When Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha left Bulgaria in 1946, it was unlikely he would ever return. The nine-year old, who up until one day prior had been Simeon II (1943-46), had been deposed by a Soviet-backed referendum and was exiled from his Bulgarian homeland. But with the fall of communist power in Bulgaria over the course of 1989-90, the opportunity for Simeon to reenter his home country increased dramatically.

Simeon II
Simeon II

Although he returned to Bulgaria for the first time in half a century in 1996 to cheering crowds, few would have expected him to rule the country again, let alone as a democratically elected leader. Yet in 2001, Simeon returned to Bulgaria to form the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII), a liberal populist party, taking an active role in his former tsardom’s political life. In elections later that year, NMSII gained a plurality of the vote, benefiting greatly from the rapid erosion of the incumbent’s popularity.

But media sources hardly expected Simeon himself to play an active role in the democratic administration of Bulgaria. The next month, however, Simeon accepted the position of prime minister. Although his government faced the lingering effects of severe economic problems under the communist and post-communist regimes, important steps towards Bulgaria’s integration into the post-Soviet world were taken by Bulgaria during his tenure, including Bulgaria’s entry into the European Economic Community and NATO.

Although Simeon’s political opponents often theorized that has goal was the restoration of the monarchy, Simeon always maintained that he would act for Bulgaria’s best interests. Since leaving office in 2015, he has not publicly made any statements about the role he sees for the monarchy in Bulgaria or the desirability of a return to monarchy. Since 2005, NMSII, later rebranded as the National Movement for Stability and Progress, has rapidly declined in political power.

No matter what may happen next, Simeon holds a spot in history as the first (and currently only) dethroned monarch to later hold democratic power (Cambodia’s Norodom Sihanouk stepped down of his own volition originally, not technically counting as such). The number of monarchs who were overthrown in the 20th century was the greatest in history, and out of all of them, Simeon was the only one to come back successfully, not as a monarch, but as a democratic leader.