Kings back in demand Balkan bizarreness: Amid chaos, deposed royals play a role from Albania to Bulgaria.

June 08, 1997

LEKA WAS a two-day-old prince in 1939, when he was spirited away from Albania ahead of Mussolini's invading army. He later moved to Egypt, Spain, Rhodesia and South Africa, selling arms but always listing his occupation as "king" on his home-made Kingdom of Albania passport. After communism collapsed in 1993, he returned to his native land but was expelled after 24 hours.

So how come King Leka I is back in his chaotic land of birth and treated with respect?

"In Albania, there is such turmoil that politicians and government authorities see me as a stabilizing factor," he says. "That is why I was allowed to return."

It is doubtful that the pretender will ever reclaim the throne that his father, a tribal strongman, usurped in the 1920s. But the possibility exists: Albania's President Sali Berisha and his rival, Prime Minister Bashkim Fino, have agreed that a referendum on restoring a constitutional monarchy should be on the ballot in June's parliamentary elections.

Albania is not the only Balkan country where deposed royals are back in demand.

The former king of Romania, Michael, returned to his homeland in February and was given citizenship.

"I am not coming to you to take, but to give," the former ruler declared, saying he was not trying to reclaim power. But since returning to his home in Spain, he has been issuing statements on political developments in Romania.

Meanwhile, a recent media poll in Bulgaria showed strong and growing support for the country's former ruler, King Simeon II, who also lives in Spain. Tens of thousands of Bulgarians turned out waving flags and banners, and church bells rang to greet him when the 59-year-old royal returned last year for the first time since he was deposed in 1946. The Balkans have often been known for bizarre politics.

Pub Date: 6/08/97

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