a Bulgarian official to invite Mr. Borisov into the embassy, because to our government he is merely a regular private person, trying to engage in totally unacceptable public activities." But President Zhelyu Zhelev refused to sign the recall decree.

The reference to "Mr. Borisov" by Bulgarian authorities indicates that Simeon is accepted as an ordinary citizen rather than royalty. It refers to the name of Simeon's father, the late King Boris. Boris died in 1943 of a heart attack in a plane on his way back to Bulgaria from Germany, several hours after defying Hitler's demand that he send Bulgarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

The speaker of the parliament, Blagovest Sendov, a possible Socialist Party candidate for president, said recently that he will not allow the king to visit parliament. Sendov said, "He is a private person." He added, "We can actually meet sometime here in Bulgaria with Mr. Borisov, and I'll be happy to talk with him about beautiful women, for example."

Simeon's mother took him and his sister from Bulgaria in 1946 when he was six. They stayed briefly in Egypt, crossed Morocco, and finally settled in Madrid. He lives now in a Bulgarian-style house near the center of the Spanish capital, Madrid. He married a Spanish woman, and has given their children Bulgarian names. His daughter Kalina, a well known woman of fashion in Madrid's cafe society, is a friend of King Juan Carlos' son, Prince Felipe.