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Zog I: First King of Independent Albania

King Zog of Albania
King Zog of Albania was born Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli on October 8, 1895 in Burgajet Castle, near Burrel in the Ottoman Empire.  He was the second son of Xhemal Pasha Zogolliwith his second wife Sadijé Toptani.

He was educated at Galatasaray High School (Lycée Impérial de Galatasaray) in Constantinople, which was then the capital of the declining Ottoman Empire, which controlled Albania. With his father’s death in 1911, Zogolli became governor of Mat, superseding his elder brother, Xhelal Bey Zogolli.

As head of the Zogolli, one of the four ruling families of the Mati district, he gained early distinction as a supporter of the Prince of Weid in 1914.

When World War I came, he fought for the Austrians. After the war, he became minister of the interior (Jan. – Nov. 1920), and organized resistance to the Yugoslav incursions during the autumn.

He was commander-in-chief of the national forces under the “Sacred Union” cabinet (Oct. – Dec. 1921), and again distinguished himself against the Yugoslavs. As minister of the interior in DjaferYpi’s cabinet (Dec. 1921 – Dec. 1922), he suppressed a serious insurrection in March 1922, and disarmed the lowlanders.

In Dec. 1922, he was elected prime minister in which capacity he governed with ability, pursuing a sound anti-irredentist and constructive policy. However, at the end of 1923 he was accused by the Democratic party of obstructing various progressive and agrarian reforms.

Following an attempt upon his life he resigned in Feb. 1924, but his influence remained. A revolt against him and his colleagues took place in June, and he sought refuge in Yugoslavia. Skillfully turning to his advantage the Yugoslavian policy, he returned to Albania in Dec. 1924 and ousted his successor, Archbishop Fan Noli.

His election as president of the Albanian republic on Feb. 1, 1925, ushered in a period of internal tranquility, with several major reforms making their way. Italy became Albania strongest ally. The Italian government actually lent his government funds in exchange for a greater role in Albania's fiscal policy. Serfdom was gradually eliminated. And Albania started to emerge as a nation rather than a mere collection of feudal localities. However, his administration was met with disputes with Kosovar leaders, primarily Hasan Prishtina and Bajram Curri.

While reforms have been instituted, Albania turned into a police state. Civil liberties were curtailed, the press censored and political opponents killed. The constitution gave Zogu virtually unopposed executive and legislative powers, including the right to appoint one-third of the upper house.

On Sept. 1, 1928, Albania was transformed into a monarchy, with Zogu proclaimed as King. Rather than using his name Ahmet as his regnal name, he took his surname Zogu since the former sounded Islamic, which might prevent him from joining the ranks of European royals.

On the same day, he was proclaimed Field Marshal of the Royal Albanian Army. As a constitutional monarch, he established a strong police force, and instituted the Zogist salute (flat hand over the heart with palm facing downwards). Zog hoarded gold coins and precious stones, which were used to support Albania's first paper currency.

The constitution barred any member of the Royal Family from serving as head of government or or a member of the Cabinet. In 1929, the King abolished Islamic law in Albania, and in its lieu, a civil code adapted from Switzerland was instituted.

In 1938, Zog allowed Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution in Germany to come to Albania.

King Zog was somewhat disregarded by other European monarchs because of his lack of connection with other reigning houses. He was, however, recognized by the governments of Italy, Luxembourg, Egypt, Yugoslavia, France, Romania, Greece, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria.

On April 27, 1938, he married Countess Geraldine Apponyi of Hungary; a son being born to them on April 5, 1939. Three days later, on the Italian occupation of Albania, the King and Queen became exiles.

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