When we were children we were explicitly told that we Albanians were unique people because we were the only nation in the world ‘confessing three religions’ – namely, Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. That was taught to us with a great sense of pride, openly and emphatically even though Kosovo at that time was still part of Yugoslavia and in the official mainstream, communist ideology was as emphatically owned. As I grew up I wondered if the element of pride was indeed because we had historically managed to build a rich and unique culture of tolerance, or because we thought we were smart and downplayed religion and its effects in our civic lives. There were acquaintances who subscribed to either or both these explanations. Who was to be credited for our heavily cherished inter-religious tolerance? Anyway, the statement of pride remained for long and still remains. Once I grew up and travelled outside the region, I realised that after all, we are not unique in our religious diversity. However, it was not enough to meet the first Christian Arab, as shocking as it was, for the frozen mental notions to melt away.
There was another way the issue of homogeneity preoccupied me back then. Kosovo, comprising over ninety per cent ethnic Albanian population, was always an organic part of ethnic Albania. Their wholesome togetherness saw Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires passing by, not without an undeletable footprint. The partition of ethnic Albanian lands and the locking up of its severed population limbs in many of the neighbouring national states, the latter ones emerging after the disintegration of Ottoman Empire, began on the eve of the twentieth century. Thus, reoccurring Balkan wars ensued and the troubled times kept deteriorating further with our lands being at the cross-roads of wrestling powers during World Wars. Albanian lands were continuously overrun by neighbouring predatory armies that fought each other as much as the landowners. In those very few decades, Kosovo was to be occupied by Serbia, Montenegro, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and France. After a homogenised period of a thousand years of Byzantine Empire and five hundred years of Ottoman Empire, we had a diversified portfolio of occupiers within an unusually intensified period of time.