On December 5th, 2017 Romania’s former ruler, King Michael the 1st passed away. Many Romanians grieve his death and the loss of the monarchy. It was not by choice that they were left without it and it certainly was a painful experience, especially considering the times which followed.
The New York Times writes that he “was credited with pre-emptively saving thousands of lives in World War II when, at 22, he had the audacity to arrest the country’s dictator, a puppet of Hitler […]when Michael, whose powers were perceived as largely ceremonial, bravely summoned Hitler’s crony Ion Antonescu, the fascist dictator of Romania, to his palace and arrested him.”
The BBC remarks that ” he is best remembered for his role in making Romania change sides, from the Nazis to the Allies, in August 1944” while EuroNews notes how “in 2012, he was voted the country’s favorite personality but there have been no moves to restore the monarchy”.
On a more personal level, many of those who are still among us and remember his reign have fond memories of what it meant to sing “Long live the king” and what life was like before communism.
He saw times of great strife and grief. He was king of Romania before the communists took power. When they finally did take over, he was forced to abdicate. “’It was blackmail,’ Michael told The New York Times in 2007. ‘They said, ‘If you don’t sign this immediately we are obliged’ — why obliged I don’t know — to kill more than 1,000 students that they had in prison.’ Michael, the last monarch behind the Iron Curtain, abdicated on Dec. 30, 1947.” He and his family managed to avoid the fate of the Russian royal family, however, they still lost their country.
His death reminds many of a national dignity that comes with having a symbolic and unifying figure as embodied by the king to bring the country together. This is something we see in countries such as Great Britain, where the royal family are keepers of the past and counselors for the future. It is a complementary system in which the necessity and pragmatism of politics work hand in hand with the distinction, historical savvy, and, steadfastness of a monarch.
Many would want to see such a future for Romania. Others will not hear of it. No matter one’s perspective, however, this is a time to mourn the passing of a person who linked the past with the present and brought hope to many for a better future. The great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria of England, he was a man who lived during significant historical changes and was, no doubt, a respected and beloved figure.
Image source: Casa MS Regelui foto Daniel Angelescu www.romaniaregala.ro