LONDON (AP) _ While royal scandal and controversy pique the public interest in the West and Middle East, monarchy's popularity grows in eastern Europe, where it was suppressed for half a century and more.

The crown prince of Yugoslavia returned to Belgrade in hopes of regaining the throne. Thousands in Romania cheered the former king and there are calls for Otto von Hapsburg, son of the last king of Hungary, to run for president.

''I think a lot of people who have been under oppressive communist regimes realize monarchy gives stability to a country,'' said David Williamson, co- editor of Debrett's Peerage, which chronicles the British aristocracy.

Whether the eastern European royals exiled in the 1940s are ever crowned again, however, remains problematic.

''I don't see it happening in our lifetimes,'' said Ewa Lewis, the Polish- born social editor of the Tatler, which chronicles Britain's upper crust.

''To reinstitute a full monarchy would be extremely pricey,'' she said. ''Who's going to pay for it? These East European countries are having enough trouble getting it together without worrying about pageantry. ... I don't think it's a high priority other than as a romantic idea.''

But Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burke's Peerage, sees the pendulum swinging back to ''a love and reverence for kings'' in eastern Europe. He is optimistic about the prospects of Crown Prince Alexander Karajdordjevic of Yugoslavia, and possibly King Michael of Romania.

Heirs to the thrones of Russia, Albania and Bulgaria wait in the wings.

''The prejudices of recent years have been discarded, and people think in terms of nostalgia and are convinced that whatever happened 100 years ago has to be better than what is happening now,'' Brooks-Baker said.

The earliest written records referring to monarchs describe the activities of the kings of Sumer, in what is now Iraq, at about 5000 B.C. Monarchy still thrives in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the South Pacific, but royalty has lost virtually all political power in Western Europe and Japan.

Lady Veronica Maclean, who interviewed 25 monarchs for ''Crowned Heads,'' a book to be published this fall, said she was surprised to find most were doing ''a very useful job.'' She singled out King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand and Juan Carlos of Spain.

As Western Europe moves toward integration in the 21st century, she said, kings and queens will become more important because they are the only ones ''who can keep the soul of the nation.''

Ms. Lewis of the Tatler said some monarchies in western Europe, especially those in Britain and Monaco, have ''come adrift'' because their royal families have not fulfilled their roles as upholders of morals and examples of behavior.

Through the centuries, she said, there have been many royal scandals far worse than the reported marital rift between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the unwed pregnancy of Monaco's Princess Stephanie or the annulment of the first marriage of her sister, Princess Caroline.

But scandals used to be kept behind palace doors, she said, while now they make headlines around the globe and have a much bigger impact on public opinion at home.

Opinion polls in Britain, for example, indicate far less support for keeping the monarchy than five years ago.

Williamson of Debrett's said another problem of monarchs is that powerful rulers too often tend to become dictators.

Pressure is growing for reform in the Middle East, where there are few democratic restraints on royal families, and in Africa and the South Pacific.

When the Gulf War restored the ruling Al-Sabah family in Kuwait, there were hopes of greater democracy. Eighteen months later, the family has consolidated control and calls for elections have faded.

In Abu Dhabi, a wealthy oil sheikdom, the ruling Al Nahyan family has been criticized for becoming enmeshed in the world's worst banking scandal, involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga, 74, refuses to grant greater democracy despite several scandals. Most notable was the sale of passports and citizenship papers to Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong nationals for, it was reported, up to $35,000 each.

King Mswati of Swaziland, at 24 the world's youngest monarch, was educated in Britain and has embraced Western culture, but resists demands from young, educated Swazis for political parties and elections.