Comment by Milena Popova
Scottish news: Jubilee, bread and circuses
I have spent the last few days trying to escape the bunting. As a Continental European, I have a somewhat different relationship than most people in this country both with the concept of monarchy in general and the particular UK implementation.
After 13 years in the UK, British attitudes to their head of state continue to surprise me. With the extra bank holiday - even bunting-marred as it is - it can perhaps be expected that over 70% of Britons rather like the monarchy right now . Yet, even over the long run only one in five Brits supports a republic, and 60% of Scots want to keep the Queen as Head of State, regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum. My experience with monarchies is rather different, so all this pomp and circumstance and national genuflecting to an elderly lady who may or may not be slightly too fond of gin seems, frankly, somewhat bizarre to me.
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- UK economy faces Lehman-type crisis, says leading economist
Bulgaria - the country of my birth - imported a German king after ridding itself of 500 years of Ottoman rule. Said king’s grandson, incidentally a not too distant relative of Her Majesty, was subsequently forced out of the country by the Soviets in 1946 when he was nine years old. In 2001, not even having renounced his claim to the Bulgarian throne, he was elected Prime Minister. There aren’t many nations in the world who have elected their deposed king as head of government - I suspect for good reasons. While I wasn’t in the country at the time, by all accounts Simeon of Saxe-Coburg Gotha did not meet expectations to walk on water. His premiership turned out to be highly controversial and is generally regarded as a failure. He is accused of having taken slightly too much personal advantage of his position, having recovered a large chunk of his family’s estates which had previously been nationalised. He failed to win a second term as PM though his party was part of a coalition government from 2005 to 2009. By 2009, all enthusiasm for “our king” had faded and his party did not win any seats.
Austria - of which I hold citizenship - has been rather more careful about its deposed monarchs. Otto von Habsburg, the last crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire, was exiled from the country at the end of the First World War. In the mid-1950s he was awarded Austrian citizenship again but due to his refusal to renounce his claim to the throne was only eligible for a passport valid in all countries except Austria. He was not allowed back into the country until he renounced all claims to the throne in the mid-1960s. Having, in his own words, “tasted the opium of politics”, he too was unable to stay away for long. He had a 20-year career as a Member of the European Parliament (not for Austria but for the Bavarian Christian Socialist Union) and was a vocal proponent of European integration.
All of which brings us back to the present and future of the British monarchy. Like a car crash, I feel compelled to watch the royal family’s antics whenever I come across them - from Charles and Camilla’s wedding to that of William and Kate last year. So far I have managed to avoid the £1.3bn jubilee celebrations by escaping to a Northumbrian moor. All the bunting, street parties and Union flags bring to mind one phrase only - “bread and circuses”. Where in a time of severe austerity and economic decline the TUC march last year attracted only around 400,000, one million people turned out to celebrate the royal wedding.
How much longer will Brits let themselves be distracted by extravagant spectacles, supporting an institution which should have been left behind at the very latest at the start of the last century? How long until Prince Charles really tastes the opium of politics? And what will we do with him then - elect him Prime Minister or ship him to the European Parliament? One can be forgiven for turning to the gin at the prospect.
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