Friday, October 08, 2010

In Memoriam: King Zog

Not content to be either Albania's Prime Minister (which he was from 1922 to 1924) or, following his return from a brief exile, President (1925-8), in September 1928 Ahmet Bey Zogu became Zog I, King of the Albanians. That's when the real fun started...

PhotobucketFor slightly more than a decade, King Zog (who was an Albanian aristocrat and claimed descent from the country's 15th Century national hero Skanderbeg) continued the reforms he'd begun as President: eliminating serfdom, moderating Islam* in the style of Kemal Ataturk, and generally presiding over what could have been a time of chaos following the country's independence from the Ottoman Empire with the moderating influence normally associated with constitutional monarchy. In retrospect, it would be the most stable decade in the history of modern Albania, despite the repressive methods he practiced over the country's Greek minority, which remain the worst blot on an otherwise progressive record.

Although (or, more likely, because) Zog was a moderate reformer, as King he survived more than 55 assassination attempts, including some by partisans of Shefqet Bey Verlaci, to whose daughter he'd been engaged and which engagement he'd broken off; during the most famous such attempt on his life, in Vienna in 1931, Zog drew the pistol he kept on his person and returned fire - a first for a King anywhere.

Born on this day in 1895, King Zog took a Queen in April 1938, in the person of half-Hungarian half-American Countess Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi; their only child, HRH Crown Prince Leka, was born the following year on April 5th. Two days later King Zog was deposed - only to be replaced by Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III following the invasion of Albania by their former closest allies - at which time the senior members of the House of Zogu fled into exile in England. King Zog died in France in April 1961, two days after the 22nd anniversary of his deposition, having invested Albania's plundered treasury in real estate as far away as Long Island.

Since he was such a colourful figure, King Zog has appeared from time to time in pop culture; he made a thinly fictionalized appearance in 1938 in the Tintin comic book series as King Muskar XII in King Ottokar's Sceptre, but most notably served as a kind of running gag on Monty Python's Flying Circus. The song Don Juan by those well-known anti-monarchists the Pet Shop Boys (the B-side to their 1988 single Domino Dancing) contains the phrase 'King Zog's back from holiday, Marie Lupescu's grey and King Alexander is dead in Marseilles', and his most famous assassination attempt was depicted in the 1987 film Aria, in which King Zog was played by Theresa Russell in a segment directed by Nicolas Roeg.

*His Majesty was Muslim himself.

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