Eastern Europe's Former Monarchs Keep Busy

Of all the once-crowned heads of pre-communist Eastern Europe, only one has made a spectacular comeback in his native country's politics: ex-King Simeon II of Bulgaria.

This week, Simeon helped his political party take 43 percent of the popular vote there and win control of 120 seats in the parliament in Sofia — just one short of an absolute majority.

The 64-year-old ex-monarch — deposed from the throne by a Soviet-backed communist regime in 1946, when he was just 9 — has promised to lead Bulgarians up from poverty to a more dignified life in 800 days.

It's unclear whether Simeon will return to kingship, run for president, become prime minister, or simply lead his country to NATO and European membership — but he has certainly been more successful than other former Balkan monarchs in returning to power.

Fighting for His Royal Rights

Take Greece's ex-King Constantine II, for example.

Constantine, who fled his country in 1968 after a military junta seized power, has since been living in London on his family's remaining wealth and hob-nobbing with British royalty, glitzy pop stars and socialites.

Like Simeon, he is related to Queen Elizabeth II.

Even though the military junta fell in summer of 1974, Greek voters chose to declare a republic and abolish the monarchy in a popular referendum.

All Greek governments, including the present socialist one of Prime Minister Costas Simitis, have refused to restore Constantine's confiscated property.

In the face of refusals Constantine sued in the European Court in Strasbourg, France, which awarded him an estimated half a billion dollars in compensation.

But the Simitis government has fought back legally. It is refusing to let him return to live in Greece unless he formally renounces the throne.

However, the government acknowledges that as a former Olympic yachting champion, Constantine will have the right to attend the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

The Working Life

While Constantine's life may be a step down for royalty, both former King Michael of Romania and Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia have had an even less glamorous time: working for a living in Western Europe.

After being born in a suite in London's Claridge's Hotel, Alexander Karadjorjevic (his full name) has spent his 55 years in exile. He served in the British army and worked in insurance, banking, advertising and business consulting.

He attended schools in Switzerland, the United States and Britain and has earned his living in Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. He speaks English with an American accent.

Now that Vojislav Kostunica has replaced Slobodan Milosevic as the chief executive of his country, Alexander has regained his Yugoslav citizenship and is in the process of recovering his royal residence in Belgrade.

On the other hand, Romania's former King Michael I, now 80, was awarded citizenship by his home country in 1996 — only to work as a roving ambassador to promote Romania's aspirations to NATO membership.

Michael has had a back-and-forth relationship with his country. He first took the throne in 1927, when he was just 6 years old, but was demoted in 1930 when his father, who had previously renounced his right to the throne, changed his mind.

When the father, Carol II, abdicated in 1940, Michael was reinstated as king of a country controlled by Nazi Germany. He succeeded in throwing Romania to the Allied side toward the end of World War II, but was deposed in 1947 when Stalinist communists took over in Bucharest.

When Michael tried to go home from his Swiss exile in 1990, he was deported — only to regain his citizenship six years later.

From Royal to Revolutionary

Of all these wannabe comeback kings, the one that has moved the furthest from royal trappings is King Lekka of Albanian, the 7-foot-tall son of the late King Zog.

Born in 1936, baby Lekka was spirited out of Albania in the arms of his mother, Queen Geraldine, when Benito Mussolini's Italian troops invaded Albania.

He made his first splash on the international scene in Algeria, when he tried, with a gang of international adventurers, to rescue from jail a prominent Algerian revolutionary leader.

The attempt failed, but the revolutionary is now heading a party opposing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's military-backed rule.

After communist power collapsed in Albania, Lekka turned up in Tirana in 1997 with well-armed bodyguards in an equally unsuccessful bid to return to power.

Now Lekka lives in exile on a farm near Johannesburg, South Africa, but has never abandoned his claim to rule Albania. His business card simply identifies him as "Lekka. King of the Albanians."