The last tsar of Bulgaria has lost a legal battle to secure the return of a mountain palace and hunting lodge that were seized by the country’s communist rulers when the monarchy was abolished 75 years ago.
Simeon Sakskoburggotski, who ascended the throne as Simeon II in 1943, when he was 6, spent 50 years in Egypt and Spain after the 1946 referendum in which 90 per cent of Bulgarians voted for a republic.
The former monarch claims that a series of royal residences and woodland should have been returned to his family’s control after a domestic court ruling in 1998 found the seizures were discriminatory and breached the right to property ownership.
The former tsar returned to Bulgaria full-time in 2001 and now lives in Vrana Palace on the edge of Sofia, a sprawling 2,000-sq-metre complex surrounded by botanical gardens that were donated to the state by the family.
But the palace – and other properties once owned by the monarchy – remain at the centre of a series of ownership battles.
The dispute bubbled below the surface after the king returned in 2001 to serve as prime minister for four years after setting up a political party promising to transform the country with radical economic ideas.
But the issue re-emerged when he left politics in 2009. After efforts were made to force Simeon II and his Spanish wife to leave Vrana, the former ruler in 2018 told Bulgarian media: “I feel humiliated. It is like the state will force me again into exile.”
The properties taken from the royals included a now-demolished, two-storey house in Sofia, four palaces, a hunting lodge and a thermal resort where the former tsar’s older sister, Maria-Luisa Borisova Chrobok, is currently listed as the owner, court documents show.
The former tsar and his sister – a German-Bulgarian citizen who now lives in the US − took the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
It ruled this week on two properties – the Sitnyakovo summer palace in the Rila mountains and a hunting lodge – and on the commercial exploitation of woodland on former royal land.
Eight judges of the court in Strasbourg, France unanimously dismissed the former royals’ claims to the two properties. It said domestic court rulings that went against them were not “arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable”.
But it ruled partially in favour of the family over a ban on logging income with damages to be decided at a later date. It ordered the Bulgarian government to pay €5,000 ($5,914) in costs.
The court ensures that members of the 47-state Council of Europe respect human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.