Zog the first (and last) was perhaps the most "strange" monarch of the 20th century. At least that's how he was characterized by the Times and Jason Tomes, the biographer of the Albanian leader, who also dubbed him "the last lord of romance". As his biographer wrote, Zog was a fan of westerns, classical music and Charlie Chaplin films.
He created his throne for himself and was the only Muslim king in Europe. He was born Ahmed Bey Zogolli or Ahmed Zogu in 1895, when the country was still part of the Ottoman Empire.
He spent his life in Albania and in exile until 1924, when he returned to his homeland with the support of Yugoslavia and an army of mercenaries, who were recruited by wealthy Albanian families, businessmen, and Zog's own family.
In a troubled country, he quickly managed to establish himself as a dictator, with the title of president, in which position he installed himself in 1925.
In 1928, the Albanian National Assembly was dissolved.
A new Constitutional Assembly amended the Constitution, turning Albania into a Kingdom and renaming Zogu Zog the First, "King of the Albanians".
The new Constitution abolished the Albanian Senate by creating a unicameral Assembly, but allowed King Zog to retain the expanded powers he had acquired during his term as President.
The monarchy was established in Albania by the new Constituent Assembly and Zog was officially proclaimed king. This kingdom was declared the heir of the "medieval kingdom of Skanderbeg", although Albania had gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire shortly before World War I, in 1913.
Shortly after his coronation, Zog broke off his engagement to the daughter of former prime minister Shevchet Verlaci. After this Verlazzi withdrew his support from the king and began to plot against him. Zog had amassed a large number of enemies over the next few years, which led to him being protected by a strong guard and rarely appearing in public. During a visit to Vienna in 1931, Zog was saved from an assassination attempt at the entrance to the State Opera.
Under Italian "protection"
Albania could enter the Balkan Pact, but its economic and financial dependence on Italy blocked its way. This was partly contributed to by the fact that no royal house in Europe recognized him as the head of a royal dynasty.
In November 1926, diplomatic delegations from Italy and Albania signed the Treaty of Tirana, by which the Balkan country received Italian "protection". A military alliance was signed in 1927 and Italy soon dominated Albania.
Isolated and in poor economic condition, for decades Albania lagged behind in social and educational development compared to other Balkan countries. In the mid-1930s only 13% of the population lived in cities and illiteracy prevailed in a large proportion of the population. About 90% of the country's farmers practiced subsistence farming, using old methods and tools such as wooden ploughs. Much of the country's now fertile soil lay in marshland. In Albania there was no banking system, railways, modern ports, effective army, universities or modern press. As a result, Albanians had the highest birth rate in Europe, but also the highest infant mortality rate, resulting in a life expectancy of no more than 38 years.
During the economic crisis of 1929-1933, in 1931 King Zog asked the Italians for a loan of 100 million gold francs, which was granted by Mussolini's fascist government. But in 1932 and 1933, Albania was unable to pay the interest on the loan and this left both the country and the monarch in a state of greater dependence on Italy.
In return, the Italians demanded the appointment of Italian technocrats and officers to positions in the Army, Royal Gendarmerie, banks, etc. In terms of trade and exports, Albania signed a trade agreement that made Italy the most favored nation in trade with the Balkan country.
Zog withdrew Islamic law and replaced it with the Swiss Civil Code, as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had already done in Turkey. He also tried to contribute to the development of industry and infrastructure, but the country was by no means ready to meet the monarch's plans.
In order to be recognized as king by Europe, even in the second year, he sought a wife from a noble house of Europe. After many searches, he finally married in April 1938 Countess Geraldini, from the Hungarian House of Karolyi, with whom he obtained on April 5, 1939 the coveted heir to the throne of Prince Skender. But again he failed in his attempt.
The definitive exile
Finally, the Kingdom of Italy invaded Albania on April 7, 1939. The invasion was largely a result of Mussolini's envy of the way Hitler had expanded his territory across Europe by annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Although Mussolini's main intention was to attack Greece and thus resurrect the "ancient Roman empire", he also required a geographical "tool" such as Albania. Albanian armed resistance was initially ineffective against the Italian forces. The king and his government were forced into exile and Albania ceased to be a de facto independent state.
However, the Italian regime established a "puppet" government with a new Constitution that officially turned Albania into an Italian colony. The Albanian throne was granted to King Victor Emmanuel III, who ruled until the withdrawal of Italy on September 3, 1943.
Zog and the queen with a small entourage initially fled to Greece where the then Metaxas Government immediately opened the borders granting them asylum where they stayed for a few days in Thessaloniki. From there they traveled by steamboat to England and then to Paris asking the allies for military aid for his country. However, with the occupation of Paris by the Germans, the royal family of Albania fled to Alexandria and from there to South Africa.
When Zog left Albania, he was still the country's rightful monarch, but he never made a serious attempt to regain the throne. Communist insurgents during and after the war, supported by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, crushed Albanian nationalist movements and installed a Stalinist regime that would rule for some 46 years.
King Zog was banned from entering Albania by the communist authorities and thus lived in exile for the rest of his life. He lived for a time at the Ritz Hotel in London, and died in France in 1961 aged 65.
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