|Prince Leka and his fiancee Elia Zaharia. Photo: Prince Leka’s Facebook Profile
On April 27, 1938, Albania hosted its first royal wedding, when King Zog married Hungarian aristocrat Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Appony.
The wedding, held in Tirana, was the most glamorous event the country had seen; tens of thousands of Albanians celebrated in the streets and dozens of foreign journalists from every continent came to report on it. Mussolini’s envoy was a witness and Hitler gave the couple a Mercedes as a wedding present.
One year later in April 1939, when Italian fascist forces invaded Albania, King Zog and his family left the country and lived for decades in exile.
Now, 78 years on, the grandson of King Zog, Prince Leka is going to be married in Tirana on October 8 in the country’s second royal wedding – a ceremony that the organisers have promised will be filled with royal pageantry.
Prince Leka came to Albania in 2002 after a childhood spent in exile in South Africa, and subsequently held advisory positions at the foreign ministry and the presidency.
Over the past two years, he has been managing his family’s properties and the Queen Geraldine foundation, which supports poor families, orphans and children in need.
He is marrying his long-time fiancee, the Albanian actress Elia Zaharia; preparations for the wedding started months ago and an internet page has been feeding those interested with the latest details of the event.
The organisers have promised that representatives of around 20 royal families from all over the world will visit Albania for the wedding, but their names are being kept secret for security reasons.
Sulejman Gjanaj, the head of the Legality Movement, a small right-wing monarchist party that supports the Albanian royal family, told BIRN that the wedding is going to endorse the status of the Albanian royals and ensure the legacy of King Zog.
“The fact that over 20 royal families and more than 100 aristocrats from all over the world will participate in this wedding is an indicator of the approval that the Albanian royals have,” Gjanaj said.
“This is the best reply to all those who have falsified the history of our country and have denied the legitimate rights of the royal family,” he added.
After World War II, when the Communists took over the country, King Zog and his family were considered traitors and removed from history books.
Gjanaj said he believes that Prince Leka, like his grandfather King Zog and father King Leka, is seeking to contribute to his country.
“Even with his wedding, Prince Leka has tried to take care of Albania, bringing to the highest level of world aristocracy and serving to improve the country’s image in the world,” he said.
The Albanian royal family has no special status or official role in the country today but its members are invited to state ceremonies.
Some Albanians told BIRN that they were excited by the upcoming wedding of Prince Leka.
“His grandfather [King Zog] contributed a lot to Albania and undertook reforms to improve the country’s economy and even reform social life in the country. We shouldn’t forget that King Zog, a Muslim, married a Roman Catholic wife, paving the way for religious tolerance in the country,” said Fatmir Qafa, a 70-year-old pensioner.
“Albanians during his time were much freer than under communism. But it was communism that tried to distort his character,” he added.
Bujar Nazimi, 58, said that he was happy that the prince chose the actress Elia Zaharia to be his wife.
“After choosing Elia, I respect him more. She comes from a distinguished family of artists and seems like a good girl,” he said.
But the younger generation who have less knowledge about the country’s history seemed to be less interested in the event.
Ersi, 16, told BIRN that she didn’t know that Prince Leka was about to marry or that he had a long-term fiancee.
“I know vaguely that we had a King and Prince Leka is his successor but I didn’t know anything about his personal life,” she said.
“However now I have started to become curious and will go on the internet to learn more about the Albanian royal family,” she added.