All Hail King Zog!
December 2, 2011 9:12 AM   Subscribe

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!” (#8)

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.

Leka II, 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
Albanian Photography 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
posted by Eyebrows McGee (39 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
There are a dearth of sources on Albanian history in English on the web, but what's there is well worth reading.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 AM on December 2, 2011

There are a dearth of sources on Albanian history in English on the web

Yeah, I thought this post felt a little thin.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:16 AM on December 2, 2011 [41 favorites]

Albania, Albania,
You border on the Adriatic,
Your land is mostly mountainous,
And your chief export is chrome!
posted by macadamiaranch at 9:16 AM on December 2, 2011 [8 favorites]

When his son (and heir apparent) Leka Anwar Zog Reza Baudouin Msiziwe Zogu was born there in 1982

Weird, that's my name too!
posted by theodolite at 9:17 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is a delightful entry for the December post thingy.

The Albanians have plainly not gotten less awesome since Byron's day. (link is a massive pdf)
posted by winna at 9:22 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Leka returned to Albania in 1993, only to be thrown out for listing “King” on his passport as his profession.

I like the cut of this guy's jib.
posted by marxchivist at 9:23 AM on December 2, 2011 [18 favorites]

Weird, that's my name too!

What happens when you go out? People always shout?
posted by DU at 9:26 AM on December 2, 2011 [8 favorites]

So what I'm thinking is, the wikipedia page for this person should be thrown out and replaced with this post.
posted by vanar sena at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Kneel before Zog!
posted by Trurl at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

(I've read that the passport of the actor Topol listed his occupation as "Tevye". If this is not true, it should be.)
posted by Trurl at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2011

Holy crap, Eyebrows McGee, this is a fucking amazing post! Thanks!
posted by clockzero at 9:37 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

'Zog' in Albanian means 'bird' so when I was a little kid growing up in early eighties communist Albania I used to think there was some avian connection. There isn't.

Also, All Heil Eyebrows McGee! for this excellent post.
posted by preparat at 9:38 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Zog's actually owned an estate on Long Island that is now a big county park. I think they never actually lived there, but any decaying structure there was always called "King Zog's Castle" when I was a kid.
posted by JPD at 9:45 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ex-King Zog of Albania. Say it! You feel better, don't you? Ex-King Zog of Albania.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:47 AM on December 2, 2011

@murphy slaw, that's what started me on this. I read the obituary and went, "Wait, there was a guy named King Zog and nobody informed me???" So I started reading and the more I read, the more fascinating it got. I kept going, "Okay, THIS has to be the craziest thing this family ever did ... BUT WAIT! There's more!" and I was finally like, "If nobody's posted this obituary yet to metafilter, I have got to post this." It's a shocking quantity of coups, fleeings, convictions in absentia, etc.; it manages to touch on just about every terrible regime of the 20th century (Mugabe! Nazis! apartheid!); and the family has a bizarrely familiar relationship with weaponry.

I'm going to request some books on Albanian history through interlibrary loan, I got so interested in the intricacies. I kept badly wanting to include factoids about the early independence of the country, it was hard to focus just on the Zogu family!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:10 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Albania is an amazing country and I got to explore King Zog's castle during a study-abroad experience. The country is a fascinating place, filled with history, it's a shame it cannot get a sound infrastructure in place.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 10:15 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kneel before Zog!

It's well known that, in the afterlife, we all have to spend eternity in one of 26 cyclopean containers -- jars, if you will -- sorted by the first letter of our first names. And, of course, when entering the jar, it's only appropriate to make some form of obeisance.

So, right about now, Leka I Zogu is hearing the words "Son of Zog, kneel before Jar L".
posted by gurple at 10:19 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

When he was less than 48 hours old, Mussolini's troops invaded Albania

With quick work like that it's no wonder he made the trains run on time*.

*I know.
posted by howfar at 10:20 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I read "the Zogus" (plural form) as "the Zogus" (like Magus) and thought that if I were a king named Zog that's how I'd want to be referred to as well.
posted by thecjm at 10:25 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the year of Leka Zogu's birth:
"When I got down near Charing Cross the boys were yelling a later edition of the evening papers. There was some more drivel about the murder. LEGS. FAMOUS SURGEON'S STATEMENT. The another poster caught my eye: KING ZOG'S WEDDING POSTPONED. King Zog! What a name!"
—George Orwell, Coming up for Air, 1939
posted by Jehan at 10:26 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm calling dibs on "Current Pretenders to Various Thrones" as an album title.
posted by thecjm at 10:28 AM on December 2, 2011

I can't stop myself imagining Sean Connery slurring "whose the king now, Zog?"

I suppose that makes me a bad person.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:28 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Apparently the declaring a space that of your country for the purposes of being born on the soil of the country you claim is a thing people who are pretenders to thrones do. Behold Duarte Pio, Duke of Braganza!
posted by winna at 10:36 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not in any way a Nabokov scholar, and I know geography if not timing were different but...Pale Fire influence? Anyone more qualified can comment?
posted by digitalprimate at 11:03 AM on December 2, 2011

Leka II, his son, reportedly continues claim to the throne
Ah, what the hell, me too.
posted by Flunkie at 11:04 AM on December 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

This is a fantastic post. Many years ago I read every Elmore Leonard novel back to back. He had a number of anecdotes in them about crazy Albanian criminals in and around Detroit. They were a surreal set, like ninety-five percent of the book was realistic noir and the part about the Albanians was slapstick or farce. That is what I thought about when I read the part about the bazooka.
posted by bukvich at 11:07 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zog is dead.

posted by Halloween Jack at 11:28 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first and last surrealist ruler.
posted by scruss at 11:31 AM on December 2, 2011

I desperately want to make a joke about Elixir Is Zog but I am unable to muster sufficient talent.

Therefore, I am simply saying that the need for such a joke occurred to me, and I should be appropriately credited.

Thank you.
posted by aramaic at 11:45 AM on December 2, 2011

Between Leka, Otto von Habsburg, and Ertuğrul Osman, the last couple of years have seen the deaths of a lot of the child-heirs of deposed monarchs. Don't look back, Pavlos of Greece, Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, and Fuad of Egypt, they might be gaining on you.
posted by Copronymus at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wonderful post, astounding story.
posted by ob at 12:58 PM on December 2, 2011

My best friend and I have had a running 30-year competition swapping references to King Zog and his family that appear in the media--thank you, Eyebrows for allowing me to "win" this round!
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:08 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pale Fire influence?

Possibly some echoes, but Nabokov -- by descent a White Russian, though he was not very political -- had his own family history to draw on. His father, however, was a politician and an exile who died during an attempted assassination of someone else.

In the interwar and postwar years of Nabokov's career, there were a lot of lesser nobles and ex-royals knocking around Europe, so there are broad similarities amongst all these stories, and the overall themes could apply to several different circumstances.
posted by dhartung at 2:02 PM on December 2, 2011

Here in San Francisco we all Hail Zog's Dogs!
posted by Dunvegan at 4:37 PM on December 2, 2011

King Zog proposed to Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter.
posted by brujita at 8:24 PM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Rose Ingalls Wilder spent a lot of time in Albania. She brought back two boys and raised them here.
As well Mother Theresa's father was involved with the court of King Zog.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:10 PM on December 2, 2011

Don't look back, Pavlos of Greece, Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, and Fuad of Egypt, they might be gaining on you.

I'm rather disappointed that Libya isn't bringing the monarchy back, and neither did Afghanistan (could have helped national unity).
posted by Apocryphon at 11:29 PM on December 2, 2011

Handing power to an unelected person doesn't seem such a smart move after finally getting rid of another one.

Leka returned to Albania in 1993, only to be thrown out for listing “King” on his passport as his profession.

Letting go seems to be hard. The deposed former king of Greece has no Greek passport as he won't declare a surname. Reminds me of "Louis Capet".
posted by ersatz at 5:29 AM on December 3, 2011

Obligatory Monty Python reference.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:38 PM on December 29, 2011

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