Leka, Crown Prince of Albania
Leka, Crown Prince of Albania (also known as King Leka I; 5 April 1939 – 30 November 2011), was the only son of King Zog I of the Albanians and his queen consort, born Countess Géraldine Apponyi de Nagyappony. He was called Crown Prince Skander at birth. Leka was pretender to the Albanian throne and was referred to as King Leka I by Albanian monarchists and some members of the media.
Family and early life
King Zog I of the Albanians was forced into exile only two days after the birth of Crown Prince Leka due to the Italian invasion of Albania. Shortly after, he was replaced on the throne of Albania by Victor Emmanuel III of Italy — an action the King of Italy would later plead personal forgiveness for.
Crown Prince Leka began life in exile in various countries. After travelling across Europe, the Royal Family settled in England, first at the Ritz Hotel in London, then moving for a very short period in 1941 to South Ascot, near Ascot in Berkshire, and then in 1941 to Parmoor House, Parmoor, near Frieth in Buckinghamshire.
Through his mother, Leka has some attested distant mediaeval roots in Albania, whereas his father's much closer Albanian ancestry cannot be historically attested, except by oral history as far as the Middle Ages. The Zogu family were one of the main Principalities that fought beside the Albanian hero Skanderbeg against the invading Turks, and Mamica Kastriot (Skanderbeg's sister) reputedly married into the Toptani family, which King Zog's mother came from.
Leka was educated at Parmoor House, and then at English schools in Egypt and at Aiglon College, Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland. Fluent in many languages he also studied economics at the Sorbonne and passed out of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England. Following this he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army. He had since made his money with successful business deals in commodities.
Leka became heir apparent of the abolished throne on 5 April 1957. On the death of King Zog in 1961, Leka was proclaimed King of the Albanians by a convened Albanian National Assembly-in-Exile, in a function room at the Hotel Bristol, Paris. He also held the position of 2nd Sovereign Head of the Order of Skanderbeg, the Order of Fidelity and the Order of Bravery.
Marriage and exile
In 1975, Leka married Australian citizen and former teacher Susan Cullen-Ward in Biarritz. They were married in a civil ceremony in the Hôtel de Ville, Biarritz. The wedding reception, at a five-star Toledo Roadhouse, was attended by members of other exiled royal families, loyal Albanians and friends, who toasted "Long live the King".
The couple returned to Madrid, where they were befriended by King Juan Carlos and continued to enjoy the attentions of Albanians while awaiting what they knew must be the fall of Communism. But when it was discovered that Leka not only retained some Thai bodyguards, but had what was described as an arms cache in their home, the Spanish Government asked him to leave. That Leka had some reason for his fears was proved when his plane arrived at Gabon for refueling, to find it was being surrounded by local troops, who were said to have been hired to capture him by the Albanian government. He saw them off by appearing at the plane's door with a bazooka in his hand. The couple went on to Rhodesia but, after Robert Mugabe took power, they settled in a large compound near Johannesburg where they were given diplomatic status by the South African Government.
Leka spent many years exiled in Bryanston, South Africa, where his son, Prince Leka Anwar Zog Reza Baudouin Msiziwe, was born. He eventually returned to Albania, settling in Tirana, Albania, where his wife, Crown Princess Susan, died on 17 July 2004.
Return to Albania
In 1993 he entered Albania for the first time (since being exiled aged a few days old in 1939), doing so under a passport issued by his own Royal Court-in-exile. In this passport, which the Albanian government had refused to recognise previously, Leka listed his profession as "King". Leka was greeted by a crowd of approximately 500 supporters on his arrival at the airport. He stated at this time that he would renounce this passport and accept the status of a normal citizen if a referendum on the monarchy failed.
During the 1997 rebellion in Albania, Leka returned again, this time being greeted by 2,000 supporters. A referendum was held in Albania concerning a monarchical restoration. After a recount it was announced that the restoration was rejected by approximately two-thirds of those voting. The King questioned the independence of the election. Police intervened, gunfire broke out, one person was killed, and Leka fled. In 2011, Salih Berisha who was President at the time admitted "By 2003, the Albanian Parliament passed the law that recognized the attributes of the Royal Family and it was a right decision. Also I remind you that even the referendum was held in the context of flames of the communist rebellion and therefore cannot be considered a closed matter. The Stalinist principle of: ‘you vote, but I count the votes’ was applied in that referendum. But, the fact of the matter is the Albanians voted massively for their King, but the referendum failed to meet quotas as it was manipulated."
When asked if he intended to leave Albania he replied: "Why? It is my country." After leaving Albania of his own accord he was tried and sentenced to three years imprisonment for sedition, in absentia; this conviction was pardoned in March 2002, when 72 members of Parliament asked the royal family to return.
Leka was backed by the Party of Right and Legality (PLL). PLL is an extreme-right monarchist party and a marginal factor in Albanian politics. It formed a coalition with other parties in Albania. Leka, however, did not vote, stating that
Leka was head of the Movement for National Development. He argued that he was a fighter for a Greater Albania in terms of ethnicity and that his restoration as king would make possible this goal. However, in February 2006, he announced he would be withdrawing from political and public life.
He died on 30 November 2011 in Mother Teresa Hospital, Tirana. He was buried next to his wife’s and mother’s grave at the public Sharra cemetery in a Tirana suburb.Later he was buried in the royal mausoleum.