Almost everyone in and outside of Albania seemed to have some reason or reasons to be frustrated with Zog. The local chieftains, from whose ranks he had risen, were always squabbling. Zog established a secular state, taking the new Republic of Turkey as his example, and so offended Muslim hardliners. Islamic clerics were also offended by his lifestyle, his love of gambling and his marriage to a Catholic Hungarian-American. This also disappointed Mussolini who hoped that he might marry an Italian princess and so draw Albania closer into the orbit of Rome. Muslim opposition was the most serious (when and where it occurred) in the overwhelmingly Islamic country but, as Zog tried to pull away from Italy he also angered the religious minorities such as when he nationalized all of the Catholic schools in Albania on the grounds that many were operated by Italians. Hitler had been friendly enough at first but the Nazi dictator was certainly not best pleased when Zog made Albania a haven for Jewish refugees. At the same time, there were fundamentalist Muslims who were just as upset at their Muslim king welcoming Jews into the country.
|King Zog and Queen Geraldine|
Oddly enough, Mussolini was probably the one world leader least concerned by all of this. What sort of ruler Zog was or how popular he was mattered not at all to him and if tensions existed between Albania and Greece and Yugoslavia, there was little love lost between either of these countries and the Kingdom of Italy under the Fascist regime. Yet, what did matter to him was that Italy was getting no return on its investment and Zog was taking further steps to distance his country from Italy. To his Albanian supporters this was the King standing up for independence and national sovereignty against creeping Italian influence. In Italy Zog was seen as having gained all he could from them only to then cast them aside to search for a new benefactor as he had previously done to Yugoslavia. Italian advisors were dismissed from the Albanian army, the previous agreements with Italy were repudiated and Zog sought (unsuccessfully) closer ties with other countries. For Rome, the last straw came when the Albanian parliament announced a moratorium on debt payments to Italy. For Mussolini, this was the pretext on which to take action. It had nothing to do with events in Czechoslovakia but everything to do with the Italian economy and the desire to secure resources which Albania had but Italy lacked.
|Italian troops entering Durazzo|
|Offering Victor Emmanuel the Albanian Crown|
|Mussolini with Albanian school girls|
Strange as it may seem today, in light of subsequent events, at one time the British seemed more willing to accommodate Hitler and regarded Mussolini as the greater threat. However, when Hitler started grabbing territory in Eastern Europe, there was a sudden about-face in British policy. The year before the occupation of Albania, Britain had recognized the legitimacy of Italian East Africa and King Victor Emmanuel III as Emperor of Ethiopia. The reaction to events in Albania may have been influenced, at least in part, by an effort to woo Mussolini back into a friendlier relationship and to restore his previously hostile attitude toward Hitler. If so, it was too little, too late. The sanctions had infuriated the Duce beyond measure and, as he told a crowd on a visit to Germany, the fact that Germany had not joined in such sanctions was something he would never forget.
|King Zog & Queen Geraldine|
|King Zog and sisters in the National Guard|
Additional Note: I cannot help but think that if a more Metternich-like policy had been pursued by the Allies, Albania would be a kingdom today and naturally much better off. Such a policy would have seen Italy allowed to retain its past gains to come alongside with the Allied nations (as was done with many Napoleonic states) or that Zog would have at least been given a battalion, even if it had to be filled with mercenaries, to go home and fight for his country as he stated so often that he wished to. It might not have made the difference but, you never know, might have turned out do quite well. Of course, Metternich never had to deal with the necessity of allying with a regime like the USSR. Alas, Albania would not be the only Balkan country to feel victimized by both sides in the war.