30 November 2011

'King' Leka of the Albanians has died

"The Albanian Royal Court" announced today the death of the self-styled King Leka of the Albanians. The king died at the Mother Teresa Hospital in the Albanian capital of Tirana in the morning of 30 November 2011, 72 years old. He had been hospitalized earlier in November with heart and lung problems.

According to an Associated Press article, Saturday 3 December has been declared a day of national mourning, and President Bamir Topi has said that Albania "will respect King Leka I with all the attributes of a king not in office." In his condolence message the president also said that "His active efforts and role to topple the communist system and, during transition, to heighten Albania's national values and promote the integrating process remain alive in the nation's memory".

King Leka was born in Tirana on 5 April 1939 as the only child of King Zog (1895-1928-1939-1961) and Queen Geraldine, née Countess Apponyi de Nagy Appony (1915-2002). Through his mother King Leka was related to most reigning and former reigning royal families of Europe, as Geraldine descended from the Princely House of Anhalt-Dessau.

The royal family had to escape when Italy occupied Albania only a couple of days after Leka's birth. After many years in exile in among others United Kingdom, France, Spain and South Africa Leka was allowed to return to his fatherland in 2002. He was kicked out in 1993 when he first attempted to visit Albania, and again in 1997 after being charged with organizing an armed uprising following the demonstrations he lead after he lost a referendum on the form of government. Die-hard monarchists have claimed that the referendum was flawed. It should, howver, be added that the official result - about 33% in favour of restoration of the monarchy - was as far as I remember close to the last poll carried out before the referendum took place as well as the exit poll (I think it was the latter I wrote about in the newsgroup alt.talk.royalty on 13 June 1997).

Leka succeeded to the headship of the Albanian Royal Family on the death of King Zog in 1961 and styled himself King, which most of his supporters have referred to ever since. As he never held office as King, it might have made more sense to refer to him as Crown Prince Leka, just like his colleague in Yugoslavia (Serbia), Alexander, did. Alternatively one could have used his civil name, Leka Zogu.

King Leka married in 1975 the Australian-born Susan Cullen-Ward (1941-2004). They had one son, also named Leka, b. 1982, who has succeeded his father as head of the royal family. The new head, who works as a political adviser to the Albanian Minister of Interior, is engaged to marry the Albanian woman Elia Zaharia, b. 1983.

See also my website with links to more information about the Albanian Royal Family as well as the blog article I wrote in 2009 following my visit to the Thiais cemetery in Paris.


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