Central Europe on Line
Eastern European royalty in exile

Apl. 07, 2001 (rtr)

ALBANIA - King Leka I, now living in Johannesburg, is the son of King Zog I and was born in Tirana in 1939 a few days before his family fled the country. He was declared king by an Albanian National Assembly in exile in 1961.

Some historians say King Zog, who reigned for 11 years, only had a tenuous claim to royalty having seized the throne by force.

In 1997 Leka led a failed referendum campaign in his homeland to restore the monarchy. He now faces charges in Albania for carrying an unlicensed firearm.

Leka recently said he would return to Albania to lead another referendum when the government changed.

BULGARIA - King Simeon II, who is based in Madrid, was born in Sofia in 1937 and proclaimed king on the death of his father Boris III in 1943. The family was exiled in 1946.

Now a business consultant, King Simeon II first returned to Bulgaria in 1996 to a rapturous welcome.

He has announced plans to take part in the June 17 general election as leader of the National Movement for King Simeon II. Much of the royal property was returned to him in 1998.

HUNGARY - Archduke Otto von Habsburg, born in 1912, became head of the imperial House of Habsburg on the death of his father, Archduke Charles, in 1922.

The Habsburgs were the ruling family of the Austro-Hungarian empire, stretching from Austria in the west to present-day Romania in the east, which collapsed at the end of World War One.

The Habsburgs left Hungary as Soviet troops arrived at the end of World War Two and only returned half a century later when communism collapsed in 1989.

Otto Habsburg is a member of the European Parliament for the German state of Bavaria. He lectures throughout the world in international affairs and has won numerous awards and decorations.

ROMANIA - Michael I, based in Switzerland, was born at Foischor Castle in 1921. He was declared king in 1927 but deposed by his father King Carol II in 1930.

He succeeded to the throne on his father's abdication in 1940 but was forced to abdicate himself following the communist takeover in 1947, which stripped him of his citizenship.

On his first visit to Romania in 1990 he was deported, as he was on subsequent trips. In 1996 the centrist government restored Michael's citizenship and in 1997 he acted as a roving ambassador in Romania's failed bid to win early NATO membership.

Michael has agreed to respect Romania's republican constitution and has remained at his exile home although he is to visit Romania this year at the invitation of President Ion Iliescu.

RUSSIA - Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna was born in Madrid in 1953 and became head of the Imperial Romanov house in 1992 after the death of her father, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirilovitch.

She has one son Georgy Mikhailovich, who she claims is the heir to the throne.

The Romanov dynasty was all but extinguished in the Bolshevik revolution with the execution of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family. Georgy's great-grandfather was the murdered tsar's cousin.

They have visited Russia several times in the past few years and in 1996 former President Boris Yeltsin set aside an official residence for Maria near Moscow.

Maria's claim to be head of the dynasty is disputed by other branches of the scattered Romanov family.

YUGOSLAVIA - Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic, born in London in 1945, is the son of Yugoslavia's last king, Peter II. He chose not to take the title of king on his father's death in 1970.

Now a London-based businessman, he visited Belgrade for the first time in 1991. He was a long-standing opponent of the Milosevic regime and gave his full support to the country's new President Vojislav Kostunica.

He has said the huge social problems and poverty in Yugoslavia are far more pressing issues than the return of the monarchy.