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.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
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

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?