Leka Zogu: Controversial 'king of the Albanians' who spent most of his life in exile

 

Leka of Albania was one of the most colourful and controversial characters on the 20th century Balkan scene, and one of the last links with the pre-Second World War Zogist monarchy. He was born in 1939 into a world of deep political crisis, with the government of his father, King Zog, Albania's first king, about to be snuffed out by Mussolini's forces. When Leka was one day old, his father held a great military parade in the capital, Tirana, a great provocation to the Duce in Rome.

Plans were laid for the immediate exile of Leka and his mother, Queen Geraldine. Zog's plan to retire to the mountains to head an anti-Fascist resistance was stymied by the treachery of the Yugoslavs, and he, too, fled into exile – in such confusion that the family Fabergé eggs and the queen's fortune were left behind – the family and a small entourage settling in northern Greece.

Leka was not to return to Albania for over 50 years, and the greater part of his life was spent in peripatetic exile, dominated by his mother, and he did not marry until 1975. The forceful Geraldine had numerous contacts among the European aristocracies, and most of the Second World War was spent in London, where they lived in the Ritz hotel for a time, and then near Ascot.

Zog's hope that he would be able to secure British support for his return to the throne when the war ended was reinforced by his close relationship with key members of the Special Operations Executive, like Julian Amery, who were sent from SOE HQ in Cairo to assist the pro-royalist resistance to the Axis. The Foreign Office, though, was never inclined to forgive Zog for his pro-Italian leanings in the 1930s and gave enough support to pro-Communist groups under the control of Enver Hoxha's Partisans to enable them to seize power before the war ended elsewhere in Europe. Amery remained a lifelong friend.

The family then moved to Egypt, where the Farouk monarchy was of Albanian descent, and the 10-year-old Leka was enrolled at Victoria College. He was a quiet, studious boy, already set apart from his contemporaries by his towering height – by adulthood he stood nearly 7ft tall. He survived life-threatening bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis, and in 1952 they left Egypt, as the Nasserite revolution approached.

In April 1961, while they were living in Paris, Zog died and Leka wassuddenly thrust into the limelight.He was consecrated King of the Albanians in the Hotel Bristol in Paris, in contrast to his father, who had been only King of Albania, and throughout his life he was a firm supporter of the national cause in Kosovo, the Cameria region of north-west Greece and western Macedonia.

In his 20s Leka was a great admirer of General Franco's Spain, and duly moved there in the mid-Sixties. Leka had always been fascinated by weapons, and was immensely proud of the fact that, when once an assassination attempt was made on his father, Zog was the only monarch in history known to have returned fire.

Leka travelled with a large personal arsenal, something that sometimes brought him into conflict with the authorities in transit countries. He acquired a raffish reputation as an arms dealer in the West, and some countries barred his entry. Politically, his struggle was always to establish his legitimacy, in the face of the problem of the collaboration of his father with Italy in the 1930s, and the underlying fact that Zog, only a tribal chieftain in his youth, had no long or stable royal lineage. But in romantic, if often uncertain, exile he had at least had a clear role to play.

The end of Communism in 1990-91 complicated his life considerably. He wished to return to Albania but for a long time was unable to do so, as he would not accept that he was not still the legitimate king, and had that title on his passport. He was arrested at Tirana airport on one occasion and deported in 1995, allegedly to Brazil. His followers in Albania were split into two groups: those who wanted a constitutional monarchy; and those who wished to see him return to power under the semi-dictatorial 1929 constitution of his father Zog.

These tensions came to a height in 1997, when Leka was persuaded to return to Tirana to make a bid for power. He did so, and a referendum on the monarchy was only narrowly defeated, Leka claimed by the electoral manipulation of Daan Everts, the head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Leka's paramilitary units led an attack on the government buildings, and he only narrowly escaped arrest. He returned to exile in South Africa; the royalist cause seemed irrevocably lost, and it appeared unlikely that he would ever see his homeland again.

Yet, in one of the dramatic reversals of fortune that dominated his life, he was rescued from political oblivion by the Kosovo crisis. He had always campaigned actively and without thought of personal gain on the Kosovo Albanians' behalf, and had built up much goodwill in that community in their fight against Serbian occupation. He and his followers played a positive role in the wartime period, and millions of dollars were raised by royalist exiles in the US, particularly in Detroit, for humanitarian relief and for munitions for the Kosovo Liberation Army.

As the political atmosphere eased in Tirana, Leka returned to live in a grand house owned by an Albanian-American multi-millionaire and recently vacated by the Greek ambassador, a particularly satisfying irony as Leka had always regarded Greek expansionism as one of the central causes of instability in the region. The fact that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and his abstention from controversial political activity no doubt eased his passage home.

He continued to fight for Kosovo until his death, and in spring 2003 addressed a highly emotional gathering tocommemorate the foundation of the Prizren League at which he endorsed the principle of reunification of the Albanians. During his final years Leka stoutly resisted his illness but retired from public life, spending most of his time in Albania and taking great pride in his son's achievements as an officer cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, in Britain.

James Pettifer

Data Leka Zogu: born Tirana, Albania 5 April 1939; consecrated 1961 King of the Albanians; married 1975 Susan Cullen-Ward (died 2004; one son); died Tirana 30 November 2011.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week