- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

The prime minister of Bulgaria doesn't put much store in titles, though he certainly understands if there might be some confusion about what to call him.
The mini-entourage of government ministers and aides at his side during his working visit to Washington earlier this week referred to Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as "Mr." Back home, however, especially among citizens old enough to remember his brief (1943-46) reign as King (or Czar) Simeon II of the Bulgarians, he always will be "His Majesty."
"I am very proud to be king, also to be prime minister, but having an elected title is much more important than one which is inherited," the trim, handsome and regally bearded Mr. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 64, said at a small dinner hosted by Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorov at the embassy residence Tuesday night.
It was the type of remark that impressed such American guests as Sen. Richard Lugar, Reps. Doug Bereuter and Joe Wilson, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew and his predecessor in that post, Richard Miles. All were unanimous in praising the dedication and determination of a heroic figure who had "done the impossible" by becoming the first exiled monarch to return to his country as a democratically elected head of state.
Most, of course, didn't need history lessons regarding the guest of honor's remarkable past.
Crowned at the age of 6 after the death of his father, King Boris, in 1943, young King Simeon was lucky to escape with his life when the communists took over Bulgaria after World War II. After his uncle Prince Kyril and most of the country's intelligentsia were executed, his mother, Queen Ioanna, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, fled with him to Egypt.
In 1951, they settled in Spain, where he went to school, married a Spanish aristocrat (Queen Margarita) and established a successful international business career while never losing sight of political developments in his homeland.
After the overthrow of communism, the long-exiled king who had never abdicated his throne decided to return to Bulgaria in 1996. He soon secured the return of the royal family's confiscated properties and began focusing on how to revive the country. Last year, his triumph was complete when his nascent National Movement political party won in a landslide victory and he was sworn in as prime minister.
"He had all the requisite skills it takes to become elected," Mr. Lugar said, commenting favorably on Mr. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier that day to lobby for Bulgaria's admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"He learned a lot about America and the American Constitution when he was a student here at Valley Forge Military Academy in the 1950s," Mr. Lugar noted with satisfaction.
NATO's security guarantees would be a boon for the Bulgarian economy, which is in a slump, with especially high unemployment. "Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all had huge foreign investments after they joined NATO," Mr. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said, sounding hopeful that his visit to Washington would bolster the cause. (Both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell were "supportive" during his visit at the White House.)
Guests seemed confident that Bulgaria's extraordinary prime-minister-king well might succeed in his quest to transform his nation's political and economic systems after nearly a half-century of state socialism and totalitarian rule.
"Monarchy as a transition to democracy; it's the perfect way to reweave the fabric of a nation," international public relations consultant Edward J. Von Kloberg III pointed out. "It worked in Spain, it's working in Bulgaria, and who knows, it might work now in Afghanistan as well."

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