The remains of Europe’s strangest monarch, King Zog I of Albania, were exhumed in France and repatriated to Albania on Thursday last week.
He was Europe’s only Muslim monarch, survived over 55 assassination attempts, his name sounds like something out of a 1950s B-movie but for some in Albania, King Zog’s peculiar reign is something to be remembered for posterity. For others, King Zog of Albania's most notable legacy may be the Zogist salute, a distinctive gesture signifying Albanian loyalty created by King Zog whereby the right hand is placed over the heart, with the palm facing downwards.
King Zog ruled Albania, from 1928 until 1939. He died in exile in France in 1961 reports website 20minutes.fr. Zog I was possibly the strangest monarch of the 20th century. History Today reports The Times newspaper calling him ‘the bizarre King Zog’ and his biographer, Jason Tomes in his volume “King Zog: Self-Made Monarch of Albania” refers to descriptions of him ranging from ‘a despotic brigand’ to ‘the last ruler of romance’.
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Royal Albanian Army c.1930 demonstrate Zogist salute
King Zog, born Ahmed Bey Zogolli (sometimes Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli ) or Ahmed Zogu in 1895, the son of an Albanian chef created the Albanian throne for himself, Europe’s only Muslim King ruling Europe’s most obscure country. In King Zog’s youth, Albania was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Albania almost fell apart during the First World War as neighbouring Balkan countries tried to annex chunks of Albanian territory, a process that was to have repercussions decades later in the shape of the crisis in Kosovo.
During the Albania of the 1920s, Albania had a succession of short-lived governments in which Ahmed Zogu, the future King of Albania, held various posts. In 1924 Zog was exiled but with the help of Yugoslav allies and mercenaries, he returned in triumph to Albania at the end of that year. Zogu established himself as a dictator with the title of President. His rule was ruthless with many opponents murdered. Zogu soon realised that he could not rule Albania without outside help and signed a military alliance with Italy, just a short distance away across the Strait of Otranto at the southern end of the Adriatic Sea, in 1927.
Italy would come to dominate Albania and so, with Italian approval, in 1928 Zogu made the decision to give permanence to his dictatorship. A new elected body came into being, but with strict government controls, and Albania was proclaimed a monarchy under Zog I, King of Albanians.
At King Zog’s investiture in the Albanian capital, Tirana, he swore an oath on both the Qur'an (Koran) and the Bible to maintain the country’s national unity, territorial integrity and independence. Albania’s short flirtation with monarchy was to last a mere 10 years and 7 months. He was ejected from power in 1939 by Italian Fascist leader Mussolini. Albania was annexed as an Italian protectorate. King Zog I, once more, found himself in exile, but this time much of his exile was spent in the more agreeable surroundings of London’s Ritz Hotel and in Paris. At the age of 65, King Zog I, King of Albanians, died in France in 1961.
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King Zog's grave at the Thiais cemetery, near Paris, France
After being on display in Tirana since their repatriation, King Zog’s remains will be installed in a specially built mausoleum today, Saturday. The mausoleum has been built as part of Albanian celebrations to mark the centenary of the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. Albania’s Socialist opposition intends to boycott today’s interment in Tirana and has accused Albania’s right wing government of manipulating former King Zog’s heritage for its own ends.
Albanians have also had the opportunity to restore the monarchy. In 1997 a referendum was held but Albanians rejected a return to monarchy. The rejection of the restoration had repercussions. Zog’s son, Leka Zogu refused to accept the result and embarked on an (unsuccessful) armed uprising. After the unsuccessful coup, Leka Zogu followed in his father’s footsteps...into exile, but subsequently returned to Albania where he died in 2011.
Today, a descendant of King Zog still retains some influence in Albanian government affairs. Zog’s grandson, Leka, is a political adviser to current Albanian President Bujar Nashani.