Monarchies in Europe

An article by Nils Johan Tjärnlund published in Nyhetsmagasinet Fokus 24/2007 and translated from Swedish.

After Communism the exile royal dynasties have begun to feel the wind changing. Some of them are getting involved in politics again.

No one could tell for sure, but there was an omen suggesting that the spectacular coronation in the St. Mathias’s Cathedral on the Castle Hill in Budapest was set to be the last grandiose feast of the Danube Monarchy.

It is the 30th of December 1916: the Emperor Franz Josef is dead, Europe is set on fire and in the auditorium stand high-rank officers, men with furrows in their faces and empty looks, affected by the war in its third year.

The organ roars through the Cathedral, and from the gallery a four year old boy is looking towards the altar. A pale wintersun shines through the coloured windows turning it all into a magical shimmering picture: the gleaming light of the silver candelabras, the golden embroidered mitras and the sparkling tiaras with diamonds and pearls.

At the same time the boy observes how his father, the new Emperor of Austria, is crowned also King of Hungary. Afterwards people talk about how the ancient Stephan-Crown was put crooked on his head.

Almost 90 years later, on the 6th of October 2006, the boy follows a different ceremony: the solemn opening of the Swedish Riksdag at Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm. Now it is his daughter Walburga who takes a seat as an elected parliamentarian for the Moderate Party.

In that way Otto von Habsburg weaves together almost a century of European history, and he is still active in politics.

- My father will be 95 this autumn, and he is very vigorous. I call him almost every day to talk about everything, and he gives me many pieces of advice and good suggestions, says Walburga Habsburg Douglas.

A European Dynasty

The originally Swiss noble family dominated Europan politics for several centuries. From 1867 the dynasty ruled the double monarchy of Austria-Hungary, which stretched from Polish Krakow in the north to Croatian Dubrovnik in the south.

Scandals and violent death pursued the family from the end of the 19th century. Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in the Mayerling-drama in 1889, the Empress "Sisi" was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in 1898, and in 1914 a Serbian nationalist killed Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his consort Sofia in Sarajevo.

Four years later the war was lost, the empire split apart and the dynasty was forced to leave the throne and the country. In 1922 Walburga's grandfather, the dismissed Emperor Karl, died during his exile on Madeira.

All in all it was a tremendous tragedy for the Habsburgs, but at the same time it encouraged the family members to continue their commitment.

- I’m still surprised how well my grandmother Zita coped with these events. She never expressed any feelings of loss, bitterness or grief. She always said “we cannot turn history around, but we have a responsibility for our people and to keep on helping them”.

During the Second World War the family organized relief consignment to Austria, and Otto von Habsburg fought Nazism. After the War the fight continued, but then against Communism.

Walburga went early into politics. Already at the age of 13 she founded the Youth Association of the Paneuropa Union in Germany.

Paneuropa is the oldest movement for a united Europe, established a few years after the Treaty of Versailles with the vision of creating a peaceful future for the European people.

But nationalism and feelings of revenge delayed this development for a long time. At the same time the ground opened under the monarchies. The political map was redrawn, and several royal families fell. With the Second World War even more heads lost their crowns.

It is not until the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War that the exile dynasties have begun to feel the wind changing. The families are getting their lost properties back, and there are even examples of dynasties with aspirations of returning to the throne.

Romania and Bulgaria

Peles is one of the most attractive castles in Europe, built in the 19th century in romantic Neo-Renaissance in the beautiful woodlands of Sinaia in Romania. The estate is now being restituted by the Romanian state to ex-King Michael. A reconciliation after more than half a century.

Michael I of Romania was king twice: first as a child in the twenties, and then as a young man 1940-1947. Not until 1997, 50 years later, he retrieved his Romanian citizenship, and since then he has been helping pilot the country into Nato and the EU.

But he has not campaigned to restore monarchy, and neither has Simeon in neighbouring Bulgaria. He became King at the age of six in 1943, succeeding his father, who suddenly died after having dined with Adolf Hitler. Three years later the family went into exile, but Simeon stuck to his title and never abdicated formally. In 1996 he returned to his native Bulgaria, and launched a political career.

Simeon’s new party got half of the mandates in the elections of 2001, and he was sworn in as Prime Minister. He promised to change the standard of living in 800 days, but the economic program did not meet the people’s expectations. Two years ago the Socialists won the elections, Stanishev became the new Prime Minister and Simeon’s party had to form a coalition government.

Simeon II of Bulgaria is the one of European exile monarchs that has achieved the highest political position so far. But there are those who want to reach even further, in neighbouring Serbia.


The Main Railway Station of Belgrade is situated in a pot near the downtown. It is stuffy and hot; a deep black Turkish Coffee is served in the café; the clouds of grey smoke from the traffic are smothering. But on the hills above, the white city is spreading with a marvelous view of Sava and the Danube. And even fresher is the atmosphere in Dedinje, the diplomatic suburb on the green slopes south of the city centre, with “Hajd park” and beautiful villas and manors, and the Royal Palace in Serbian-Byzantine style.

Here Crown Prince Alexander II moved in six years ago. He is the son of Yugoslavia’s last King Peter. Back then the country was a Mediterranean kingdom, but now it has shrunked into an increasingly ravaged Serbian state.

His British English is fluent; he was raised in England and one of his godmothers is Queen Elizabeth II. Alexander II was born in the Claridge’s Hotel in London in 1945. Sir Winston Churchill ceded sovereignty over Suite 212 to Yugoslavia, so that the prince would be born in Yugoslav territory.

Now he wants to revive the Serbian monarchy.

- The constitutional monarchy works well in the Scandinavian countries, for example. It is a great advantage with a neutral Head of State, who does not get involved in daily politics, says Alexander II to Fokus.

According to a gallup which was published in Serbian media, 33 percent would activally support the idea of a Serbian monarchy, and around 30 percent would not object changing the constitution.

- There are many young people in favor of monarchy, and some of them get impressions from Sweden, where many Serbs live today. They have observed the advantages of monarchy there, as a meeting point providing tremendous stability.

Alexander II in many ways already acts like a King. He lives at the Royal Palace with his family, receives foreign diplomats and businessmen and works with humanitarian and democray projects. His life wouldn’t change that much if he technically was appointed King, he remarks, and that is an extraordinary position for an exile dynasty in Europe.

But he is careful to keep out of politics.

- I was very active until our revolution in 2000. Now we are going through all important reforms, but I have restrained and appealed for unity, for people to meet and to have a cup of coffee together. Our history is violent with depression, world war, civil war, communism and then ten years of total madness under Milosevic. There are now things to be settled, and I believe people don’t want to fight any longer.

Alexander II also has a close relation to Sweden.

- I used to go to Öland in the summers, as Sibylla [the Swedish King’s mother] was an aunt of mine. And we spend time with the Swedish Royal Family. The King’s Birthday last year was a beautiful event. And I had Ikea over for breakfast the other week. They are very good people. I also like Volvo and Saab. Serbia needs a lot of investments, and right now I’m happy that our neighbour Slovenia has invested a lot in Serbia. You can’t have Berlinwalls between each other.

“Mission Europe”

The Habsburg Family has no similar ambitions of restoring monarchy. Otto von Habsburg became a Member of the European Parliament, and now his daughter Walburga continues what she calls “Mission Europe”.

The surname still open doors in European politics, and many people recognize it when Walburga Habsburg Douglas introduces herself at receptions.

- When I attend conferences anywhere in Europe it always feels somewhat at home, from Spain to Ukraine. But you cannot just turn time around. Austria is something completely different today. It is lovely living in a monarchy like Sweden, but republic is also good. And for me it has been a relief to be able to give form to my life entirely freely. I would never have become a member of the Swedish parliament, had my father been the Emperor of Austria, says Walburga Habsburg Douglas.

 Nils Johan Tjärnlund (Nyhetsmagasinet Fokus 24/2007)