Southland's Romanians Hail Their Exiled King

Times Staff Writer

More than 40 years after he was forced to abdicate his throne by a newly installed communist government, Romania's last monarch received a royal welcome Sunday from Southern California's Romanian community.

King Michael, 66, appeared at ceremonies in Glendale, Beverly Hills and Bellflower commemorating the 129th anniversary of the union of Moldavia and Walachia, an event that led to the union of Romania from a patchwork of principalities.

Even as a deposed ruler in exile, the king remains an important figurehead to the more than 10,000 Romanian immigrants who live in the Los Angeles area.

"He is a unifying point--a symbol for the Romanian people who have been forced to emigrate," said Mircea Ionnitiu, who fled his homeland in 1948. "He does not represent any political party. He is above that."

Attended Services

Michael, accompanied by Queen Anne, his French-born wife, began the day by attending services at Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church in Glendale, where they were applauded by more than 1,000 parishioners.

The couple were later feted at a luncheon in their honor at the Beverly Wilshire by the Viitorul Roman Society.

Still revered as royalty by many of the 580 in attendance, the former king and queen were met by a flurry of flashbulbs and several minutes of enthusiastic applause as they entered the hotel's Grand Ballroom to the strains of the Romanian royal hymn.

"I think it's terribly warming and very moving," said Queen Anne, 64. "It's an experience we haven't been able to have, because being in exile in Switzerland we haven't had the chance to meet so many of our Romanian friends."

The day of festivities ended Sunday night when Michael and Anne appeared at the Romanian Baptist Church in Bellflower.

Sunday's public appearances were the first Michael has made in the Los Angeles area, though he has visited here several times as a private citizen.

Although most who attended the ceremonies were older immigrants who fled Romania during or immediately after World War II, there was also a sprinkling of people who were not even born when Michael gave up his throne.

"For younger people, it's nice to know their roots, where they came from, what some of their traditions are," said Maria Vergotti, 37, an American who was born in Switzerland, where her Romanian father fled after the war.

Father Abdicated

In 1940, Michael became king at the age of 19, when his father, Carol II, abdicated as German troops massed on Romania's northwestern borders. The nation's government was dominated by the Nazis, with Romanian soldiers accompanying German troops on campaigns into the Soviet Union.

As the tide of the war changed, however, so did Romanian allegiance. In 1944, Michael helped lead a coup that brought a pro-Soviet government to power and Romania joined the Allies. But in December, 1947, communist leaders demanded Michael's abdication, threatening that a bloody civil war would result otherwise.

For decades after his abdication, Michael declined to comment publicly on the political situation in Romania, devoting most of his energies to various business ventures. But in recent years, the former monarch has become more outspoken. Since 1979, he has delivered an annual Christmas message to Romanians, broadcast over Radio Free Europe.

Higher Public Profile

Michael said he has cultivated a higher public profile lately at the behest of Romanian emigre activists, who are bothered by what they view as worsening political and economic conditions in their homeland.

"Romanian groups have been more active for the last few years, and the reason for that is the horrible situation in Romania," Michael said. "We would like for people here to know the sufferings and traditions and what's going on with the Romanian people. And from that you can understand how and why they are so miserable today."

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