On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.
Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania. He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections. He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.
He was elected first president of Albania in 1925. In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians. He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.
Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy. His military was run by Italian officers.
In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts. His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939. At the same time the Italians moved on Albania. Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country. He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.
The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.
Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia. He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military. He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous. He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.
In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government. He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.
For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him. Throughout his career he focused on three principles. Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work. Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.
His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship. His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile. The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers. The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution. The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system. The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas. All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse. Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.
Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel. He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position. He was in a constant war with third level institutions. Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”. His politics made for some very strange bedfellows. He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende. But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet. He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him. He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13? I am not superstitious”.
He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime. His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.
He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government. But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.
A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule. Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced. I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.
He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw. His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.