Zog I

Zog I (1895-1961) was an Albanian ruler who fought to defend Albanian autonomy.

Ahmed Bey Zog, originally Zogolli (Zogu), son of the most powerful Muslim chieftain in northern Albania, the head of the Mati tribe, was born in the village of Burgayet. His formal Ottoman education was limited to three years of study, first at the Galata-Serail Lyceum for notables and later at a military school in Bitola (Monastir). Following his training, Zog resided briefly in Constantinople. In 1911 he was called back to Albania to lead his tribe in a revolt against the increasing authority of the Young Turks. The following year he distinguished himself in a campaign against the invading Serbian army. During that conflict Zog fought in defense of Albanian autonomy, and when Albania's independence was proclaimed in the marketplace of Vlorë on November 28, 1912, Zog was among the eighty-some notables present.

Zog was one of the first supporters of the new Albanian state. In March 1914 a German Prince, William of Wied, was selected by the Great Powers as Albania's ruler. Despite Zog's considerable military backing, Prince William was no able to suppress an Italian-sponsored rebellion against his government and he thus fled Albania in September 1914. Having returned to their northern district, Zog and his tribesmen joined the Austrians who penetrated Albania during the early stages of the First World War. Initially the Austrians awarded Zog with the title of Imperial and Royal Colonel and the Order of Francis Joseph, but later, suspecting him of plotting to restore Albanian independence, they interned him in Vienna until the end of the war. Zog returned to Albania in November 1918 to discover a country overwhelmed by crisis. The nation had been physically devastated by the preceding conflict, central authority was non-existent, and most of Albania was under foreign occupation. In February 1920 an Albanian provisional government was formed in order to organize resistance against the French, Greek, Italian, and Yugoslav plans for the partition of Albania. Zog was appointed interior minister and commander-in-chief of the Albanian armed forces. Due to international diplomatic conditions, and in no small part to Zog's military leadership, Albania succeeded in preserving its territorial integrity, and by November 1921, all foreign occupation forces had withdrawn from Albania.

Taking advantage of his countrymen's admiration of his organizational skills and his proven determination to rid Albania of foreign troops, Zog pursued parliamentary politics as a means to promote his ambitions. In the politically unstable period from 1921 to 1924 Zog advanced his influence at every opportunity through the Albanian military and the Legislative Assembly. After exploiting a number of political crises as his pretext, Zog entered the capital of Tirana at the head of the army in December 1921 and proclaimed martial law. During the following year Zog attempted to crush his opponents which condemned him for governing as a dictator, but opposition to his regime expanded under the leadership of his former parliamentary ally, Fan Stylian Noli. Nevertheless, Zog became prime minister in December 1922. That same month Noli and his supporters left Zog's Popular party to organize an opposition bloc in parliament. After a series of electoral crises, mounting parliamentary and popular opposition, and an assassination attempt against him, Zog resigned from the premiership in February 1924. A new government was formed without Zog, but it was made up of his cronies and it was apparent that Zog continued to rule using the government as his front. Dissatisfaction with Zog's policies was great enough to produce a rebellion against his government. On June 10, 1924, Zog fled to Yugoslavia as insurgents entered Tirana. Zog's rival, Noli, took command of the state and formed a new liberal government. However, in December 1924, with the military backing of the Yugoslavs, Zog returned to Albania and forced Noli into exile.

With the overthrow of the Noli government and the emergence of Zog as Albania's dominant political personality, prospects for the survival of a democratic parliamentary system dimmed. A newly convened parliament under Zog's control proclaimed him president at the close of January 1925. In March of that same year a new constitution was approved which invested the president with virtually dictatorial powers. Despite at least five different uprisings, Zog continued to solidify his authority. On September 1, 1928, Zog realized his ultimate ambition-the parliament unanimously proclaimed Albania a hereditary monarchy and Zog assumed the title of "Zog I, King of the Albanians." Zog's royal dictatorship was characterized by a combination of despotism and Western reform. Although Zog continued to practice oppressive policies, his regime enacted a substantial number of reforms. Western-style civil, commercial, and penal codes were adopted while some modern facilities and technology were introduced into Albania for the first time. A major land-tenure. reform law was approved in 1930, but was never effectively implemented.

Although Zog succeeded in centralizing his regime's political authority, he was incapable of developing Albania's primitive economy with the domestic resources at his disposal-his policies in this sphere eventually led to his downfall. Zog turned to Italy for assistance. Accordingly, in March 1925 Rome and Tirana concluded a far-reaching economic agreement which quickly drew both countries closer together politically as well. By 1927 Italian economic and political influence so dominated Albania that Rome had assumed responsibility for the training and equipping of the Albanian army. During the 1930s Zog attempted on several occasions to lessen Rome's tightening grip on Albania. However, in April 1939, angered by Zog's refusal to transform Albania into an Italian protectorate, Mussolini's forces invaded Albania. The Italian army was met with little resistance, and Zog fled to Greece on April 8, 1939, to join his wife, Geraldine Apponyi of Hungary, whom he had married a year earlier, and his newborn son, Leka. Zog's monarchy came to a formal end on April 12, 1939, when the Albanian parliament abolished the 1928 constitution and proclaimed Albania's union with Rome by offering the crown to the Italian monarch, Victor Emmanuel III. Zog's wartime attempts to gain allied recognition, organize a provisional government, and lead an Albanian resistance movement against the axis from abroad ended unsuccessfully. Until his death outside Paris in 1961, Zog spent most of his very private years in exile in Britain, Egypt, and France. Although Zog's regime ended in failure, it was significant for having established the foundations for a cohesive and centralized Albanian state.


Further Reading on Zog I

See King Zog and the Struggle for Stability in Albania, Bernd Jurgen Fischer (1984).