Robert C. Austin, „Royal Fraud: The Story of Albania’s First and Last King“

Major new book sheds light on probably the strangest monarch of the 20th century, King Zog I of Albania ‘the bizarre King Zog’ and ‘the last ruler of romance’… 

Few people will recall that Albania once had its own homegrown king who apparently said little but survived the most dangerous period in European history. Even before Albania was a kingdom it was often a mere curiosity. In 1912, when it declared independence from the Ottoman Empire, newspapers likened Albania to “Darkest Africa” with its gun-toting mountain dwellers, blood feuds, veiled women, and sheep. When it became a kingdom in 1928, with a self-declared King Zog I, the sniggering continued.

Robert Austin’s Royal Fraud: The Story of Albania’s First and Last King, publishing in March, tells the colourful story of this Balkan country’s first and only monarch, beginning its narrative in 1961, when Albanian King Zog I died in a Paris hospital after 22 years in exile. The road to becoming Europe’s youngest president in 1925 and then king of Albania in 1928 was paved with feuds and assassinations, a political career-path common in the region. He craved the throne for several reasons; the Balkans were mostly run by kings, and Zog wanted to impress his mother and give his six sisters an easy social rise.

Once king, his accomplishments were decidedly meagre. He spent most of his time keeping up appearances as a monarch despite the obvious fraud he had imposed on an illiterate and uninterested population. His one great success was that he had almost all his opponents assassinated, usually in broad daylight abroad. 

Zog retained his power until his ‘friend’ Mussolini ousted him in 1939. On the surface a Westerniser, this self-proclaimed ruler left Albania almost as he found it, with almost no roads or trains, thoroughly uneducated and utterly impoverished.

Robert Austin’s book combines Zog’s adventurous life story with a studious analysis of Albania’s political history from the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the threshold of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Robert C. Austin is the Associate Director at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.