Monday, November 7, 2011

Visit Lovely Albania

I am only fifty pages into this biography of King Zog of Albania (Europe’s only Muslim monarch), and it is already apparent that early-20th-century Albania was the least governable, least hospitable place that ever existed, with the possible —possible — exception of Somalia. Wealth is measured in guns; apart from the few crimes that a chieftain was empowered to punish (by confiscating a cow or burning down a house), the only method of enforcing law was by blood-feud; the country is so insular that there is no leavening of Europeanized elites. After World War I, the Italians managed to gain sovereignty over an island off the Albanian coast, Saseno — but there was no fresh water, so apart from a few fishermen’s families, no one could live there. (Wikipedia lists its current population as “uninhabited.”) Albania was apparently hostile to human beings, foreigners especially. All they have going for them is that their women are beautiful.

This story from page 25 caught my eye. The “prince” referred to is Wilhelm of Wied, a German nobleman chosen by the Great Powers in 1914 as a compromise candidate to be “king” “of” Albania. (Like Maximilian of Mexico, as depicted in this cartoon.) His reign lasted six months. The story comes near the end of his reign, when his minister of the interior, Essad Pasha Toptani, is fomenting a Muslim rebellion against him (despite being funded by the Serbs, who are Orthodox and hated by the Albanian Muslims; are the Balkans always like this?):
By the end of the month, even the Prince could not fail to see the treachery surrounding him. Toptani was implicated in a Muslim uprising which threatened Durrës itself. When Toptani refused to accept dismissal, Wilhelm set up two field guns in his palace garden and bombarded the ministerial residence next door till a white sheet fluttered from the bedroom window. 

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