BUCHAREST, Romania – Romanians on Tuesday celebrated the 95th birthday of their former king, Michael, the nation's last sovereign and one of the last surviving heads of states from the World War II era.
Michael, who has lived in exile in Switzerland since he was forced to abdicate by the Communists, remains an important symbol of Romanian tradition that was broken by decades of communist rule. He is respected by many Romanians for a devotion to the nation he maintained during his decades of exile. Some Romanians, however, say he did not do more to oppose the communist regime.Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos praised Michasel for "defending democracy and fundamental freedoms" in the post-communist years and called him "a symbol of dignity, courage and love of country."To mark his birthday, the National Library in Bucharest opened an exhibition of photographs and documents illustrating the life of Michael, who is a great-great grandson of Queen Victoria and a first cousin of Britain's Prince Philip.The Jurnalul National daily wished him a happy birthday on its front page and praised the former royal family for its "loyalty, courage, respect, seriousness and modesty."In the evening, a concert was held in the 19th-century Atheneum concert hall to celebrate his birthday.In a sign of the respect he commands in neighboring Moldova, the mayor of the Moldovan capital Chisinau Dorin Chirtoaca visited Michael in Switzerland last week to ask him to sign the Chisinau book of honor. When Michael was crowned in 1940, Moldova was part of Romania. Months later it was annexed to the Soviet Union.Michael, who suffers from leukemia, spent his birthday at his home in Switzerland with two of his five daughters. His wife of 68 years, Anne, died in August, and was returned to Romania for her funeral burial, but Michael's health prevented him traveling to for the ceremony.Michael was first crowned king in 1927 when he was six after his father King Carol II abdicated. He held that title until 1930, when his father re-took the throne. He was again king from 1940 until 1947, when the Communist government forced him to abdicate and go into exile.In 1944, during World War II, Michael deposed the government of Hitler ally Marshal Ion Antonescu in a coup and Romania switched sides to the Allies.The only other surviving European leader from that era is the former Bulgarian child king, Simeon II, now 79.