BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's president has launched a stinging attack on the country's former ruler, King Michael, accusing him of being responsible for the Holocaust in Romania, and calling him "a Russian lackey."
In an interview on the B1 television channel late Wednesday, Traian Basescu said as Michael was head of state during the pro-fascist
regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu — prime minister from 1940 to 1944, during World War II — he should also be considered responsible for the death of some 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Gypsies.
In 1944, when Romania was allied with Hitler's fascists, Michael staged a coup against Antonescu, and Romania switched sides to the Allies.
Basescu called Michael "a Russian lackey" in the interview, adding that his abdication — forced by Soviet-backed Communists in Dec. 1947 — was "an act of treason."
In Nov. 1947, with the communists gaining a hold over Romania and the region — which led to the monarchs of eastern Europe moving to Western Europe — Michael surprised the government by returning to Bucharest after attending the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Britain.
A month later the Soviet-backed communist government told him if he did not sign his abdication, 1,000 Romanians would be executed. He abdicated on Dec. 31, 1947 and began a life of exile in Britain and Switzerland. His Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997.
Basescu's comments stunned Romanians, who respect the former monarch, and praise his role in their history. Basescu's stance echoed that of the communist era when Michael was belittled by the regime, and his role was downplayed.
Relations between Basescu and Michael became strained after the former king's son-in-law announced he would run for president against Basescu in 2009 elections.
The president is embattled after his plans to reorganize Romanian territory were refused by opposition parties and an ethnic Hungarian party whose support the government needs to survive.
Michael, who will be 90-years old this year, is one of the few surviving World War II leaders and had good relations with the Jewish community when he was king.