Leka I Zogu died November 30, 2011
at the age of 72. When he was less than 48 hours old, Mussolini's troops invaded Albania and drove out his father, King Zog I of Albania, and the rest of the royal family. He spent the rest of his life fleeing invading armies, stockpiling weaponry, trading commodities, attempting coups, returning to Albania (three times), and eventually settling into a quiet life in the very country where he refused to relenquish his claims to the throne.
The House of Zogu was established by Zogu Pasha (Zogu the Great), who was made governor of Seli-Mati (now the Mat Province of Albania
– Mat is in the County of Dibër) by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (probably Mehmed II or Bayezid II
) in the late 15th century
. The position became heridtary, and the Zogus became “Beys
,” a traditional title for chieftans which came to be used for provincial lords in the Ottoman Empire. Their seat at Burgajet Castle
has yet to be restored, despite the 20th-century prominence of the family.
Ahmet Muhtar Bey Zogolli, who became King Zog I, was born under Ottoman rule in 1895. He was a second son, and born to a second wife, but his elder brother was passed over and in 1908, Ahmet became governor of Mat, which positioned him to stand as Mat's representative to the Assembly of Vlore
and to sign the Albanian Declaration of Independence. (Contemporary newspaper report
translated from Albanian.) After the First World War (in which he volunteered, for Austria-Hungary), and immersed himself once more in politics, supported by other “beys” (landowners) and by industrialists and merchants. Governments were notoriously unstable in the fledgling state (scroll down to see the variety of governments
from 1912 to 1928), subject to regional pressures from much more powerful and established nations (notably Italy and Yugoslavia), with little support in Europe. (In fact, at the Paris Peace Conference, France, Britain, and Greece secretly agreed to carve up Albania, but this was blocked by Woodrow Wilson
, who recognized the nation's independence. This is part of why America remains extremely popular in Albania
.) During the chaotic early years, Ahmet served as Governor of Shkodër (an important border region), Minister of the Interior, and head of the military. In 1922 he changed the Turkish-sounding Zogolli to the Albanian Zogu (“bird”) and became prime minister later that year after successfully repelling assaults on the capital by political opponents.
In 1923 he was shot three times on the steps of Parliament; in 1924 one of his major opponents was murdered in the street outside Parliament, and the leftist uprising that followed led to Ahmet fleeing the country; the government passed a death sentence on him in absentia
. (Blood vengeance was still practiced and Ahmet's political opponents blamed the Mat-based Zogu clan for the murder, if not Ahmet himself.) After a hard left government that refused elections attempted a series of rapid radical reforms, Ahmet returned to the country in December 1924 backed by Yugoslavian and anti-communist Russian forces (“White” Russians) based in Yugoslavia. By Christmas, his troops had taken Tirana and the leftist government had fled to Italy. (Good coverage of this time under Government and Politics
, 1/3 of the way down.) His coup successful, Zogu recalled the Parliament and Parliament established a new Albanian republic with a new constitution, putting Zogu at its head as its first president
. President Zogu prohibited the veil (Albania is a primarily Muslim country, though fairly secularized), criminalized animal cruelty, and gradually abolished serfdom, but despite this was known as a conservative who looked out for the Beys and other wealthy or powerful Albanians.
By 1928, he had convinced Parliament to dissolve itself and crown him king. (The New York Times did not seem to approve
.) He styled himself King Zog I, Skanderbeg III of the Albanians; Skanderbeg
was the Albanian national hero
who defended Albania for two decades against the Ottoman turks in the mid-1400s, and Zog claimed descent on his mother's side from Skanderbeg's sister. By now King Zog had amassed a number of enemies, from behavior ranging from everyday politics to broken engagements; his mother was forced to take control of the royal kitchen to prevent her son from being poisoned and the king was constantly surrounded by guards. Still, in 1931, an assassination attempt on the steps of the opera house in Vienna
(where King Zog was on a diplomatic visit) resulted in a gun battle, and the only incident in modern history when a head of state personally returned fire on assassins. Though still considered a conservative, Zog abolished Islamic law and put in place a civil code modeled on the Swiss (subscription required)
, as Ataturk had done in Turkey earlier the same decade, created an educational system, and attempted to modernize the military, which was extremely expensive and used Italian military advisers – an act that would prove ill-advised. Corruption was a problem
. (Most biographies also note that he held the Guinness World Record of most cigarettes consumed in a day, between 150-225 daily, but I couldn't find support for this claim. Anyway, dude smoked a lot.) He also created the Zogist salute, which can be viewed on his facebook fan page
and which a Jewish Albanian trade representative to Nazi Germany enjoyed using to confuse the Nazis: “It is reported that, when confronted with the Nazi salute 'Heil Hitler', which he despised, he would respond with a sarcastic 'Heil Zogu' salute, and would amuse himself at seeing the confusion of his German counterparts, who believed this to be a standard Albanian greeting.”
Zog had turned to Italy for support early in his reign; now Italy sought increasing concessions. Zog resisted. In 1938 he married Countess Géraldine Margit Virginia Olga Mária Apponyi de Nagyappony
, the half-American, half-Hungarian typist who became Queen Geraldine. The Queen became pregnant, and gave birth to Leka I Zogu on April 5, 1939; within 48 hours, the Italian fascists had invaded, easily overwhelming the small, badly-equipped, and Italian-dominated Albanian military
, and the Zogus had fled (after urging his people to “fight to the last drop of blood”). King Zog's last words to Queen Geraldine on Albanian soil were, “Oh God, it was so short!” The Italian foreign minister who led the search of the Palace in Tirana found a pile of linen stained with afterbirth and exclaimed, “The cub has escaped!”
This began a peripatetic life in exile (ably summarized by the Telegraph
). A 14-hour journey over difficult roads to Greece brought temporary refuge where Queen Geraldine and the infant could recover – both, somewhat surprisingly, survived. The Greek government urged them on to Egypt, then the South of France, then Bordeaux to catch one of the last ships bound for Britain ahead of the Nazi advance in 1940. Zog was formally overthrown in absentia
by Albanians (rather than invaders) in 1946, when the Albanian communist state consolidated power. The family moved to Egypt at the invitation of King Farouk
(who was of Albanian descent) after the war, only to be forced to leave again when Farouk was overthrown, arriving in Paris in 1955. Zog himself died in France in 1961; his son was then declared King and crowned at the Hotel Bristol in Paris
Leka studied in England and Switzerland, then moved on to Sandhurt and the Sorbonne. He married an Australian former teacher
. He became a commodities broker in Madrid, but was asked to leave in 1979 when authorities discovered a large weapons cache in his home. On his flight to southern Africa, the plane landed to refuel in Gabon, and found local troops hired to kidnap him by the Albanian government, at which point the arms cache came in handy and Leka held them off with a bazooka. The family settled in Rhodesia but were driven out when Mugabe came to power, finally landing in South Africa, where the apartheid government granted them diplomatic status and they lived for many years. When his son (and heir apparent) Leka Anwar Zog Reza Baudouin Msiziwe Zogu was born there in 1982, the maternity ward was declared Albanian territory
for an hour
to enable him to be born on Albanian soil.
Leka returned to Albania in 1993, only to be thrown out for listing “King” on his passport as his profession. The visit lasted only a few hours. He returned again in 1997, when Albania suffered uprisings
as a result of ponzi scheme failure, and forced a referendum on the re-establishment of the monarchy. He lost
, but claimed the results were manipulated
and attempted a coup (leading it personally with an Uzi in one hand and a pistol in the other), which failed, and he fled on a private jet. He was convicted in absentia
of organizing an armed uprising. He was granted an amnesty in 2002
and returned permanently to Albania, denied his claimed throne but granted diplomatic passports.
Leka I Zogu died November 30, 2011, in Tirana
, his son, reportedly continues claim to the throne, while working for the Ministry of the Interior and serving as President of the Albanian Golf Federation, in a life that will be perhaps less colorful than his father's and grandfather's.
Further sources (some used above):
Official website of the Albanian Royal Family
; especially enjoy the Gallery
has some excellent collections of historic photographs; the same curator hosts Albanian Literature
translated into English.
Wikipedia has a list of Current Pretenders to Various Thrones