Monday, November 26, 2012

Story of Monarchy: Albania

The story of modern Albania as we know it today began in 1912 when lasting Albanian independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire became a reality. Of course, the roots of Albanian history go back much farther. The area was settled, early on, by the Roman Republic and was part of the Roman Empire, later the East Roman Empire, for centuries. With the decline of East Roman power it came under Slavic control and part of the Bulgarian Empire with the Albanian people we think of today and a unique Albanian state emerging later in the Middle Ages. During the period of Turkish rule, Albania was often neglected and for a considerable period of time the coastal areas came under the control of the Italian city-state of Venice. Yet, Albania produced a great many people who became very prominent officials in the Ottoman Empire. Many of the men who held the position of Grand Vizier (high advisor or roughly equivalent to a prime minister) to the Sultans were from Albania and it was, as most monarchists know, an Albanian general in the Ottoman army which founded the dynasty that ruled Egypt until 1953.

During this early period the greatest Albanian national hero came on the scene who led an early fight for independence against the Turks. This was George Skanderbeg (a Catholic convert from Islam) who became, not only an Albanian national hero but a fighting celebrity across Christendom for his decades long struggle against Turkish expansion in his area. He was actually intended to be the chief commander of the crusade Pope Pius II called for but which never came about. Skanderbeg was involved in other political causes outside Albania and was famous far and wide but to his own people he was an inspiration for independence. Strictly speaking he recognized the King of Naples as his feudal overlord but in effect he ruled Albania independently though Ottoman rule was restored after his death. Still, his example would provide an honored memory for later independence advocates to rally around. However, when that time came, the attitude of the rest of Europe would be somewhat different than it was in the time of Skanderbeg.

There were rebellions and struggles against a weakened Ottoman Empire after 1910 with Albanians finally declaring their independence. The nations of Europe recognized this in 1913 but many Albanians were upset at how their borders were drawn and they had trouble finding a national leader or a national leader the rest of Europe would respect. The first modern Albanian monarchy came about in early 1914 with the elevation of the German Prince Wilhelm von Wied to be Sovereign Prince of Albania (to the rest of Europe, in Albania he was titled as King). His aunt, the Queen of Romania suggested him for the job and he turned it down before the Austrians persuaded him to accept. He went to Albania to take up his throne, adopting the reigning name of Skanderbeg II in tribute to the traditional Albanian hero. But the odds were certainly stacked against his long-term success. Naturally, many Albanians viewed him as an outsider but even many in the rest of Europe were not ultimately of help because few seemed to take Albanian independence seriously. During the “Scramble for Africa” the Kingdom of Italy had wanted Tunisia but hoped to gain credit for being quiet and modest. They received nothing, France grabbed Tunisia and when Italy complained they were told to look to Albania if they wanted a colony. Likewise, many in Romania expected Albania to follow their wishes because Prince Wilhelm had been nominated by the Queen and Austria-Hungary, which heavily subsidized Albania, practically viewed the principality as an unofficial part of the Hapsburg empire (and got rather testy when Prince Wilhelm refused to contribute Albanian soldiers to the Austro-Hungarian war effort in World War I).

Prince Wilhelm
Inside Albania there was a good deal of opposition to Prince Wilhelm and the war was a good excuse by others to make grabs for Albanian territory and the Albanians themselves were still upset about their national borders. Civil war soon broke out, Greek forces, acting independently (that country was highly divided as well) invaded southern Albania and as the chaos spread Italian forces landed, eventually linking up with the Allies from Greece to form a united front in the Balkans. By that time, Prince Wilhelm had already left the country, it having become ungovernable by the fall of 1914, and moved to Venice though he did not abdicate his throne. He joined the Imperial German Army under an alias and hoped that he might be restored once the Austro-German armies had driven the Serbs and Montenegrins out of Albania but this was not to be. Needless to say, because he chose to join the losing side, he would never return to Albania as the Allied powers would certainly not have tolerated it. When talk began of restoring the Albanian monarchy under a local ruler, Prince Wilhelm reiterated his claim, pointing out that he had not abdicated and that the Albanian throne rightly belonged to his family. He remained defiant to the last and died in Romania in 1945, still claiming to be Prince of Albania.

In the aftermath of World War I the situation in Albania was still far from stable and it was not until 1924 that a new government was officially declared and recognized by the other powers. Again, however, one has the impression that most outsiders did not take Albanian independence seriously as the Allies effectively recognized it as an Italian protectorate as well. There had been plans to partition the country and Albania was plagued by in-fighting and assassinations. A list of all the marriage-alliances, foreign ties, coup attempts and actual coups could fill a library. Suffice it to say though that the most successful man on the ground was Ahmed Bey Zogu. He first seized power in 1922, during a time of great confusion, but by 1924 was forced to step down and leave the country. However, in time he came back with support from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, anxious to increase their influence. Ahmed Zogu accepted their help but had no intention of putting their interests before those of Albania. After taking power again, a republic was declared with Ahmed Zogu as President with dictatorial powers and to compensate for the loss of Yugoslavian support (who felt themselves betrayed) he turned to the Kingdom of Italy, by that time under the control of Benito Mussolini.

King Zog I
In 1928, having secured his position as much as possible under the circumstances, the Albanian government restored the monarchy and named the President “King of the Albanians”. King Zog (who also took the name of Skanderbeg III in keeping with the tradition established by Prince Wilhelm) began his efforts to turn Albania into a more modern country. However, he was plagued by problems from the very start. Many of the established elites resisted his reform efforts and after a number of assassination attempts the King lived mostly in seclusion. In 1938 he married the glamorous Hungarian-American Geraldine Apponyi de Nagyappony who he made a princess prior to the marriage. However, being self-named royals, the other dynasties of Europe never really accepted them as one of the club, though doubtless attitudes would have changed had they been able to maintain themselves longer. Life in Albania remained a struggle for most people and harsh divisions remained and many of the Muslims who had been his base of support were turned off of King Zog because of his “western” lifestyle, his wife, his fondness for gambling or any number of things. King Zog was in an unenviable position and it is, perhaps, no wonder that he came to hold the world record for being the heaviest smoker in history, puffing away some 225 cigarettes a day.

Development was occurring but it was painfully slow and the warring factions never really went away. Most dangerous for King Zog was the extent to which Albania had become indebted to and dependent on Italy for financial support. The King realized this and tried to distance himself but it was too late and Albania was still not able to stand alone. He nationalized the Catholic schools, dismissed Italian military advisors, cut the national budget and tried to make other alliances. However, Yugoslavia was unfriendly, as was Greece (whom the British were allied to) and Germany was on the side of Italy. In any event, the Nazi Party could not have been pleased when King Zog humanely opened Albanian borders to Jews fleeing persecution in Germany. Despite all the foreign investment, Albania also remained quite poor and in 1939 King Zog defaulted on the loans from Italy. Mussolini ordered the occupation of Albania shortly afterward, Italian troops landing just after King Zog and his family left the country for Greece.

King Victor Emmanuel III
King Zog settled in England while the Albanian government declared him deposed and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy added “King of Albania” to his list of titles. The situation was stabilized, by force, but the old divisions remained. Some supported the Italians, some supported King Zog, some wanted another option and some supported a communist dictatorship. It was, however, during World War II, after the Axis conquests of Yugoslavia and Greece, that the “Greater Albania” so many nationalists had yearned for became a reality. The Kingdom of Albania was enlarged by the annexation of Kosovo from Serbia, border areas of Montenegro and parts of northwest Greece. The circumstances, however, by which this was achieved left many still dissatisfied. But, it was not to last and in 1943 came the dismissal of Mussolini by King Victor Emmanuel III who also abdicated as King of Albania. It was, oddly enough, the King of Italy who would be the last monarch to actually reign over Albania. King Zog was declared restored by the government but he did not return home, Albania was quickly occupied by the Germans and in the aftermath of World War II the Soviet Union ensured that the communists seized power. King Zog would never see his country again, despite his best efforts to restore himself from exile.

Albanians loyal to King Zog never wavered in their support of him over the years and declared his son Crown Prince Leka to be “King of the Albanians” as his father had been when Zog died in 1961. However, the Kingdom of Albania was never really able to firmly establish itself and become accepted nor was the title of King Zog ever widely recognized by the international community. Part of this was the means by which he became “King of the Albanians” and part was the title itself, implying claims to Albanian populated territories within the borders of Allied countries from World War I like Serbia or Greece. The royals courts, at that time, were also still reluctant to accept self-made royalty. Royals marrying commoners was still illegal in most European monarchies and taken altogether it is not surprising that, when in power or in exile, the other royal families had little to do with the House of Zog. That attitude, however, has not been replicated by most monarchists and I at least have been surprised by how much widespread monarchist sympathy there is for the legacy of the late King of the Albanians. To compare, I have seen more objections to the Emperor Napoleon as not being a “real” royal figure than I have to King Zog even though one might expect the reverse. Why is this?

"King Leka I" and "Queen Susan"
I can only offer an educated guess but I would point to several factors. For one, the history and details of Albania and King Zog are not widely known and people are more apt to feel strongly about a subject they feel closer to or know more about. For another, King Zog lost his throne because of an invasion launched by Mussolini and anyone who is a victim of the forces of Fascism gains automatic sympathy with the wider world. The biggest reason though, I think, was the fate of Albania after the triumph of communism in the absence of Zog after World War II. There was probably no more nightmarish country in the whole of Europe. Under the Marxist fanatic Enver Hoxha, Albania had the lowest standard of living of any country in Europe. The man was such a radical, bloodthirsty and fanatical Stalinist that eventually the Soviet Union, Red China and Communist Yugoslavia all shunned his regime as being far too extremist. When Chairman Mao thinks you’re taking Marxism too far -you know you have a problem. Given that, while far from ideal, the reign of King Zog was positively paradise in comparison.

Leka II and Elia Zaharia
It is also to the credit of King Zog and Crown Prince Leka that, in spite of the obstacles against them, they did not just accept their exile and settle down to a comfortable life. They never surrendered their claims and never gave up the struggle to one day restore the Kingdom of Albania. This went on even when it included risks and got Crown Prince Leka into some trouble for stockpiling illegal weapons. Then, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, when a referendum (no more fair than any prior Albanian votes) found against the monarchy and in favor of the republic, he attempted an armed uprising (damn straight) before being forced to leave the country again. I know, probably not the sort of thing most would condone, but I cannot help to cheer a little bit when a royal pretender takes some action rather than just sitting down and accepting unfair treatment. Anyway, since that time he was pardoned and allowed to return, kept up the political fight and was able to die in the country of his birth. Since that time his son, Leka II, has carried on the family legacy, recently seeing his grandfather’s remains returned to Albania for reburial. He works as an advisor for the current president but still maintains the royal legacy as well as support for the unification of the Albanian peoples including the annexation of Kosovo. Some monarchists might cringe at a royal claimant working for a president but in the case of Albania it seems a legitimate way of staying relevant and engaged on the national scene. And, after all, his grandfather was president before he was king. Restoring a monarchy is always extremely difficult but, in Albania, the chances seem brighter than in a great many other countries. Leka II might be just the young man to do it.


  1. Thank you so much for this article! I really enjoy reading a lot of your very interesting posts, especially when they clue me in to some of the monarchies I want to know more about!

  2. Thank You MadMonarchist for this grat piece on Albania and the Zogu Dynasty. In 2 days the modern Albanian state will be 100 years old. What a momentous occassion.

  3. In my opinion, King Zog was the greatest monarch in Post-Ottoman history. He was unique a among monarchs for three reasons:
    1). He was the only European Monarch in history who was Muslim, excluding the Spanish Moors (who weren't actually from Europe).
    2). He survived 55 assassination attempts. I don't recall where, but I remember reading that he was the first monarch in quite some time to fight back against an assailant.
    3). He wasn't born into Royalty. He established his own Monarchy.
    He also smoked 150-ish cigarettes a day. I love smoking, but that would make me vomit. Plus, the Zogist salute looks pretty amazing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...