As has been described in Part 1, Zog’s attainment of the kingship paved the way for him to step up his autocratic rule over the citizenry. Zog was now politically more secure against his internal rivals, but the broader reality of the plenipotentiary’s (and Albania’s) position was still that of a very small fish in a large and increasingly volatile European lake.
Dicing with the Devil
Given the backwardness and poverty of an Albania that was still essentially feudal, Zog realised that the country needed large injections of external finance to achieve modernisation. Zog’s government had approached the newly formed League of Nations but to no avail (although Yugoslavia provided an early loan). Needing more money to develop Zog eventually turned to fascist Italy and the two countries entered into talks. As a result of the 1926 Pact of Friendship and Security Albania secured loans of around 20 million lira from Mussolini – but in exchange for the loss of its independence in foreign policy. A second Tiranë Pact in 1927 netted Zog a further £140,000 at the cost of a further diminution of Albania’s sovereignty, Italy negotiated more influence over Albania’s militia (including control of its training). Consequently the Italians ended up with a “virtual protectorate over Albania”.
Follow up bilateral treaties tied Albania to Italy economically by monopolising its trade. Albania granted Italy new petroleum concessions
¤ and the right to build military fortifications on Albanian soil. These pacts kept Albania in a subordinate position vis-à-vis Mussolini’s Italy. Its economic development was hamstrung, industrialisation was stagnant, having achieved little headway, by 1939 production was still predominantly agricultural and the state was forced to rely on imports from Italy, a situation that Rome was perfectly content to see persist.
Roadblocks to Reform
Education in Albania during Zog’s rule was state-controlled but made slow progress due to a combination of factors, eg, lack of national educational infrastructure, shortage of teachers, resistance from religious institutions and communities, (Greek) Orthodox, (Italian) Catholic, Ottoman/Muslim. By 1939 the literacy rate was only 15% (only marginally up from 10% in the early 1920s).
Some scholars have placed stress on Zog’s distinctiveness as a European Muslim monarch (eg, JH Tomes, King Zog of Albania: Europe’s Self-Made Muslim Monarch, (2004)) but in reality the footprint of Islam didn’t feature in his policies. Once entrenched in power Zog legislated to ensure the primacy of secular law. Islamic law was supplanted by Western civil (Swiss/French), criminal and commercial codes. Zog’s government in 1923 put an end to polygamy and the wearing of the hijab. However for purposes of political unity he still endeavoured to appeal to the diversity of communities within Albania, eg, his oath of allegiance at his coronation was sworn on both the Bible and the Koran, a further manifestation of Zog’s dualism.
With the rise of European fascism in the 1930s Mussolini had become more emboldened in his foreign policy, engaging in widespread colonial adventurism, eg, Ethiopia, Balearic Islands. Zog, perturbed that Albania was becoming more and more a client state of Italy, tried to counterbalance Rome’s excessive influence by forging trade treaties with Greece and Yugoslavia. But Albania (and Zog) were in a very difficult situation from either direction, both Italy and Serbia were attracted to its territory and the lure of unfettered access to the Adriatic.
Endgame for Albania’s independence
By the late 1930s Zog was baulking at Mussolini’s demands for even greater Italian incursions into Albania. The linchpin for Mussolini’s decision to invade its Adriatic neighbour was Nazi Germany’s sudden, unexpected takeover of Czechoslovakia … Mussolini, peeved at Hitler’s unilateral move without informing his Italian allies, immediately launched his action as a tit-for-tat gesture.
The military conflict was short-lived, the meagre, poorly equipped forces of Albania’s army (trained by Italians, itself a factor compromising its will to resist) put up a feeble fight (although small pockets of the resistance did fight valiantly if briefly). In the middle of the ‘defence’ Zog and his retinue fled the country, slinking off with him a significant chunk of the nation’s gold reserves. The Albanian people he left behind were absorbed into the Italian empire, the country was made nominally autonomous with Albania’s largest landowner, Shefqet Verlaci (onetime Zog’s prospective father-in-law), appointed as prime minister. This was for appearances though as control of Albania was entirely in Italian hands (until the fall of Italy in 1943), and Mussolini set about implementing an Italian colonisation program in ‘Greater Albania'.
House-moving with the Zogu family
In exile Zog (and his family including heir to the throne Prince Leka) led a peripatetic life which took them to Greece, Egypt, the south of France, England (living in London, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire), returning to Egypt as guests of King Farouk until the deposition of Farouk himself. Zog spent the final part of his life living quietly in Paris.
An intriguing side story of Zog’s exile was the grand castle and estate he purchased in New York in 1951. Zog intended to inhabit the 60 room mansion (the Knollwood Estate in Muttontown, NY) and turn it into his palace-in-exile, complete with Albanian retainers and servants. The Zogus never carried through with the planned relocation to the US and the property was sold in 1955, the mansion eventually fell into disrepair and decay, and was later demolished. The scattered remnants of the Zogu estate (in what is known as the Muttonwood Preserve) such as they are, are a curiosity piece today for hikers and other visitors.
Moderniser? Harbinger of Nationalism?
A perception of Zog as being a comical figure in history, not to be taken too seriously and the sense of him being of at best minor importance, obscures whatever Zog may have achieved as head of state for Albania and Albanians. The exaggerated pomp and ceremony of his monarchical style didn’t help to elevate him in the opinion of those outside of the country. Even when he announced his kingship to the world in 1928, the international response was more or less universally underwhelming. Hardly anyone, certainly none of the major powers, rushed to recognise the event. There were those who publicly rebuked him, such as the Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who refused to recognise Zog’s kingdom and ridiculed the Tiranë royal court as being like a scenario from an operetta.
Notwithstanding all of this, Zog was a leader who made a genuine attempt at modernising. Modernisation for a backward, hidebound country like Albania entailed Westernisation. Zog introduced a Western state apparatus and constitution and secular legal system. Under Zog Albania made some progress in education and other areas of society (albeit starting from a very low base!), but his accomplishments were only partial or often heavily qualified. This can be attributed to a number of factors. Albania suffered badly from a chronic lack of financial reserves and limited resources, hence the ill-advised reliance (as it turned out) on fascist Italy to provide the shortfall. Some of the projects (eg, public works in the new capital) involved extravagant waste. And like everywhere else at that time, Albania ran smack bang into the Great Depression and the catastrophic economic dislocation that ensued would have had a retarding impact on Zog’s programs and reforms. Corruption and misappropriation, predictably for a despotic regime, also played its part in hindering Albania’s progress.
A by-product of Zog’s consolidation of power was the formative development of nationalism in Albania, a consciousness already kick-started by his prime ministerial predecessors. At the uncertain beginnings of Albanian independence which was born out of the upshot of the Balkan Wars, conditions were far from propitious for engendering nationalist sentiments – the many obstacles included:
⌲ the Albanian language had not been widely disseminated because the Ottomans had forbidden its teaching in school
⌲ because of aggressive designs by Greece and Serbia on its territory, many Albanians viewed Turkey positively as it provided protection to small and vulnerable Albania. Moreover the Ottoman Empire provided a defined path for career advancement for Albanians – either in the army or in the civil service
⌲ the bonds of clanism and localism were very entrenched in Albania
⌲ the churches were not a unifying force because there was no one, dominant religion in the country (spiritual instruction was spread between the four coexisting faiths – Orthodox, Catholic and two separate strands of Islam)
Zog managed to get round most of these handicaps and foster a measure of nationalist feeling among Albanians through several state strategies … using the education system to inculcate a nationalist consciousness and desire for national independence; creating autocephalous churches to block the sources of external authority and bring the clerical leadership under national control; shaping the tiny national army into a “melting pot” of recruits drawn from all parts of Albania; by achieving some improvements in communication and transport infrastructure (eg, extending the road network) the police and tax collectors gained greater access to the far-away northern tribes in their mountain retreats. There is an irony in the extent to which Zog made inroads into the sectionalism of Albania and achieved an element of unification and nationalist consciousness … he laid part of the groundwork for communist strongman Enver Hoxha later on to set up a very different brand of nationalism.
Postscript: Enter the pretenders
After Zog I died in 1961 his only son and heir Leka had himself consecrated ‘King Leka I of Albania’, notwithstanding the fact that the Hoxha communist regime of Albania abolished the monarchy in 1946. Leka married an Australian teacher and, being an admirer of Franco, lived in Spain where he worked as a commodities broker. Some of those ‘commodities’ it transpired were weapons and armaments (prompting the post-Franco authorities in Madrid to move the Zogus on)❦. They moved to Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) but clashed with Robert Mugabe, necessitating another move, this time settling in South Africa.
Leka, throughout his life, sincerely campaigned for his restoration as King of the Albanians (and for Kosovo’s integration into Albania). An attempt to return to the country of his birth in 1995 was stopped at Tiranë airport when authorities barred his entry because his passport (issued by the Albanian Government-in-Exile, ie, by himself) listed his occupation as “King of Albania”.
He was more successful two years later when the Albanian (Berisha) Government found itself under pressure from the public for its part in failed financial schemes and was forced to allow both Leka’s return and a referendum on the question of the monarchy’s restoration in Albania. Only 30-35% however voted for the monarchy. Leka responded by alleging that the ballot was rigged by the government, and a shoot-out erupted at the electoral centre between Leka’s personal militia and the police before Leka’s entourage fled in a private jet. ‘Colourful’ would be an apt description for Zog’s son who enjoyed shooting and hunting and was given to swanning round in military fatigues.
The pretender to the throne was subsequently sentenced in absentia to three years imprisonment – which was later overturned with Leka being pardoned. Surprisingly in 2002, after support was mustered within the Albanian parliament by right-wing monarchists, the government permitted the return of Leka to his homeland.
Leka and his wife, ‘Queen’ Susan, had one son (Zog’s grandson), also named Leka, who had born in Johannesburg. After Leka I died in 2011 in Albania the crown prince was declared to be the successor to the Albanian throne. Prince (or King) Leka II, as he is known to some Albanian émigré monarchists, has initiated no active role in promoting the Zogu restoration in Albania. In fact he has been co-opted into the machinery of government in Tiranë, representing the Fourth Republic in various diplomatic posts.
¤ Albania had earlier granted Anglo-Persian Oil (partly British owned) extensive prospecting rights.
❦ Leka’s fascination with guns maintained the family tradition as Zog was famous for resorting to the use of weapons when needs be.
 ‘Tirana Pact’, (Papers Past – Press – 1 April 1927), www.paperspast.natlib.gov.nz
 The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, (3rd Edition, 1979) “Italian-Albanian Treaties and Agreements” Retrieved 20 July 2016 from http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Italian-Albanian+Treaties+and+Agreements ; BJ Fischer, ‘King Zog’s Albanian Interwar Dictator’, in Fischer (Ed.), Balkan Strongman: Dictators and Authoritarian Rulers of South Eastern Europe, (2007)
 E Sefa, ‘The Efforts of King Zog I for Nationalization of Albanian Education’, Journal of Educational and Social Research, 2(2) May 2012, www.mcser.org ; Fischer, ibid
 ‘Albanian Kingdom 1928-39’, (Wikipedia), www.en.m.wikipedia.org
 ‘Zog I of Albania’, (Wikipedia), www.en.m.wikipedia.org
 ‘Italian colonists in Albania’, (Wikipedia), www.en.m.wikipedia.org
 ‘King Zog’s Ruins’, (2008), Bygone LI, www.lioddities.com/Bygone/zoo.htm
 JH Tomes, King Zog: Self-Made Monarch of Albania, (2007)
 BJ Fischer, ‘A Brief Historical Overview of the Development of Albanian Nationalism’, paper delivered www.wilsoncenter.org
 ‘Leka I Zogu’, The Telegraph (London), 30-Nov 2011, www.telegraph.co.uk