A former king stripped of his citizenship for fleeing a brutal communist dictatorship was applauded by the Romanian parliament Tuesday as he made his first address to the chamber in 65 years.
King Michael — who ruled from 1927 to 1930, and from 1940 to 1947 — called for "faith in democracy, in the role and rules of institutions."
Speaking on his 90th birthday, he used the occasion to attack the country's leadership over the past 20 years.
"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," he said, referring to the communist era which ended in 1989.
Several government ministers, including President Traian Basescu, refused to attend the session.
Basescu has called Michael — one of the few surviving leaders from World War II — a traitor for abdicating to a life of exile in Britain and Switzerland in 1947, saying he should have let the then Soviet-backed communist government execute him as they had threatened, rather than abdicate.
The Soviets installed a Romanian government in 1945 after Europe was divided at the end of World War II, and expected Michael to abdicate.
Whereas Greece and West Germany became controlled by the West, Romania — along with Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia — became part of the Warsaw Pact, answering to Moscow.
Michael left Romania in 1947 to attend the wedding in London of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, his cousin, but much to the communists' surprise returned at the behest of his mother, Queen Helen of Greece. A month later, the communists told him if he did not abdicate 1,000 Romanians would be executed.
Michael left, the monarchy was abolished and the country was renamed the Romanian People's Republic.
He was then stripped of his citizenship, but it was restored in 1997.
Michael sat on a throne-like chair in the main chamber of the parliament building in Bucharest for Tuesday's speech. He was applauded by hundreds of lawmakers, a few of whom responded with shouts of "Long live the king!"
Former presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu attended Tuesday's address as did Michael's five daughters.
"It was extraordinary. A real historic moment," Princess Maria, one of the daughters, told The Associated Press.
Queen Sophia of Spain, Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, former Bulgarian King Simeon II and other royals were in Bucharest to celebrate his birthday, the Romanian royal house said.