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News 11 Dec 17

Romanians Turn Palace Into Shrine Before Royal Funeral

Many Romanians have laid tributes outside the old royal palace to their late king Michael, before he is laid to rest in the country he was forced to abandon for several decades.

Ana Maria Luca
BIRN
Bucharest
Romanians have been lighting candles and bringing flowers to the former royal palace in Bucharest to commemorate the late king Michael I. Photo: Octav Ganea/Inquam Photos

Romanians are preparing for days of mourning ahead of funeral on Saturday December 16 of the country’s last king Michael I, who died last Wednesday in his modest residence in Switzerland, at the age of 96.

Scores of monarchists but also other admirers of the former king have signed the book of condolences at the former royal palace in Bucharest, which today is Romania’s National Art Museum.

Admirers of the ex-monarch have also turned the fence of the former royal palace into a shrine dedicated to the king, adorned with pictures of the late king, candles and flowers.

The shrine dedicated to the king at the royal palace in Bucharest. Photo: Octav Ganea/ Inquam Photos

Many young Romanians, whether or not they support a royal restoration, say they wish they had more information about the king and what he really stood for.

Many of them feel the real history of his life, abdication and years of enforced exile have been largely removed from school history books.

“I came because he was a landmark in our recent history,” Liliana Mihaila, a 31-year-old programmer who lit a candle at the shrine, told BIRN.

“Our generation needs to know more about our real history. We have been taught so little about the royal house and the king and there was so much disinformation even after the 1989 revolution [which ended the Communist regime],” she added.

Others also believe that various governments since 1990 have largely denied the king his rightful place in Romanian history.

“I hope he finds the peace he deserves,” Bogdan Voicu, a 35-year-old marketing specialist, said.

 “I only know him from my grandfather’s stories," he said. 

"Although I think Romania should be a republic, I  know that King Michael was important for Romania, and I grew to respect him as a kind, wise man. I regret he’s not among us anymore. We have a lot to learn from him and his life struggles.”

The royal family announced that the coffin with King Michael’s remains will be flown from Switzerland to Romania on Wednesday, December 13, and it will stay in the former royal palace in Bucharest until the following Saturday.

The ceremonies scheduled for the ex-king are atypical, however. Michael’s funerary mass will be held by Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel in Bucharest. The king’s remains are then scheduled to be transported by car to Curtea de Arges, and buried at about 7pm, without any members of the public present.

The royal family has announced through its lawyer, that the king’s disinherited grandson, Nicolae, will be able to attend his grandfather’s funeral, despite a recent row over the refusal of his mother and aunt to allow him to see the ex-king.

Romania’s government has declared three days of mourning from December 14 to December 16.

Michael I reigned twice: from 20 July 1927 to 8 June 1930, when his father, Carol, returned from exile, and again from 6 September 1940 until the communists forced him to abdicate on 30 December 1947.

He is perhaps best known for his decision to get rid of the country's pro-German leader Ion Antonescu, and, on August 23, 1944, for Romania switch sides to the Allies and declare war on Nazi Germany.

However, the manoeuvre failed to stop a Soviet invasion and the forced installation of a Communist client regime obedient to Moscow.

When he left the country in 1947 to attend the wedding of Britain's Princess Elizabeth, many thought he would not dare to return.

Bravely, he did so, but was soon forced to abdicate and leave the country. He lived most of his life in exile.

When the Communist regime fell in December 1989, the king attempted several times to return to Romania, but the government obliged him several times to go back into exile.

Romania's ex-king Michael I, in 1992, at the hotel window where he held his speech upon his return to the country. Photo: familiaregala.ro

In 1992, when the government allowed Michael to return to Romania for Easter celebrations, he drew a crowd of over a million people in Bucharest. When the government denied his request to give a speech from the Royal Palace, he delivered a speech from a hotel window.

Michael refused the offer of the Romania Liberals to run for the post of president, but his popularity alarmed the government and he was again forbidden to visit Romania.

He only regained Romanian citizenship in 1997, after a coalition of right-wing historical Christian Democrat parties came to power to replace the left-wing National Salvation Front.

The Romanian royals meanwhile succeeded in getting back almost all of the former royal assets, worth a total of about 180 million euros. 

On his 90th birthday, the ex-monarch spoke to the Romanian parliament in his first and last speech there since the fall of Communism, sitting on a throne-like chair in the main chamber of the parliament. His speech was applauded by hundreds of MPs, some of whom responded with shouts of: "Long live the king!"

King Michael and his late wife Anne had five daughters.  The eldest, Princess Margaret - best known for her humanitarian work and cultural projects - is now the head of the royal family. 

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