To understand how long it’s been since Romania’s former King Michael first ascended to his country’s throne, consider that he was initially crowned more than 80 years ago, some six years before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany.
Michael, one of the last surviving leaders from World War II, on Tuesday made his first address to Romania’s parliament since he was deposed nearly 65 years ago by Communist forces.
During a special session to mark his 90th birthday Michael called on his country’s politicians to restore Romania’s dignity.
“The last 20 years have brought democracy, freedom and a beginning of prosperity,” Michael told lawmakers, according to Agence France-Presse.
“The time has come after 20 years to … break for good with the bad habits of the past,” Michael added, saying that in 2011 “demagogy, selfishness and attempts to cling to power” should not have their place in the Romanian institutions, an implicit criticism of current politicians.
“It is within our power to make this country prosperous and worthy of admiration,” he added, prompting a standing ovation.
Michael has seen some of the best and worst of Romania during the 20th century, sometimes up close and sometimes from afar.
Born in 1921, Michael was the grandson of the then-reigning King Ferdinand and great-great grandson of Queen Victoria.
When Michael’s father Carol II eloped with his mistress Elena “Magda” Lupescu and renounced “temporarily” his rights to the throne in December 1925, Michael was declared the heir apparent.
He succeeded to the throne upon Ferdinand’s death in July 1927.
As Michael was but 5 years old, the country was ruled by a regency until 1930, when Carol II returned to Romania.
In September 1940, the pro-German anti-Bolshevik regime of Prime Minister Marshal Ion Antonescu staged a coup against Carol II, whom was claimed to be “anti-German.” Antonescu suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament and re-installed the 18-year-old Michael as king.
However, Michael was little more than a figurehead for much of the war, with Antonescu wielding power as Romania sided with the Axis for much of the conflict.
But as the war progressed and Romania groaned under the weight of the Axis’ downturn, Michael helped facilitate a coup in August 1944 that felled Antonescu and brought about a cease-fire with invading Soviet forces.
Before long, Romania had signed an armistice with the Allies and declared war on Nazi Germany.
The Soviets occupied Romania almost immediately. Unfortunately, the country was quickly locked behind the post-war Iron Curtain. While Michael attempted to oppose communist-led governments following the war, he was again little more than a figurehead.
He was forced out by the communists in early 1947 when Communists seized power and threatened carry out mass executions, according to the New York Times.
After his forced exile from Romania, Michael I and his family settled in Switzerland, effectively banned from their native land for half a century.
Michael was not allowed to return to Romania until 1992, three years after the revolution and collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship, which ended a period of great oppression and stagnation.
Even with the overthrow of Ceausescu, the Romanian government blocked several attempts by Michael to return, according to the Times. He was not allowed to regain citizenship until 1997.
Speaking in a Bucharest palace Tuesday, Michael urged Romanians to show “faith in democracy” as they struggle with poverty, corruption and political apathy, the Irish Times reported.
“Tomorrow’s world cannot exist without morals, without faith and memory. Cynicism, narrow interests and cowardice mustn’t occupy our lives . . . They remind us too much of the years before 1989.”
(Above: Former Romanian King Michael I, right, and his wife Ana wave from the balcony of the Peles Castle, in Sinaia, Romania.)