International Papers

The King Lives!

The 2-month old political party of Bulgaria’s former Simeon II won a landslide victory in Sunday’s general election. Simeon Saxe-Coburg, as he was known during decades of exile in Madrid, became king at the age of 6, but three years later, in 1946, Bulgaria abolished the monarchy and sent him into exile. This April he returned home and founded the National Movement for Simeon II, an anti-corruption party whose platform calls for a balanced budget; lower taxes; more money for pensioners, teachers, and the police; and interest-free loans for small businessmen. As victor, he has offered to form a coalition government.

As the Times of London pointed out, “[H]is enemies say that, having failed to get his name on the ballot as a presidential candidate [he did not meet the residency requirement], he is using this new party to grab political power with the aim of eventually pushing through a constitutional change to restore the monarchy and reoccupy his throne.” Ha’aretz of Israel noted that he is evasive about whether he intends to head the new government, and speculated that he could parlay his newfound political clout to remove constitutional obstacles to his becoming president—or king. The Financial Times reported that Simeon is “deliberately vague about his plans. He projects the image of the benevolent aristocrat wanting to do good for his people. He pledges to advance ‘decency’ in public life and to root out corruption.” However, his populist platform, especially the promised pay and pension increases and the promise of $2,200 interest-free loans, has economists worried. Simeon’s son Kyril told the Toronto Globe and Mail that his father was “much more a Mandela-type figure than an ex-monarch.” This was confirmed by a dispatch in Spain’s El Mundo, which described Simeon’s “veneration” in a gypsy neighborhood he visited on a campaign stop, “as if he were a saint capable of performing miracles.” According to the Globe and Mail, the list of former eastern European royals itching to make a comeback include Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, former King Michael of Romania, and Leka of Albania.

A newSharon? Assessing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s first 100 days in office, Britain’s Independent declared that he had “completed an astonishing transformation,” having shaken his image as a “warmonger who believed he could crush the Palestinians into submission” by pursuing a policy of restraint. By opting not to retaliate after the June 1 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Sharon won back wavering U.S. support and induced Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to call for a cease-fire. Consequently, said the paper, “He has got the Palestinians where he wants them—locked up inside their scraps of autonomous territory, blockaded by the Israeli army, having gained nothing from their intifada and with no prospect of a final settlement and an independent state. And he has the world on his side.” The Israeli paper Ma’ariv also hailed the turnaround: “The man who could not even go to several European capitals is now a most welcome guest. The man who for years was the eternal demon, has now become the champion of broad sections of the Israeli public and media.”

A piece in Ha’aretz claimed Israelis were desperately clinging to the honeymoon period out of fear for the future: “One has the impression that we and Sharon himself would like these days to go on forever in mid-air, floating between neo-war and pseudo-peace, without a resolution in either direction—without those diplomatic ‘moments of truth,’ armed eruptions and coalition crises, which drained us so.” It suggested that the secret of Sharon’s apparent success—opinion polls show nearly two-thirds of the public are satisfied with his performance so far—may lie in his avoidance of the media: “The more a prime minister’s appearances in the media become rare and laconic, the more [he] becomes engulfed in the mystification of empowerment and respect, and also enjoys favorable assessments.” The Jerusalem Post suggested Sharon is currently on his best behavior so as to gain international support for a future military effort. A “senior defense ministry official” told the paper, ” ‘We will need international support when we do what we have to do.’ As if to say that all this posturing is just an attempt to stock up on good will before the inevitable conflagration.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that this week in Belgium 28 Palestinians will charge Sharon with crimes against humanity for his role in the 1982 massacre in Lebanon’s Shatilla and Sabra refugee camps, “making the Israeli prime minister the latest political leader to face universal jurisdiction outside his own country.” The plaintiffs chose to pursue their case in Belgium because it has a universal jurisdiction law, meaning that crimes committed elsewhere can be pursued there.

Seoulbrothers: At the one-year anniversary of the Pyongyang summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, several papers bemoaned the current stalemate. The Japan Times said the North-South dialogue is “bogged down” because of Pyongyang’s intransigence: “North Korea has refused to reciprocate South Korea’s boldness and courage; in fact, it has not shown much of a desire to talk to Seoul at all. It has accepted money and aid, but concrete gestures—political contacts, substantive military-to-military discussions, even economic projects like the agreed-upon railroad to link the two countries—have not materialized.” North Korea has repeatedly postponed scheduled meetings, and South Koreans have grown disenchanted with President Kim Dae-jung’s one-sided “sunshine policy.” An editorial in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun said Pyongyang should remember “it was able to establish diplomatic relations with Western countries because of progress in North-South dialogue,” and encouraged Kim Jong-il to revive diplomatic efforts by honoring his promise to visit Seoul.