ON 22 OCTOBER The royal family of Albania was “delighted to announce” the birth of Princess Geraldine. The happy parents are Leka Anwar Zog Reza Baudouin Msiziwe Zogu, or more simply Prince Leka II, who claims the throne, and his wife Princess Elia, an actress. Could the baby one day be queen?
In 1997, Albania was the only former communist state to hold a referendum on the restoration of a monarchy. A third of voters were in favor. Prince Leka’s father, the self-proclaimed Leka I, who was returned to his homeland in 1993, marched to the electoral commission in Tirana, the capital, to complain of fraud. A man was killed in an ensuing shootout.
The oldest ruler of the state that emerged after centuries of Turkish Ottoman rule was an exceptionally vicious communist, Enver Hoxha, who ruled from the end of World War II until his death in 1985. But in the between the wars, it was Ahmed Zogu. , a tribal chief, who ran the show. From minister of the interior to president, he was proclaimed king in 1928. But Mussolini’s Italians invaded him in 1939 and chased him away. He died in France in 1961.
King Zog was a rudimentary modernizer. Some Albanians go back to their time with a nostalgic sentimentality. Tirana, the capital, has a statue of Zog and a Zog Boulevard. But Zog’s son Leka, the late father of the current claimant, although tall as a basketball player, was less impressive. Born to a half-Hungarian, half-American aristocrat (also called Geraldine) a few days before Zog’s flight, he was raised in England, Egypt and Switzerland. He resided, among other places, in Spain, then in Rhodesia and South Africa, and married a divorced Australian. Fascinated by firearms, he relentlessly yearned for a royal restoration. In 1979, he was expelled from Spain for flouting gun regulations. Her only son was born in South Africa. In 2002, Albania’s post-communist parliament invited the family to the house, granting them privileges including diplomatic passports.
Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Tirana, says Leka is “too kind” for Albania’s turbulent politics. When asked if he would like to be king, the prince shyly says in a singing South African accent that he “would like to serve in any way he can”. In the “theoretical” case of a restoration, it would be “very possible”, he says, to imagine the last Geraldine crowned queen of the Albanians.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “The Birth of Baby Zog”