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The Monarchy Lives No More

Who is the Heir to Albania's Throne?

Leka Zogu, the current heir to the Albanian throne, was born on April 5, 1939, only two days before his father, King Zogu I (born Ahmet Bej Zogolli), and his Hungarian-born mother, Geraldina (born Countess Apponyi von Nagy-Appony), left Albania fleeing Italian occupational troops.

Leka Zogu's father, Ahmet Zogu (1895-1961), came from a patriarchal family of the Mati region in central Albania. His father, Xhemal Pasha, was one of the most powerful clan leaders in the region and as such was recognized as pasha of the Mati region by the Ottoman Empire. After Albania became independent in 1912, Ahmet Zogolli became active in Albanian politics as one of the most prominent representatives of feudal lords and major land owners whose title and riches dated from the times Albania was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Until 1924, Ahmet Zogolli's opponents were the so-called liberals, educated intellectuals who wanted radical reforms in Albania and its Europeanization, but enjoyed no major backing from the population of which over 90 percent were illiterate. In December, 1924, Ahmet Zogu eliminated all his opponents, who had ousted him in June that year, and in 1925 became the country's prime minister. In 1928 he proclaimed himself king, becoming King Zogu I.

Zogu is considered a controversial personality. As a very ambitious man, with a great talent for exploiting Albanian flaws, he had strong intuition and an ability to get others to work for him even if they were unwilling to do so. He is believed to have established the first stable Albanian state and the first Albanian administration. His rule was, by all means, despotic and arbitrary. This, coupled with the support extended to him by chief feudal lords who were against reforms the country badly needed, made him highly unpopular among the most educated Albanians. His departure and the Italian occupation enabled Albania to develop other political forces, such as communists and nationalists, who were against the king's return and who appear to have had greater popular backing than the king's supporters, legalists. At the beginning of the anti-fascist movement, these three factions acted together, but were later overpowered and destroyed by the communists.

Albania's communists convened on May 24, 1944, at a congress in Permet where they formed the first government and declared the end of the monarchy, prohibiting Zogu's return to the country. On January 11, 1945, they proclaimed the Republic of Albania. Formally, Zogu I abdicated in 1946. Zogu's rather poor popular rating both among the communists and the nationalists, his short rule and lack of support from abroad, were reasons enough for Albanians not to experience his dethroning as an injustice, especially at the time when the communists were suppressing national feelings by propaganda promising the people a happier and better future after the poverty and ignorance that marked the Zogu era.

The rehabilitation of Zogu I owned much to the cruel communist dictatorship that resulted in the country's complete isolation. Because of that, the people began viewing Zogu and his times in a different, more positive light.

The heir to the throne of King Zogu I, his son Leka Zogu, never had a chance to visit Albania. During the communist era, Leka Zogu lived first in England, then in Egypt, in Spain, and finally in South Africa, where he lives today. Following his father's death in 1961, his yearning to return to Albania as its king only grew. Together with his court, as well as with the Albanian diaspora, which, however, remains divided, he was quite active politically.

The Return of Leka Zogu

Shortly before the fall of communism, and especially in its wake, Leka Zogu was increasingly mentioned as one of the possible factors in Albania's political life. He himself was rather obscure, but the myth surrounding his father gave him a boost among one-time monarchists who were fiercely persecuted during the communist era, becoming staunch supporters of his return. Two mutually opposed parties of legalists were formed in Albania, each struggling to win the support of the future king.

The Democratic Party's coming to power, however, under the leadership of authoritarian president and former communist Sali Berisha made the return of Leka Zogu much more difficult. The parties that supported his return were legal, but this could not happen because the Democrats annulled the conclusions of the Permet Congress. Leka Zogu arrived in Tirana for the first time in 1994, in violation of the ban. He turned up at Rinas Airport with a passport issued by his phantom kingdom and not by South Africa, of which he is a citizen. He was not stopped from entering the country. But he was allowed to spend only one night in Tirana and on the next day he was escorted by police back to the airport and sent out of Albania.

In his program, Leka Zogu says he is king of the Albanians, is in favor of an Albania consisting of all regions populated by Albanians, and one of his priorities is the unification of Albania and Kosovo.

The second return of Leka Zogu took place in 1997, at a time Albania had sunken deeply into anarchy caused by the fall of pyramid investment schemes which Berisha did not know how to resolve. That year early elections were held on June 29. Leka Zogu returned, planning to push for a referendum allowing Albanians to chose between a monarchy or a republic. This time around Berisha, still Albania's president, consented, because he was pressured by the Socialists whom he knew Leka despised even more than his party. In the spring of 1997 speaking poor Albanian and surrounded by an incompetent team, Leka Zogu launched his election campaign. The anarchy caused by extremist political clashes prompted the people to begin viewing the possibility of a king resolving the chaos and fierce power struggle in a positive light. Leka Zogu tried to take advantage of the situation and win in the referendum. In his campaign he insisted on a contract with the people and not with political parties, which he insisted should reach an agreement and cease fighting.

In the 1997 elections the people also were to choose between a monarchy and a republic. Paradoxically, although most voters cast their ballots for the left center, and although the royalist Legalitet party won 3-4 percent of the vote, some 30 percent were in favor of the monarchy. There were rumors that the percentage was even greater, but that both the Socialists and the Democrats, who sat on election commissions, doctored the results.

Immediately after the results were announced, claiming election fraud Leka Zogu attempted an armed assault on the Central Election Commission, leading a group of his fanatical supporters. One person died in the ensuing riots. The weak Albanian police, assisted by foreign troops present in Albania at the time, prevented Leka Zogu from attaining his goal. As a result of international intervention, Leka Zogu was forced out of the country, and charges for armed rebellion were pressed against him. As far as his Albanian citizenship is concerned, it appears that Leka Zogu considers himself a citizen of his Albanian kingdom, and it is not known whether he has applied for Albanian citizenship. His political stance was always that he should be either king of Albania, or live outside the country.

Be it as it may, he has a party supporting him, which views itself as a rightist organization, but it is unknown how much support it enjoys. During the recent election campaign it formed an alliance -- the Union for Victory -- with the Democratic Party and a number of smaller parties. The party has a newspaper called Atdheu (Homeland) which is not published regularly.

With the passage of time the likelihood of Leka Zogu's return to Albania as a monarch is diminishing. In his interviews, however, he never denies that this is his chief goal. His pretensions, however, are increasingly less probable because the republican system is being strengthened in Albania and Leka Zogu's reputation and his connections are deteriorating. In interviews after his second deportation from the country, he kept stressing he was not abandoning the idea of holding a second referendum in Albania, and that he will do so as soon as the right moment appears. When a referendum on a new constitution, which was supposed to define Albania as a republic, was being prepared in 1998, he issued a proclamation that those who voted for the constitution will be considered traitors.

Leka Zogu demanded to return to Albania as a king. He never attempted to enter politics as a citizen, and it appears that such pretensions will continue to alienate him from Albania.

Fatos Lubonja (AIM Tirana)