BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania renamed a square in central Bucharest after former King Michael to celebrate his 91st birthday on Thursday, 65 years after Soviet-backed communists forced him to abdicate.
Although a return to monarchy is not on the public agenda in the EU member state, Romanian politicians are divided over their attitudes towards Michael.
While right-wing President Traian Basescu has criticized the former king for leaving the throne and last year did not attend Michael’s first speech in parliament since his 1947 abdication, a leftist government showed support for the former monarch.
“Let’s send him the warmest birthday wishes and sincere congratulations for what he did for Romania throughout history,” said Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is favored to win a December election against Basescu’s rightist allies.
“King Michael I is a living symbol of Romania,” Ponta said on his Facebook page.
Born in 1921 in the Peles castle in the Carpathian mountains, Michael is a descendant of the German Hohenzollern dynasty and a cousin of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
The king played a major part in changing Romania’s fate in the World War Two, participating in a 1944 coup to overthrow fascist wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu, after which Romania broke with Nazi Germany and switched to the Allied side.
After communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in a violent revolution in 1989, Romanian politicians fearing Michael’s influence blocked his first few attempted visits after decades of exile in Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
He finally returned to Romania in 1992 and regained citizenship in 1997 after reformist President Emil Constantinescu took over from former communist Ion Iliescu.
Michael made several appeals for the restoration of the monarchy in the early 1990s. Iliescu deported him on several occasions and even deployed tanks on one occasion to prevent him from touring the eastern Balkan country.
Many Romanians respect Michael, but too few support the restoration of the monarchy to make it a possibility.
Some 200 supporters of the aged king, who walked without support to greet the small crowd in the square, located in an upscale Bucharest neighborhood close to government headquarters.
They chanted his name and sang “Happy Birthday” after Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu revealed a bust of Michael.
“I came here because my father gave the military salute to the king in the 1940s,” said Filip Atanasiu, a 69-year old pensioner.
“And I am looking with sadness at the royal family, at what they meant to the country and how now they are not at all involved in ruling Romania.”
Reporting by Ioana Patran; Editing by Paul Casciato